Russian tweets raise spectre of war over Syria, and warn G7 against issuing ultimatum
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Uzbek counterpart at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 5, 2017.
Russia has raised the prospect of war with the West while mocking British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for cancelling a trip to Moscow in the wake of the Syrian nerve-gas attack.
The Russian Embassy in London posted a series of provocative tweets on its official account in which it suggested that “a conventional war” could be one outcome if the G7 group of nations — which will be discussing the Syrian situation at a meeting this week — presents it with an ultimatum.
The Embassy also said it was “deplorable” that Johnson was “unable to stand Western ground” by attending talks with his Russian counterpart, as had been scheduled.
The Embassy’s tweets came as Sir Michael Fallon, Britain’s Defence Secretary, warned Russia that it is responsible for the deaths caused by the Syrian chemical weapons attack “by proxy.”
Johnson had been due to fly to Moscow Sunday night for a series of meetings with Russian diplomats, but after speaking to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he decided to cancel the trip and allow Tillerson to take the lead with a visit to Moscow later in the week.
Instead, Johnson will attend the meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Italy on Monday and Tuesday, where he will try to build a consensus for demands to Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull his troops out of Syria and end his support for President Bashar al-Assad.
Removing Assad from power is now a priority for the U.S., the country’s ambassador to the United Nations said Sunday.
Nikki Haley said the United States is sending a message to Russia that “we’re not going to have you cover for this regime any more.”
It was only on March 30 that Haley, along with Tillerson, said Washington was no longer adamant that Assad must quit. Instead, they said, the U.S. would shift its focus to defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). But last week’s gas attack on Syrian civilians by Assad’s forces in Damascus appears to have changed the thinking.
Simon Dawson/Bloomberg Boris Johnson.
Yesterday, when asked if the U.S. now sees regime change as a priority, Haley outlined three objectives before moving to a political, peaceful settlement of the six-year civil war in Syria: defeating ISIL, getting rid of Assad and removing Iranian influence. “Getting Assad out is not the only priority,” she said.
Asked if that meant the U.S. was advocating regime change, she said: “This is something the entire international community has decided.”
Tillerson echoed those comments on Sunday, saying “there is no role for him (Assad) to govern.”
The Russian Embassy in London suggested that if Putin is given an ultimatum to withdraw support for Assad, the outcome will be either a “war of clowns, war of muses, a conventional war or mix of the above.”
The Foreign Office did not respond to the tweets, though sources pointed out that the embassy has a history of tweeting provocative comments that come to nothing.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Sir Michael said: “Russia must show the resolve necessary to bring this regime to heel. The Russians have influence in the region.
“They helped broker the original deal to put chemical weapons out of commission. This latest war crime happened on their watch …
“By proxy Russia is responsible for every civilian death last week. If Russia wants to be absolved of responsibility for future attacks, Vladimir Putin needs to enforce commitments, to dismantle Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal for good, and to get fully engaged with the UN peacekeeping progress.”
Johnson said attempts to secure a “clear and co-ordinated message to the Russians” over Syria will be the focus of Monday and Tuesday’s G7 meeting.
The group — made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States — had included Russia under the G8 label until 2014, when it left after the annexation of Crimea.
“It has been noticeable this week that both Tillerson and Trump have said there is no future for Assad,” a British Foreign Office source said. “One strand of what could come out of the G7 is that we say Assad has to go.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Johnson would be “hitting the phone” to ensure a “very strong and very hard-hitting” statement over Russia’s involvement in Syria is agreed upon, the source added.
On Saturday, the Russian Embassy in London suggested in its tweets that Johnson’s “theatrics” hid a “lack of argument” over Syria.
The message was linked to a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, written to commemorate Russia’s famous defeat of Napoleon that year.
Johnson also came under criticism from some in England for cancelling his trip to Moscow.“Boris has revealed himself to be a poodle of Washington, having his diary managed from across the pond,” said Tim Farron, leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats.
With files from Harriet Alexander