British foreign secretary says Putin is fuelling Syrian war

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says Russia only fuels civil war in Syria by bombing opponents of DAESH in attempt to bolster Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (R) listens to Jordanian officials during his visit to Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, February 1, 2016.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is undermining international efforts to end the Syrian civil war by bombing opponents of DAESH in an attempt to bolster Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Monday.

In a clear sign of frustration with the Kremlin, Hammond scolded Putin for paying lip service to a political process aimed at ending the civil war while also bombing opponents of Assad who the West hopes could shape Syria once Assad is gone.

Russia began air strikes in September last year, Putin tilted the war in Assad's favour, after major setbacks earlier in 2015 brought rebel groups close to the coastal heartland controlled by regime forces. 

"It's a source of constant grief to me that everything we are doing is being undermined by the Russians," Hammond told Reuters at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, about 10 km south of the border with Syria.

"The Russians say let's talk, and then they talk and they talk and they talk. The problem with the Russians is while they are talking they are bombing, and they are supporting Assad," Hammond said.

Russia claims it targets a range of militants in Syria, not just DAESH, although it insists it focuses on it. 

But rebels and residents say the Russian air strikes are causing hundreds of civilian casualties in indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas away from the frontline.

"The Russians say they want to destroy DAESH but they are not bombing DAESH: they are bombing the moderate opposition," Hammond said, "Less than 30 per cent of Russian strikes are against DAESH targets."

"Their intervention is strengthening DAESH on the ground, doing the very opposite of what they claim to be wanting to achieve," he added.

The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Saturday that Russian air strikes have killed nearly 1,400 civilians in Syria.

But he said that it was difficult to discern whether the Kremlin's support for Assad was changing, because Putin was impossible to read.

"The thing I have learned, watching Putin first as defence secretary and now as foreign secretary, is that it doesn't matter how much you watch, you cannot see anything - completely inscrutable." he said.

"We have no idea what the game plan in the Kremlin is. We don't know. There are no councils discussing these things. It is what is going on Mr Putin's head."

Asked if the Iranians were being more helpful than the Russians, he said, "I don't think either of them is being particularly helpful to the peace process.”

"The Russians and the Iranians are working hand in glove with the Syrian regime, and the Iranians are at least as hard-line as the Russians about seeking to ensure the preservation of the Syrian regime."

Russia's foreign ministry hit back at Hammond alleging that he was spreading disinformation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that such accusations were not logical and said the West is playing with fire by trying to topple Assad.

Assad is known to have been one of the main key players in fueling the civil war in Syria that displaced millions and killed over 250,000 people, whereas Putin is assumed to be his closest ally on account of the only abroad visit for Assad since 2011 being a visit to Russia in 2015.

TRTWorld, Reuters