For Putin is unacceptable to expel Assad from Syria

Interview of RISS Director Leonid Reshetnikov to the Italian magazine Il Nodo di Gordio.

-According to some analyses, there might also be a division of Syria into three areas of influence: the area of Alawites, left to the Assad’s government, the independent Kurdistan, and the vast region of Sunni majority where to play the game between the jihadi militias of IS and the Front funded and supported by the West. A prospective, which may not dislike Washington. How would Moscow see such possibility?

-For Moscow the situation which you describe is sooner unacceptable. Smoldering conflict neighbouring a conditional "Alawite zone" will be a constant source of regional problems - too many geopolitical interests cross in Syria. The "broad Sunni majority region" must be free of warring factions, there should be no war games on its territory, and its local government must be transparent, centralized and legitimate. As for Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), representatives of local authorities today seek only the attainment of cantonal autonomy, the formation of which is only possible via negotiations following the cessation of armed conflict.

-Now it is clear that only a broad international coalition, led by Russia and the US, could fight and defeat the advance of the Caliphate in Syria. However, it seems there are many obstacles. What, in your opinion, the chances of being able to achieve it? And what are the key points on which Moscow does not intend to capitulate?

-Moscow does not intend to abandon support for the current Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. The departure of Assad is the main requirement of the United States, the EU, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. However, for Russia this condition is unacceptable. The President and the Government are the only sources of legitimacy in the face of the civil war. Without them the Syrian Arab Republic is doomed to collapse because no alternative authorities exist at this stage. First the jihadists must be repelled and only then can systemic changes to the internal political life of the Republic begin. The instant dismantling proposed by the United States will only aggravate the situation. We don't need another Libya.

Despite the fact that the United States and Russia have very different perspectives on the Syrian issue, in his speech at the opening of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, President Putin made it clear that the potential for renewed cooperation in relation to Syria is not yet exhausted.

-The Syrian issue is only part of a larger issue that involves the entire Middle East, whose balances are, by now, skipped. How would it be possible, and under which terms, redefine them?

-Universal acceptance for the restoration of balance in the Middle East does not exist because each situation has its own unique circumstances. Nevertheless, a relative balance can be achieved by supporting statehood and the rule of law where they still exist. The artificial division of once unified states (as happened with Libya three years ago and is the case today with Syria and Iraq) does not lead to stability and prolongs the conflict for many years.

Today jihadis are the greatest danger to Middle Eastern States. In contrast to the "secular" political opposition that could formulate specific requirements and conditions, the militants seeking to build a Caliphate are not capable of reaching agreements.

Accordingly, the first necessary condition for restoring normalcy in the region must be the destruction of terrorist groups.

-A greater Russian presence in the Middle East involves some change in relations with the countries of the north coast of the Mediterranean, Europe in particular?

-It is too soon to talk about the results of the Russian presence in the Middle East. It is obvious, however, that against the background of the mass migration of Syrian and Iraqi residents to the EU, Russia's actions, which seek to prevent the flash point of this current Middle Eastern crisis from spreading, appear more logical and justifiable than the actions of the Western coalition.

-The meeting in Moscow between Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was held in the presence of the head of the Armed Forces of Tel Aviv, the General Gadi Eisenkot, and General Herzl Halevi, head of Aman,the military intelligence with the aimed purpose to contain the forces of Hezbollah and prevent the supply of arms from Iran. There is a risk that in the Syrian chaos the Israeli militia clash with the Russian army?

-Firstly, the Russian military is not involved in direct combat activities on the territory of the Republic. Secondly, Russia supports the Syrian Government, not Hezbollah, the expansion of which Tel-Aviv fears. In light of the above, there is no basis for any special or accidental collisions between the Russian and Israeli military. I would also like to point out that Israeli experts continue not to take the problem of the proliferation of IGIL too seriously, believing that Hamas poses a much greater danger to Israel. This view is not very far-sighted. A dismissive attitude to the problem of IGIL could in future give rise to a new wave of terrorism aimed at destabilizing Israel.

-The opening, in Moscow, the hugest mosque in Europe, is a sign of openness to the Islamic world or just an answer to a question inside Russia?

-Russia, like the absolute majority of modern States, has long been open not only to the "Islamic" world but to the whole world. Moscow's Muslims have long needed a large mosque as a shortage of places for prayer often prevented them from observing religious holidays. Thus the opening of the updated mosque is a major event for Moscow's Muslims. Moreover, the new mosque symbolizes the unity of the peoples of Russia and raises our credibility in the Muslim world because the opening ceremony was attended not only by representatives of Russian regions and the former Soviet republics traditionally practicing Islam, but by foreign visitors such as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Today, against the backdrop of escalating sectarian controversies on the Eurasian continent, the peaceful unity of believers takes on great importance.

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