September 6, 2013
Reply by Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia S. Lavrov
to a question regarding the situation over Syria during the meeting with students and professors of MGIMO (University) MFA of Russia
(September 2, 2013, Moscow)
Question: Do you think that the situation in Syria is a repetition of the scenario seen about 10 years ago, when the grounds that were proclaimed (international terrorism, possession of WMD) for interference by Western countries eventually turned out to be false? Is there any possibility at this stage to avoid a repetition of the Iraqi scenario in Syria?
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia S. Lavrov: I will start with the larger picture, and not just to relate what happened in Iraq with the current situation in Syria merely because of the fact that today the intention to instigate military action has justified the existence of WMD in both countries, so to speak. Perhaps the situation is much more voluminous and complex, like I said in my introductory remarks i.e. extended processes towards a more equitable polycentric system of world order, based on experience, culture, achievements, values and wisdom of all civilisations, are not unique in nature, but are very painful. Those who are in these processes objectively lose once indisputable position and react differently. It is possible to take it as a given that it is impossible to influence, because the processes in the world speak for themselves, but it is possible to try to cling to the old situation. In this sense, any "turbulent" processes happening in the world are a sort of favour for those who would intend to maintain unjust world order for longer. If we talk about the Middle East and North Africa, there was what we call a "double standard", as well as personal attitude i.e. personal animosity to a single authoritarian leader results in the agreement that he must be toppled by all means, and authoritarian leaders who do not cause such dislike and who are allies of our Western partners and assist them, are not taken into consideration at all. It is illogical and inconsistent to describe everything under the banner of democratic transformations, which are so necessary in the region. Nevertheless, I repeat again: in some countries, democratic changes do occur and are arranged, but in certain countries a "democratic revolution" (as it is fashionable to call them) is needed just for a change of government. And it is only afterwards other methods of governance are applied.
Our position is very simple: we are convinced that people have the right to a better life. If a huge number of people in the Middle East and North Africa wants to live better, to improve their social and economic status, get access to education or to a position in society and / or politics, if they want a change, so these aspirations must be maintained. But it is about not inciting the use of force and the violent overthrow of the regime, but to support to the organisation through a national dialogue to persuade the ruling regimes that have been a power for long time that it is in their interest and in the interests of their countries to begin the processes of national reconciliation, to develop models of political structure which will help maintain the unity of the country, for its strong position at regional and international levels. That is what we tried to do.
In the case of Libya, where, as you know, there was declared a task to establish a no-fly zone and only afterwards the rule of democracy, there took place a simple transformation of this no-fly zone into elementary, cynical occupation of the aviation of NATO member countries involved in the internal conflict that were on the side of the opponents of the regime of Gaddafi. This was evident in the shocking fact that Gaddafi was savagely killed by NATO forces. I am talking about consistency and "double standards" when I talk about how, a little later, we had warned of one scenario when illegal arms from Libya had begun being distributed to other countries: when the guerilla fighters who cannot be involved in anything else (rather than being members of extremist, terrorist organisations) also flow to different countries, they need a new war to overthrow someone else. By the way, the UN estimated that illegal flows of small arms from Libya which are mainly used by those involved in fights in the region, have been used in 12 countries.
You have probably heard of the battle in Mali to overthrow of the government and to the reject the northern part of the State. The terrorist groups, speculating on the aspirations of the population of Mali (tribes living in the North) to greater autonomy, are engaged into this process. When France, at the request of Mali's government, sent its troops to fight terrorists trying to split the country and seize the power in Bamako, they fought the troops with the same groups they had supported and armed in Libya. When I say this to my French colleagues, they reply that it is "C'est la vie". It is awful that it's "C'est la vie". You cannot divide terrorists into good and bad. If they helped to overthrow Gaddafi, they are good, and if afterwards they want to overthrow our "friend in Mali", so they are bad. So you cannot build up policy in such a way. It is completely unprofessional and at least short-sighted.
Now let’s turn to Syria. Certainly, the Syrian regime has made a lot of mistakes. Much earlier, two years ago, it was possible (and it was necessary) to initiate a national dialogue. Russia has repeatedly proposed to facilitate such a dialogue. We convinced the regime to support the initiative of the Arab League to send observers, and persuaded the Government of B. Assad to accept the plan proposed by K. Annan and accept the deploying of the United Nations observers in its territory. But in both cases, what happened, very quickly, was that as soon as observers began to report a more or less objective picture, they were withdrawn from there and their mandate was not extended.
We initiated the Geneva meeting on 30 June 2012, where it was possible to take the communiqué, which is now a "bible" for everyone. And now everybody says that it is the only basis for settling the Syrian crisis. Russia, together with the United States, called for a special conference to agree on full implementation of the Geneva communique accepted last year. As agreed, we have the consent of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, who declared his readiness to send a delegation to such a conference, without preconditions, to perform its tasks i.e. to implement all the provisions of the Geneva communique. But we have not received similar reaction from opposition.
The opposition, in principle, not being so strongly under the influence of our Western partners as under that of the rich countries of the region and the countries having a strong position against the regime, and who are probably not really committed to any conference, and who are betting on the military victory of the opposition, does not demonstrate any commitment to dialogue. The opposition wants the complete surrender of the regime – its own forces are lacking; therefore, it requires the military intervention of the West. Now the opposition is very inspired by the Americans’ statement that, in connection with certain facts, following the provision of evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the regime, President Barack Obama has decided to strike on Syria, but also wants to consult with Congress.
The problem of chemical weapons has occurred before. When, in March this year, not far from Aleppo, an incident very similar to use of chemical weapons occurred, the Syrian Government asked the UN to send experts immediately to investigate it. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon agreed but then – I will not leave this in the dark, because it was discussed openly – he was pressed by United Kingdom and France, as they said that just to send a team of experts to investigate this particular incident would not satisfy things. They ordered a request from the Government of Bashar al-Assad for an agreement to admit any number of inspectors with any amount of equipment at any place and at any time throughout the territory of Syria, that there could not be even a single corner, where inspectors could not have access. The inspection team had the same mandate in Iraq, which you remembered in your question. We all know how it ended.
Firstly, Iraq was under the influence of the UN Security Council sanctions imposed in 1990 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and Syria is not under such sanctions. Secondly, there is no evidence that this intrusive, dimensionless mandate is required to investigate a particular incident which occurred on March 19. When the Syrian government, as I understand it, completely rejected an absolute colonial mandate being imposed by the United Kingdom and France, it appealed to us. Russian experts, in full compliance of the rules of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), took samples, did the analysis and submitted a full report with calculations, photographs, specific dates, times, names, results of the analysis completed in OPCW-certified laboratories. This report (almost 200 pages) was submitted to the UN Security Council, to its members. We said that, in the absence of the UN actions, we will contribute and ask it to evaluate the report from a professional point of view. We have not received any feedback from any of the Security Council members. But the British, French, Americans has been talking for the last few months about the fact that there is overwhelming evidence that the regime had used chemical weapons. And in recent days, as you all know, the Americans announced they have credible evidence, confirming that the regime used chemical weapons near Damascus in Huta on August 21 this year.
It was very strange to hear that John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State and my good friend and colleague, in his recent speech on the subject, said that it was the U.S. side who provided to the Russian side irrefutable evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the regime, and Russia deliberately refused to acknowledge this fact. As for the conscious-unconscious, we are trying to do everything consciously, when any facts are recognised or not, as the case may be. No one wanted to act unconsciously in the foreign policy.
Secondly, yes, we were shown some presentations, which did not contain anything specific – geographic coordinates, names, evidence that the samples were taken by professionals – but there were no comments on the fact that many experts had serious doubt about the videos, "floating" in the Internet. In these presentations, there is a mass of inconsistencies and absurdities recognised if we say that these are pictures of the use of chemical weapons and the victims. In general, there are many doubts. Therefore, the fact that our American partners, as well as the British and French, showed us these things earlier and show them now, means that we have not been convinced. There are no facts there, there is just talk about the fact that "we know for sure." When they are asked to present a more detailed verification, the answer is that it is secret, so it cannot be shown to anyone. Hence, there is no such evidence for the purpose of international cooperation.
There is another, more global aspect of this theme that goes far beyond the scope of the Syrian crisis and general issues relating to non-proliferation of WMD. Non-proliferation regimes have recently been exposed to increasing risks and threats. One of the problems that is on the verge of becoming a serious one is a failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East (WMD-free zone). In 2010, when there was a Review Conference of the NPT execution (this conference is held every five years), there was adopted a resolution that the conference on the formation of WMD-free zone in the Middle East region, to be held no later than 2012, would be held by consensus. In addition, it is not only about nuclear weapons, but also about any weapons of mass destruction and means of its delivery. Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States as the NPT depositary States were identified as the co-founders of the conference, along with a representative of the UN Secretary General. Despite our best efforts (just ours, I will not hide it, because we are in many ways blamed, so you need to know the truth), because of the position of the USA the founders could not even announce the date of the convening of this conference. Our American partners have referred to numerous circumstances. We agree that these circumstances exist, and that many of them are objective, in particular those relating to the participation of all countries in the region with the corresponding potential — not only the Arab states, but also Israel and Iran. This is a very difficult task.
However, the only reference is to the fact that the task is difficult – and that it should therefore postpone its implementation, to hear them say it – is wrong and is a departure from the decisions already taken, which everybody has signed. The conference was to be held last year. Now we are seeking to determine the date when the next NPT review will be held, as soon as possible (like, in a year); and the Arab countries of the region – in my view, rightly – say that if the promises to support the idea of a WMD-free zone and other weapons of mass destruction will not be fulfilled, they will not assist with other problems of such review conferences in a constructive way.
But the problems are serious, and primarily related to the fact that they enhance rather than extend the non-proliferation regime. Syria, by the way, was one of the initiators of the idea of making the Middle East such a zone. Through such mechanisms, it is necessary to resolve problems related to the risks of WMD components getting into the wrong hands. We need to act with the involvement of dialogue of all those who have similar technology, providing confidence-building measures, transparency, etc. Whereas with threats, especially based on the unproven (from our point of view, as we have seen these papers) affirmations will not solve anything. If there really is some super-secret data, it is necessary to abolish this secrecy. It is a question of matters of war and peace. And it is simply inappropriate to continue the "games in secrecy".