Photo: RIA Novosti

The US is trying to blackmail Russia and the world by forcing its upside-down Syria peace scenario on the international community, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday in an interview to the country’s main TV channel, Channel One.

The foreign chief accused Washington of excessively politicking the Syrian crisis. He said the US was using the civil war in the Middle East to “assert its supremacy” in order to make the region “dance to its tune.”

Mr. Lavrov stressed this approach had nothing to do with the long-overdue peace process and the Russia-backed plan to take away chemical weapons from the Assad regime.

The foreign minister called on the US to come to terms with the fact that the world had become “polycentric” and it was no good forcing America’s opinions onto it.

It has been the first time that the usually unruffled Russian foreign minister has lashed out at Moscow’s western partners. The tone of Lavrov’s comment in his interview with Russia’s Channel One shows how deep the tensions seem to run between Russia and China on the one hand and the US-UK-France coalition on the other.

Lavrov’s interview came ahead of his trip to New York where he is to attend the UN General Assembly. The upcoming days are described as a “ministerial week,” during which the Russian foreign chief is expected to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior diplomats. The anticipation is that the trilateral talks between Sergei Lavrov, John Kerry and UN head Ban Ki-moon will kick-start a new peace conference on Syria, dubbed Geneva 2.

The recent publication of UN inspectors’ report on Syria’s chemical toxins has given way to a large number of insinuations, proving that the West never genuinely needed a probe in the first place, Mr. Lavrov said.

“The US and France never actually pretended to make too much of this report. They claimed to know everything beforehand, saying their intelligence was flawless, although we were never presented with full data, while the evidence they chose to show us didn’t prove that chemical weapons had been involved,” Lavrov told Channel One.

The Russian foreign minister noted that an open letter by CIA and Pentagon veterans to the US President that was published before the UN probe, on September 8, said that the alleged August 21 chemical attack near Damascus was a provocation.

The letter accused CIA Director John Brennan of trying to repeat the Iraq scenario by misleading the Americans and Congress once again. The concerned American vets cited Britain’s intelligence as saying that the Syrian government was not implicated in the gassing of civilians. The call went unnoticed.

Mr. Lavrov has claimed that the US intentionally span the UN report to force its approach onto Russia and the international community.

“Our Western partners are trying to blackmail us: if we don’t endorse UN Security Council’s Chapter 7 resolution we will effectively annul OPCW’s work in The Hague. It runs contrary to everything we agreed on with John Kerry – that is we will wait for OPCW’s decision and then shore it up with a Security Council resolution, though not under Chapter 7.”

Sergei Lavrov suggested that the West saw the Russia-US brokered deal on Syria’s chemical weapons not as an opportunity to rid the world of the existing toxic arsenal, but as “a chance to push a brute-force resolution through the Russian-Chinese block, to topple the regime and gloss over opposition’s actions and to assign the blame to Bashar Assad and get a free hand for military scenarios.”

“They [the West] can’t admit their mistakes. They made a mistake in Libya when they bombed the country and pushed it to the brink of fallout, they made a mistake in Iraq where they did the same blunders in addition to launching a land operation and wreaking havoc in the country which sees dozens of innocents die every passing day at the hand of terrorists. It’s no one’s concern anymore. Now everyone is saying that Bashar Assad must go. Of course, they don’t want to talk about a catastrophe that that series of military operations has caused in the region.”

The Russian foreign policy vet underscored that two in three opposition militants are jihadists bent on turning Syria into an Islamic Caliphate. This can unleash a disaster in the entire Middle East. He also fought back the recent attempts to pile responsibility for elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal on Russia.

“I’d like to point out that we cannot guarantee that Syria will give up its chemical weapons. We saw to it that Syria joined the anti-chemical weapons convention without any reservations, as the Americans did once. Now Syria is a liable party to this document, meaning that the international community – or the OPCW for this matter – is to guarantee that Syria complies with it.”

Sergei Lavrov also pointed out that international community didn’t need to send its troops to Syria to monitor the process of chemical weapons disposal. He said that police were enough to protect OPCW inspectors and offered Russian security forces to take up this task.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaking in an interview with Channel One of Russian national television

– There have been reports that Syria has supplied Russia with evidence that the sarin attack on August 21 was the work of the rebels. What kind of evidence is it?

My Deputy Sergei Ryabkov was in Damascus this week to meet with the Syrian President, the Foreign Minister, weapons experts and Syrian-based opposition politicians, who have never emigrated and tried to dictate reforms from abroad.

The evidence produced by the Syrians is of purely technical nature. It is now being scrutinized by Russian experts. It supplements what is already known to Russia and the family of nations. Independent experts who analyzed the available evidence agree that the rebels routinely organize provocations aimed at accusing the government of using chemical weapons. This would create a good pretext for foreign military aid to their side.

– Based on the latest report from the UN inspectors in Syria, France and the US came to the conclusion that last month’s sarin attack was the work of the regime. Russia, however, concluded that the rebels are to blame. How come one and the same report has led to diametrically opposite conclusions?

France and the US never made secret of the fact that they did not need any report. Long before it came out, they said they possessed irrefutable intelligence – which they never shared with us – that the sarin attack was launched by the regime. What they did share with us does not lead to this conclusion. Nuns at a local convent and visiting journalists have quoted rebel fighters as saying they had been supplied with unfamiliar foreign munitions which they didn’t know how to handle but ultimately used in combat.

I have many times mentioned a letter in which veterans of the US military and the CIA told the whole truth of the event. Accordingly, I am not surprised that a report about the nature of the weapons found at the site – not about who used them! – was expeditiously seized upon by several countries including the US as France as proof that the Syrian regime was the culprit. The approach that led to this conclusion has nothing to do with professionalism or science. But it has everything to do with ideology and politics.

After August 21, Syrian government forces were gassed three more times – on the 22nd, the 24th and the 25th . We hope the UN team will come back to investigate these attacks as well. So far, Western powers have abused their influence on the UN Secretariat to leave these incidents uninvestigated and get the inspectors to hastily compile a report on the August 21 attack. Fortunately, head of the UN inspector team Ake Sellstrom has announced plans to return to Syria to investigate the chemical attacks that took place after August 21.

– The UN human rights official Mrs Carla Del Ponte says she believes the rebels are the likeliest culprits in the August 21 attack. So do several CIA veterans, many independent experts and defecting rebels. Why does the West remain deaf to their well-substantiated opinion? The ouster of Assad most likely spells power in the hands of Islamic radicals. Who is interested in this? 

Our Western partners are blinded by their ideologically-motivated pursuit of regime change. About two years ago, they said Bashar Assad has no place in this world and must go. Now they are unwilling to admit blunder. They blundered in Libya, where their air campaign led the country to the brink of collapse.

They also blundered in Iraq, where their invasion has resulted in an ongoing situation in which dozens of people die each day in terror attacks. And they are not prepared to admit guilt for these catastrophes. Their only talk is about Assad who must go.

The Western approach is all about politics. The West wants to show the world that it remains the supreme power and calls the shots in the Middle East. Russia wants to solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syrian hands. The West is after something different.

If it wasn’t so, its tactics on the UN Security Council would be very different. Western powers did not even wait for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to pass a resolution on Syria, as was agreed between me and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

That was the main point of our agreement. They are already pushing a Security Council resolution invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of military force against countries that violate international law. If they were after the chemical disarmament of Syria, they would be acting on our agreement and preparing an appropriate resolution of the OPCW.

The US has even resorted to blackmail with regard to Russia: support a UNSC resolution invoking Chapter VII, or we will stop working on a resolution of the Hague-based OPCW! This is at stark variance with what was agreed between me and Mr Kerry. We actually agreed that the OPCW comes first, and the UNSC, second. And without mentioning Chapter VII into the bargain.

– Your agreement with Mr Kerry, Western media point out, elevated Russia’s Middle East role to a level unseen since the 1970s. Now the West is trying to erode this Russian victory. What will Moscow do in the event the UN Security Council passes a threatening resolution on Syria?

Any Security Council resolution on Syria must be based on conclusions made by the OPCW, and it cannot mention Chapter VII. Accordingly, no such resolution can be used to justify unilateral military action against Syria.

It is quite strange that the West appears to ignore new possibilities to bring about the chemical disarmament of Syria. Assad’s government has signed up to the chemical weapons ban and is prepared to comply with it immediately, without even waiting for one month after which it will be obliged to comply.

The Syrian government also told my deputy Sergei Ryabkov during his Damascus visit that it is prepared to disclose the details of its chemical arsenal – including types, production, deployment and storage. Ignoring these opportunities and pushing an ideologically-motivated SC resolution instead smacks of irresponsibility and poor professionalism. The West wants the UN Security Council to confound conclusions made by the OPCW with something about human rights and the International Criminal Court.

It doesn’t see the Russian-American agreement on Syria as an opportunity to rid the world of that country’s chemical weapons. It wants to use it as an instrument to override opposition from Russia and China and make the UN Security Council pass a resolution that would whitewash the Syrian rebels, blame everything on the regime and pave the way for outside military action against Syria.

And any such action would give power to the rebels, two thirds or even three quarters of whom are jihadists like the ‘Al-Nusra Front’ and ‘The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’. These jihadists are after a regional Caliphate. Looking a little bit into the future would help Western powers realize this.

– The emerging political landscape of North Africa and the Middle East is quite scary. It already includes a shattered Libya, a dangerously destabilized Egypt and a turbulent Islamist-ruled Tunisia. What does the West hope to gain from this?

I am unable to answer this question. President Putin, too, has so far failed to get a clear answer from his Western counterparts. They only offer well-beaten mantras about democracy and human rights. But we believe that upholding only these without caring for stability in a key world area is irresponsible, to say the least. Responsible politicians do not behave in this way.

Some analysts suspect the West is muddying the Middle East waters in order to fish in them. I believe this strategy is futile. It probably represents an attempt to clutch a straw in an effort to return the family of nations to a situation many years ago when the world was unipolar. Now it is multipolar and has to be governed collectively. The UN Charter defines the UN as an organization for collective action. Let us follow this definition and abandon attempts to impose our standards on other countries and civilizations.

– Syria says the destruction of its chemical arsenal will take one year and one billion US dollars. It also says it is prepared to surrender this arsenal to any country that undertakes to destroy it. Do we possess a roadmap for this destruction? And what kind of technology will be involved?

The experts who accompanied me and Mr Kerry in Geneva have already submitted their professional opinions to the OPCW. The OPCW will refine these opinions and include them in a draft Russian-American resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons. Many clauses – for instance, those on visiting disclosed chemical weapons sites – will have to be brought into strict compliance with the international Convention that outlawed chemical warfare. This is not that difficult, provided the West drops its arrogant insistence on a Security Council resolution mentioning Chapter VII. Unfortunately, it continues to issue warnings that it will stop working with the OPCW in the event the Security Council fails to pass any such resolution. If it indeed follows through on this threat, it will show the world that it is after something other than the chemical disarmament of Syria.

As for the billion dollars, my talks with Mr Kerry produced much lower estimates. It is now up to OPCW experts to produce a more exact estimate of the costs. These experts will travel the length and breadth of Syria and figure out what can be destroyed immediately on the spot, what should be moved to other countries for destruction and what requires the construction of dedicated disposal facilities on Syrian territory. In Russia, we already operate facilities of this kind. We use them to dispose of our Soviet-era chemical stockpiles. Some legal difficulties will also have to be settled, because the Convention stipulates for the destruction of each chemical warfare item in its host country. I hope there will be no problem with this. Appropriate amendments are possible.

Does what you have just said suppose the deployment of international military forces on Syrian territory?

It doesn’t. But there is an understanding that the OPCW experts will be accompanied by other personnel, capable of cooperating with the Syrian authorities in locating, protecting and guarding the disclosed chemical warfare sites. Working together with Syrian colleagues, these personnel will prepare Syria’s chemical arsenal for destruction.

To ensure the security and safety of these operations, Russia has offered troops and military police for guarding the perimeters of storage and disposal sites. A very limited number of international service personnel is required. Most should be simply observers, sent by the Security Council’s Permanent Five, several Arab nations and Turkey. The sides in the Syrian conflict must be made sure that this contingent is not biased in favour of any of them. They must also realize that provocations will not pay. Under the Russian-American agreement, Syria as the host country bears the main burden of responsibility for the security of inspections and disposal operations. In Geneva, we also pointed out that the Syrian opposition, too, is responsible for security around inspectors and chemical warfare sites. This also applies to the foreign backers of the Syrian opposition. They cannot be allowed to encourage provocations by the rebel side.

– According to Israeli intelligence reports, rebel fighters have briefly held Syrian chemical warfare sites in at least two occasions. The rebels are now likely to possess sarin, including imported one. Last summer, Turkish authorities apprehended two Al-Nusra members carrying metal cylinders with sarin. How can foreign governments know which rebel group possesses sarin and how much?

Under the resolution in the works at the OPCW, all Syrian chemical weapons, no matter government-held or opposition-held, must be disclosed and destroyed. I see the Israeli reports as credible and giving the lie to the Western assertions that only the regime possesses chemical weapons. The rebels have probably stolen sarin and also synthesized it in their backyard labs. The OPCW mission in Syria must include effective efforts to persuade the sponsors of rebel groups, including radicals, to make their clients submit their chemical arsenals for destruction. This is an absolute must under the international Convention that outlawed chemical warfare.

– Russia is now a de facto guarantor of the chemical disarmament of Syria. The West says Moscow’s timetable to pull off the task is unrealistic. Is there any truth in this?

The timetable was actually proposed by the Americans and agreed with them at our talks in Geneva. And Russia does not act as a guarantor. True, we persuaded the Syrians to unconditionally sign up to the chemical warfare ban. The US, by the way, signed up with reservations. And now it’s the many members of the OPCW that act as the guarantor of the chemical disarmament of Syria.

– And flying to Geneva, did you have expectations that the Americans would be amenable to persuasion on Syria?

I never thought about this. I was happy – in the best professional sense – that we successfully defended our position without surrendering anything that could not be surrendered. Importantly, we did not resort to crude pressure and achieved everything through compromise, without indulging in ideology or politics and in full compliance with the international chemical warfare ban.

 – I realize there must have been checks and balances at work. But what was the most difficult point at issue in Geneva?

To put it shortly, the Americans wanted to put the cart before the horse and make us accept a Security Council resolution mentioning Chapter VII even before the OPCW has come up with its conclusions. Fortunately, the other way round was ultimately agreed upon. The Security Council will discuss Syria’s chemical disarmament with OPCW conclusions on the table. It will chart extra measures, probably including extra international personnel to guard the perimeters of storage and disposal sites. Advice from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also be taken into account.

The West, however, continues to insist with utmost energy that a resolution mentioning Chapter VII must come first, before any conclusions or advice. Once passed, a resolution of this kind would provide a justification for taking unilateral military action against Syria. We insist that our Western partners respect international law including the chemical warfare ban and drop attempts to push through a resolution that would upstage this ban and put their geopolitical and personal ambitions to the fore.

– The chemical disarmament of Syria does not spell the end of the civil war in that Middle Eastern country. What subsequent measures are needed to bring this war to an end?

A negotiated political settlement is the best thing. And the only realistic basis for it is the Geneva Communique, signed on June 30 2012 by the Security Council’s Permanent Five, the Arab League, Turkey, the European Union and the United Nations. In the process of hammering out this Communique, Russia persuaded most of the delegates to the Geneva conference to reject Western demands that the participating sides back a Security Council resolution mentioning Chapter VII and that Bashar Assad must go. Russia and China successfully argued that these demands are unilateral and hopelessly unrealistic. The Geneva Communique urged the Syrian government and the opposition to put together a mutually acceptable interim administration that could govern Syria in the period before the country adopts a new constitution and holds general elections.

Later last summer, Russia asked the UN Security Council to approve the Geneva Communique. The Americans disagreed, insisting the proposed resolution must mention Chapter VII and tell Assad he must go. Now, there is a strong feeling of déjà vu about the international diplomacy over Syria. Negotiators in Geneva have drafted a new communique that does not mention Chapter VII. At the Security Council, meanwhile, the Western bloc is pushing a resolution that explicitly mentions Chapter VII.

The Russian government is a credible negotiating partner. Russia honours its international agreements and never backtracks from them. It also staunchly resists attempts to violate international law. Unfortunately, this cannot be said about some of its Western partners.