Boris Johnson's call for protests at Russian embassy 'may have risked safety of Moscow diplomats'

Sir John Sawers also said Russia's bombing campaign in Syria was down to the West's decision not to intervene in the country

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 12 October 2016 10:26
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Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, London, where he spoke about the crisis in Syria
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, London, where he spoke about the crisis in Syria

The former head of MI6 has said Boris Johnson’s call for Syria protests outside the Russian Embassy in London could put the Foreign Secretary's own diplomatic staff in Moscow at risk.

Sir John Sawers urged politicians to be “careful and mindful” that calls for demonstrations in London may spark a retaliation in Russia, and he went on to highlight the attack on the UK's base in Iran by protesters in 2011.

The ex-intelligence chief also said the West’s failure to take military action in Syria had left Russia to freely bomb cities in the country today.

After Mr Johnson called for protests outside the Russian embassy in the Commons, Sir John said: "We all have to be a little bit careful and mindful of the security of our embassy in Moscow when we think about calling for demonstrations here in London.

"We all recall what happened to our embassy in Tehran three or four years ago.

"I don't think that would happen in Moscow but we need to be careful about the consequences of things that we call for."

Sir John claimed the worsening crisis in Syria was a direct result of Britain's decision "not to engage" in the civil war back in 2013 under David Cameron.

Western powers and Russia clash at UN over Syria

Speaking to BBC radio, he said: "We vacated the theatre and the Russians have moved in.

"It certainly was a mistake. Chemical weapons were being used against civilians in Damascus by their own regime."

Mr Johnson told MPs in the Commons on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was in danger of turning his country into an "international pariah" with his continued support for the regime of President Bashar Assad.

He said: "It is the UK week after week that is taking the lead together with our allies in America and in France, all the like-minded nations, in highlighting what is happening in Syria to a world where, I'm afraid, the wells of outrage are growing exhausted.

UK Ambassador gives damning speech to UN after Russia's security council veto over Syria

"There is no commensurate horror, it seems to me, amongst some of those anti-war protest groups. I'd certainly like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy. Where is the Stop the War Coalition at the moment? Where are they?"

Stop the War vice chairman Chris Nineham said his organisation would not take up the suggestion, adding: “There's a very good reason for this, because we can make a difference to what Britain does, we can make a difference to what our allies do to a certain extent and we have done.

"But, if we have a protest outside the Russian embassy, it wouldn't make a blind bit of difference as to what Putin does because we are in Britain and we are in the West.

"And, not only that - a protest outside the Russian embassy would actually contribute to increasing the hysteria and the jingoism that is being whipped up at the moment against Russia."

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