Syria. Who should be ashamed? (by Ambassador Yakovenko for The Observer)

The novel way of diplomacy, proposed by Foreign Secretary Johnson has so far materialized in a lone gentleman with a poster outside our Embassy – not something I would describe as a big diplomatic victory. But the very fact of having to resort to (non-existent) campaigners to make a point is, in my opinion, a sign of the state of Britain’s Syria policy. Some would say that Russia’s record on Syria has “also” been controversial – and here’s where I would strongly disagree.

We entered the conflict on 30 September 2015. Western coalition had already been active there for years, dropping bombs and missiles, and supporting the highly-praised “moderate opposition” against the radicals – as they say. And still, Syria was on the edge of collapse. ISIS, aka DAESH, a by-product of Western ham-fisted social engineering in Iraq, gained new ground, pushing back the Syrian army as well as rival anti-governmental forces. They brought the conflict to a new degree of barbarity and cruelty unseen since Dark Ages and Nazi Germany. Massacres, public tortures and executions, slave trade on an industrial scale were a daily reality in the areas held by ISIS, not to mention the destruction of many historic sites and artifacts. And they seemed to be moving in for a kill – preparing to take Damascus and rule the country by the right of conquest. Establishment of a terrorist state in Syria would pose a grave threat to Russia and the whole of Europe.

A year after Russia sent its Air Force, reacting to the request of legitimate Government of Syria, the picture looks different. ISIS is on retreat, having lost over 4600 square miles of territory and up to 35 000 fighters. Syrian army and local militia freed 586 towns and villages from ISIS. Their leaders, who a year ago promised to bring slaughter and chaos to other regions – including Europe – went remarkably silent.

But Russia didn’t come to Syria to fight the war. We came to deliver the country from terrorists and extremists, and to create conditions for a peace process. With ISIS gangs no longer threatening Damascus and many other cities, Syrians have a chance to settle their political, ethnic, religious differences at a negotiating table. Talks started between the Government and many patriotic opposition groups. At local level, many villages and towns have joined the ceasefire regime (783, and the number grows daily), brokered by the Russian military.

The combat is tough, however, in Aleppo, where the Syrian Army is wrestling with the rebels, over half of whom belong to Jabhat Al-Nusra, an offspring of infamous Al-Qaeda, internationally recognized as terrorists. After long negotiations, the US agreed to exert influence on the “moderates” to separate them from the proscribed terrorists. This didn’t happen. Those who fight in East Aleppo shamelessly use civilians as a human shield, block their passage to safety through established humanitarian corridors, hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid (they say they didn’t want a ceasefire and humanitarian aid). Our military does what they can, verifying the targets to make sure these are no civilian objects, to exclude any loss of life and limit damage to civil infrastructure. (We are always ready to concede concrete evidence that our strikes have hit civilian targets, and investigate accordingly – but we have so far seen none). Human suffering, a horrible by-product of any war (the expression “collateral damage” wasn’t invented by us or President Assad) is being exploited to rally to the terrorists’ cause. Britain and France suggestion of a no-fly zone would lead precisely to this – leaving terrorists in charge and in control. Our goal is to defeat terrorists which will ensure humanitarian relief for all in need.

Russia saved Syria from terrorist takeover. We champion a political solution, which will include all political forces in Syria and ensure its future as a secular, pluralistic nation. We deliver humanitarian aid. And finally, Russia was not the one to quit all efforts to arrange a ceasefire in Aleppo, which cannot be achieved on terrorists’ terms.

This is where we stand. We are not ashamed to be part of a complex solution in Syria and call on others to join us. For that our Western partners will have to forget about regime change in Syria, leaving it to the Syrians to decide for themselves. After all, terrorists do not offer the Syrians a vote. Theirs is an end of history rule, with all other options closed.