Friday 7 September 2012

Putin’s take on the Syria crisis

President Vladimir Putin (right) and RT anchorman Kevin Owen

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday gave his first post-inauguration interview to Russia Today (RT) TV Channel.
He spoke in depth with RT anchorman Kevin Owen ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok.
The whirlwind interview covered military, political, economic and social issues of domestic and international concerns. They ranged from Barak Obama and Mitt Romney, to U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe and the global economy, to corruption and drugs, to Pussy Riots and group sex.
You can read the full English transcript of President Putin’s wide-ranging interview with RT by pressing here.
But here is what he said about the different aspects of the Syria crisis:

KEVIN OWEN: Ok, thanks for explaining that. We're going to come back to APEC a little bit later if we may, but you touched on another big subject in headlines, the horrendous events that have been unfolding in Syria over the last 18 months now. Russia' position has been steadfast all the way along the line. Here you've said there should be no foreign intervention and it should be the Syrian people who do the deciding and it should be done through diplomacy. However, that's a great idea, but day in day out innocent lives are being lost on both sides. Is it time for something more than talking? Should Russia be reassessing its position maybe now?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: How come Russia is the only one who’s expected to revise its stance? Don’t you think our counterparts in negotiations ought to revise theirs as well? Because if we look back at the events in the past few years, we’ll see that quite a few initiatives of our counterparts have not played out the way they were intended to.
Take the examples of the numerous countries ridden with escalating internal conflicts. The US and then its allies went into Afghanistan, and now they’re all looking forward to getting out of there. If there’s anything on the table, it’s the issue of assisting them in withdrawing their troops and hardware from Afghanistan through our transit routes.
Now, are you sure that country has been stabilized for decades to come? So far, no one is confident about it.
And look at what’s going on in Arab countries. There have been notable developments in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. Would you say that order and prosperity have been totally ensured for these nations? And what’s going on in Iraq?
In Libya, there are in fact armed clashes still raging among the country’s various tribes. I won’t even mention the way the country had its regime changed: this is a separate topic. What concerns us, and I want to emphasize this once again, is the current hostilities in Syria. But at the same time, we are just as concerned about the possible consequences of certain decisions, should they be taken.
In our opinion, the most important task today is ending the violence. We must urge all the warring parties, including the government and the so-called rebels, the armed opposition, to sit down at the negotiating table and decide on a future that would guarantee security for all of the stakeholders within Syria. Only then should they get down to any practical measures regarding the country’s future system of governance. We realize that this country needs a change, but this doesn’t mean that change should come with bloodshed.

KEVIN OWEN: OK, well, given the facts regarding Syria that you see on the table now, what is the next step? What do you realistically think is going to happen next?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We told our partners we would like to sit down together at the negotiating table in Geneva. And when we did, together we charted a roadmap for further action that would help bring peace to Syria and channel the developments into a more constructive path. We received almost unanimous support and shared the results of the talks with the Syrian government. But then the rebels actually refused to recognize those decisions; and many of the negotiating parties have also quietly backed down.
I believe that the first thing to do is to finally stop shipping arms into the warzone. We should stop trying to impose unacceptable solutions on either side, because it is a dead-end. That’s what we should do. It is that simple.
Luckily, we generally enjoy friendly relations with the Arab world, but we would like to stay away from sectarian conflicts in Islam, or interfere in a showdown involving the Sunnites, the Shiites, the Alawites and so on. We treat everyone with equal respect. We also get on well with Saudi Arabia and other countries; I have cultivated a warm personal relationship with the guardian of two Islamic shrines. The only underlying motive behind our stance is the desire to create a favorable environment for the situation to develop positively in years to come.

KEVIN OWEN: What are your thoughts about the United Nations and the way the United Nations has reacted particularly in Syria. There's been criticism that it's failed to deliver a unified front if you like and has become more of a figurehead organization. Do you share that view?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Quite the contrary, I would say. My take on the issue is the absolute opposite of what you have just said. If the United Nations and the Security Council had indeed turned into a mere rubberstamping tool for any one of the member states, it would have ceased to exist, just like the League of Nations has. But the reality is that the Security Council and the UN are meant to be a tool for compromise. Seeking to achieve it is a long and complex process, but only this hard and tedious work can yield us fruit.

KEVIN OWEN: Understood. Mr. President, another question I'd like to ask you - a number of Western and Arab nations have been covertly ... with supporting the FSA, the Free Syrian Army - indeed, some of them are doing it openly now. Of course the catch here is that the FSA is suspected of hiring known Al-Qaeda fighters amongst their ranks. So the twist in this tale is that a lot of those countries are actually sponsoring terrorism, if you like, in Syria, countries that have suffered from terrible terrorism themselves. Is that a fair assessment?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, whenever someone aspires to attain a much-desired end, any means will do. As a rule, they will try and do that by hook or by crook – and hardly ever think of the consequences that will follow. That was the case during the Afghan war after the Soviet Union in 1979 sent its troops to Afghanistan. At that time, our current partners supported a rebel movement there and basically gave rise to Al Qaeda, a United States pet project that later targeted its creator.
Today some people want to use militants from Al Qaeda or some other organizations with equally radical views to accomplish their goals in Syria. This policy is dangerous and very shortsighted. But in that case, one should unlock Guantanamo, arm all of its inmates and bring them to Syria to do the fighting – it's practically the same kind of people. But bear in mind that one day these people will get back at their patrons and eventually end up in a new prison, one that will very much resemble the camp off the Cuban shore. I would like to emphasize that this policy is very shortsighted and is fraught with dire consequences.

KEVIN OWEN: I'd like to broaden that a little bit now, a little bit wider from Syria. You touched upon Syria. Syria is in the middle of a civil war, we're seeing conflicts in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia. Ok, things are a bit calmer in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia -- you mentioned it just now. But standing back from it overall, all the troubles that we've seen in the Middle East, all the turmoil there - has it been at all for the good or for the bad, where does it put that region now?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, we can discuss this into the small hours and still run out of time. For me, it’s a clear fact that these events are historically logical and follow from these states’ development. The leaders of these countries have obviously overlooked the need for change and missed the ongoing trends at home and abroad, so they failed to produce the reforms which would have saved the day in due time. All these events simply logically stem from this background. Whether this is a blessing or a curse with many negative implications, is now too early to say.
In any case, the lack of a civilized approach, the high level of violence has so far stood in the way of building any sustainable political structures, which would help solve economic and social problems in societies hit by those events. This is what causes a lot of concern over the future situation, because the people in these countries, who have had enough of their previous regimes, clearly expect the new governments to begin with tackling their social and economic problems in a competent way. But with no political stability, these problems cannot be solved.