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Michael Fallon: Russian military efforts in Syria complicate difficult situation

Published 22/09/2015

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has warned that Russia's military build-up in Syria is complicating efforts to resolve the civil war
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has warned that Russia's military build-up in Syria is complicating efforts to resolve the civil war

Russia's military build-up in Syria is further complicating efforts to resolve the country's bitter civil war, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has warned.

Mr Fallon said that, unlike the Americans, Britain had not had any discussions with Moscow about military operations against Islamic State (IS) militants - also referred to as Isil - in Syria.

His comments came amid reports that Russia has deployed warplanes, helicopters, tanks, artillery, armoured personnel carriers and 200 marines to an airfield near President Bashar al-Assad's ancestral home in Latakia province.

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute in London, Mr Fallon said that while there was an urgent need to end the conflict, Russia's efforts to bolster the Assad regime were making it more difficult.

"The Russian action in the last few weeks putting ships and aircraft into the region further complicates an immensely complicated situation," he said during a question and answer session.

"Thousands of people have already been killed, millions are being displaced. You have a regime that is barrel-bombing its own citizens and you have Isil with its own brand of barbarity.

"So it is urgent that we find a way through to bring peace to that particular country. The Russian intervention certainly makes the situation even more complicated."

Following the election of new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - who opposes UK military intervention - Mr Fallon indicated the Government would need the support of rebel Labour MPs if it was to win a Commons vote on extending RAF airstrikes against IS in Iraq into neighbouring Syria.

"The Prime Minister has made it very clear that to extend our operations into Syria we need the support of Parliament and we will not go and ask for that support until we are sure of getting it. We will have to make the argument on both sides of the House," he said.

Shadow minister Clive Lewis, who served in Afghanistan in 2009 while an army reservist, said MPs' "lust for war" may be tempered if more saw the direct consequences of their decisions.

He added a diplomatic solution is needed in Syria, telling The House magazine: "Bombing hasn't been thought through."

The Norwich South MP warned against the "knee-jerk reaction" of bombing the Middle East in order to deal with a problem, adding: "I'm tired of it.

"As someone who, to be quite frank, has had my fill on my short tour of Afghanistan of death and mayhem, I sometimes think if we had a few more MPs in there seeing the direct consequences of their lust for war, maybe they'd think twice about it."

Russia has long supported President Assad - one of Moscow's few remaining allies in the region - in the face of widespread international criticism of his brutal suppression of the uprising against his regime.

However, the build-up of Russian forces at Latakia - where 28 warplanes have arrived in recent days according to US reports - and the naval base at Tartus have caused concern in Western capitals.

Russian media reports have suggested the Kremlin could be preparing limited military strikes in support of Assad's forces to coincide with an address by President Vladimir Putin next week to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Mr Putin has said he is providing "military-technical assistance" to help the regime counter the threat of terrorism and said that without Russian backing, the flow of Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe would be even greater.

However, US secretary of state John Kerry warned at the weekend that Russia's actions risked undermining the fight against extremism unless they were accompanied by efforts to resolve the conflict "via a genuine political transition".

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