‘Russia backs international law, not Assad’ – Putin’s spokesman
Sophie Shevardnadze: President Putin has given a detailed interview explaining Russia’s position on the Syrian conflict, though something remains a little unclear. He said “As soon as Russia gets solid evidence that there was a chemical attack in Syria it will act decisively.” What exactly does that mean?
Dmitry Peskov: The Russian position is very simple, it’s very straightforward and it’s quite obvious. As a matter of fact – and it was said many times by numerous Russian representatives – Russia has never been an advocate of President Assad. Russia has always been an advocate of the supremacy of international law. That is actually what we are trying to explain to our partners: it is a necessity for everyone to stick to the rules and principles of international law. And international law stipulates that the only body that can make use of force against any country legitimately is the United Nations Security Council. And not a single country in the world, not any other international organization can do that.
Both Moscow and Washington, and also all other capitals in the world, are strictly against the usage of weapons of mass destruction – in the case of Syria, it’s chemical weapons. And Russia totally shares the concern of the United States and other partners of ours that these kinds of weapons could be used during the conflict.
SS: So to be precise, if Russia is presented with evidence that a chemical attack did take place, what would be the decisive action that President Putin is talking about?
DP: It depends on the evidence. And evidence can be proven
only by relevant experts, by the United Nations. So they have
completed their job in Damascus. They have returned, and now all
the evidence is being examined by relevant bodies. So we have to
wait until we see the results of this examination.
Unfortunately, the evidence that was mentioned by [US Secretary
of State] Mr. Kerry, brought by the American representative to
Moscow, is not satisfactory in terms of proving that those
weapons were used by either side.
SS: But it’s not because we have proof that Assad didn’t use them, right? We don’t have the proof of that either?
DP: Well, we have, let’s say, a very strong understanding that there could be a place for provocation, for a strong provocation. And currently we don’t have any direct evidence, straightforward evidence, first of all, that these weapons were used; and secondly, that they were used by the Syrian Army.
SS: Putin also confirmed that Russia keeps fulfilling its obligations in terms of supplying and maintaining some equipment. He did say that only some parts of the S-300 anti-aircraft system were sent to Syria and the rest would be delivered if the situation doesn’t escalate further and tensions would go down. What exactly is Russia supplying to Syria now? Weapons? Military equipment?
DP: Russia is continuing to fulfill its obligations written in relevant contracts that were signed between Russian companies and Syrian companies. We don’t have any international regime of sanctions; and what is being done by Russia in this sense is in complete accordance with international law. Russia is in no way violating any single point, any single article of it.
SS: Sure. I don’t think there’s a question that Russia is violating any of the laws. But is it a secret?
DP: If you want to ask for a list of the equipment that is being sent…
SS: So there is military equipment and weapons, right?
DP: Well, definitely.
SS: Does Russia have anything to do with chemical stockpiles in Syria – whoever has access to them at this point? Do we know the origins of these chemical stockpiles?
DP: Syria is a country that possesses chemical weapons, that’s known. It’s known internationally; and the legitimate government of the country and legitimate army of the country is in control of it.
‘G20 to provide platform for Syrian issue discussion’
SS: Ban Ki-moon says that he does want Syria to be on the agenda of the G20. Do you think anything is going to happen there?
DP: Unavoidably it will be. And actually we have to admit that leaders will have a very good chance to exchange their views on Syria, although the agenda of the summit was preset a long time ago. And it’s really overloaded by economic issues, and G20 generally is a format created for the discussion of economic issues. But definitely leaders will have to find some additional time to tackle the Syrian problem.
SS: There are speculations that Obama will use the G20 platform to promote his Syrian case. Do you think it’s a sure bet for him?
DP: I have no doubt that Mr. Obama will explain his
argument and that he will share his views on this problem with
his counterparts. And also I have no doubt that Mr. Putin will
also have a perfect opportunity to share his personal views and
Russia’s views on Syria with his colleagues, given the fact that,
let’s say, the situation in the camp of those who are seeking a
strike is very controversial. And we cannot say that lots of
countries are supporting the idea of that strike.
SS: Except for France, no one’s really supporting the strike. I mean the issue didn’t find popular support with the usual US allies. Even Putin was surprised. Why do you think that happened this time?
DP: Well, we have a bitter experience. The international community has a bitter experience of these kinds of strikes - strikes that were performed after presenting a strange powder of white color in the United Nations, and so on and so forth; after performing a no-fly zone accompanied by heavy bombardment of civilian sites and so on and so forth, as happened in Libya. And also now we are all sharing the bitter experience of consequences of those strikes. We mean a turbulent situation in those countries. So it never led to stability; it never led to prosperity. To the contrary, it actually brought huge suffering for people in the countries and maybe even irreparable damage for unity in those countries.
SS:Do you think America will strike? Your personal opinion...
DP: I don’t think so. I read what was said by the President of the United States, and he said that he had taken a decision to perform a strike. Definitely now we all will be watching the discussion in the Congress as to what the overwhelming opinion in the Congress will be. Also we hope for contacts between our parliamentarians and congressmen. Let’s not forget about the initiative of our parliamentarians to go to the United States, or to invite their counterparts from the Hill to discuss the situation and to try to compensate for the inability of the governments to come to a single point of view.
Syrian intervention to make Iran’s stance 'more tense'
SS: Talking about Congress, though, President Obama sent off American ships towards Syria, way before any decision was taken, way before any proof or evidence of anything had been presented. I mean, keeping in mind this scenario, this setting, could Congress vote ‘no’? And, like, embarrass their leader in front of the whole world, so he has to turn back the ships and go back home?
DP: I don’t think I’m in a position to discuss the domestic affairs of the United States. They have lots of domestic experts to do that.
SS: But do you think the Congress will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’? In your opinion… What’s your guess?
DP: I think that all of us will deeply appreciate the readiness of Congress to take into account every single argument before taking the final decision.
SS: There are so many arguments though. The American public doesn’t want it; American soldiers seem to disapprove of this particular strike; The UK Parliament voted against it; all US allies except France don’t seem to want to launch this attack. And yet why do you think Obama is so adamant to strike now?
DP: As a matter of fact we don’t know. We don’t know and
we think that this can lead to very bitter consequences: to a
total destabilization of the region. This will pave the way to
further turbulence in bordering countries. And more than that,
and what is maybe even more important, this will be another nail
in the coffin of international law and international relations
that we used to have after the Second World War.
SS: But could this maybe just be some preparations for Iran – the next thing to come?
DP: Well, it’s another question. I suggest that we leave it aside.
SS: You know, why I’m asking is because usually when Western countries launch an attack on any other country, except restoring the rule of law and democracy, there are precise pragmatic reasons behind the launches like with Iraq and with Libya – it’s understandable because there is a lot of oil.
SS: We don’t really understand what’s in it for the West or for America and France at this point with Syria, unless Iran is the next step to take.
DP: Well, we all know that inflaming a war, inflaming another war in the region, will definitely make Iran’s position more tense. Iran is a very important country in the region. It’s a very important power in the region. And so it’s impossible to think about the region without taking into account the position of Iran. That’s why definitely we all have to be very diplomatic and very balanced in our approach. And bringing imbalance into this situation may lead to tension that none of us needs.
SS: Just very briefly about UK and Syria. Did Cameron’s failure to convince the House of Commons to launch a strike come as a surprise to you?
DP: Well, Mr. President has talked about his surprise; but he also talked of his appreciation of their decision.
‘Kremlin never invited Snowden’
SS: With Snowden and Syria between Russia and America, from the outside things look really tense. In his interview about Syria, though, Putin’s tone was pretty mild. And when he was asked about Obama he was super-diplomatic and also very mild. He said he didn’t see any catastrophe in Obama not coming to Moscow prior to the G20. You, though, how do you think things are looking between the US and Russia at this point with two major issues on the agenda that are unresolved?
DP: Definitely, we are not living through the best period of our bilateral relationship. And definitely what we’re having now is not the desired result of the ‘reload’ in our relationship. And definitely we have to think about a kind of ‘reset’, before we open a new page. Russia has always been a country that was willing, and is willing, and will continue to be willing to have a good relationship with America. We are interested in economic cooperation. We do share with the United States the responsibility for global stability and strategic stability. We share responsibility for stability and peace in different regions of the world. And we sincerely believe that all this is possible only on the basis of mutual understanding and mutual benefits. So it should be a mutually beneficial process. If it is single-sided then automatically we’ll have to face difficulties in bilateral relations. But nevertheless we’ll continue to seek advanced and good relationships with the United States. This is what has been said by President Putin and definitely he will be glad to welcome his American counterpart in St. Petersburg.
SS:Do you think a one-on-one meeting will actually take place?
DP: Although we don’t have a separate one-on-one meeting scheduled for these two days of St. Petersburg summit…
SS:He did express his wish to meet…
DP: …but definitely they will have a chance to chat during negotiations in the corridors or whatever.
SS: Putin also said that Snowden would have been extradited had Russia and United States had an extradition agreement. Do you think something of the sort could be signed in the near future?
DP: I don’t know this is rather a question for our American partners. The idea of this agreement was brought up by the Russian side a long time ago. And, unfortunately, we failed to get an answer from our American partners. And we failed to have this agreement in order to get some bad guys back from the United States. Don’t forget about those bad guys that are living quite comfortably in the United States and they were demanded by Russia.
SS: So had the Americans given those guys to Russia, would you have given them Snowden without the extradition agreement?
DP: It’s not an issue of exchange. It’s an issue of performing obligations on a certain agreement. Unfortunately, the absence of this agreement does not contribute to our bilateral relations.
SS: Looking at things the way they are now, is Snowden more of an asset, or of a hazard, to Russians?
DP: Snowden is a reality.
SS: But the reality can be a good one, or a hazardous one.
DP: Well, I don’t think I can answer this question. I
would refer you to Putin’s words, and he has said that definitely
we would prefer that Snowden never came. These words were said by
SS: Yes. He also said that Snowden was a strange young man who actually chose to make very hard decisions for himself, who made his own life even harder. What do you think of him?
DP: Well, it’s a personal characteristic that was given by the Russian President.
SS: What do you think of Snowden? Do you agree with President Putin on this characteristic?
DP: Well, that’s a characteristic given by my president. So I can confirm that this characteristic was given.
SS: Just with the amount of consequences over Snowden that arose between Russia and the United States, plus with no real gain out of this situation for Russia, because we don’t have any secret data out of Snowden - we don’t have any information that we could have gotten that was useful to us - do you wish that it never happened? Putin gives an interview once or twice a year, but you have to comment every time something happens. Do you wish Snowden never happened?
DP: Well, it was never an issue for the Kremlin. And this was the answer that actually I gave one hundred times during these ‘days of Snowden’, I would say. The Kremlin was never involved. We never invited him. We never had to consider his application, because it’s not about the Kremlin, it’s about the local immigration authorities. And we are not involved in his accommodation or whatever. So it’s not a question for the Kremlin. The bilateral relationship is a question for the Kremlin, for Mr. President.
SS: How is he doing right now?
DP: I don’t know.
SS: Does anyone know?
DP: Well, I think ‘someone’ knows. But I don’t know who that someone is.
‘G20 summit not expensive in terms of international politics’
SS: Just to get back to the G20 in general, is it anything more than just a meeting place? Are any real economic issues being solved during these summits?
DP: Well, this is a forum for very important and vital
discussions for the global economy. The priorities of the Russian
agenda for G20 are economic growth and employment. Creation of
new jobs is extremely important. The global economy has made very
important and positive steps on its way out of the crisis. But
the story is not over yet. The tempos of the development of the
American economy, and the European economy are still very low.
There are some unwanted consequences of measures taken for
recovery for developing countries and for BRICS countries – they
have a slight slowdown in their tempos of development. So there
are still lots of things that are an issue of disturbance for
global leaders and this is exactly a forum for them to try to
find solutions and to discuss possible global measures for the
recovery of the global economy.
SS: You know, almost every G20 summit is a record-breaking thing of how much money taxpayers are actually spending on it, although it is an economic enterprise. Is it really worth it in terms of economy?
DP: Yes, of course. Yes, of course. It’s not that expensive, in terms of state politics, in terms of international politics. And you mean the money that was spent on the organization of the whole thing. In this sense Russia is a very, very economy-oriented country, because we are using the facilities that were built and renovated for the G8 summit in 2006. So the majority of expenditures are attributed to security. But security is a must for this kind of meetings. And every country is responsible for ensuring security.