Open letter to Members of UK Parliament on the situation in Syria

I would like to refer to the recent parliamentary debate on Syria. I fully share the concern voiced over various aspects of the humanitarian situation in that country, including in relation to Aleppo, but not only its eastern part.

The debate has left the feeling that there is a lack of an integrated vision of the Syrian situation and its genesis. Short of that, any assessments are fragmentary and superficial. But the fact is that during the Syrian crisis that began 5 years ago the armed opposition to the legitimate authorities has been actively nurtured by external sponsors. Two thirds of the country’s territory came under the control of these factions, of which the main striking force turned out to be the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and “Jabhat al-Nusra”. They were about to take Damascus, which would have led to the creation of a terrorist state in the territory of Syria that would be a direct threat to the security of Russia and the whole of Europe. Russia’s intervention a year ago helped reverse this trend military-wise. Since then 35 thousand terrorists, most of whom were foreigners, have been destroyed, a truce at the local level with 783 settlements has been reached with the assistance of the Russian military who established the Center for the Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides.

At the same time, we have been working hard with the United States within the framework of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), as well as on a bilateral basis in order to ensure a sustainable ceasefire and transition to a political settlement in Syria. All of this was being done on the basis of the principles enshrined in the documents of the ISSG and endorsed by the UNSC Resolution 2254, which emphasizes the need to “prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL, al-Nusra Front and all the other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council, and that “the ceasefire will not apply to offensive or defensive actions against these individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities”.

We are committed to the fight against terrorism, and will not “run out of this road”. In their speeches MPs rightly focused on the humanitarian situation, especially in the eastern part of Aleppo. But the atrocities committed by the terrorists against the population of Western Aleppo, Damascus, and other Syrian cities were left out of the picture. Unfortunately, the British media keep silent on that. Furthermore, it is presented in a distorted way.

Free Syrian Army fighters prepare a locally-made mortar launcher during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on the Amerya front in Aleppo on 5 November, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
Free Syrian Army fighters prepare a locally-made mortar launcher during clashes with forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on the Amerya front in Aleppo on 5 November, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Personally, I have been surprised why the United Kingdom did not support the proposal of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Syria Staffan de Mistura to allow “al-Nusra” fighters out of the Eastern Aleppo and thereby ensure a sustainable ceasefire and humanitarian access to all those in need, and ultimately, normalize the situation in the whole of Aleppo. Obviously, if a significant number of those fighters with weapons could be withdrawn from Aleppo, that would alleviate the sufferings of all who are held in this part of the city as hostages. Let us not forget about the disastrous humanitarian situation in other parts of Syria, where there is also a risk of a humanitarian disaster similar to that observed in both parts of Aleppo.

That is not to mention the fact that the solution of humanitarian problems in that city would promote the separation of the so-called “moderate” opposition from the terrorists, which the US has failed to do, despite repeated – since February of this year – promises of Secretary of State John Kerry.

Members of Parliament with no grounds whatsoever accused Russia, along with the Syrian government, of deliberate strikes against civilians, which the Foreign Secretary tried to qualify as “war crimes”. 10 days ago the Russian Embassy formally requested the Foreign Office to provide the proof that supports these allegations of Boris Johnson. Otherwise, we will consider these accusations to be outright lies that serve to protect “Jabhat al-Nusra” and, probably, the British military personnel in Syria. The whole point of the response received by us is that the British side is not in possession of such evidence. Moreover, speaking in Parliament and accusing us of the strike at the UN humanitarian convoy near Aleppo, Boris Johnson referred to the information in the social networks. That is bizarre, since serious accusations must be supported by strong evidence. The Embassy also requested the Foreign Office to send us this information from those social networks used by the British government. We are waiting for a reply.

UK special forces fighting alongside Syrian rebels on Jordanian border (Photo: Atef Hassan / Reuters)
UK special forces fighting alongside Syrian ‘rebels’ on Jordanian border (Photo: Atef Hassan / Reuters)

The British side is constantly accusing us of strikes “not at the right targets”. Although we believe otherwise. Moreover, a year ago I personally met the then Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond and officially requested cooperation in establishing contacts with the “Free Syrian Army”, as well as in coordination between our militaries in targeting which would allow take possible British concerns into account. The Russian side received a decisive refusal to those proposals. Later, I repeatedly raised this issue at various official levels – the answer was always negative. I should add that our military has also requested information on areas, where the British Special Forces operate in Syria, in order to avoid possible casualties among them as a result of the Russian Air Forces actions. This was also met with silence.

I would like to use this opportunity to point out that the destruction of the terrorists is the first part of the task that the international community should implement in Syria in accordance with the UN Security Council mandate. The second is the launch of a political process, development of a new constitution and holding of democratic elections in that country. This is the only way to avoid “Libyan scenario” and ensure that Syrians have the opportunity to determine the future of their country in accordance with democratic norms and without outside interference.

Originally published: Alexander Yakovenko (The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko is Ambassador of Russia to the United Kingdom (since January 2011) and former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia. While working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow, he was in charge of multilateral diplomacy (UN, UNESCO and other international organizations, economic and humanitarian cooperation, human rights, environmental cooperation, climate change, education, culture and sport issues).
Graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1976. Holds a degree of Doctor of Law. Has the diplomatic rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Dr. Yakovenko speaks Russian, English and French.

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