Syria's bloodshed needs a political solution, not airstrikes

SNP MEP Alyn Smith, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, spoke on behalf of his group on the degrading situation in Syria and the EU's response to it following Russia's airstrikes.

Amidst the launching last week of unprecedented Russian airstrikes in Syria, in support of the Assad regime, Europe has been left watching as hundreds of civilians and western-backed Syrian rebels have been attacked. Despite official claims by the Kremlin that Russia's intervention is to counter the so-called Islamic State, evidence shows it has mostly avoided ISIS and followed the steps of the Assad regime to fight the moderate opposition.

Speaking in the debate with the EU Council, Alyn said:

"In the tragedy that is Syria it is difficult to know where to start, 310,000 killed, countless more lives ruined through injury or bereavement, 4.5 million refugees, 7 million internally displaced people, with the scale of this tragedy it is little wonder that the humanitarian consequences are quite literally washing up on our shores.

I very much echo comments of colleagues on the humanitarian consequences of this tragedy. But our group has always stressed that the only solution in Syria, the only way in which we can create a safe environment for people to return to is a political solution. There was a time when concerted intervention by the international community could have helped, but we remain deeply sceptical on current airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State.

We have seen 7000 US strikes, we now see informal UK and French engagement also, but to little avail. We are tackling the symptoms rather than the cause.  Adam Garfinkle, a US diplomat turned academic has criticised US policy on ISIS and I think it applies to French and British policy also, saying that "tackling ISIS is akin to thinking that you can alter the position of a shadow by doing things to the shadow. We are not tackling the right things".

Likewise we should not be fooled by the actions of Russia in this conflict, Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin's chief of staff said, and I quote "the military aim of our operations will exclusively be to provide air support to Syrian government forces in the struggle against ISIS". And yet Russia attacks have been in areas with no ISIS presence, against Free Syrian Army positions in Latakia, Homs, Hama and even Aleppo. The Assad regime has killed 8 times more people than ISIS, this parliament has hosted the Ceasar exhibition, evidence of brutal torture by this regime, Assad is not a partner in peace, and he is the primary obstacle to it. We must not drift towards the Assad regime in order to try to build a viable peace, we must facilitate a wider international engagement and raise our game."

Alyn's speech in plenary: