Introduction by Karl Pomeroy
February 20, 2016
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin expresses his view on the recent declarations of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a Kommersant inverview quoted in the Russia Beyond the Headlines article posted below.
But first, who really is Assad?
The Syrian President sounds, in last week’s extensive interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP), like any responsible democratically elected leader regarding his concern for the Syrian people and his pledge to defend the nation’s sovereignty. Yet Western governments and media unfairly vilify him, and the US has made repeated attempts to overthrow his government using “moderate” terrorist operations, a hypocritical strategy that has brought the world to the brink of major war.
Among answers to the 26 questions presented in “Transcript of Exclusive AFP Interview with Syria’s Assad” (Yahoo News, February 12, 2016), the Syrian leader says:
“If we talk about emotions, I belong to this people; and it is self-evident that I have the same feelings my people have. Any scene of suffering is painful to all of us as Syrians. But as an official, the question for me is less about emotions than about what I, as an official, should do, being responsible before my people. However, when the cause of this suffering is the terrorists, not the Russian shelling as claimed by Western media, and when one cause for migration is the almost five-year-old embargo against the Syrian people, naturally my, and every Syrian official’s first task is to fight terrorism essentially using Syrian capabilities, but also using our friends’ support in the fight against terrorism. … The battle in Aleppo now is not about regaining control over Aleppo, because the Syrian state is there; but the main battle is about cutting the road between Aleppo and Turkey; for Turkey is the main conduit of supplies for the terrorists. … The question is: for how many years will Turkey and Saudi Arabia continue to support terrorism? That is the question. And when will the West put pressure on these countries to stop supporting terrorism? … [I]t is Saudi Arabia which supports terrorism worldwide. So it is only natural for the representatives of Saudi Arabia to be terrorists, not politicians. …”
Vitaly Churkin cautions us not to be overly concerned by Assad’s recent statements, in which the Syrian President vowed to continue fighting despite international ceasefire agreements, as explained in the following articles. (See also Quemado Institute’s conclusion in defense of Assad at the end of this post.)
Churkin: Don’t Assign Too Much Importance to Assad’s Words
By Alexey Timofeychev, RBTH
Russia Beyond the Headlines
February 19, 2016
In an interview with the business daily Kommersant, Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin suggested not lending “too much importance” to some of the statements recently made by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has talked of fighting on, despite international agreements to implement a ceasefire [see related article below]. RBTH presents the main points raised by the Russian diplomat in the interview.
On Bashar al-Assad’s statements
Vitaly Churkin: We shouldn’t assign too much importance to some of the statements, dramatize them… This is my personal point of view. I heard on TV President Assad’s statement [about fighting until victory is obtained and the impossibility of observing a truce]… It obviously contradicts Russia’s diplomatic efforts. There is the Vienna process, the latest agreements with the International Syria Support Group reached in Munich that include the ceasefire, the cessation of military activity in the foreseeable future. We are working on this now.
But the Syrian president is acting according to a certain political framework. And here I think we should take into consideration not what he says, with all the respect to the statements of such a high-ranking individual, but what in the end he will do.
If the Syrian government, despite its internal political disposition and the propagandistic line that it must conduct, follows Russia’s leadership in regulating this crisis, then it will have the opportunity to exit the crisis with dignity. If, on the other hand, they stray from this path – and again this is my personal viewpoint – there will be a difficult situation, one that will also involve them.
What is Russia trying to obtain in Syria?
V.C.: First, the most important challenge is to defeat terrorism. Russia’s contribution to this battle is extremely significant… Secondly, [we believe that] this can ultimately lead to a political settlement. I think that if we hadn’t entered Syria with our air force, the positive diplomatic steps we are witnessing now would not exist.
The most intransigent oppositionists, who are supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are still convinced that they can “break” Damascus. This was one of the reasons for continuing the conflict. Now, I hope, they and those who support them will understand that a political settlement is necessary. The Americans have already understood this.
Why is there a demand for Assad’s resignation?
V.C.: This is the opposition’s demand. And this [insisting that Assad step down] is of course one of the mistakes that our Western colleagues made when the Syrian crisis began. They were acting under the influence of the Arab Spring…. He [Assad] was perceived as the embodiment of an undemocratic regime that needed to be changed.
Indeed there were uprisings in Syria. But Russian and foreign experts who really understand the issue said that such a calculation was too frivolous, that Syrian society’s structure is such that there is no sense in demanding the president’s resignation, that he is not the only reason. As a result, Bashar Assad and his entourage manifested a certain hardness, which had certain consequences. As if that wasn’t enough, then the terrorists appeared.
Now we are witnessing a noticeable change in tone. The radical oppositionists continue to say that the sooner Assad leaves the better. But the Americans have started formulating their position in another way recently. They say that Assad must leave, but make it clear that the issue should not be forced.
But the documents (the International Syria Support Group and the UN Security Council Resolution) say that Syrians themselves must come to an agreement on this issue. We don’t discuss this subject matter at all: it will be as the Syrians decide.
On the possibility of a global conflict
V.C.: I hope that it won’t happen. I think things are not heading in the direction of a global conflict, a “World War Three” with the participation of Russia, the U.S., NATO and so on.
The full interview was published in Russian in Kommersant.
Emboldened Assad defies Moscow’s diplomatic efforts over truce
by Sergei Strokan, Kommersant
Russia Beyond the Headlines
February 18, 2016
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has put a peaceful settlement in Syria in doubt by insisting that government forces will continue to fight on. Damascus’ new signals contradict the agreements on a ceasefire reached by world powers with Moscow’s participation in Geneva and Munich.
The peaceful settlement in Syria is once again under threat. After the recent successes attained by Syrian government forces with Russian air support, President Bashar al-Assad has announced that he is determined to fight until he is victorious, thus practically rejecting the ceasefire agreements reached with Moscow’s participation during recent talks in Geneva and Munich.
During a meeting with Syria’s leading lawyers Assad stated that there is an absence of conditions for implementing a ceasefire.
“They [the international mediators] say that they want to reach a peaceful settlement within a week. But who is capable of implementing the necessary conditions and requirements for this? No one,” said the Syrian leader.
Assad was thus implying that the International Syria Support Group, whose members discussed the possibility of a settlement last week in Munich, was preparing an unrealistic initiative. Moscow, along with Washington, had played a key role in the negotiations.
However, the Syrian leader was quick to curb the enthusiasm born after the latest efforts of Russian-American diplomacy. He made it clear that even if a settlement is announced, “each side will continue using weapons,” reiterating the idea he had previously voiced in an interview with the AFP news agency about the necessity of fighting until victory is attained.
In another statement made on Feb. 15, Assad called on everyone to follow the Syrian constitution in order to achieve a political settlement, insisting that there was no sense in talks about changing it.
Bashar Assad’s latest statements prove that Moscow and Damascus’ positions on key issues concerning Syria’s regulation seriously diverge. Moscow is calling on Damascus to accept the political solution within the framework of the Geneva process, while Damascus prefers to use force combined with “local truces.”
In the opinion of many experts interviewed by Kommersant, Bashar Assad’s chosen course not only hinders Russia from converting its military successes in Syria into political dividends, but also threatens to further aggravate Russia’s relations with the West and the Arabic world.
“By practically dismantling the Geneva accords, Bashar Assad is putting Russia and Iran in a difficult position. There is a moment of truth in the Syrian regulation when the external players must put pressure on their clients participating in the conflict locally,” explained Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian Council on International Affairs.
In Kortunov’s view, despite the recent successes of the Syrian army, Damascus’ military potential obviously does not have enough to maintain its current positions, let alone emerge victorious from the war.
“President Assad’s actions are an example of how the tail starts wagging the dog. He is trying to convince Moscow that whoever comes after him, Assad will have no respect for Russia,” said Alexei Malashenko from the Moscow Carnegie Center.
In his words, the Syrian leader believes that so long as he is in power Russia will maintain its strategic interests in the region, yet in the case of his downfall Russia will lose those positions.
Other experts insist that Damascus is trying to dictate its conditions to Moscow, using the pretext that the stakes in the Syrian conflict are very high. They point to the situation in Syria as an example of how great powers, by getting involved in local conflicts on the sides of their client states, often become hostages to the conflict.
According to Alexei Arbatov, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, “in the course of such operations “it is very important not to overlook the political process in the relations between the patron and the client.” He pointed to the Soviet experience in Afghanistan and the American experience in Vietnam as evidence of this. “It often happens that the stakes of the big powers are so high that its clients try to speculate on them,” he said.
First published in Russian in Kommersant.
Quemado Institute Conclusion
By Karl Pomeroy
Assad’s skepticism about a “political solution” concocted in Western European capitals seems eminently reasonable, especially after close observation of the travesty enacted in Donbass under the so-called Minsk ceasefire accords, also brokered by Russia. When dealing with terrorists, and this includes the nationalist battalions of Ukraine as well as units in Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, there is no such thing as peace.
As Assad said further on in the above quoted interview: “Opposition is a political act. Suppose that you mean to say ‘moderate terrorists’, this is a different term. Saying that, you mean that they do not belong to Daesh (ISIS), Al-Nusra, or to these extremist groups. … But what’s more important is reality which says that such an [political] opposition is non-existent. Most of the militants belong to extremist groups, such as Daesh (ISIS), Al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and others. So, my answer is that every terrorist is an enemy. … [T]he extremist groups refuse to have any dialogue with the state. They believe that they will fight, die, and go to heaven. This is their doctrine.”
The disconnect here between Churkin, along with other Western diplomats, vs. Assad is that Assad must deal with the material reality of day-to-day terrorist violence, while diplomats float comfortably in a world of ideals where “ceasefire agreements” seem plausible.
It should also be noted that Moscow Carnegie Center is among a number of subversive Western think tanks located in the Russian capital.
For more on the Syrian ceasefire agreement see Syria: Kerry’s Peace Plan A Formula for Permanent War.
Note: Russia Beyond the Headlines boasts a high Google Pagerank, as does Kommersant, indicating they are free of Western search engine censorship. There are exceptions of course, but any high-ranking website should be viewed as possibly reflecting Western interests.