An Interview with Alexey Pushkov

The head of the Russian State Duma's international-affairs committee speaks with Paul J. Saunders. 

Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Alexey Pushkov, chairman of the international-affairs committee of the Russian State Duma. It was conducted by Paul J. Saunders, associate publisher of The National Interest, on September 23, 2013.

Paul Saunders: So this week is the beginning of the annual general debate at the UN General Assembly. The Obama administration has indicated that they would like to see a resolution on Syria by the end of the week. We of course don’t have that resolution yet. Are you concerned that the agreement between the United States and Russia may break down if there is no UN Security Council resolution soon and that the United States may press ahead with plans for a strike on Syria?

Alexey Pushkov: There has been disagreement between Moscow and Washington on this issue. Russia does not want to back a resolution that will give a green light for the use of force. If this disagreement is not overcome, then the prospects for a Geneva agreement become worse.

On the other hand, I don’t see that for the chemical disarmament of Syria there must be necessarily a resolution from the Security Council.

Russia suggests that the whole issue and process of chemical disarmament be performed by the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and therefore by the United Nations. This organization that will deal with the process of Syrian chemical disarmament. Therefore, a separate resolution may not be necessary.

We hear the United States, France, and some other countries maintain that without such a resolution President Assad may not comply. If he doesn’t comply, then there will be a case which can be considered by the Security Council. For the time being, he is complying.

Syria has filed an application to join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the relevant international convention. Syria is supplying the necessary documentation. So to accept a resolution that will authorize the use of force under Chapter VII of the United Nations charter in advance, in conditions where we don’t see any breach of the Geneva agreement by the Syrian government is not considered necessary for the Russian government. In Moscow we consider it as an attempt to pass a resolution that can be interpreted as authorizing the use of force like it was in the case of Libya.

As you remember, the stated goal of Resolution 1973 on Libya was to defend the civilian population in Libya, specifically in Benghazi. But it was interpreted by Western nations in such terms that it gave way to missile strikes and bombings of Tripoli and other cities that recognized the government of Muammar Gadhafi. We have stated that we don’t agree with such a reading of this resolution. We will not agree to another resolution of this type in the Security Council.

I think that people are concentrating on the threat of the use of force. The powers that promote such an approach are moving the focus from the chemical disarmament of Syria – and also that has already started –to a possibility of strikes against Syria, which is exactly something the Russian initiative was designed to prevent. This is an unfortunate development, which could have been predicted though. The fundamental goals of Russia and the United States and France and Syria do not converge behind all the diplomatic talk that we have a common goal in Syria.

Unfortunately, the goals, which have been pursued by the United States and their closest allies, are basically regime change.

Russia does not recognize regime change as an appropriate means of reacting to such crises. We think that we should talk about some kind of Syrian national settlement between a number of parties of the opposition and the Syrian government. Russia is opposed to regime change.

Regime change in the majority of cases leads to chaos and ungovernability.

Look at what happened in Libya after the initial invasion. Somehow Libya disappeared almost completely from the pages of the Western newspapers because there is nothing positive to write.

It used to be a factor of stability-- whatever can be said about Muammar Gadhafi as a person. Libya used to be a factor of stability in northern Africa and now it is a factor of instability.

Armaments from Libya are pouring into other countries. Terrorist activities have grown. Al Qaeda has become much stronger than it used to be and it was recognized by the American government. Gadhafi was a secular leader who prohibited any activities of terrorists on his own soil, and prevented them from gaining influence.

When he was toppled, we saw that an immediate Islamist threat appeared in Mali and the French government had to send troops. So it shows that regime change is extremely dangerous.

Look at Iraq. Every month, one thousand people die from terrorist acts.

Look at Afghanistan. The regime change that the Soviet Union pushed in 1976 has led to a complete disaster. The regime change that was performed by the Taliban with the help of Saudi Arabia, the United States, and other countries has led to an ever worse situation.