Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with NTV's programme Pozdnyakov, Moscow, October 13, 2015
Question: Mr Lavrov, what prevents our Western partners fr om responding to Russia's proposal to establish a broad-based anti-terrorist coalition similar to the anti-Hitler coalition? Are they enraged, discouraged, perhaps, by the fact that a new centre of power has emerged, or stung by the fact that someone has encroached on their exceptionality?
Sergey Lavrov: You know, there are probably several factors and causes. Perhaps, they aren’t too pleased by the effective operations of our military, as they compare them to the year-plus operation by the coalition created by the United States, which carried out, I believe, about 60,000 sorties, half of which were supposed to be operational, without obtaining any positive results on the ground. On the contrary, the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda offshoot, have only expanded their influence, as well as the territory in which they have proceeded to create a genuine caliphate, organising people's lives in accordance with their laws. This is a completely new kind of terrorism. Our colleagues are trying to tell us that ISIS became a reality only because of the drawn-out crisis in Syria, and that Syria is a magnet that attracts all the Sunnis, because, they say, Alawites use force against Sunnis, refusing to give up power. Such statements are dangerous. I told my colleagues – US Secretary of State John Kerry and our European partners – that trying to represent this conflict as a face-off within Islam is unacceptable. We all are fighting terrorism. This was stated by President Putin. Again, if our partners feel embarrassed because they haven’t achieved any meaningful results, they still need to make an effort and decide what is more important for them: a misguided sense of self-worth, or ridding the world of the most terrible threat of recent decades.
There’s another reason, which we need to look into. I regularly pose this question to my colleagues, foreign ministers of other countries. Perhaps the reason is that the purported goal is not entirely honest? Perhaps, the goal is to change the regime? They keep sticking to their position that a final settlement in Syria is only possible after Assad goes.
Question: Do they insist on this?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes. They keep saying that the coalition that has been operating in Syria and Iraq for more than a year now has only been fighting terrorism, primarily ISIS, and doesn’t bomb the positions of government troops. Perhaps there are objective ways to determine whether this is true. We are studying the situation. But if they are so apprehensive in fighting terrorism, perhaps they want, as they did before, to use extremist groups in order to degrade the government? This question remains unanswered.
We remember how Saddam Hussein was toppled. After that, Iraq fell into chaos. Things remain complicated there. We remember that in order to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, our Western partners and the countries of the region cooperated with the most notorious extremists, who then, like a genie from a bottle, spread across North Africa and even sub-Saharan Africa.
Question: The way I see it, the experts are also saying that if Assad goes, the Greater Middle East will descend into chaos.
Sergey Lavrov: The experts say so, and we say so. We don’t want a re-run of the events when, let me say it again, not only did they have no scruples about cooperating with the terrorists, but they actually bet on them directly and armed the extremists. Our French colleagues, who are now loudly talking about the need to respect international law, in the case of the Libyan crisis, despite a resolution banning arms supplies to anyone in Libya, which was adopted by consensus, did supply such arms to Gaddafi’s opponents and made no secret of this, even showed off saying that they are doing so in violation of the UN Security Council resolution. Then, the terrorists used these very weapons to shoot at the French troops in Africa, in Mali, wh ere France was fighting those who it itself created and armed.
These double standards are obvious, and we all need to decide whether we want to, as a group of countries believes we should, destroy another regime and ruin another state. Ultimately, the problem of terrorism spreading in the Middle East is due to the fact that statehood in Iraq, Libya, and now Syria is being destroyed. Next thing you know, they’ll be taking up Lebanon. There’s a saying that history doesn’t teach anybody anything. Some time ago, we could accept in good faith things that happened a hundred years ago or so. However, over the past 10 to 15 years we’ve seen Iraq and Libya, and now it’s the Syrian crisis. It’s all the same everywhere. So, we must decide, and this is what President Putin calls for.
We suggested that our American colleagues and we should interact through the Pentagon and the Russian Defence Ministry not only in order to avoid incidents in the air, but also to coordinate our actions. They haven’t said anything to that yet. Since they are critical of our military operation and are saying that our air strikes are aimed not at weakening the terrorists, but at weakening the moderate Syrian opposition, we asked them to share their information about correct targets, destroying which will cause the most damage to the terrorists in Syria. They ducked our question. Then we said, "Well, if you think that we are weakening the people you are betting on in terms of strengthening the opposition, including fighting ISIS, tell us which targets we should avoid, and which troops on the ground we should spare. Still no answer.
In a recent interview to CBS, President Obama made several notable statements, including on the need to coordinate counter-terrorism efforts, including the Free Syrian Army. This is exactly what we are calling for. We’ve been doing so for more than one day and even more than one week. President Putin spoke in favour of establishing coordination with the US-led coalition, even though it is illegitimate in Syria. No one invited it there, and the UN Security Council didn’t adopt any resolutions to that effect. But if President Obama is calling for coordinating efforts with the Free Syrian Army, we are willing to do so as well. It was a long time ago that we asked the Americans, the countries of the region, including the Saudis, the representatives of Qatar and the Turks to point to someone from among those who represent and run the Free Syrian Army whom we can talk with. They promised to give us a list of names, but we are still waiting.
Speaking about coordination, which President Obama calls for, it is much broader than just the Free Syrian Army, because information about it is contradictory. It never stays in one place, periodically breaks up into smaller groups, which then join either Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS, which are both radical groups. Everyone agrees that the Free Syrian Army doesn’t have a single military command.