If you like him or not, it is worth to understand the thinking of Russian President Vladimir Putin about his engagement in Syria.
Until now only 20 percent of 64 Russian major air strikes were directed at 15 ISIS targets. 80 percent of strikes hit rebels fighting against Assad, but supported by the Syrian government in exile and the West.
446 people have been killed by Russian planes until now, among them 151 civilians. 295 fighters were killed, but only 75 from ISIS and 31 from the radical al-Nusra-Front.
Globalo documents Putin’s words from the Valdai Conference in Sochi in Russia from October 22nd, 2015:
We see what is happening in the Middle East. For decades, maybe even centuries, inter-ethnic, religious and political conflicts and acute social issues have been accumulating here. In a word, a storm was brewing there, while attempts to forcefully rearrange the region became the match that lead to a real blast, to the destruction of statehood, an outbreak of terrorism and, finally, to growing global risks.
A terrorist organisation, the so-called Islamic State, took huge territories under control. Just think about it: if they occupied Damascus or Baghdad, the terrorist gangs could achieve the status of a practically official power, they would create a stronghold for global expansion. Is anyone considering this? It is time the entire international community realised what we are dealing with – it is, in fact, an enemy of civilisation and world culture that is bringing with it an ideology of hatred and barbarity, trampling upon morals and world religious values, including those of Islam, thereby compromising it.
We do not need wordplay here; we should not break down the terrorists into moderate and immoderate ones. It would be good to know the difference. Probably, in the opinion of certain experts, it is that the so-called moderate militants behead people in limited numbers or in some delicate fashion.
In actual fact, we now see a real mix of terrorist groups. True, at times militants from the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and other Al-Qaeda heirs and splinters fight each other, but they fight for money, for feeding grounds, this is what they are fighting for. They are not fighting for ideological reasons, while their essence and methods remain the same: terror, murder, turning people into a timid, frightened, obedient mass.
In the past years the situation has been deteriorating, the terrorists’ infrastructure has been growing, along with their numbers, while the weapons provided to the so-called moderate opposition eventually ended up in the hands of terrorist organizations. Moreover, sometimes entire bands would go over to their side, marching in with flying colours, as they say.
Why is it that the efforts of, say, our American partners and their allies in their struggle against the Islamic State has not produced any tangible results? Obviously, this is not about any lack of military equipment or potential. Clearly, the United States has a huge potential, the biggest military potential in the world, only double crossing is never easy. You declare war on terrorists and simultaneously try to use some of them to arrange the figures on the Middle East board in your own interests, as you may think.
It is impossible to combat terrorism in general if some terrorists are used as a battering ram to overthrow the regimes that are not to one’s liking. You cannot get rid of those terrorists, it is only an illusion to think you can get rid of them later, take power away from them or reach some agreement with them. The situation in Libya is the best example here.
Let us hope that the new government will manage to stabilise the situation, though this is not a fact yet. However, we need to assist in this stabilisation.
We understand quite well that the militants fighting in the Middle East represent a threat to everyone, including Russia. People in our nation know what terrorist aggression means and know what the bandits in the North Caucasus have done. We remember the bloody terrorist attacks in Budennovsk, Moscow, Beslan, Volgograd and other Russian cities. Russia has always fought terrorism in all its forms, consistently advocating for truly unifying the global community’s efforts to fight this evil. That is why we made our suggestion to create a broad anti-terror coalition, which I recently voiced in my speech at the United Nations.
After Syria’s official authorities reached out to us for support, we made the decision to launch a Russian military operation in that nation. I will stress again: it is fully legitimate and its only goal is to help restore peace. I am sure that the Russian service members’ actions will have the necessary positive effect on the situation, helping Syria’s official authorities create the conditions for subsequent actions in reaching a political settlement and stage pre-emptive strikes against terrorists that threaten our nation, Russia. Thus, we help all nations and peoples who are certainly in danger if these terrorists return home.
Here is what we believe we must do to support long-term settlement in the region, as well as its social, economic and political revival.
1. First of all, free Syria and Iraq’s territories from terrorists and not let them move their activities to other regions. And to do that, we must join all forces – the Iraqi and Syrian regular armies, Kurdish militia, various opposition groups that have actually made a real contribution to fighting terrorists – and coordinate the actions of countries within and outside of the region against terrorism. At the same time, joint anti-terrorist action must certainly be based on international law.
2. Second, it is obvious that a military victory over the militants alone will not resolve all problems, but it will create conditions for the main thing: a beginning of a political process with participation by all healthy, patriotic forces of the Syrian society. It is the Syrians who must decide their fate with exclusively civil, respectful assistance from the international community, and not under external pressure through ultimatums, blackmail or threats.
The collapse of Syria’s official authorities, for example, will only mobilise terrorists. Right now, instead of undermining them, we must revive them, strengthening state institutions in the conflict zone.
I want to remind you that throughout its history, the Middle East has often been an arena for clashes between various empires and powers. They redrew boundaries and reshaped the region’s political structure to suit their tastes and interests. And the consequences were not always good or beneficial for the people living there. Actually, no one even asked their opinion. The last people to find out what was happening in their own nations were the people living in the Middle East.
Of course, this begs the question: isn’t it time for the international community to coordinate all its actions with the people who live in these territories? I think that it’s long overdue; these people – like any people – should be treated with respect.
3. The involvement in the process of political settlement of the Muslim clergy, leaders of Islam and heads of Muslim nations is crucial. We count on their consolidated position and assistance, as well as their moral authority. It is very important to protect people, especially youth, against the destructive effects of the ideology of the terrorists, who are trying to use them as cannon fodder, nothing more. We need to distinguish clearly between genuine Islam, whose values are peace, family, good deeds, helping others, respecting traditions, and the lies and hatred that the militants sow under the guise of Islam.
4. Fourth, we currently need to develop a roadmap for the region’s economic and social development, to restore basic infrastructure, housing, hospitals and schools. Only this kind of on-site creative work after eliminating terrorism and reaching a political settlement can stop the enormous flow of refugees to European nations and return those who left to their homelands.
It is clear that Syria will need massive financial, economic and humanitarian assistance in order to heal the wounds of war. We need to determine the format within which we could do this work, getting donor nations and international financial institutions involved. Right now, Syria’s problems are being discussed at the UN and other international organisations, and within the framework of interstate relations. It’s true that for now, we are not always able to reach an understanding and it is painfully difficult to abandon might-have-been expectations and unjustified calculations, but nevertheless, there is some progress.
We see that contacts are being gradually established between military departments within the anti-terrorist operation framework, although not as actively and quickly as we might like. Approval of the Russian-American document on safety guidelines for the two countries’ military aircraft flying missions over Syria is a serious step in the right direction.
5. We are also close to starting an exchange of information with our western colleagues on militants’ positions and movements. All these are certainly steps in the right direction. What’s most important is to treat one another as allies in a common fight, to be honest and open. Only then can we guarantee victory over the terrorists.
For all the drama of its current situation, Syria can become a model for partnership in the name of common interests, resolving problems that affect everyone, and developing an effective risk management system. We already had this opportunity after the end of the Cold War. Unfortunately, we did not take advantage of it. We also had the opportunity in the early 2000s, when Russia, the US and many other nations were faced with terrorist aggression and unfortunately, we were unable to establish a good dynamic for cooperating then, either. I will not return to that and the reasons for why we were unable to do this. I think everyone knows already. Now, what’s important is to draw the right lessons from what happened in the past and to move forward.
I am confident that the experience we acquired and today’s situation will allow us to finally make the right choice – the choice in favour of cooperation, mutual respect and trust, the choice in favour of peace.
We are acting in accordance with our convictions and with the norms of international law. We hope that coordinated action between our strike aircraft and the other military systems being used, coordinated with the Syrian army’s offensive, will produce positive results. I believe and our military also think that results have already been achieved.
Is this enough to be able to say that we have defeated terrorism in Syria? No, big efforts are still needed before we will be able to make such an assertion. A lot of work is still needed, and let me stress that this must be joint work.
6. We do not want to start finger-pointing now, but let me say nonetheless that over the nearly 18 months that a US-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes, with more than 11 countries taking part and more than 500 strikes against various targets, there is no result yet, and this is a clear fact. What result can we speak of if the terrorists have reinforced their presence in Syria and Iraq, dug in deeper in the territory they had already taken, and expanded their presence? In this sense, it seems to me that our colleagues have not achieved any effective results as yet.
7. The first operations between our armed forces and the Syrian armed forces have produced results, but this is not enough. It would be wonderful if we united forces, everyone who genuinely wants to fight terrorism, if all the region’s countries and the outside powers, including the United States, came together on this. In essence, this is just what we proposed.
We proposed that a military delegation come to Moscow first, and then I said that we were ready to send a high-level political delegation headed by Russia’s Prime Minister to discuss political questions. But our proposal was given a refusal. True, our American colleagues did then provide explanations at the ministerial level, saying that there had been some misunderstanding and that the road is open, that we can take this road and should think about how to unite our efforts.
8. Now, the foreign ministers of the USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey will meet. I think that other countries in the region should join this process too, countries whose involvement is essential if we want to settle this issue. I am thinking of Iran, primarily. We have already said this many times before. But it is a start at this stage to have the foreign ministers meet to discuss things. As for our Iranian partners, we are in close contact with them on this matter, and Iran makes its own significant contribution to a settlement.
9. On the question of Syria’s partition, I think this would be the worst-case scenario. It is an unacceptable option because it would not help to resolve the conflict but would instead only serve to increase and prolong it. This would become a permanent conflict. If Syria were partitioned into separate territories, they would inevitably fight between themselves without end and nothing positive would come out of this.
10. On the matter of whether al-Assad should go or not, I have said many times already that I think it wrong to even ask this question. How can we ask and decide from outside whether this or that country’s leader should stay or go. This is a matter for the Syrian people to decide. Let me add though that we must be certain that government is formed on the basis of transparent democratic procedures. We can talk of having some kind of international monitoring of these procedures, including election procedures, but this must be objective monitoring, and most importantly, it must not have a bias in favour of any one country or group of countries.
11. Finally, on how we see the political process, let me give a general outline now, but let me say at the same time that it is the Syrians themselves who must formulate this process, its principles and final goals, what they want and how they will achieve it. By the Syrians themselves, I am referring to the lawful government and the opposition forces. Of course, we take the view that the root causes of the conflict in Syria are not just the fight against terrorism and terrorist attacks, though terrorist aggression is clear and the terrorists are simply taking advantage of Syria’s internal difficulties. We need to separate the terrorist threat from the internal political problems. Certainly, the Syrian government must establish working contact with those opposition forces that are ready for dialogue. I understood from my meeting with President al-Assad the day before that he is ready for such dialogue.
I was wondering to myself just now whether to say this or not. Let me raise the curtain a little on our talks with President al-Assad. I asked him, “How would you react if we see that there is an armed opposition in Syria today that is ready to genuinely fight terrorism, fight the Islamic State, and we were to support their efforts in this fight against terrorism just as we are supporting the Syrian army?” He said, “I think it would be positive.” We are reflecting on this now and will try, if it all works out, to translate these agreements into practical steps.
Our service members in Syria, of course, are fighting terrorism and in this respect, protect the interests of the Syrian people, but not only that. First and foremost, they protect the interests of Russia and the Russian people. They are striking the militants and militant groups that are a threat to our nation. Of course, they are risking their health and their lives. And in this regard, they are all heroes, but they chose this profession of their own free will. It was their choice. I am proud of them.
There is one more thing I want to say. Fifty years ago, I learnt one rule in the streets of Leningrad: if the fight is inevitable, be the first to strike.
And I assure you, the treat of terrorist strikes against Russia has not become greater or less due to our actions in Syria. It was already there and it still is, unfortunately. We were not taking any action in Syria. What caused the terrorists to strike the railway station in Volgograd? Nothing. Simply their people-hating mentality, their attitude toward people’s lives, the fight against Russia itself. And so it is better for us to fight them there, as I already said, rather than await them here.