Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov believes Western politicians have started to realize that overthrowing Assad’s government might lead to a worsening of the Syrian crisis.
This shift in the attitude is due to the rise of jihadists in Syria and the threat of the country turning into a caliphate, he said in an interview with RT.
“The attitudes are changing in Western countries, they are becoming more realistic in their approach towards settling the Syrian crisis,” said Lavrov. “The threat of terrorism in Syria, the threat of jihadists coming to power, the threat of creating a caliphate with extremist rules, the threat of violating the rights of minorities, or even depriving them of life, are the main problems.” He also said “understanding that changing the regime is not the way to solve this problem” but a way to “facilitate the arrival of jihadists to power."
The ongoing operation for dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons has been seen as this year’s major victory of Russian diplomacy. Assad’s government agreed to give up its chemical arsenals as part of the Moscow-initiated deal which prevented Washington from using military force against Syria.
Lavrov was however modest about the Russian contribution, saying it was not yet time “to trumpet victory” as a lot still needs to be done to resolve the crisis, including finally making the Geneva peace talks on Syria a reality. The minister has expressed hopes that the US, which is co-brokering the negotiations set for January 22, will be able to bring the opposition to the talks and do it without any preliminary conditions.
What worries Sergey Lavrov is that his “Western colleagues are trying to “flirt” with the so-called Islamic front”, which has been struggling for influence with the Free Syrian Army. Lavrov believes the Islamic front could be ideologically close to such Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups as Al-Nusra.
Lavrov has doubts that the Syrian National coalition is in control of all of the rebel groups, currently fighting against Assad, and could represent them all at the Geneva-2 talks.
The issue of the humanitarian crisis in Syria has been exploited, just as the issue of the chemical weapons before it, to lay all of the blame on Assad’s government, Lavrov believes. The Foreign Minister has warned against taking sides in the Syrian conflict now as it can put the nearing peace negotiations under threat.
Lavrov also said comments from some Western leaders that Assad doesn’t represent anybody in his country were premature. “ A large part of the population is for Assad for various reasons, not just because he enjoys the love of the people, but because big groups of people depend on him, and not only minorities, even the Sunni,” said Lavrov, adding that many are afraid of being deprived of their business should there be a violent change of power.
The minister believes a country is free to choose its own way of democratic development in line with its history and values and based on international law. Lavrov is strongly opposed to attempts by a group of countries to try and impose their own set of “ambiguous values” on others. This is not democracy, but democratizing, which leads to societies growing destabilized, he contended.
“That happened when the Americans invaded Iraq; that happened when NATO, in violation of the UN Security Council mandate, bombed Libya; that is happening in some other countries of the region, where interference from abroad is taking place. The Syrian conflict is another example, where a huge number of fighters under the banner of so-called international terrorism from all over the globe, including Europe, the US and Russia have rushed to Syria to turn it into caliphate.”
An estimated one million Christians have been forced to flee their homes in Syria as a result of the civil war. As an example of what the religious community has to endure, Sergey Lavrov recalled a recent episode when nuns were abducted by Syrian rebels from a convent in the predominantly Christian town of Maaloula.
“According to the information we get from the Christian communities in the region, they are deeply worried by what’s going on, as their 2000-year domicile in the Middle East appears to be at stake”.