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16 Dec, 2016 01:40

Russia’s UK ambassador: ‘I asked MPs how they will fight terrorists in Syria. I got no answer’

Russia’s UK ambassador: ‘I asked MPs how they will fight terrorists in Syria. I got no answer’

A cross-party group of British parliamentarians met with Russia’s UK ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, in a bid to heal the rift in the countries’ approach to Syria. On Thursday, Yakovenko was also summoned to the Foreign Office over concerns related to Aleppo.

READ MORE: UK & US claim Russia ‘preventing’ Aleppo aid as Red Cross & UN speak of close cooperation

The MPs, who called the meeting and spoke with the Russian diplomat for an hour and a half at the Russian Embassy in London, included Labour’s Dan Jarvis, Hilary Benn and Ann Clwyd; Tania Mathias from the Conservatives; and representatives from the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, and Northern Ireland’s SDLP.

Conversation focused on eastern Aleppo, a former rebel stronghold, which was retaken by Syrian government forces earlier this week after four years of fighting.

“They were concerned about humanitarian aid, but I said I see no plans from the UK to provide direct humanitarian aid. I informed them what Russia was doing – 35 tons of food a day, supplies for two hospitals, capable of treating 450 people a day,” Yakovenko told RT in an interview straight after the talks. “All this talk of humanitarian problems in Aleppo should be supported by deeds.”

On Thursday, the UK’s Defense Secretary, Michael Fallon, said that “Aleppo is a tragedy of Russia’s making,” suggesting that the recapture of the city, supported by Russia’s Air Force, had a high human cost.

“Their position is not consistent,” Yakovenko, who has been in his post in London for almost six years, said of the MPs. “They are emphasizing the humanitarian point of view, but the eastern part of Aleppo was held hostage by the terrorists, and hundreds, maybe thousands were killed, and I hope now these atrocities are in the past.”

“I put the question very straight: How are you going to fight with the terrorists, because they are the cause of the need for humanitarian aid? And I didn’t get a clear answer,” he added.

Yakovenko stated that cooperation over local issues is only likely to be short-lived and situational, while the sides had a contrasting wider view of the nature of the Syrian conflict, which has raged for over five years.

“The vision of the Syria settlement in Russia and the UK is still different. The British side is still insisting that Assad must go, and everything that we are doing today in Syria, such as fighting terrorists, they see as support for Assad. Our vision is different – we are fighting terrorism, and Assad is the legitimate president,” explained Yakovenko, who admitted from his impressions from the meeting that the British attitude “was not moving.”

Also Thursday, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson separately summoned Yakovenko and the ambassador of Iran, another ally of the Syrian government, to express “profound disquiet” over the state of what once was Syria’s most populous city, and demand a greater role for the UN in overseeing the evacuation of residents from the city.

Following the conclusion of the meeting, Russia’s embassy insisted that Syria is not only sparing the remaining rebels, but freely letting them move to areas outside of government control, so that the remaining civilians can be helped.

“Thousands of militants with their families are being evacuated from the city with the help of the Russian military and officers of the International Committee of the Red Cross to the territory controlled by illegal armed groups,” the embassy said in a statement.

“The evacuation we and the United Nations have long been insisting on is meant to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and, what is most important, to save the lives of people living in East Aleppo, to ensure humanitarian access to them.”