Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov’s interview with the newspaper Izvestia, February 13, 2018
Question: The United States has announced the training of the Syrian Border Security Force, a 30,000 strong group that will be mostly comprised of Kurds. The first elections of different levels have been held in the so-called Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. Does Russia have a recipe for stopping this increasing disintegration?
Mikhail Bogdanov: We do have a recipe. It is based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the fundamental principles of international law, which stem from the UN Charter. The UNSC resolution must be implemented and the principles must be complied with.
The recent Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, which was attended by ethnic Kurds, although they did not represent the Democratic Union Party, which currently holds leading positions in the north and northeast of Syria (the reasons for this are well known), has shown that the Syrians are resolved to preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of their country. The final statement of the congress says this clearly and unambiguously. None of the congress delegates proposed disintegration.
Moreover, I can assure you that none of the Kurdish delegates that I met proposed this either.
We believe that separatist sentiments among some Kurds have been provoked by the clumsy actions of our American partners. These actions have created an illusion among the Kurds in northern Syria that they will not lose the protection and sponsorship of the United States no matter what they do. These actions have also engendered serious concern in Turkey over the security of its southern borders, which the Americans supposedly intend to turn over to US-trained and armed Kurdish forces, as some statements by US officials seem to indicate. You know about the negative consequences of this. Therefore, an additional ingredient of our recipe is a recommendation for all external forces that are trying to influence the situation in Syria to take into account the complicated regional realities and the specifics of Syria, a country with a rich history and national traditions.
Question: The fate of Bashar al-Assad is the main unsettled issue. Russia’s partners have taken an inflexible stand. What solution can Russia offer?
Mikhail Bogdanov: The future of Bashar al-Assad is in the hands of al-Assad himself and the Syrian people, who entrusted him with governing the country through the constitutional election mechanism. This issue has nothing to do with the partners you mentioned, who have no right to force their will on the people of sovereign states.
If the Syrian opposition believes that the Syrian people should have a different president, they should be in a hurry to attend the Geneva talks and conduct them in a responsible and constructive manner without any preconditions, so as to implement the provisions of UNSC Resolution 2254, which stipulates constitutional reform and UN-monitored elections based on this reform. The opponents of the current government will reach their goal only if they win this election. However, I seriously doubt that the Syrians will support them.
Question: Russia has resumed flights to Egypt, but planes are so far only flying to Cairo. When will Russian airlines fly to resort cities of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada?
Mikhail Bogdanov: Under the agreements between the presidents of Russia and Egypt, the sides are working on the resumption of direct flights between Moscow and Cairo. We expect the first fights to be made soon.
As for flights to Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, a decision will be taken with due regard for the interaction between the two countries’ aviation authorities at Cairo Airport and for the security situation in the region.
Question: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that Israel has killed the Oslo Accords, while the PLO Central Council has called for suspending the recognition of Israel. This is the Palestinians’ reaction to US President Donald Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Can Russia do something to cut short the degradation of the situation, for example, take the Americans’ place in mediating an Israeli-Palestinian settlement?
Mikhail Bogdanov: Indeed, the US administration’s decision on Jerusalem has seriously complicated the Middle Eastern settlement. Tensions have flared up on the ground, including around Gaza. The negative consequences at the political level include sharp criticism of the US and Israel by OIC leaders, as well as tougher Palestinian rhetoric. The Ramallah authorities have even decided to severe contact with the US regarding a settlement with Israel.
Of course, we are not at all happy about these developments, but they were not completely unexpected either. We said at the very beginning that unilateral actions such as the above US decision would have a destabilising effect and would hardly help bring about peace in the region. Regrettably, developments have taken this course exactly.
As for mediation between Palestinians and Israelis, we make no secret of our position. We believe that no country alone is able to find a solution to this old conflict. Evidence of this includes the developments of the past two decades when one foreign actor dominated the Palestinian track. As we say, things haven’t budged. This is why we have always advocated the coordinated efforts of the international community. We have the necessary format for this – the Middle East quartet of international mediators, which comprises Russia, the US, the EU and the UN. It is a fact that the Middle East quartet is the only internationally recognised mechanism for assisting a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. We stand for revitalising this mechanism. We are working on this with our partners in the quartet.
Neither have we stopped acting at the national level. In the autumn of 2016, we proposed holding a Palestinian-Israeli summit meeting in Moscow under the auspices of the President of Russia. We thought that the resumption of a direct political dialogue between the parties would help ease tensions. We still think so. This is why we are ready to provide the venue for such a meeting, provided the parties involved consider it useful.