Critisism of Russia for supporting Bashar al-Assad, who 'bombs and kills people' - from regular briefing by Maria Zakharova

October 6, 2016

Question: You said that unsubstantiated accusations are being constantly made against Russia. The problem is that most of the bombings are carried out by Bashar al-Assad’s forces while Russia supports him as an ally in this war. Russia is criticised precisely for supporting Bashar al-Assad, who bombs and kills people.

Maria Zakharova: The fact is that there are terrorists in the region. What is the problem? Jabhat al-Nusra, which everyone tiptoes around so delicately, is on the UN’s list of terrorist organisations.

I hope that you are trying to be objective and establish the truth. Even if you are more inclined to favour the US, Canadian or Australian standpoint, try to hear what I will now try to tell you. What was the purpose of the bilateral Russian-US agreements? Their essence is to produce not a political but a concrete document, based on which we would be able to set up a corresponding joint centre not simply for global information exchange but for the exchange of concrete data: the location of civilian facilities, including those held by militants that are passed for civilian facilities where terrorists are based.

Let me just spell it out for you. A US military expert tells a Russian military expert: You have dropped a bomb on an area where civilian installations are located. Our expert presents satellite imagery showing members of Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist organisation, leaving that installation. They bring out a grenade launcher and they bring in a new grenade launcher. Russian and US experts sit down and work. This is what we wanted to do. And we did. On September 9, agreements on which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry had worked so hard were reached. But they were blocked. In particular, we encountered the violation of the point related to the Castello Road. The situation became extremely complicated following the US airstrikes against Deir ez-Zor. It went downhill from there.

We worked together (let our US colleagues try to refute that). Russia provided these materials to our US colleagues, working with them at the level of military experts for several months. However, we received nothing from them. The problem is that we came very close to the main issue: the future of Jabhat al-Nusra. There is no getting away from the fact that it is surrounded by what is cast as civilian installations, civilians (some of them are members of the political opposition and some are family members of this moderate or immoderate political opposition). This is the point. Let us sit down and separate them, saying where these terrorists are and where there are none, and start working together. Is there an alternative? Simply get out of there? Or stop everything and forget about terrorists? That is not an option. I would not like to repeat how many UN Security Council documents stress the necessity of fighting terrorism, and Jabhat al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation. This is not an option, just because everyone already understands that something has to be done there to block this terrorist threat.

Of course, we realise that combat operations are in progress and that civilians are being hurt and killed. But this is precisely why the centre was needed – to work together. However, there are forces in Washington that have repeatedly blocked joint Russian-US efforts. In the end, despite the joint agreements, they stood firm on not supporting the dialogue with Russia. This is not to say that they will not change their position tomorrow, but today, the break in this dialogue with Russia is beneficial to certain forces.

Today, the mainstream topic is “how the Russian Aerospace Forces are killing civilians in Syria or whether this is being done by the Syrian Army with support from the Russian Aerospace Forces.” Who was killing civilians in Syria four years ago? There were no Russian Aerospace Forces there at the time. Nevertheless, civilians were being killed – beheaded – and terrorists were just as active. See films and reports by our correspondents Anastasia Popova and Evgeny Poddubny, among others, who worked there. Give me the names of US journalists working in Aleppo. There are none. Neither US nor European journalists worked there. Only our guys did, bringing video footage, disseminating it at the UN, in Geneva, showing what was happening to civilian installations in Syria. There were no Russian Aerospace Forces nearby.

Another question. What has the US coalition been doing there for two years if there were no civilian casualties there? There were. They went there, as they said, to protect civilians against terrorists. You cannot be selective. You have to admit that civilians are suffering, that they are blocked, taken hostage and encircled by this very same Jabhat al-Nusra. Let’s decide where civilians are and where non-civilians are, and let’s act together. This is precisely what is being blocked.

Now discussion will resume as to what is to be done about Syria. Everyone understands very well that the efforts of the ISSG co-chairs are crucial. However, these efforts are blocked, because they have closely approached what has been cultivated for so many years: Jabhat al-Nusra. These are, in fact, new-look Mujahideen. Read history and see how al-Qaeda was formed. It was exactly the same, absolutely. The same financing, support and moral encouragement. What did the wooing of the Mujahideen lead to? To al-Qaeda. And you know what this is. You cannot oversimplify things to such an extent. You cannot move with the mainstream: Russia is killing everyone, and everyone is trying to stop that. This is nonsense. You know, stupidity is far more dangerous than even the most terrible threat. I believe that this kind of oversimplification in the media is even more terrible that the terrorist threat. This is an oversimplified, one-sided picture.

Source: Foreign Ministry of Russia