With Boris Johnson using an appearance at the G7 summit in Lucca, Italy, to call for more pressure on Vladimir Putin over Russia's involvement on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, IBTimes UK looked at the British foreign secretary's changing language and tone on the issue.
27 March, 2016
Before becoming foreign secretary, or even entering parliament, and while still mayor of London, Johnson wrote in his regular column for The Telegraph praising Assad and Russia's victory over Isis to take control of the ancient city of Palmyra. Though heavily caveated with his disgust for Assad, Johnson said "bravo" to the forces involve. He wrote:
I suppose it is bizarre to feel such joy at the military success of one of the vilest regimes on earth. But I cannot conceal my elation as the news comes in from Palmyra and it is reported that the Syrian army is genuinely back in control of the entire Unesco site.
There may be booby traps in the ruins, but the terrorists are at last on the run. Hooray, I say. Bravo – and keep going. Yes, I know. Assad is a monster, a dictator. He barrel-bombs his own people. His jails are full of tortured opponents. He and his father ruled for generations by the application of terror and violence – and yet there are at least two reasons why any sane person should feel a sense of satisfaction at what Assad's troops have accomplished [...] It has been Putin who with a ruthless clarity has come to the defence of his client, and helped to turn the tide.
10 September, 2016
Outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry helps broker a new deal with Russia to impose a nationwide ceasefire in Syria and establish a military alliance between the White House and Moscow to target Islamic State (Isis) targets.
Johnson, now foreign secretary, said:
"For years we have seen the indiscriminate targeting by the Assad regime of civilians and moderate groups, and heard only broken promises leading to sieges and starvation.
"I call on all parties to the Syria conflict and all countries with influence upon them to do what is needed to end violence and lift sieges. In particular, it's vital that the regime in Damascus now delivers on its obligations, and I call on Russia to use all its influence to ensure this happens.
"They will be judged by their actions alone. I hope this agreement will begin to unlock the flow of desperately-needed aid to Syria's people, particularly in and around Aleppo, and that it will create the necessary space for a credible political process based on the Geneva Communique.
"It is only through a political transition that Syria will rid itself of the twin scourges of Assad and terrorism, and give the country and its people the chance of a peaceful future. The Syrian Opposition High Negotiations Committee set out in London this week a clear and detailed plan for securing that transition; the Assad regime must now respond with convincing ideas of its own, not bombing, shelling and sieges."
21 September, 2016
On the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, Johnson speaks to Lavrov about Russia's involvement in Ukraine and Syria. The face-to-face was their first meeting since May appointed Johnson as foreign secretary.
A foreign office spokesperson said:
"The ministers discussed the crisis in Syria and the increase in violence in recent days, including the recent unacceptable attack on an aid convoy. The foreign secretary pressed for Russia to use its influence constructively and underlined the need for the international community to work together to resolve the conflict.
"Mr Johnson also raised the situation in Ukraine, where there are continued violations of the Minsk agreements, and stressed the need for a sustainable ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine.
"The Foreign Secretary was clear that while ongoing disagreements mean it is too early to normalise diplomatic relations, it is right that both countries continue to discuss important global issues."
25 September, 2016
In reaction to an aid convoy being bombed on the western outskirts of Aleppo – with the US blaming the Russian forces – a joint statement is released by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and America.
The statement said:
"We reaffirm our commitment to the destruction of Da'esh in Syria and Iraq and urge Russia to follow through on its pledge to actually focus on this group. We also reaffirm our shared view that the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, is a terrorist organisation and an enemy of the international community.
"Nusra rejects a negotiated political transition and inclusive democratic future for Syria, and we call on all armed groups fighting in Syria to cease any collaboration with Nusra. We demand immediate, expanded humanitarian access to all areas of Syria, including those on the United Nations' priority list, and we deplore the delays and obstruction caused primarily by the Syrian regime of humanitarian deliveries to Syrians in desperate need.
"We fully support the United Nations investigations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and are resolved to take further action to address it. Finally, the Quint and the EU High Representative reaffirm calls made in this week's meetings of the International Syria Support Group for the Co-Chairs to continue their diplomatic consultations on these issues, but also underscore that patience with Russia's continued inability or unwillingness to adhere to its commitments is not unlimited. We therefore also call on the UN Security Council to take urgent further steps to address the brutality of this conflict, and particularly the assault on Aleppo."
15 December, 2016
Johnson summons the Russian Ambassador in the UK, Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko, and Iran's top diplomat in London, Hamid Baeidinejad, over the countries' actions in Syria.
"Both Russia and Iran have failed to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, specifically by failing to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians during the months when eastern Aleppo was besieged.
"They deserve no credit for the fact that an evacuation appears to be underway today. Having inflicted such suffering on the people of eastern Aleppo, Iran and Russia cannot expect praise for allowing some people to escape at the final hour. Both countries need to ensure the UN now oversees the evacuation process and that all civilians and non-combatants are properly protected."
UK Prime Minister Theresa May is the first world leader to meet Donald Trump in the White House after his inauguration as US President.
Johnson accepts an invitation from Lavrov to hold "high-level" talks in April, in what would be the first summit between a UK minister and a Russian official in Moscow since Lord William Hague's trip in 2012 as British foreign secretary.
A foreign office spokesperson said:
"The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made clear that our policy towards Russia is to 'engage but beware' and the visit is entirely consistent with this approach.
"Discussions will focus on the UK-Russia relationship and current international issues including Syria and Ukraine, where we continue to have significant differences.
"This is not a return to business as usual and the Foreign Secretary will continue to be robust on those issues where we differ.
"We have always been clear that the UK will engage with Russia where it is in our national interest to do so. Details of precise timings will be confirmed in due course. A potential visit has been in the pipeline for some time, with the Prime Minister and President Putin discussing this when they met in China in September 2016."
Johnson cancels his planned trip to Moscow to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.
The foreign secretary's move comes in the wake of the US' 6 April Tomahawk missile attack on Assad's forces at Shayrat Airbase.
Donald Trump said the strike was in retaliation for the 4 April chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in the north-west of Syria. The gassing left at least 89 people dead, including 20 children.
"Developments in Syria have changed the situation fundamentally. My priority is now to continue contact with the US and others in the run up to the G7 meeting on 10-11 April - to build coordinated international support for a ceasefire on the ground and an intensified political process. I will be working to arrange for other like-minded partners to meet and explore next steps soon too. I discussed these plans in detail with Secretary Tillerson.
"He will visit Moscow as planned and, following the G7 meeting, will be able to deliver that clear and co-ordinated message to the Russians. We deplore Russia's continued defence of the Assad regime even after the chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. We call on Russia to do everything possible to bring about a political settlement in Syria and work with the rest of the international community to ensure that the shocking events of the last week are never repeated."