Britain: Russia Trying to Carve Out Mini-state for Assad in Syria

'Is Russia really committed to a peace process or is it using the peace process as a fig leaf to try to deliver some kind of military victory for Assad?' Foreign Minister Philip Hammond tells reporters.

Britain's Foreign Minister Philip Hammond during a news conference in Amman, Jordan, February 1, 2016.
Britain's Foreign Minister Philip Hammond during a news conference in Amman, Jordan, February 1, 2016. Reuters

REUTERS - Britain said on Tuesday Russia could be trying to carve out an Alawite mini-state in Syria for its ally President Bashar Assad by bombing his opponents instead of fighting Islamic State militants.

Russia and Britain have been trading barbs after British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond told Reuters he believed President Vladimir Putin was fanning the flames of the Syrian civil war by bombing opponents of Islamic State.

Hammond dismissed Russian criticism that he was spreading "dangerous disinformation," saying there was a limit to how long Russia could pose as a promoter of the peace process while bombing Assad's opponents, who the West hopes can shape Syria once the president is gone.

"Is Russia really committed to a peace process or is it using the peace process as a fig leaf to try to deliver some kind of military victory for Assad that creates an Alawite mini state in the northwest of Syria?" Hammond told reporters in Rome.

Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Asked if he thought Russia was guilty of war crimes in Syria, Hammond said: "On the face of it, and you have to investigate these things very carefully, there is indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas going on and, on the face of it, that would represent a breach of international humanitarian law."