In a “car crash” interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Chris Nineham was questioned about Boris Johnson’s call for people to protest Russia’s involvement in the war by demonstrating outside the country’s embassy in London.
The Foreign Secretary’s comments came after Labour’s Ann Clwyd urged those who care about the plight of Syrian civilians to gather outside Russian embassies across the globe until the country stops its bombing campaign.
He also called for a war crimes investigation into the bombing of an aid convoy last month in which at least 21 people died.
Today host, Sarah Montague, began the segment on Wednesday morning by asking what the Stop the War coalition was doing to oppose the conflict.
Nineham said: “We are we’re protesting with statements and our information that we’ve put out. We’ve condemned not just Russia but all foreign interventions into what is now an absolutely disastrous and horrible situation for the Syrian people.
“But we were set up as a coalition as a response to 9/11 and in response to the Western, British-supported drive to war back in 2001 and that is our focus.
“There’s a good reason for that...”
Montague interrupted, pointing out “we are in 2016 now” with a conflict raging in which “Aleppo is being destroyed”.
She added: “You have a Labour MP, Ann Clwyd, saying ‘where’s the rage, we should have two million, three million, four million people outside the Russian embassy...’
“Should people demonstrate outside the Russian embassy?”
Nineham replied: “This is not a serious argument being put [forward] by Boris Johnson, he’s characteristically trivialising the situation. If they want to protest outside the Russian embassy, they know where it is.”
Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday afternoon, Johnson questioned the lack of “commensurate horror” amongst anti-war protest groups and agreed with Clwyd’s desire to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy.
When asked if Stop the War would get involved in such demonstrations, Nineham replied: “No we wouldn’t and the reason for that is that our focus is on what our government is doing.
“As I was saying, there’s a very good reason for this because we can make a difference to what Britain does, we can make a difference to what our allies do to a certain extent and we have done.
“But if we have a protest outside the Russian embassy it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to what Putin does because we are in the West and we are in Britain.
“And not only that but a protest outside the Russian embassy would actually contribute to increasing the hysteria and the jingoism that is being whipped up at the minute to go against Russia... being organised by politicians and by the media against Russia to see Russia as the only problem in Syria.”
Opponents on the ground in Syria and in the international community however, claim the use of force is being used to wipe out government opposition and cement Assad’s position while also killing hundreds of innocent civilians.
Montague said: “So you would urge people not to demonstrate against Russia?”
Nineham replied: “We’re not worried about it but what we’re saying is that there’s a hysteria that’s being organised by politicians and by the media against Russia to see Russia as the only problem in Syria.
“Syria is a multi-faceted war that involves Saudi Arabia, it involves the US and Britain who have been bombing the country as well.
“The real problem here is you have people who regard themselves as responsible politicians like Andrew Mitchell and John Woodcock and Boris Johnson to a lesser extent who are seriously saying that what Syria needs is more Western bombs, more Western munitions.
“And Andrew Mitchell actually came on this programme yesterday and seriously said it wouldn’t be a problem if RAF fighter pilots attacked Russian planes.”
Nineham argued this simply risked escalating the conflict.
He said: “The possibility now presents itself of there being a confrontation for the first time since the Second World War, between Russia and Western powers including Britain.
“And anyone who has a responsibility for peace or the future of the planet quite frankly needs to mobilise against that...”
At this point Montague cut off the interview but Nineham managed to get in a last few words.
“... and that means opposing the West.”
The interview prompted heavy criticism on social media with some accusing Stop the War of hypocrisy for protesting in the past against certain regimes but not against Russia.
Others however supported their stance.
Stop the War is yet to respond to a request for comment.