'Russia has never been Assad's advocate' - Putin's press secretary
What will Russia do in case chemical strike is confirmed to have been carried out by the Syrian government? Or, in another scenario, what will happen if the US follows on with their strike intentions even without the solid prove of Assad's guilt, or without much international support or approval of such a strike? What will Russia's response be? We talk to Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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 legitimate 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 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 kind of weapons can be used during the conflict.
Sophie Shevardnadze:So to be precise, if Russia is presented with evidence that chemical attack did take place – what would be the decisive action that President Putin is talking about.
Dmitry Peskov: 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, cannot be found satisfactory in terms of proving that those weapons were used by either side.
Sophie Shevardnadze:But it’s not because we have the proof that Assad didn’t use them, right? We don’t have the proof of that either?
Dmitry Peskov: Well, we have, let’s say, a very strong understanding that there can 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.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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?
Dmitry Peskov: Russia is continuing to fulfill its obligations that are 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.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Sure. I don’t think there’s a question that Russia is violating any of the laws. But is it a secret?
Dmitry Peskov: If you want to ask for a list of the equipment that is being sent…
Sophie Shevardnadze:So there is military equipment and weapons, right?
Dmitry Peskov: Well, definitely.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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?
Dmitry Peskov: Syria is a country that possesses chemical weapons, it’s known. It’s known internationally; and the legitimate government of the country and legitimate army of the country is holding control of it.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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?
Dmitry Peskov: 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 Syrian problem.
Sophie Shevardnadze:There are speculations that Obama will use the G20 platform to actually promote his Syrian case. Do you think it’s a sure bet for him?
Dmitry Peskov: I have no doubt that Mr. Obama will explain his argumentation; that he will share his views of 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.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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?
Dmitry Peskov: Well, we have a bitter experience. International community has a bitter experience of these kinds of strikes. These kinds of 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, like it 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 lots and lots of suffering for people of the country; brought, maybe even irreparable damage for unity of the countries.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Do you think America will strike? Your personal opinion.
Dmitry Peskov: 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 – what the overwhelming opinion in the Congress will be. Also we hope for the 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 the inability of the governments to come to a single point of view.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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 has 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?
Dmitry Peskov: 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.
Sophie Shevardnadze:But do you think the Congress will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’? In your opinion. What’s your guess?
Dmitry Peskov: I think that all of us will deeply appreciate the readiness of the Congress to take into account every single argument before taking the final decision.
Sophie Shevardnadze:There are so many arguments though. The American public doesn’t want it; American soldiers seem to disapprove of this particular strike; 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?
Dmitry Peskov: 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.
Sophie Shevardnadze: But could this maybe just be some preparations for Iran – the next thing to come?
Dmitry Peskov: Well, it’s another question. I suggest that we leave it aside.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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.
Dmitry Peskov: Yes.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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.
Dmitry Peskov: 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.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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?
Dmitry Peskov: Well, Mr. President has said about his surprise; but he also said of his appreciation of their decision.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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?
Dmitry Peskov: Definitely, we are not living through the best period of our bilateral relationship. And definitely what we’re having now is not a desired result of ‘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. And 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. And 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 had been said by President Putin and definitely he will be glad to welcome his American counterpart in St. Petersburg.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Do you think a one-on-one meeting will actually take place?
Dmitry Peskov: Although we don’t have a separate one-on-one meeting scheduled for these two days of St. Petersburg summit…
Sophie Shevardnadze:He did express his wish to meet…
Dmitry Peskov: …but definitely they will have a chance to chat during negotiations in the corridors or whatever.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Putin also précised that Snowden would have been extradited had Russia and United States had an extradition agreement. Do you think something of a sort could be signed in the near future?
Dmitry Peskov: I don’t know this is rather a question to 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 implement it 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…
Sophie Shevardnadze:So had the Americans given those guys to Russia, would you have given them Snowden without the extradition agreement?
Dmitry Peskov: 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.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Looking at things the way they are now, is Snowden more of an asset, or of a hazard, to Russians?
Dmitry Peskov: Snowden is a reality.
Sophie Shevardnadze:But the reality can be a good one, or a hazardous one.
Dmitry Peskov: 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 Putin.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Yes. He also said that Snowden was a strange young man who actually chose to make very hard decisions for him, who made his own life even harder. What do you think of him?
Dmitry Peskov: Well it’s a personal characteristic that was given by the Russian President.
Sophie Shevardnadze:What do you think of Snowden? Do you agree with President Putin on this characteristic?
Dmitry Peskov: Well, that’s a characteristic given by my president. So I can confirm that this characteristic was given.
Sophie Shevardnadze: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? Because Putin gives an interview once or twice a year; you have to comment every time something happens. Do you wish Snowden never happened?
Dmitry Peskov: 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 local immigration authorities. And we are not involved in his accommodation or whatever. So it’s not a question for the Kremlin. Bilateral relationship is a question for the Kremlin, for Mr. President.
Sophie Shevardnadze: How is he doing right now?
Dmitry Peskov: I don’t know.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Does anyone know?
Dmitry Peskov: Well, I think ‘anyone’ knows. But I don’t know who that anyone is.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Just to get back to the G20 in general. Is that anything more than a meeting place? Are any real economic issues being solved during these summits?
Dmitry Peskov: Well, this is a forum for very important and vital discussions for global economy. 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. Tempos of development of American economy, of 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 out the ways and to discuss possible global measures for recovery of global economy.
Sophie Shevardnadze:You know, almost every G20 summit is a record-breaking thing of how much money taxpayers are actually spending on a summit, although it is an economic enterprise. Is it really worth it in terms of economy?
Dmitry Peskov: 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 G8 summit in the year of 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.