The Crises in Syria and Ukraine
Syria and Ukraine are the two most acute international crises the UK has faced in years – and they are linked, senior diplomat Jon Wilks tells the Asia Scotland Institute
Bombed out vehicles in Aleppo, Syria
Jon Wilks must have seen it all during 25 years as a British diplomat. He’s had spells working in Baghdad. He’s been posted to Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia.
But his latest distinguished role – UK Special Representative to Syria – is perhaps his greatest challenge to date.
Over the past three years, more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war. “Syria is possibly the most difficult conflict I’ve had to deal with,” Mr Wilks told a large Asia Scotland Institute audience in Edinburgh. “More difficult even than Iraq or Yemen.”
Speaking at the University of Edinburgh Business School, Mr Wilks revealed that the challenge of ending the war in Syria has been further complicated by the crisis in Ukraine.
Recent peace talks in Geneva demonstrated the need for Moscow and Washington to work together behind the scenes to try to achieve a breakthrough, he explained. But any hope of that happening was scuppered when Russia annexed Crimea.
“It’s really set back the search for peace in Syria,” Mr Wilks said. “Our relationship with Russia now is right on a cliff edge.”
Nevertheless, urgent work goes on to try to end the fighting in Syria – not least because al-Qaeda has established itself in the war-torn country and “there are plans for terrorist attacks in Europe”.
“There is a sense of urgency,” Mr Wilks said. “There is no sense in London or Washington or Paris of ‘Hezbollah is killing al-Qaeda, so what’s not to like?’ or ‘It’s not our problem, let’s just let it burn itself out, even if that takes ten years.’ That is not the attitude at all.”
Mr Wilks also gave a frank assessment of Vladimir Putin and the Russian President’s decision to annex Crimea. “It’s very often the case that we overuse the metaphor of Munich, but actually this is a remarkable parallel,” he said.
“What Adolf Hitler did to Czechoslovakia in 1938 is extremely similar to what Putin is doing. I don’t want to make a parallel between Putin and Adolf Hitler and what his ultimate aims are. But I do want to make clear here that there is a question of, “Where does this stop?”
Go to the Asia Scotland Institute’s Youtube page to watch Jon Wilks’s presentation which also features a panel discussion with Dr Thomas Pierret, an expert on Syria, and consultant and author Nick Williams.
Below, Asia Scotland Institute chairman and founder Roddy Gow interviews Mr Wilks.
Our thanks go once again to the University of Edinburgh Business School for kindly hosting this ASI event