Russia has become much more aggressive in the war in Syria and had chosen to be a “competitor, not a partner” to the west, the UK’s defense secretary has said, adding that Russia is committing war crimes in Syria.
There are about 275,000 people trapped by the siege of eastern Aleppo, where civilians are suffering through daily bombing, including by bunker-buster and incendiary weapons, and through starvation, as limited supplies run out and aid convoys are blocked from the city.
“It’s extremely concerning. We are seeing a much more aggressive Russia”, said Michael Fallon, the UK’s defense secretary. “We hoped Russia would become a partner to us in the west, but clearly Russia has decided to be a competitor.
“[Russia] said right at the beginning they were going to help fight Daesh, they haven’t done that. They’ve been helping Assad bomb his own people,” said Fallon.
He added that Russia vetoed a UN resolution on Saturday, which called for an end to the bombing of the city by Syrian and Russian jets. Russia argued that the “distorted” resolution would provide cover to terrorists. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, who is currently presiding over the security council, cast the veto against the Franco-Spanish resolution.
During heated exchanges in the security council meeting on Saturday, Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the UN, said: “This council cannot stand by while such misery is meted out on the people of Aleppo. And yet, thanks to you, Mr. President, that is exactly what we are doing. Thanks to your actions today, Syrians will continue to lose their lives in Aleppo and beyond to Russian and Syrian bombing. Please stop now.”
Fallon said the UK would continue to work for a political settlement in Syria but suggested Russia was “determined to prolong this civil war […] conniving to bomb civilians and may indeed have been bombing civilians themselves”.
He said he would endorse Johnson’s claim that Russia was guilty of war crimes. “It looks like they did target that particular convoy and if that can be established, then yes they should be held accountable.”
Asked how the UK could help the citizens of the besieged city, he said: “Some aid is through, very little, but some are getting through. We will continue to work on that, but it’s impossible to have safe zones if we can’t be sure that our planes won’t be attacked by Russia in the air for example.”