UK Government must stop ‘fuelling the fire’ of Syrian civil war, says Oxfam

It's not just Russia to blame, says Oxfam's Syrian response chief

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The Independent Online

Britain is as much to blame as Russia for “fuelling the fire” of the conflict in Syria and must do more to deliver peace in the Middle East, Oxfam has warned.

Speaking in the wake of the news that Russia is to withdraw its military from the frontlines in Syria, the UK charity cautioned against simply blaming Vladimir Putin’s intervention for the deterioration of the conflict in the past six months.

Russia entered the war abruptly at the end of September last year – and the Kremlin announced it would be scaling back its efforts on Monday evening with a similar lack of warning.

Andy Baker, who leads the Syria response team for Oxfam, told Sky News the situation in Syria was “getting worse and worse” as the five-year conflict goes on.

He appeared to welcome the end of Russian bombing missions which have “caused quite a high number of civilian casualties and also a lot of fear in the areas targeted”.

But speaking to Sky News, he said “we can’t only lay the blame at the feet of the Russians”.

“This is a problem that is owned by the whole world,” he said. “It’s not only Russia, it is other nations too, Britain among them, that have fuelled the fire of this conflict, continuing to support one side or another and failing to deliver peace.

He said: “We need powerful nations of the world, including Britain, to be concentrating on bringing a resolution to this conflict. It has gone on five years, which demonstrates the failure to deliver a peace process. Part of that has been contributions from a number of nations that have enabled the conflict to continue.”

Hilary Benn, the shadow Foreign Secretary who famously supported British military intervention in Syria in an eleventh-hour speech on the day of the Commons vote last year, called an urgent debate in Parliament to discuss the Russian withdrawal.

In a statement, he welcomed the news which “could help to support the ceasefire and de-escalate tension”.

But the Foreign Secretary himself, Philip Hammond, warned his fellow MPs against viewing Russia enviously as the country “setting the agenda” in Syria.

He said: “All the western partners in this enterprise play by the rules of the international system and are transparent in their actions.

“Unfortunately, Russia is a state in which all power is concentrated in the hands of one man. Decisions are made apparently arbitrarily and can be unmade just as quickly.

“This is not a recipe for enhancing stability on the international scene,” Mr Hammond said. “It makes the world a more dangerous place, not a less dangerous one.”

Mr Hammond was also sceptical about whether the Russian withdrawal would prove to be genuine.

He said the Kremlin had made past pledges to pull its troops out of Ukraine, "which later turned out to be merely routine rotation of forces". 

He says that "because Russia is completely un-transparent about its motives and its plans, we can only speculate".