As well as having another extended Hugh Grant moment about how great Britain is (excluding David Beckham’s feet, but including One Direction), David Cameron got his chance to hit back at Russia’s intransigence on Syria this afternoon as the G20 summit drew to a close. Nodding to the lengthy declaration issued by the leaders – which fails to mention Syria or Assad – the Prime Minister emphasised that ‘this summit was never going to reach an agreement on what action is needed on Syria’. When Barack Obama spoke later, he said the discussions had reached unanimity that ‘chemical weapons were used in Syria, there was a unanimous view that the norm against using chemical weapons has to be maintained’, but that only the majority had agreed that Assad was responsible.
But Cameron made clear that while Russia’s view might have made last night’s supper rather tense, it couldn’t stop intervention by exercising its veto on the UN Security Council. He said:
‘If we accept that the only way a response can be made to a country that – let’s say it was massacring half, or more than half its people – if we’re saying there can only be a response if the UN Security Council votes positively, we are in fact contracting out our foreign policy, our morality, to the potential of a Russian veto. Now I think that is a very misguided approach, and that was what was frustrating in some ways about the debate last night, is some of the participants were saying, ‘well, this has to be decided by the UN Security Council’, knowing that they themselves sat on the UN Security Council and could veto any decision.’
Putin has made clear that Russia would stand ready to protect Syria if it came under attack. But there was also a subtext to Cameron’s address. As well as all the fun stuff about sport and music and other lovely things that Britain has brought to the world, he was also showing Russia that firstly Britain does still have a say in international events (even if, rather awkwardly, it can’t have as much involvement as Cameron himself would like), and that this country and others doesn’t need to pay Russia any attention either, when it comes down to it.