UK: Russia should be investigated for Syrian war crimes

Russia should be investigated for war crimes in the Syrian city of Aleppo and risks becoming a pariah nation, The British foreign secretary said has said, as Assad-Russian airstrikes killed more than 8 in the heaviest bombardment in days on the city’s rebel-held sector of Aleppo.

Assad regime, backed by Russia, said on September 22 it was starting a new wide offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo after a week-long ceasefire was declared officially over on 19 September.

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.

The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said “the mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind small” as he predicted those responsible for war crimes in Syria would eventually face charges before the international criminal court.

Johnson’s remarks underline the degree to which relations between Russia and the west have deteriorated to levels not seen since the end of the cold war.

Making his frontbench debut as foreign secretary, Johnson was speaking in a Commons debate that heard senior Conservatives liken the Russian bombing to the Nazi bombardment of Guernica in the Spanish civil war. There were also warnings that the entire post-war architecture of international relations had been placed in jeopardy.

Johnson appeared to reject calls for a no-fly zone over areas of Syria, saying: “We cannot commit to a no-fly zone unless we are prepared to confront and perhaps shoot down planes or helicopters that violate that zone. We need to think very carefully about the consequences.”

But, he added, he was sympathetic to those who made the call, and wanted to work through the options with Britain’s allies.

Demonstrations outside the Russian embassies

Johnson called for demonstrations outside the Russian embassy in London and asked why leftwing protest groups seemed to lack the outrage over Russian conduct in Syria. “I would certainly like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy. Where is the Stop the War coalition?”

He added: “If Russia continues on its current path I believe that this great country is in danger of becoming a pariah nation, and if President [Vladimir] Putin’s strategy is to restore the greatness and the glory of Russia, then I believe he risks his ambition turning to ashes in the face of international contempt for what is happening in Syria.”

He called for an investigation into attacks on hospitals, which he said were being targeted with such frequency and precision that it was “difficult to avoid the conclusion that this must be policy”, amounting to a war crime.

Referring to attack on the UN humanitarian convoy, he said: “All the available evidence, therefore, points to Russian responsibility for the atrocity and I trust the UN board of inquiry will establish what happened.”

Johnson said he was prepared to study French proposals that the five permanent members of the UN security council should be prepared to voluntarily waive their veto rights in the cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity.