Russia’s goal in Syria is to ensure national security – PM Medvedev
"You probably know that thousands of Russian citizens and individuals from other post-Soviet republics are fighting in Syria," Medvedev said in an interview with the Channel 2 ahead of his visit to Israel scheduled for next week.
"These completely brainwashed people return home as professional murderers and terrorists. And we don't want them to stage something similar in Russia after their Syrian stints expire,” the prime minister said, explaining the reasons behind Russia’s campaign in Syria.
“First of all, we want them to stay there,” he said, adding that Russia already faced similar problems “in the context of the Caucasus war in the 1990s,” referring to two wars Russia waged in Chechnya.
About 2,900 Russians left for the Middle East and joined the ranks of various jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, including Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) by the end of 2015, according to Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Russian security service, the FSB.
Russia’s actions in Syria are based not only on the need to counter “the growing threat of destabilization of the Middle East” but, above all, on the “necessity to protect our national interests,” Medvedev said.
At the same time, the Russian prime minister also said that list of Russia’s goals in Syria includes lending assistance to President Bashar Assad. “Syrian government addressed us … asking for military assistance,” he said, adding that Russia has a relevant treaty and stressing that Russian President Vladimir Putin took the decision to “render them [Syrian government] military assistance in a limited way that corresponds with our national interests.”
Medvedev also emphasized that Russia is not helping Assad to retain power, but instead is trying to prevent Syria from disintegration and falling into the hands of terrorists.
“What we would definitely not like is Syria disintegrating into several enclaves … parts, as it happened in Libya so that each such sector would be controlled by various terrorist groups,” he told Channel 2, adding that “it would be very dangerous for everyone.”
He also said that Syria “had probably been the most stable and civilized Arab state in the Middle East … that balanced the interests of all ethnical and religious groups.” The prime minister added that “what happened in Syria … is sad and provides a sources of instability for the whole Middle East.”
Medvedev went on to say that transition of power in Syria should take place in a legitimate way through national reconciliation. “Various parties to the conflict should sit down at the negotiating table except for outright terrorists” to develop a new political system, he said.
“We don't know whether this system would have any place for Bashar al-Assad or someone else, this is not our business, and it must be decided by the people of Syria,” the prime minister added.
US should pay more attention to humanitarian problems stemming from its actions
Medvedev also dismissed the US accusations against Russia concerning its actions in Syria by calling them “one-sided.”
“The US that usually wages two or three military campaigns at the same time never sees its own problems but tries to put the blame on someone else,” the Russian prime minister said, adding that each situation, in which civilians fall victims to combat operations, requires investigation.
He also drew attention to the fact that the US “does not seem to be particularly concerned” about the situations, in which the US air strikes “hit hospitals, funeral processions or schools.”
“Our American colleagues should pay better attention to humanitarian problems, which they are facing right now, including … the Mosul operation in Iraq, as well as a number of other issues,” Medvedev added.
At the same time, he stressed that Russia continues to carry on a dialog with the US and is always open for dialog, “no matter how difficult it might be.” He also stressed that the only way to ease the situation around Aleppo and in Syria in general is to minimize the existing problems and to launch political negotiations.
Medvedev stressed that Russia is doing everything possible to achieve this goal while the western countries do not fulfill their promises, once again emphasizing the necessity to separate moderate opposition from terrorists and their affiliates.
“We understand that, when all these forces stick together, they actually do the terrorists’ bidding. And it is the most significant problem both in Aleppo and in other parts of Syria,” especially those controlled by Islamic State, he said, adding that the US and its allies “have done nothing” to resolve this issue.