The brutal military campaign by Russia and the Assad regime in Syria is creating a new generation of terrorists who will be a threat to the international community, including Britain, the head of MI6 has warned.
In his first public speech as director-general, Alex Younger scathingly criticised the conduct of the forces of Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, charging that their actions are leading to further radicalisation and acting as a recruiting sergeant for Islamist extremist groups.
And, the chaos created by the Syrian conflict is enabling Isis to plan attacks on the UK and the West.
“As I speak, the highly organised external attack planning structures within Daesh (Isis) even as they face military threat, are plotting ways to project violence against the UK and our allies without having to leave Syria”, said Mr Younger.
“I believe that Russian conduct in Syria, allied with that of Assad’s discredited regime, will, if they do not change course, provide a tragic example of the perils of forfeiting legitimacy.
“In defining as a terrorist anyone who opposes a brutal government, they alienate precisely the group that has to be on side if the extremists are to be defeated ... I cannot say with any certainty what the next year will bring; but I know this we cannot be safe from the threats that emanate from the land unless the civil war is brought to an end”, he said.
Mr Younger’s remarks are at odds with the views of Donald Trump and his advisors, who have expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin’s actions in Syria and see Russia as a future ally against Isis and other Muslim terrorist groups.
Mr Younger also strongly criticised states which have been using cyber and other forms of hybrid warfare to undermine Western democracies. Although he did not name Russia as one of the culprits, there was little doubt that he was pointing the finger at the Kremlin when he spoke about the “increasingly dangerous phenomenon of hybrid warfare.”
US intelligence agencies have claimed to have evidence that Russia had hacked emails of the Democratic Party, publishing material which damaged Hilary Clinton’s campaign and helped Mr Trump’s. There are also claims that Moscow may try to interfere in the coming French and German general elections.
“The connectivity at the heart of globalisation can be exploited by states with hostile intent to further their aims of deniability. They do this through means as varied as cyber-attacks, propaganda or subversion of democratic process. The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty; they should be a concern to all those who share democratic values”, said Mr Younger.
The MI6 chief said he would strive to maintain security cooperation with the US and European Union following the election across the Atlantic and the Brexit vote.
The director-general’s predecessor at MI6, Sir John Sawers and the former head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, Baron Evans of Weardale, had warned that leaving the European Union would lead to serious loss of intelligence sharing. Mr Younger said “ I want to pay particular tribute to the strength of our intelligence sharing with the US … and the quality of the work we do with our European partners, France and Germany foremost among them.
“I am often asked what effect the big political changed of 2016, Brexit and the US election result will have on these relationships. My answer is that I will aim for, and expect, continuity. These relationships are long lasting and the personal bonds between us are strong. The threats that we faced before these events have not gone away. I am determined that MI6 remains a ready and highly effective partner… These partnerships save lives in all our countries.”
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