Russia doubts loyalty of 'Friends of Syria'

Aleksey Pushkov, head of the Duma foreign affairs committee, provided a firsthand glimpse of the complicated situation in Syria in an exclusive interview with RT.

­The Russian parliamentarian said his task in Syria is to “conduct negotiations with representatives of the authorities and the opposition, get a clearer picture of the situation and give a report to the chairman and deputies of the State Duma.”

Based on the information collected, the Duma will hammer out an official position on the issue, he said.

Pushkov stressed that Russia’s official position on the Syria crisis remains firm across the political board despite upcoming presidential elections.

“Despite all the heated arguments in view of the upcoming election, United Russia and the opposition spoke in unison on this matter,” Pushkov told RT.

Russia, in an effort to avoid a “Libya-scenario” playing out in this Arab Republic, has said it is strongly opposed to outside interference in Syria’s affairs, and has warned the UN and the Security Council against taking sides in the conflict.

The Duma member criticized a recent vote in the UN Security Council that demanded that government forces “stop using force” without making any similar demands on the opposition.

“The Syrian government should not be the only side obliged to lay down their weapons,” he said. “The armed groups opposing the government should be required to do the same.”

Pushkov said he did not foresee Russia and China – which both rejected the resolution – changing their firm stance unless the Security Council demands that both sides of the conflict stop using force.

Meanwhile, the head of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee said the Russian delegation will “continue its attempts to persuade the [President Bashar al-Assad] government to adjust their approach with respect to the use of military force when dispersing opposition groups.” At the same, he expressed hope that “those with the ability to influence the armed groups should use it to ensure that violence is not regarded as the only way out of the conflict.”

Pushkov summed up the slippery nature of the situation: “If…the Assad government decides to restrict the use of force, the other side should not be able to use it to their advantage. This has happened before. When the government troops were ordered back to the barracks at the request of the Arab League, during the work of its mission here, the rebel groups used the opportunity to mount an offensive.”

It is impossible to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict on that basis, he added.

The Russian lawmaker proceeded to paint a different picture of the situation on the ground in Syria than the one that is regularly portrayed in the Western media.

“I have met with Mr. Assad himself, the foreign minister, the parliamentary speaker and with representatives of two opposition organizations. I have to say that I did not get the impression that it is “the people versus Assad” in this conflict. The situation is different.”

“A faction of the people is indeed opposing the regime while another part supports Mr. Assad – some quite actively – while yet another faction does not want Syria to fall into chaos. They support the regime passively, but they are clearly not on the armed insurgents’ side and they do not support the idea of outside interference.”

Pushkov went on to quote a member of the opposition, who actually voiced his support for the ruling authorities.

“It is not a scenario where a whole nation rises up to overthrow a government they don’t like,” he said. “I can even quote one of the opposition representatives that I met with today. They believe that the situation ‘cannot be resolved without the regime.’ They believe the regime ‘must be part of the solution.’”

The Russian lawmaker went on to say that he found it “strange” that “outside pressure on Syria’s ruling regime is spearheaded by countries that are, in fact, undemocratic.”

“When representatives of the Gulf monarchies, which, as far as I know, do not have a single democratic institution, start complaining about Assad’s regime being undemocratic, I believe that undermines the political and moral legitimacy, I would say, of the ‘Syria Friends Club.’”

“Is it a club of Syria’s friends or a club of people who want Bashar Assad gone?” Pushkov asked rhetorically. “That is the question we have to ask.”

Finally, Pushkov explained that the people of Syria are not in favor of seeing a “Libyan-scenario” occurring on their territory.

“The Libyan scenario is not popular here,” he said. “Even those groups that want Assad gone do not support the idea of foreign military intervention. They believe the Libyan scenario would result in chaos and loss of control. They insist that Syria is different from Libya in that the foundation for democracy has been laid here, that the authorities have a concept of democratic procedure.”

I think that these groups want to deal with Syria’s internal affairs on their own, Pushkov concluded.