Boris Johnson has called for public protests outside the Russian embassy in London over the country's continued involvement in the bombing of Aleppo in Syria, telling MPs that the "wells of outrage are growing exhausted" at the actions of the Russian military.
The foreign secretary used an emergency Commons debate on the humanitarian disaster in Aleppo to say that "all the available evidence" points towards Russia being responsible for a recent attack on an aid convoy which was heading to the war-torn city in September.
Johnson said Russian president Vladimir Putin was at risk of turning Russia into a "pariah nation" and called for more direct action against the country from members of the British public: "I'd certainly like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy. Where is the Stop The War Coalition at the moment? Where are they?"
He also backed a proposal to involve the international criminal court in prosecuting those involved in the Syria war. However, while he said he would consider all options, he appeared unlikely to back calls for a no-fly zone to protect civilians, arguing that it was require the UK being willing to shoot down planes and helicopters that entered the zone.
Johnson told the Commons that only Russian agreement to stop the bombardment would create the conditions to end the unfolding catastrophe in the city.
"Our best hope is to persuade the Russians that it is profoundly in the interests of Russia to take the initiative, to win the acclaim of the international community, do the right thing in Syria, call off their puppets in the Assad regime, stop the bombing, and bring peace to Aleppo," he said.
Labour shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry warned against rushing into military intervention, and said it was wrong for parliament to be "rightly condemning Russia" for their air strikes on civilian targets in Syria without dealing with other hypocritical elements of British foreign policy.
“If we say those things about Russia and Aleppo then we must be prepared for what they say about Saudi Arabia and Yemen," she said. "We cannot condemn one and continue selling arms to the other, we cannot call for investigations into one and say to the other that we are happy for them to investigate themselves, we cannot pour scorn on the assurances of one that they have not hit civilian targets while blithely accepting the assurances of the other."
"Most of all, we cannot cry for the people of Aleppo and the suffering that they face while turning a blind eye to the million children in Yemen facing starvation today.”
Some backbench Labour MPs criticised the shadow foreign secretary's stance and called for a fuller condemnation of Russia.
Ann Clwyd warned that the world was facing “another Rwanda” and blamed the actions of Russia. She urged millions of people to march through London to demand action and stay “outside the Russian embassy” until action is taken to stop the "genocide".
"I would call on everyone who cares about the plight of Syrian civilians to picket the Russian embassy in London and in capitals around the world from today," insisted Clwyd. "That should carry on until the bombing campaign stops and all the relevant players are forced to get around the table and end this horrible war."
The Russian embassy in the UK spent the debate defiantly defending the country's record in Syria on social media.
Alison McGovern, who helped call the emergency debate, said Britain must be at the forefront of applying sanctions to Russia: "The pictures we see make us want to close our eyes and turn away from the horror. We cannot unsee what we have seen and we cannot turn our backs on the greatest crime of our century.
Former Conservative minister Andrew Mitchell also called for a no-fly zone over Syria to stop Russian and Syrian bombing, while comparing the raids on Aleppo to the attacks on civilians during the Spanish civil war.
The debate reopened political divisions among Labour MPs, reminiscent of last year's debate over whether to commit British forces to air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria.
Many of those who spoke strongly in favour of intervention from backbenches were also critics of leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has pledged to put peace at the heart of his foreign policy.
John Woodcock, MP for Barrow-in-Furness, strongly criticised his own party: “I have to say shame on anyone from the UN official report downwards, to this house to members of my party, who fail to acknowledge this war crime. I hear the platitudes about bread not bombs but when the bombs are destroying the bread and when the people who are making these platitudes are actually obstructing the possibility of any peace in the region then they are directly complicit in what is happening in the region.”
In response to Johnson's criticisms, the Stop The War coalition – which organised enormous marches against the war in Iraq during the 2000s – said it was astonishing that Johnson was "taken seriously at all on issues of foreign policy" and said the "bloody history" of the war on terror is being ignored "in efforts to push for more war and presumably to try and undermine Jeremy Corbyn's anti-war Labour leadership".
The group asked: "How many more innocent civilians are going to die, how many more catastrophes have to happen before the start the war coalition finally accept reality and admit that bombing foreign countries is not a path to peace or progress?"
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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