Russia compared to Nazis in UK Syria debate

Aftermath of attack on aid convoy in Urum al-Kubra, Syria (20 September 2016)

Aftermath of attack on aid convoy in Urum al-Kubra, Syria (20 September 2016)

A former cabinet minister has likened Russian bombing in Syria to Nazi attacks in Spain in the 1930s during an emergency Commons debate on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo

(SOURCE)  Andrew Mitchell accused Russia of being a “barbaric” and a “bully” – and of committing a war crime by attacking a UN relief convoy last month.

He compared this to the destruction of the Basque city of Guernica by fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War.

Russia says it is targeting terrorists.

The northern city of Aleppo has become a key battleground in Syria’s bloody five-year civil war.

The UK government has strongly criticised Russia’s bombing of Syria, while French President Francois Hollande has suggested Russia could face war crimes charges over its actions in Aleppo.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Image caption French President Francois Hollande said he might refuse to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured) over Russia’s bombing of Aleppo | AFP/Getty Images

Mr Hollande also said he might refuse to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is due to visit France next week.

Russia has denied carrying out the attack on the aid convoy.

Beginning the three-hour Commons debate that he called, Mr Mitchell, a former international development secretary, accused Russia of helping a “barbaric bombardment” of Aleppo, including bombing a hospital.

He added: “We should single Russia out like a pariah. The Kremlin, like any bully, is winning credibility if no-one stands up to them.”

Mr Mitchell also said: “What Russia are doing to the United Nations is precisely what Italy and Germany did to the League of Nations in the 1930s. And they are doing to Aleppo precisely what the Nazis did to Guernica in the Spanish Civil War.”

Mural based on Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Image caption Picasso’s painting Guernica has been replicated many times, including here in Guernica itself | Getty Images

In 1937, the Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco allowed the ancient Basque capital of Guernica – which had held out against the advances made by his army since the beginning of the civil war the previous year – to be bombed by Germany’s air force. This is regarded as the first deliberate aerial bombing of a city in history.

More than 1,600 people died, but Franco denied the raid had taken place. The events provoked international outrage and inspired the anti-war painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso.

Andrew Mitchell

Image caption The “barbarism and tyranny” in Syria must be brought to an end, Mr Mitchell told MPs | House of Commons

Mr Mitchell raised the prospect of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria, saying: “This is not about attacking Russia. It’s about defending innocent civilians.

“This is humanitarian work and protection from a barbarism we thought we had confined to the last century.”

Western countries must not be “cowed” and “pole-axed” into not taking a stronger role in Syria by experiences in countries like Iraq, Mr Mitchell said. He argued the UK should “take a lead” in looking at “every possible way” of ending the bloodshed.

Analysis by James Landale, BBC diplomatic correspondent

MPs have not formally debated Syria for months, distracted from the bloodshed by Brexit.

But on Tuesday, they are discussing what more the British government – if anything – could do to protect civilians, increase access to aid and reduce the violence.

Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell compares the Russian attacks on Aleppo to the Nazi bombing of civilians in Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

And he is urging the government to use its diplomatic clout to put more pressure on Moscow and deploy military assets to identify Russian planes bombing civilian targets.

Western and other powers are beginning to discuss what they could do differently over Syria.

But there will be no answers until a new US president is elected. And that might be too late.

The UN has warned that if nothing changes, eastern Aleppo will be destroyed by Christmas and thousands more lives lost.

For Labour, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said there had to be “strong statesmanship” and “not more brinkmanship” in dealing with the crisis in Syria.

She told MPs: “There are a number of war crimes that have been committed during this terrible war. There are the war crimes of Assad and Russia and there are the war crimes of the Jihadists.” Ms Thornberry said she expected those responsible to be tried by the International Criminal Court.

Boris Johnson is due to speak for the government during Tuesday’s debate – in what will be his first appearance at the despatch box since becoming foreign secretary in July.

Last month Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK would “never intentionally strike or focus on Syrian forces”, after Britain confirmed it had taken part in air strikes that killed dozens of Syrian troops.

At least 62 Syrians were killed in the strikes, as the US said it might have accidentally hit a government position.

Last week Russia vetoed a Franco-Spanish UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to the bombing.

In a strongly worded statement issued on Monday, the Russian government rejected the UK’s criticism of its actions in Aleppo and questioned the UK’s own contribution to military and humanitarian efforts.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defence, suggested the UK and other Western countries had failed to check the territorial advances of so-called Islamic State and affiliates of al-Qaeda, while his country’s forces had been “achieving results”.

“Where was Great Britain when ISIS almost reached the shores of the Mediterranean, almost turning Syria into a terrorist caliphate – in the same way that happened in Libya thanks to your efforts?” he asked.