The Minister Got Bleeped… Not Infrequently
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview on Первый Канал (Pervy Kanal: Channel One) that the USA is trying to blackmail Russia and the world by forcing its upside-down Syria peace scenario on the international community. Lavrov accused Washington of excessively politicking the Syrian crisis. He said that the USA was using the civil war in the Middle East to “assert its supremacy” in order to make the region “dance to its tune”. Lavrov emphasised that this approach had nothing to do with the long-overdue peace process and the Russian-backed plan to neutralise the Assad government’s chemical weapons.
He called on the USA to come to terms with the fact that the world had become “polycentric” and it was no good forcing America’s opinions onto it. This was the first time that the usually-unruffled foreign minister lashed out at Moscow’s Western partners. Lavrov’s tone in his Pervy Kanal interview indicated deep tensions between Russia and China on the one hand and the USA-UK-France coalition on the other. Lavrov’s interview came ahead of his trip to New York, where he’s to attend the UN General Assembly. The upcoming days are a “ministerial week”, during which Lavrov expects to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior diplomats. The anticipation is that the trilateral talks between Sergei Lavrov, John Kerry, and UN head Ban Ki-moon will kick-start a new peace conference on Syria, dubbed Geneva 2.
Lavrov said that the recent publication of the UN inspectors’ report on Syria’s chemical stockpile gave way to a large number of insinuations, proving that the West never genuinely wanted a probe in the first place. Lavrov told Pervy Kanal, “The USA and France never actually pretended to make too much of this report. They claimed to know everything beforehand, saying their intelligence was flawless, although we were never presented with full data, whilst the evidence they chose to show us didn’t prove the involvement of chemical weapons”.
Lavrov noted that before the UN probe, an open letter by CIA and Pentagon veterans to the US President appeared on 8 September saying that the alleged 21 August chemical attack near Damascus was a provocation. The letter accused CIA Director John Brennan of trying to repeat the Iraq scenario by misleading Americans and Congress once again. The concerned American vets cited British intelligence as saying that the Syrian government wasn’t implicated in the gassing of civilians. The call went unnoticed.
Lavrov claimed that the USA intentionally spun the UN report to force its approach onto Russia and the international community, saying, “Our Western partners are trying to blackmail us… if we don’t endorse the UN Security Council’s Chapter VII resolution we’d effectively annul OPCW’s work in The Hague. It runs contrary to everything we agreed on with John Kerry… that is, we’d wait for OPCW’s decision and, then, shore it up with a Security Council resolution, though not under Chapter VII”. Lavrov suggested that the West saw the Russian-American brokered deal on Syria’s chemical weapons not as an opportunity to rid the world of the existing toxic arsenal, but as “a chance to push a brute-force resolution through the Russian-Chinese bloc, to topple the regime, gloss over opposition’s actions, and to assign the blame to Bashar al-Assad and get a free hand for military scenarios. They [the West] can’t admit their mistakes. They made a mistake in Libya when they bombed the country and pushed it to the brink of disintegration; they made a mistake in Iraq where they did the same blunders, in addition to launching a land operation and wreaking havoc in the country, which sees dozens of innocents die every passing day at the hand of terrorists. It’s no one’s concern anymore. Now, everyone is saying that Bashar al-Assad must go. Of course, they don’t want to talk about a catastrophe that their series of military operations caused in the region”.
Lavrov highlighted that two in three opposition militants are jihadists bent on turning Syria into an Islamist Caliphate. This could unleash a disaster in the entire Middle East. He also fought back the recent attempts to pile responsibility for elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal on Russia, saying, “I’d like to point up that we can’t guarantee that Syria would give up its chemical weapons. We saw to it that Syria joined the anti-chemical weapons convention without any reservations, as the Americans did once. Now, Syria is a liable party to this document, meaning that the international community… or the OPCW, in this matter… can guarantee that Syria complies with it”. Lavrov also pointed out that international community didn’t need to send troops to Syria to monitor the process of chemical weapons disposal. He said that police were enough to protect OPCW inspectors and offered Russian security forces for this task.
Interview of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Pervy Kanal
Pervy Kanal (PK)
There were reports that Syria supplied Russia with evidence that the Sarin attack on 21 August was the work of the rebels. What kind of evidence is it?
This week, my deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, was in Damascus to meet with the Syrian President, the Foreign Minister, weapons experts, and Syrian-based opposition politicians, those who’ve never emigrated and tried to dictate reforms from abroad. The evidence produced by the Syrians is purely technical. Now, Russian experts are scrutinising it. It supplements what Russia and the family of nations already know. Independent experts analysing the available evidence agree that the rebels routinely organise provocations aimed at accusing the government of using chemical weapons. This would create a good pretext for foreign military aid to their side.
Based on the latest report from the UN inspectors in Syria, France and the USA concluded that the régime conducted last month’s Sarin attack. However, Russia concluded that the rebels are to blame. Why has the same report led to diametrically opposite conclusions?
France and the USA never made secret the fact that they didn’t need any report. Long before it came out, they said that they possessed irrefutable intelligence… which they never shared with us… that the régime launched the regime Sarin attack. What they did share with us doesn’t lead to this conclusion. Nuns at a local convent and visiting journalists quoted rebel fighters as saying that foreign sources supplied them with unfamiliar munitions, which they didn’t know how to handle, but ultimately used in combat.
Many times, I’ve mentioned a letter in which veterans of the US military and the CIA told the whole truth of the event. Accordingly, I’m not surprised that a report about the nature of the weapons found at the site… not about who used them! …was expeditiously seized upon by several countries, including the USA and France, as proof that the Syrian régime was the culprit. This approach, which led to that conclusion, has nothing to do with professionalism or science. However, it has everything to do with ideology and politics. After 21 August, Syrian government forces were gassed three more times… on 22, 24, and 25 August. We hope the UN team will come back to investigate these attacks as well. So far, the Western powers abused their influence on the UN Secretariat to leave these incidents uninvestigated, to try to get the inspectors to compile a report on the 21 August attack hastily. Fortunately, Åke Sellström, the head of the UN inspector team, announced plans to return to Syria to investigate chemical attacks that took place after 21 August.
Carla Del Ponte, a UN human rights official, said that she believes that the rebels are the likeliest culprits in the 21 August attack. So do several CIA veterans, many independent experts, and defecting rebels. Why does the West remain deaf to their well-substantiated opinion? The ouster of Assad most likely portends power in the hands of Islamist radicals. Who’s interested in this?
Their ideologically-motivated pursuit of régime change blinds our Western partners. About two years ago, they said that Bashar al-Assad has no place in this world and that he must go. Now, they’re unwilling to admit blunder. They blundered in Libya, where their air campaign pushed the country to the brink of collapse. They also blundered in Iraq, where their invasion resulted in a continuing situation in which dozens of people die each day in terror attacks. Moreover, they aren’t prepared to admit guilt for these catastrophes. Their only talk is about Assad, who must go. The Western approach is all about politics. The West wants to show the world that it remains the ultimate power, which calls the shots in the Middle East. Russia wants to solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syrian hands. The West is after something different. If that weren’t so, its tactics on the UN Security Council would be very different. The Western powers didn’t even wait for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to pass a resolution on Syria, as was agreed between US Secretary of State John Kerry and me.
That was the main point of our agreement. They’re already pushing a Security Council resolution invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of military force against countries that violate international law. If they were after the chemical disarmament of Syria, they’d be acting on our agreement and preparing an appropriate resolution of the OPCW. The USA even resorted to blackmail with regard to Russia… support a UNSC resolution invoking Chapter VII, or we’d stop working on a resolution of the Hague-based OPCW! This is at stark variance with what Kerry and I agreed upon. We actually agreed that the OPCW comes first, and the UNSC, second… without mentioning Chapter VII into the bargain.
The Western media pointed up that your agreement with Kerry elevated Russia’s Middle East role to a level unseen since the 1970s. Now, the West is trying to erode this Russian victory. What’ll Moscow do in the event the UN Security Council passes a threatening resolution on Syria?
Any Security Council resolution on Syria must have a basis in the conclusions made by the OPCW, and it can’t mention Chapter VII. Accordingly, no one can use such a resolution to justify unilateral military action against Syria. It’s quite strange that the West appears to ignore new possibilities to bring about the chemical disarmament of Syria. Assad’s government signed up to the chemical weapons ban and it’s prepared to comply with it immediately, without even waiting for one month, after which it’d be obliged to comply.
During his Damascus visit, the Syrian government told my deputy Sergei Ryabkov that it’s prepared to disclose the details of its chemical arsenal… including types, production, deployment, and storage. Ignoring these opportunities and pushing an ideologically-motivated UNSC resolution instead smacks of irresponsibility and poor professionalism. The West wants the UN Security Council to confound conclusions made by the OPCW with talk about human rights and the International Criminal Court. It doesn’t see the Russian-American agreement on Syria as an opportunity to rid the world of that country’s chemical weapons. It wants to use it as an instrument to override opposition from Russia and China, to make the UN Security Council pass a resolution that would whitewash the Syrian rebels, blame everything on the régime, and pave the way for outside military action against Syria. Moreover, any such action would give power to the rebels, two-thirds, or even three-quarters, of whom are jihadists from groups like al-Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. These jihadists are after a regional Caliphate. Looking a little bit into the future would help Western powers realise this.
The emerging political landscape of North Africa and the Middle East is quite scary. It already includes a shattered Libya, a dangerously-destabilised Egypt, and a turbulent Islamist-ruled Tunisia. What does the West hope to gain from this?
I’m unable to answer this question. President Putin, too, so far, failed to get a clear answer from his Western counterparts. They only offer well-beaten mantras about democracy and human rights. However, to say the least, we believe that upholding only these without caring for stability in a key world area is irresponsible. Responsible politicians don’t behave in this way. Some analysts suspect that the West is muddying the Middle East waters in order to fish in them. I believe that this strategy is futile. Probably, it represents an attempt to clutch a straw in an effort to return the family of nations to a situation many years ago when the world was unipolar. Now, it’s multipolar, one has to govern it collectively. The UN Charter defines the UN as an organisation for collective action. Let’s follow this definition and abandon attempts to impose our standards on other countries and civilisations.
Syria said that the destruction of its chemical arsenal would take one year and cost one billion USD (32 billion Roubles. 1.06 billion AUD. 1.03 billion CAD. 740 million Euros. 623 million UK Pounds). It also said that it’s prepared to surrender this arsenal to any country that undertakes to destroy it. Do we possess a roadmap for this destruction? Do we know what kind of technology will be involved?
The experts who accompanied Kerry and me in Genève already submitted their professional opinions to the OPCW. The OPCW will refine these opinions and include them in a draft Russian-American resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons. We’d have to bring many clauses… for instance, those on visiting disclosed chemical weapons sites… into strict compliance with international conventions outlawing chemical warfare. This isn’t that difficult, provided the West drops its arrogant insistence on a Security Council resolution mentioning Chapter VII. Unfortunately, it continues to issue warnings that it’d stop working with the OPCW in the event the Security Council failed to pass such a resolution. If it indeed follows through on this threat, it’d show the world that it’s after something other than the chemical disarmament of Syria.
As for the billion dollars, my talks with Kerry produced much lower estimates. Now, it’s up to OPCW experts to produce a more exact estimate of the costs. These experts would travel the length and breadth of Syria to determine which stockpiles we could destroy immediately on the spot, what munitions we should move to other countries for destruction, and what requires the construction of dedicated disposal facilities on Syrian territory. In Russia, we already operate facilities of this kind. We use them to dispose of Soviet-era chemical stockpiles. We’d also have to settle some legal difficulties, because the Convention stipulates for the destruction of each chemical warfare item in its host country. I hope there’d be no problem with this. Appropriate amendments are possible.
Does what you’ve just said suppose the deployment of international military forces on Syrian territory?
It doesn’t. However, there’s an understanding that personnel capable of cooperating with the Syrian authorities in locating, protecting, and guarding the disclosed chemical warfare sites would accompany the OPCW experts. Working together with the Syrians, such personnel would prepare Syria’s chemical arsenal for destruction. To ensure the security and safety of these operations, Russia’s offered troops and military police to guard perimeters of storage and disposal sites. We only need a very limited number of international service personnel. Most should be simple observers, sent by the Security Council Permanent Five, several Arab nations, and Turkey. We must make the sides in the Syrian conflict aware that this contingent wouldn’t be biased in favour of any of them. They must also realise that provocations won’t pay. Under the Russian-American agreement, Syria, as the host country, bears the main burden of responsibility for the security of inspections and disposal operations. In Genève, we also pointed up that the Syrian opposition, too, is responsible for security around inspectors and chemical warfare sites. This also applies to the foreign backers of the Syrian opposition. We can’t allow them to encourage provocations by the rebel side.
According to Israeli intelligence reports, on at least two occasions, rebel fighters briefly held Syrian chemical warfare sites. Now, the rebels are likely to possess Sarin, including imported material. Last summer, Turkish authorities apprehended two al-Nusra members carrying metal cylinders with Sarin. How can foreign governments know which rebel group possesses Sarin and how much?
Under the resolution in the works at the OPCW, all Syrian chemical weapons, no matter if they’re government-held or opposition-held, must be disclosed and destroyed. I see the Israeli reports as credible and giving the lie to Western assertions that only the régime possesses chemical weapons in Syria. Probably, the rebels stole Sarin, and, maybe, synthesised it in their backyard labs. The OPCW mission in Syria must include effective efforts to persuade the sponsors of rebel groups, including radicals, to make their clients submit their chemical arsenals for destruction. This is an absolute must under the international Convention that outlawed chemical warfare.
Now, Russia’s a de facto guarantor of chemical disarmament of Syria. The West says that Moscow’s timetable to pull off the task is unrealistic. Is there any truth in this?
Actually, the Americans proposed the timetable and we agreed on it with them at our talks in Genève. Russia doesn’t act as a guarantor. True, we persuaded the Syrians to unconditionally sign up to the chemical warfare ban. The USA, by the way, signed up with reservations. Now, the member states of the OPCW act as the guarantor of chemical disarmament in Syria.
Flying to Genève, did you have expectations that the Americans would be amenable to persuasion on Syria?
I never thought about this. I was happy… in the best professional sense… that we successfully defended our position without surrendering anything that we couldn’t surrender. Importantly, we didn’t resort to crude pressure and achieved everything through compromise, without indulging in ideology or politics, and in full compliance with the international chemical warfare ban.
I realise there were checks and balances at work. However, what was the most difficult point at issue in Genève?
In short, the Americans wanted to put the cart before the horse and make us accept a Security Council resolution mentioning Chapter VII even before the OPCW came up with its conclusions. Fortunately, ultimately, we agreed on the other way round. The Security Council would discuss Syria’s chemical disarmament with OPCW conclusions on the table. It’d chart extra measures, probably, including extra international personnel to guard perimeters of storage and disposal sites. It’d also take into account any advice from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. However, the West continues to insist with utmost energy that a resolution mentioning Chapter VII must come first, before any conclusions or advice. Once passed, a resolution of this kind would provide a justification for taking unilateral military action against Syria. We insisted that our Western partners respect international law, including the chemical warfare ban, and drop attempts to push through a resolution that’d upstage this ban and put their geopolitical and personal ambitions to the fore.
The chemical disarmament of Syria doesn’t spell the end of the civil war in that Middle Eastern country. What subsequent measures do we need to end this war?
A negotiated political settlement is the best thing, with the only realistic basis being the Genève Communiqué, signed on 30 June 2012 by the Security Council Permanent Five, the Arab League, Turkey, the EU, and the UN. In the process of hammering out this communiqué, Russia persuaded most of the delegates to the conference to reject Western demands that the participating sides back a Security Council resolution mentioning Chapter VII and that Bashar al-Assad must go. Successfully, Russia and China argued that these demands are unilateral and hopelessly unrealistic. The Genève Communiqué urged the Syrian government and the opposition to put together a mutually-acceptable interim administration that’d govern Syria in the period prior to the adoption of a new constitution and general elections. Later, last summer, Russia asked the UN Security Council to approve the Genève Communiqué. The Americans disagreed, insisting the proposed resolution must mention Chapter VII and tell Assad that he must go. Now, there’s a strong feeling of déjà vu about the international diplomacy over Syria. Negotiators in Genève drafted a new communiqué that doesn’t mention Chapter VII. Meanwhile, at the Security Council, the Western bloc pushed a resolution that explicitly mentions Chapter VII.
The Russian government is a credible negotiating partner. Russia honours its international agreements and never backtracks from them. It also staunchly resists attempts to violate international law. Unfortunately, we can’t say this about some of its Western partners.
22 September 2013
Voice of Russia World Service
The last sentence says it all:
Unfortunately, we can’t say this about some of its Western partners.
In diplomatic terms, this is strong stuff. Lavrov’s calling the West’s bluff and calling them “liars” (in diplomatic language, of course). Personally, Lavrov has a habit of using “mat” when he knows that his interlocutor doesn’t speak Russian. In this case, he knows that the Amerikantsy are arrogant brats who don’t know shit from shinola about the Orthosphere, the Sinosphere, and the Ummahsphere (not to mention the Iberosphere, Hindosphere, and Afrosphere). He’s calling them out… and the Amerikantsy are dumb enough to fall for it. This will only deepen the Russo-Chinese alliance, and it may cause India to have second thoughts about America’s word. Lavrov’s getting good press outside of the USA, he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about CNN or Fox News… he knows that they’re unfair and quite biased (what’s the diff between Bill O’Reilly and Christiane Amanpour? NONE… both are overpriced whores who owe their large paycheques to their being obedient lickspittle running dogs to their oligarch paymasters).
However, don’t let the Sturm und Drang from Washington obscure the truth for you… there’s going to be no war. The USA can’t afford it, and that’s that.