Regional incidents and the terrorist Ruwais bombing in Lebanon have disturbed the quiet holiday that Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin was enjoying at his home in Podolsk, south Russia, whose nature and refreshing climate he dwelled on. But today, Zasypkin is busy following the Syrian issue, which the Americans suddenly heated up by announcing possible upcoming air strikes against targeted Syrian sites.
Perhaps this week’s “star announcement” was the statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday, Aug. 26, when he said that Russia will not react militarily to a US military intervention in Syria
In Beirut, Zasypkin supported Lavrov’s position and was surprised that some thought that Russia was willing to go to war with the United States and destabilize the world for many years, as happened during the Cold War. He reiterated his country’s positions, which reject bypassing the UN Security Council. He expects that the new US “adventure” will expand the conflict in the region, as the United States did in Iraq and Libya. Zasypkin seemed certain about the Syrian army’s superiority relative to the opposition and, alluding to Iran, he warned about how the Syrian regime’s allies will react to a US strike.
Zasypkin accused the “Syrian opposition’s gunmen” of using poison gas against civilians, and he advised the Lebanese people, under these circumstances, to form a government that groups all sides and that doesn’t exclude any party that is represented in the Lebanese parliament.
Following is the text of the interview:
As-Safir: Russia chose not to react militarily to a US military intervention in Syria. What does that mean? And does Moscow accept a repeat of the Libyan experience?
Zasypkin: We do not accept a repeat of the Libyan experience by means of a decision in the UN Security Council. It is known that we used our veto right three times to prevent decisions that are unbalanced toward the Syrian reality. We want to prevent any action outside the UN Security Council. And if they resort to a military strike, then it would be a violation of international law.
As-Safir: Will Russia stop at only describing the situation and accept direct US interference in Russia’s area of influence?
Zasypkin: We think that we are taking a strong political stance regarding what is happening. Our commitment to international legitimacy means that we will not accept any attempt at a direct foreign intervention in Syria. We believe that this is the strongest possible thing that Russia can do in these circumstances. Some might want us to use the same methods as the Americans and threaten their allies. But we will not fall into this trap and we will stick to the political struggle. At the same time, we have warned that this aggression will not be easy and that there will be a reaction from Syria. And we are aware of the positions of some other international parties allied to Syria.
As-Safir: Some have interpreted Foreign Minister Lavrov’s words to mean that Russia has withdrawn its support for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Zasypkin: What is happening on the subject of chemical weapons, as well as the threats, shows that our approach is sound, so we will maintain it. We will not accept foreign attempts to force the Syrian president to step down. Today, as before, we assert that this issue is in the hands of the Syrian people and not in the hands of third parties, regardless of the methods they use to achieve this goal.
As-Safir: But doesn’t the expected American military intervention change the power balance before going to the Geneva II conference?
Zasypkin: This is an old discussion. We have been hearing for several months that they want a period of time to change the power balance to create suitable conditions for the negotiations. We do not accept this logic. We believe negotiations should have happened a long time ago. The facts indicate that the situation was moving in the [Syrian] army’s favor on the ground. If there is a strike, there will be multiple effects, whose implications we cannot accurately assess. What’s certain is that it will lead to the escalation of the situation and to the expansion of the conflict.
As-Safir: During his visit to Russia, did Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz inform President Vladimir Putin about this sudden US change? How was the atmosphere of the Russian-Saudi meeting?
Zasypkin: We believe that the meeting was useful because it was an opportunity for direct talks with the Saudi side and for Russia to explain its position and geopolitical constants. And I would like to emphasize that the rumors on bargains regarding regional issues are incorrect.
As-Safir: Iran said that the Americans may be able to start the war but not decide how it will end. Did we enter into a regional war?
Zasypkin: During the last decades, the Americans went into several adventures, like Iraq and the NATO operation in Libya. They have always led to chaos and tragic results for everyone, including the United States. So we warn of the same scenario if there is a strike against Syria, especially because it is a pivotal state in the region. The international community must support a political settlement in Syria through negotiations between the government and the opposition according to the Geneva accord. And this requires dealing with the parties to the conflict, and preparing for the Geneva II conference.
Russia accuses the Syrian opposition
As-Safir: What is Russia’s political assessment about the poison gas massacre in east and west Ghouta? Is it true that Russia has failed to control the use of this weapon?
Zasypkin: It’s not the first time that they’ve used the pretext of weapons of mass destruction to go on military adventures, as happened in Iraq. And according to our information, those who used chemical weapons in Syria are the armed opposition, not the Syrian regime. We have handed over the complete file about the Khan al-Asal incident to the UN Security Council. We must await the results of the experts’ investigations and the discussions in the Security Council.
As-Safir: What if the UN Security Council is bypassed, as some parties have called for, such as British Foreign Minister William Hague and even Turkey?
Zasypkin: We adhere to the UN Security Council despite attempts to sabotage its role. This is how Russia’s position differs from that of the international community, and we’re proud of it. We will continue to apply our international obligations in this regard. Those who act outside the scope of the Security Council should take responsibility for their actions because history does not end today.
As-Safir: What will happen the day after the expected US strike?
Zasypkin: The magnitude of the conflict will grow and its area will expand. And in our opinion, the Syrian regime can resist.
Lebanon, international terrorism and the government
As-Safir: What does Russia think about what has been happening in Lebanon lately, regarding car bombs that claimed hundreds of innocent people in the southern suburbs and Tripoli?
Zasypkin: We strongly condemn these acts, and we are striving to maintain the international consensus on security and stability in Lebanon regardless of what is happening in the region.
As-Safir: Has Lebanon entered the “Iraqization” phase?
Zasypkin: I think that the international constants regarding Lebanon are still in place. But subversive parties are trying to escalate the situation. So we have to stand in solidarity with Lebanon.
As-Safir: Will Russia help Lebanon with anti-terrorism equipment?
Zasypkin: If that’s necessary, we are ready.
As-Safir: Who has an interest in seeing Lebanon blow up? Did the takfiri hypothesis that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah talked about convince you?
Zasypkin: There is a game going on in the framework of the international terrorist network. As an external party, I cannot point to any groups inside Lebanon who committed the crime. The investigation and the judicial outcomes must uncover who committed the crime.
As-Safir: What about the proposals regarding the upcoming Lebanese cabinet? Does Russia accept a cabinet that doesn’t include Hezbollah?
Zasypkin: This is an internal issue, but we always call for national dialogue. And we think that the best kind of government is one that includes all the main Lebanese groups without exception. This is the best choice for Lebanon. And given the exceptional circumstances we are experiencing in the region, the Lebanese government should be strong and capable of managing things in the country, especially with respect to security, the economy and social issues. Regarding the issue of representation and how the shares are divided, that should be decided by consultation among the Lebanese parties.