G7 on Syria: Putin to Stop Military Support for Assad
Assad’s chemical weapons attack and Trump’s airstrikes in Syria have intensified the need to take immediate measures to stop Assad’s inhuman methods. Russia and Iran’s support for the Assad regime, along with the dictator’s atrocities will be high on the G7’s agenda.
The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, and the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, will be meeting the rest of the G7 foreign ministers to discuss, among other things, the situation in Syria in a two-day summit (10-11/4/2017) in Lucca, Tuscany.
Tillerson, who arrived in Tuscany on Sunday, has met the Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida on Monday morning, had talks with other ministers before the meeting, and will be heading to Moscow on Tuesday to talk with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Who are the G7?
The Group of 7 is a group of industrial democracies and consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US. They meet every year to discuss global economy, security and energy policies.
Russia was part of the forum from 1998 until 2014 (G8), but was suspended after the annexation of Crimea in March 2014. In the 2013 summit in Northern Ireland, Putin’s support of Assad’s regime was diametrically opposite than those of the other member states. In 2014 when Russia held the G8 presidency it was obvious that the other member states were in disagreement with its expansionist politics and stated unanimously that they would “suspend [their] … participation in the G8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G8 is able to have a meaningful discussion."
The group was initially formed in 1975 with France, West Germany, Japan, Italy, the UK and the US as its members. Its purpose was to give non-Communist countries the platform to discuss economic growth, inflation, recession and Cold War politics.
The EU has been a member of the G7 since 1982, but participates as a “nonenumerated” member.
G7 meeting 2017: Assad has to go
While this year’s meeting was organised around issues relating to Libya, Iran and Ukraine, after the chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun in the southern Idlib Governorate, where around 89 people were killed, the G7 will concentrate mainly on Syria, with the ministers hoping to coordinate their efforts to end the six-year conflict. But the meeting will also enable the countries to question Tillerson on the US’s position in Syria and any future plans to overthrow Assad.
Boris Johnson will call for new sanctions against Russia and has cancelled his visit to Moscow on Monday, preferring to concentrate on talks with the G7. His move was criticised by British politicians, in particular the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman, Alex Salmond and Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader. Salmond described Johnson as the US’s mini-me: “The idea the Foreign Secretary can’t be trusted because he might pursue his own line or have an independent thought or crossover what the Americans are going to say just makes him look like some sort of mini-me to the United States of America.”
Farron said that Johnson was “a poodle of Washington” who was “having his diary managed from across the pond.”
Johnson’s cancellation of his Moscow visit was also condemned by Russia as “deplorable.” The choice of word is strategic, of course, since Hillary Clinton, during the US presidential campaign, had criticised Trump supporters as deplorable.
Italy has prepared a meeting on Tuesday with the G7 ministers and those of Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar to examine ways that cam improve the situation in Syria.
The foreign ministers’ summit will set the agenda for the next one attended by G7 leaders and representatives of the EU in Taormina, Sicily, on 26-7 May. Canadian president Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and UK PM Theresa May, along with the European Council president Donald Tusk and the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will attend the summit.
Crossing a red line
Russia and Iran have accused Trump of crossing “red lines” after the US airstrikes on a Syrian air base. The two Syrian allies and military groups that support Assad have threatened that they would strengthen their backing. In a statement, they said: “What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well.”
Rex Tillerson said that “every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility” and that Putin needs to rethink his strategy.
The British Conservative politician, Sir Michael Fallon, also urged Russia to take responsibility. In the Sunday Times, he said: "Russia must show the resolve necessary to bring this regime to heel. The Russians have influence in the region. They helped broker the original deal to put chemical weapons out of commission. This latest war crime happened on their watch…By proxy Russia is responsible for every civilian death last week. If Russia wants to be absolved of responsibility for future attacks, Vladimir Putin needs to enforce commitments, to dismantle Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal for good, and to get fully engaged with the UN peacekeeping progress."
Theresa May, who is on her Welsh holidays, had a phone conversation with the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and both agreed with Trump’s decision to take action in Syria. According to her spokesman, “They discussed the importance of Russia using its influence to bring about a political settlement in Syria, and to work with the rest of the international community to ensure the shocking events of the last week are never repeated.” For the UK and most of the European community, the best way to move forward from the current instability is through political solutions and not through military action.
However, Trump’s surprising move in Syria has caused such a varied response from so many different people and political parties, stressing the delicate situation in Syria and bringing into focus one of the oldest dilemmas of humanity: whether problems can be solved with violence or reasonable argument.
In this sense, any kind of action or solution in Syria is a double-edged sword. While many are advising calm and thoughtful action—the appropriate Left answer to everything—this, however, seems to agree with the Eurosceptic populists’ position who are also supporting a passive, non-interventionist policy in Syria in their attempt to support Putin—their single big anti-European advocate. But, while Trump’s response endangers international conflict, it has been welcomed by many Syrian people who have been waiting for the last six years some form of action from Europe or the US. It is a complex and difficult situation and no one wants to support violence to stop Assad’s brutality. But, at the same time, everyone knows that Russia and Assad aren’t going to back down, and that their aggressive politics cannot be stopped. At the moment, the Syrian war has resulted in 321,000 deaths and 145,000 more people missing.