British Foreign Secretary Says Russia May Have Committed War Crimes in Syria

LONDON (Bloomberg News/TNS) -
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addresses a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to address the situation in the Middle East. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson addresses a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to address the situation in the Middle East. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russia may have committed war crimes in Syria, as his government joined four other world powers in warning that patience with Moscow is wearing thin.

“They are guilty of protracting this war and making it far more hideous, and yes, I think that when it comes to instances such as the bombing of civilian targets, we should be looking at whether or not that targeting is in the knowledge that those are wholly innocent civilian targets,” Johnson said in an interview on BBC Sunday. “That is a war crime.”

Violence is flaring again in Syria after a brief cease-fire collapsed. The plan struggled from the start and, despite a U.S. insistence that it could be recovered, suffered two grievous blows. First, a series of U.S.-led coalition strikes targeted a Syrian base, killing at least 60 soldiers in what the Americans said was an accident. Last Monday, an aid convoy was attacked, killing dozens more. Russia and Syria denied involvement, while the U.S. said those two countries were the only ones with planes in the air at the time.

“The burden is on Russia to prove it is willing and able to take extraordinary steps to salvage diplomatic efforts,” France, Italy, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. said in a statement. “Patience with Russia’s continued inability or unwillingness to adhere to its commitments is not unlimited,” the so-called Quint group said.

In Moscow, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry accused the U.K. of similar war crimes in Iraq.

Johnson said “that Russia is to blame for dragging out the civil war in Syria, and possibly, for war crimes in the form of air strikes on convoys with humanitarian aid,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement. “That’s correct, aside for two words: instead of ‘Russia’ need to insert ‘U.K.,’ and instead of ‘Syria’— ‘Iraq’”

At a meeting of the United Nations Security Council last week, Secretary of State John Kerry wagged his finger at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and said the Russians were living in a “parallel universe.” He said Russia and Syria should ground their aircraft, and he repeated the demand Thursday.