Michael Fallon has been touring the broadcast studios this morning to send Russia a warning about its bombing campaign in Syria. On the Today programme, the Defence Secretary said Putin’s actions are complicating an already difficult situation:
‘What it does do is complicate an already difficult situation and make it very much more dangerous because these planes are not being co-ordinated with the rest of the campaign and more importantly than that, the strikes don’t seem to be for the most part strikes against Isil. They are strike against other groups who’ve been fighting Assad and designed to prop up the Assad regime, the dictatorship in Syria, which of course has been the cause of Isil in the first place. So what Russia is doing is extremely unhelpful as well as dangerous.’
Although Fallon is talking defiantly, he said Britain would not be sending its own jets to the region, as we need to ‘deconflict the aircraft space over Syria’. Instead, he told BBC Breakfast that Nato will be piling pressure on Russia not to prop up the Assad regime when it is bombing its own people:
‘We will be co-ordinating our activity to make sure the Russians actually start to respect some of the rules. They’ve had incursions into Turkish air space. Turkey is a member of Nato and we need to tackle that and make sure we can properly focus on the campaign, the battle, against Isil, which is the real danger.’
Although the Russian strikes have added another complication to the Syrian situation, Fallon and the Prime Minister are still talking up the idea of going back to Parliament to authorise British bombing — but only if they feel the vote will pass. Fallon said it’s about ‘building a consensus’ among MPs and the new makeup of the Commons might help:
‘It’s a new parliament, there are new MPs on both sides of the House who weren’t there when the first vote was lost about taking military action two years ago, which I think a number of people now rather regret.’
Aside from the EU referendum, foreign policy has not been a major discussion point at the Tories’ conference in Manchester, with domestic matters occupying most of the agenda. But when Westminster returns on Monday, how to deal with the Russia, Syria and Assad situation is one topic the government and MPs will find hard to ignore.