Moscow, Asharq Al-Awsat - In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, former
Russian Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, who is one of Russia's leading
experts on Middle Eastern affairs, defended Moscow's veto of the UN
resolution backing an Arab plan urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to
give up power.
Primakov, who has had a long and distinguished career in Russian politics,
serving variously as the Chairman of the Soviet of the Union [prior to the
dissolution of the USSR], Russian Envoy to Iraq, Russian Foreign Minister,
and Russian Prime Minister, defended Moscow's stance on the Syrian crisis
and revealed details of Russia's bilateral relations with Damascus, at a
time when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is in Syria for talks with
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The former Russian Prime Minister informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the
international community must differentiate between different Arab Spring
countries; placing countries like Egypt and Tunisia in one camp, and Libya
and Syria in another. He stressed that "the resistance against the al-Assad
regime was marked from the outset with a militaristic nature and the
situation is now sliding into civil war."
He added "Russia's positions towards the situation in Syria are objective in
nature. We want to see all parties reach an agreement."
The former Russian Prime Minister also told Asharq Al-Awsat that "Some
people are asking: why did Moscow refuse to vote for the draft resolution
introduced by the Arab League and Morocco, and which is supported by the US
and the European countries on the Security Council? There are multiple
reasons for this; one of the reasons relates to the draft resolution laying
the responsibility [for the Syrian crisis] on one side. We find that all the
accusations are directed against the government troops and al-Assad
personally, whilst his departure was framed as being inevitable. This
represents direct intervention in the internal affairs [of Syria], and there
is no basis for this"
He added "As for the second reason, this can be summed up in the fact that
Russia was deceived in Libya; a quick decision was required because Colonel
Gaddafi's forces were on the verge of seizing Benghazi. Therefore it was up
to Russia to avert more victims, particularly during the street battles in
Benghazi, taking a common position with China and refraining from using the
veto. They assured us that this resolution did not aim to do anything except
provide air cover to prevent Gaddafi using his air force against civilians.
They deceived us, for this resolution aimed primarily to overthrow Gaddafi.
Therefore, we are now committed to being extremely cautious in Syria. I
believe in the correctness of this approach and I stand against foreign
Yevgeny Primakov also told Asharq Al-Awsat that "if there are western
officials who are saying it is necessary that al-Assad leaves power, then I
would ask them: will this guarantee stability in Syria? I would also ask: do
any of the western experts know precisely who the anti-regime forces are?"
He added "such experts should be asked to explain why what is described as a
national unity government made up of the Syrian opposition has been
established in one of Syria's neighboring countries? How does this serve the
interests of Syria's neighbors? They should also be asked to explain the
role being placed by Al Qaeda in this issue. What role are the Islamists
playing in this [opposition] movement? They should also be asked to explain
why there are so many sectarian divisions between the Sunnis and Alawites in
The former Russian Prime Minister stressed "I am, for example, not in
agreement with those who say that this position [backing the Syrian
opposition] contributes to protecting the stability and development of
Syria, particularly as the [revolutionary] events are ongoing in other [Arab
Spring] countries. In addition to this, if a serious conflict were to break
out between the Sunnis and Shiites, the Arab world will be the biggest
Primakov added "the situation does not allow for much optimism. I believe it
is necessary to give al-Assad a chance after he announced his commitment to
many of the proposed reforms - which if achieved - will represent a turning
point in Syria's path towards democracy; this includes ending the state of
emergency, holding elections, creating a multi-party political system, and
ending the Baathist party's monopolization of power. He [al-Assad] said all
of this. However he is also now saying that he cannot implement all these
reforms at a time when the situation is heating up and could ignite into a
conflict or civil war."
Primakov also revealed that "there is a possible opportunity for the
opposition to meet with him [al-Assad] and reach an agreement about
transition.Moscow has put forward, and continues to put forward, an offer to
host such a meeting."
He also confirmed that Russia had met with members of the Syrian opposition
in Moscow, including members of the armed Syrian opposition who are based in
Turkey, but they categorically refused to enter into any talks with
Primakov was keen to confirm that Moscow is committed to a policy of
non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, which was
something reiterated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is
visiting al-Assad today. Lavrov had previously stressed that world powers
should adopt a policy of non-intervention in the Middle East and North
Africa. The Russian Foreign Minister, during an annual address earlier this
month, stressed that "the changes in the region are far from being concluded
and we're witness to what is merely the start of this transition. If we're
in favor of the people of these countries determining for themselves their
own futures, then, we must accept their choices and not interfere in
national dialogues or electoral campaigns."
Primakov previously served as Russia's envoy to Iraq prior to the Gulf war,
and he returned to Iraq in 2003 as a special representative of President
Vladimir Putin, where he attempted to avert the Iraq war by convincing
Saddam Hussein to step down.
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Received on Tue Feb 07 2012 - 18:50:23 EST