No sign US is seriously battling Al-Nusra; calls not to fly over Aleppo suspicious – Lavrov
Moscow “doesn’t see any facts that the US is seriously battling Al-Nusra [now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham],” Lavrov said in an interview aired on Channel One Russia on Sunday.
Russia is also suspicious about Washington’s calls for Russia and the Syrian Air Force to cease their bombing runs against terrorists in Aleppo, the Russian Foreign Minister said.
“And it’s also suspicious that they call on us and the Syrian air force not to fly over Aleppo because, yes, the main force of Al-Nusra front is there, but there are also allegedly representatives of the ‘moderate opposition,’ who are surrounded and have nowhere to go except to Al-Nusra,” Lavrov said.
“So don’t touch Al-Nusra, because it is not humane in relation to the normal guys [‘moderate opposition’], and we will fight Al-Nusra later,” Lavrov said, as if mimicking Washington officials.
“And this ‘later’ never comes. [Washington] promised to separate these normal guys from Al-Nusra back in February,” he added.
Lavrov said that he has repeatedly asked US Secretary of State John Kerry if the US has some special plan for Al-Nusra Front.
“I asked Kerry if [the US] has some hidden plan to save Al-Nusra… so that at some point to make it a main force to overthrow Assad. He swore that this was untrue, and that they are really fighting Al-Nusra.”
Lavrov noted that, though US fighter jets frequently carry out attacks on Islamic State militants, the efficiency is quite low.
“US bombers very often return to the Incirlik Air Base [in Turkey] or to other bases they use, with unspent ammunition. There is a high frequency of flights, but the efficiency is very low. Some estimates put it at 15 to 20 percent,” he said.
On Saturday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) vetoed two rival resolutions proposed by Russia and France on dealing with the escalating situation in Syria, and the war-torn city of Aleppo, in particular.
The French proposal called for “upgraded” coordination of monitoring of the situation in Syria and reactivating the cessation of hostilities in Aleppo. One of the key points of the proposal was putting a halt to Syrian and Russian bombing raids in East Aleppo.
Russia, in turn, submitted a counter-resolution on Syria to the UNSC, in which Moscow called for bringing an immediate halt to the violence in war-ravaged Aleppo, but not for a ceasing anti-terrorist strikes there. Monitoring should then be evaluated by the International Syrian Support Group (ISSG), the document said. The proposal also stressed the urgent need to a separate the ‘moderate rebels’ from terrorist groups like Al-Nusra in Aleppo, as was agreed upon between Moscow and Washington on September 9 in Geneva.
Moscow has repeatedly insisted that any peace plan for Syria and Aleppo, in particular, will not bear fruit until the US-backed rebels clearly distance themselves from Al-Nusra.
Moscow is certain that Washington doesn’t want a military scenario in Syria, Lavrov said.
“I am sure that US Secretary of State john Kerry and President Barack Obama wouldn’t welcome such a move [military scenario]. Obama has repeatedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin that he stands for a political solution to the crisis,” he said.
Commenting on rumors recently appearing in the media claiming that Washington is planning to bomb Syrian army airfields, Lavrov said that Russia has assets to protect its two bases in Syria – the Khmeimim Air base and Tartus naval base.
“This is a very dangerous game, given that Russia, being in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government of this country and having two bases there, has air defense systems there to protect its assets.”
US’ aggressive Russophobia behind suspension of plutonium disposal deal
Aggressive Russophobia, which affects Russia’s national interests and endangers its safety and security, prompted Moscow to suspend the Russia-US deal on plutonium disposal, Lavrov said.
We noticed “aggressive Russophobia,” which is now in the core policy of the US towards Russia, he said.
“It’s not rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps which really concern own national interests and endanger our security. This NATO enlargement and [location of] NATO military infrastructure next to our borders…,” he said.
“This deployment of US heavy weapons [next to the Russian border]… and the deployment of a missile defense system – these are all a display of unfriendly, hostile actions,” Lavrov concluded.
According to the foreign minister, Russia will never use plutonium falling under the deal with the US for military purposes.
Russia suspended a post-Cold War deal with the US on disposal of plutonium from decommissioned nuclear warheads earlier in October. The decision was explained by “the hostile actions of the US” against Russia. It may be reversed, if such actions cease.
The treaty between the US and Russia, which regulates how the two countries are to dispose of plutonium from nuclear warheads decommissioned as part of a parallel reduction of the two countries’ Cold War arsenals, was signed in 2000. Each country is required to dispose of over 34 tons of fissile material by turning it into so-called MOX fuel and burning it in nuclear reactors.
However, the cost of building a facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where the US was supposed to produce MOX fuel from its plutonium, spiraled out of control. Under the Obama administration, the US decided that it would use a cheaper reversible process instead, arguing that it was in line with the spirit of the deal with Russia.