Boris Johnson: Syria strikes not about 'thwarting Russia'
British airstrikes on Syria were not an attempt to "thwart" Russia, Boris Johnson has insisted, as he took aim at the "barbarism" of chemical weapons use.
The RAF joined US and French jets in targeting Syrian bases this weekend, following a suspected chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Douma that left scores of civilians dead.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the Foreign Secretary denied that the latest round of airstrikes represented a “major escalation of UK or western involvement” or an attempt to “frustrate Russian strategic objectives” in Syria.
"In degrading Assad’s chemical weapons capabilities we intend to do what we can to protect his people from that specific form of cruelty," he said.
"We are standing up for principle and for civilised values.
"We may not end the barbarism - but we are telling the world that there is one type of barbarism that is banned and that deserves to be banned."
Mr Johnson argued that a failure to confront Assad would weaken the "global taboo" around chemical weapons, "with significant humanitarian consequences for many more".
He said: "If we do nothing there will be other people and other governments around the world who will look at the impunity of Assad and ask themselves: they got away with it - why shouldn’t I?"
Moscow has condemned the strikes as "demonstrating a blatant disregard for international law", and accused the UK and its allies of "insulting" President Vladimir Putin.
Intelligence officials are reportedly braced for reprisals from Russia following the airstrikes, with the Sunday Times saying cabinet ministers could be targeted by attempts to reveal embarrassing information about their private lives.
"We know what’s in the Russian playbook, kompromat type material, we’re all prepared for that," an intelligence source told the paper.
"We know that they do have that ability to penetrate at that scale. We’re not saying that there’s a picture of ‘X’ that’s waiting to come out but it’ll be amazing to us if they don’t have some of that kind of material."
GCHQ and the Ministry are Defence are also said to be braced for retaliatory cyber-attacks on key infrastructure, including the NHS.
Downing Street last night published its legal position on the airstrikes, arguing that there was “no practicable alternative to the use of force”, and justifying the bombing on humanitarian grounds.
"The UK is permitted under international law, on an exceptional basis, to take measures in order to alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering," Number 10 said.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has branded the strikes “legally questionable”, instead calling on the Government to "take a diplomatic lead to negotiate a pause in this abhorrent conflict".
"This means engaging with all parties that are involved in the conflict – including Iran, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US – to ensure there is an immediate ceasefire," he said.