British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has cancelled his planned trip to Moscow hours before he was supposed to depart, citing the recent events in Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman described the cancellation as “absurd.”
“Developments in Syria have changed the situation fundamentally,” Johnson said in a statement.
The decision not to go to Russia was made after consulting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and instead Johnson will meet with his fellow G7 counterparts to talk about Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“I discussed these plans in detail with [US] Secretary Tillerson. He will visit Moscow as planned and, following the G7 meeting, will be able to deliver that clear and co-ordinated message to the Russians.”
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 8, 2017
“My priority is now to continue contact with the U.S. and others in the run-up to the G7 meeting on 10-11 April – to build coordinated international support for a ceasefire on the ground and an intensified political process.”
Johnson was due to have a business lunch with Lavrov, and the two diplomats were later expected to hold a joint press conference on Monday. Johnson was also set to meet with Russian human rights activists and British business figures.
Johnson’s last-minute cancellation was described as “absurd” by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
“This cancellation immediately followed his postponement,” Zakharova said. “It seems that our Western colleagues live in their own kind of reality in which they first try to single-handedly make collective plans, then they single-handedly try to change them, coming up with absurd reasons.”
“Unfortunately, stability, and consistency have long stopped being the hallmark of Western foreign policy,” she added.
At least 70 people, including 11 children, were reportedly killed in a suspected chemical incident in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Iblib province, Syria on Tuesday. In response two days later, the US fired 59 cruise missiles at an airfield of the Syrian Army, claiming that it was used to conduct a chemical weapon attack. The US strike on Shayrat Airbase in Syria killed 14 people including nine civilians, the governor of Homs told RT on Friday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “regards the strikes as aggression against a sovereign nation” and believes the strikes were carried out “in violation of international law, and also under an invented pretext.” The US has been ignoring the use of chemical weapons by terrorists and this is dramatically aggravating the situation, the spokesman added.
US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley on Friday called Washington’s action “fully justified,” having alleged that the US strike “destroyed the airfield from which this week’s chemical strike took place.”
Haley also mentioned Iran and Russia as “guilty parties” who bear “considerable responsibility” in the Syrian crisis, and went on to say that Washington was “prepared to do more. “Every time Assad has crossed the line of human decency, Russia has stood beside him,” the ambassador claimed.
Russia’s representative at the UN Security Council, Vladimir Safronkov, said that Washington is “afraid” of a “real investigation” into the alleged chemical attack, and the US missile strike “only facilitated the strengthening of terrorism.”