Lavrov Responds to US Decision to Block Advance of Syrian Army

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented on a U.S.-led operation that has blocked the Syrian Army's advance on Raqqa

Tue, Mar 28, 2017 | 16329 Comments
Lavrov says US should not exploit fight against terrorism in Syria
Lavrov says US should not exploit fight against terrorism in Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented on Monday about the U.S.-led operation to block the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) from marching on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. 

Responding to a journalist's question about the development, Lavrov stated that Russia supports any international efforts to combat Islamic State, but warned the U.S. "to fight terror rather than gain geopolitical advantages in Syria":

[N]umerous uninvited players [are in Syria]: the US-led air force coalition, Turkish servicemen, and commandos from the United States and a number of European countries. All of this creates a rather motley picture, but we are confident (and have advocated this for a long time) that the main criterion should be our common concern in the fight against terrorism. 

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So far, coordination leaves much to be desired. We have reason to believe that our partners, including the Americans, are beginning to realise the need for remedying this situation. Let us hope that all of us will be driven by the well-understood priority to fight terror rather than gain geopolitical advantages in Syria. 

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Lavrov seems to be keeping his cards close to his chest, but it's clear that he's less than thrilled about Washington's posturing around Raqqa. It could be as simple as a "lack of coordination" — but let's be honest: There's very likely a lot more at play here. Any attempt by Washington to prevent Syrian forces from liberating their own country from Islamic State should be seen as extremely worrying. 

According to a trusted Syria expert, preventing the SAA from taking Raqqa signals that Washington is quietly preparing to "Balkanize" Syria — an analysis that we agree with. 

Below is the journalist's full question, with Lavrov's answer:

Question: US commandos and Kurdish forces are involved in an operation to seize important dams and an electric power station on the Euphrates River in Syria’s Raqqa Province. They sustained losses and failed to capture the biggest dam on the Euphrates, but they managed to seize a less important dam at Tabqa. What is Moscow’s attitude to this joint Kurdish-US operation in northern Syria? How does this operation tally with the aims set in Geneva?

Sergey Lavrov: Everything that helps to enhance the efficiency of the fight against terrorists, primarily ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist groups recognised as such by the UN Security Council, is in full conformity with the UN Security Council resolutions. This meets our common interests, which consist in eradicating the terrorist threat in Syria and Iraq, in the whole of that region, and all over the world.

Numerous participants in combat operations are present on the ground in Syria and in the air over Syria, including Syrians themselves – the army of the Syrian Arab Republic, the opposition, the Syrian militia army cooperating with the Government army, the Kurdish militia that wants to defend its rights in Kurdish-populated areas – Russia’s Aerospace Forces, Russian military police, and Russian experts invited by the Syrian Government to help them to fight terrorism. There are also Syria-invited Iranian forces, Hezbollah, as well as numerous uninvited players: the US-led air force coalition, Turkish servicemen, and commandos from the United States and a number of European countries. All of this creates a rather motley picture, but we are confident (and have advocated this for a long time) that the main criterion should be our common concern in the fight against terrorism. 

Addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2015, President Vladimir Putin suggested forming a united universal international antiterrorist front. Today this principle is as relevant as never before in Syria. To reiterate: We want both those invited by the legitimate Syrian Government and those who are in Syria without its invitation but have declared that their aim is fighting terrorism to start coordinating their actions. This includes coordination with the Syrian Government.

We tried to develop this approach during the Obama administration, with Secretary of State John Kerry; we invited military experts and reconnaissance experts. We came to terms on how to separate in practice the patriotic armed opposition from terrorist forces. Regrettably, the United States was unable to implement the agreement reached with the consent of President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama. And now we have what we have.

Again we have to go back to this principle. We are trying to help to establish this cooperation in Astana; jointly with our Turkish and Iranian partners we are helping to develop practical approaches to separating the normal opposition from terrorists and bandits. We see through this prism the developments involving the Kurdish forces and the American commandos as well as the developments related to the liberation of approaches to the terrorist capital of Syria, Raqqa. So far, coordination leaves much to be desired. We have reason to believe that our partners, including the Americans, are beginning to realise the need for remedying this situation. Let us hope that all of us will be driven by the well-understood priority to fight terror rather than gain geopolitical advantages in Syria. 

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