|Clockwise from top, Sergei Lavrov, Mao Zedong and Jack Dempsey|
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seems to believe the best way to defend the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad is to go on the offensive.
“The best defense is a good offense” is an expression that has been used in many fields, including sports, politics and military combat.
The quote is often attributed to Jack Dempsey and Mao Zedong.
Jack Dempsey was an American professional boxer who held the World Heavyweight Championship from 1919 to 1926. Dempsey’s aggressive style and exceptional punching power made him one of the most popular boxers in history.
Mao Zedong is the first head of state of the People’s Republic of China, leading the communist revolution from 1935 to his victory over Chiang Kai-Shek in the mainland in 1949, establishing communist rule in China and ruling it until his death in 1976.
To my mind at least, “the best defense is a good offense” seems to be the underlying tone of Lavrov’s remarks to journalists in Moscow yesterday.
Here is what he said:
The issue of foreign intervention in Syria is being posed in a “radical and quite emotional way.” Foreign players are encouraging the armed opposition to hope “the Libyan scenario” could be repeated, “All this is a dangerous game… Some foreign players support armed groups of the opposition and at the same time demand that the international community take decisive steps to change the regime in Syria.”
“Today (Saturday), a bus carrying Russian specialists was attacked in western Damascus.” On Friday, a building housing Russian specialists was fired at from a grenade launcher. “One grenade hit the second floor wall, causing damage. Fortunately, no one was injured.”
Russia has enough evidence about arms being supplied to the Syrian opposition, which is acting under the command of external forces. “Our Saudi colleagues, our Qatari colleagues… just yesterday, there was a forum for businessmen who want to support the Syrian opposition. All this information is openly available… There are enough data confirming the armed opposition is being supplied with weapons and other means which are necessary to maintain combat capability.”
Moscow has heard from Russians living in Syria, and from reporters on the ground, that the opposition is persecuting Assad loyalists.
The main reason Kofi Annan’s peace plan is beginning to “seriously falter” is because those who support external intervention in Syria impede its implementation. They “don’t like” the idea of the stabilization it can bring. “They want the international community to be filled with indignation and start a full-blown intervention in Syria.”
Disruptions of Annan’s plan should be blamed on the uncoordinated actions of outside forces. “Not only the Syrian government is responsible for what’s going on now; the crisis is also to be blamed on the actions of those people who have not stopped giving money to illegal armed groups, hire mercenaries, help transfer them abroad and flirt with extremists to reach their own goals.”
Advocates of military intervention in Syria want to dominate the Arab world. Russia will do everything it can to prevent this.
To justify outside intervention, certain parties “keep talking about the refugees from Syria. However, nobody talks about refugees inside Syria itself. This is similar to the former Yugoslavia. Does anybody think about the refugees from Serbia and Slovenia?”
There are an estimated one million refugees from Iraq and half a million Palestinians in Syria, and “people don’t talk much about that.”
Western countries’ attempts to set a deadline for implementation of the Annan plan are meant to send an ultimatum to the Syrian authorities. But Russia will “never agree to the UN Security Council sanctioning the use of force” against Damascus as it would lead “to severe consequences on the entire Middle East region.”
Russia will not oppose Assad’s exit resulting from a dialogue among Syrians themselves. “If the Syrians agree amongst themselves (on Assad’s exit), we will only be happy to support such a solution. But we believe it is unacceptable to impose the conditions for such a dialogue from outside."
Obviously, “The way the Syrian crisis is resolved will play an important role in the world tomorrow -- whether the world will be based on the UN Charter, or a place where might makes right.”
And “blocking Syrian government and private channels from (TV and radio) broadcasting,” as recently demanded by Arab League foreign ministers, does not “square well with freedom of speech…We should all be on the same page regarding freedom of speech and how it should be respected by the international community to ensure access to information – no matter what kind of information it is.”
Moscow sees “no alternative” to an international conference to support Annan’s plan and encourage dialogue between the state and the armed opposition. “The conference should come under the UN umbrella.” Participants would discuss ways to improve Annan’s plan. “I do not think the plan is outdated. Moreover, all its points remain vital.”
To be effective, “all forces that have influence on Syria should take part in the conference. And Iran is one of the counties having real influence on the Syrian government.”
Blocking Iran from the conference “would be thoughtless at the very least… We would like the conference to be open, with explicit discussion that will show whether there is a possibility to agree on coordinated… measures towards both the Syrian government and all the country’s opposition groups.”
Moscow wants the conference held as soon as possible, but expert consultations with representatives of other countries that also have influence on Syria should precede the meeting.
“We are not supplying the Syrian government with arms that even an overwrought imagination could suppose are being used against peaceful protesters. We are completing the implementation of contracts signed and pre-paid long ago on deliveries of air defense weapons that could be used only if Syria is subjected to military intervention from abroad. We are not delivering anything else.”
In contrast, “Our U.S. colleagues are supplying countries of the Persian Gulf region with the very type of arms that could be used against peaceful demonstrators.”
(Syria, the largest importer of Russian weapons in the Middle East, has recently signed contracts with Rosoboronexport for the supply of 24 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and eight Buk-M2E air-defense systems. A contract for the supply of Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles is currently being implemented.)