Russian ambassador to Lebanon speaks out

Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin speaks about Russia’s intervention in Syria, and its repercussions on Lebanon, while focusing on the relations with the West and the US.

al-monitor Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin (front L) talks with the pilot of a Russian airplane that arrived with humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, at Beirut international Airport, April 3, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Sharif Karim.

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russia’s syria policy, russian support for iran, russian regional influence, russia, lebanon security, lebanon-syria border, lebanon, homs

Oct 22, 2015

Lebanon is on the list of Russia’s priorities, which means that Moscow is always concerned about security and military stability in this country and about the election of a president as soon as possible.

Still, according to Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin, Russia does not have any “Lebanese initiative” for the presidency or any other issue. Rumors about a Russian proposal regarding the election of a president for two years or half a mandate were just leaks coming from an unknown source.

Zasypkin basically ruled out the possibility of Russia taking such an initiative. First, as a matter of principle, it would not do that, and second, the suggested partial presidential mandate has an underlying call for amending the Lebanese constitution.

Zasypkin said, “This is a strictly internal Lebanese affair. How can a foreign party suggest amending the Lebanese constitution?”

It is true that Russia cares about Lebanon, but “just like other countries, Russia supports Lebanon. There is nothing else happening. We do not want to tip the balance in favor of a certain party. For that reason, we are intervening in a general context rather than siding with one party.”

This Russian perspective of the presidency in Lebanon is coupled with a comforting perspective for the Lebanese situation, in light of the Sukhoi aircraft striking terrorist groups in Syria. Zasypkin firmly said that the “Russian military operation will definitely have positive effects on Lebanon and will improve the situation, thus restoring stability and safety.”

Zasypkin recalled the great danger that surrounded Lebanon a few months back, specifically when the Islamic State (IS) attacked Palmyra. That day, it was said that thousands of extremists would enter Homs, and then north Lebanon.

“Everybody remembers how dangerous these statements were. But now, after the first raids on the region, the Homs-Lebanon road is blocked, and I think the danger is gone. This is a clear indication that what happened was in Lebanon’s interest. However, the current developments might not stop small and limited groups from entering Lebanon. Still, the Lebanese army and security forces will find it easy to arrest these groups and face them. The environment will be less stressful and risky, compared with how it would have been if thousands of terrorists had managed to enter from Palmyra to Homs and then to north Lebanon,” Zasypkin said.

The Russian ambassador disregarded the rumors about a possible expansion of the scope of Russia’s operations to include Lebanon.

He asserted that rumors claiming that Russia asked the Lebanese army to locate the positions of terrorist groups are completely inaccurate.

“Moscow and Damascus exchanged calls regarding the intervention in Syria, not Lebanon. President [Vladimir] Putin clearly stated that the operation would take place in Syria only, in agreement with the Syrian leadership. How can we agree with Syria to intervene in a third country, other than itself?” he added.

Notably, Zasypkin’s approach to the Sukhoi offensive is based on Russia’s certainty that it will accomplish its set goals, mainly by eliminating terrorism in Syria and expelling terrorists from the country. There are foreign terrorists hailing from 80 countries, and they should all leave. The main goal is to reach a political settlement based on the Syrian people’s joint efforts to find points in common. The settlement would result in electing a president and would baptize a future secular, democratic Syrian state that guarantees the rights of all Syrian components without discrimination.” 

Zasypkin communicated Russia’s lack of interest in allegations claiming that the Russian intervention in Syria was done without international legitimacy.

“International legitimacy is restricted to the West,” he said firmly, adding, “The Russian intervention in Syria did happen under international legitimacy and as per an agreement between the Russian and Syrian authorities. For those wondering whether the intervention was based on an understanding with the West, I can tell them that it is an agreement between the Syrian and Russian states. There is no need to discuss the issue with any other Western or non-Western state.”

Zasypkin then further said, “The military operation is not open-ended. It has a specific goal and it is restricted to this goal, which should be realized within a certain timeframe. We know where we are going. The Russian plan is being implemented as it was set, and we will finish it in due time.” (Some Russian experts set the operation’s duration at three to four months).

The US reaction to the Russian intervention in Syria was calm and positive, according to Zasypkin. The anti-terrorism international alliance led by the United States has been fighting without any remarkable results against terrorism. The Russians have now come to join efforts in the same direction announced by the alliance.

Americans know that the Russian intervention helps the US alliance and they realize that they cannot change Russia’s stance toward President Bashar al-Assad, especially since the regime is strong.

Zasypkin asserted, “We do not want the US and the West to cheer for us in Syria. We do not expect or want them to be at odds with us either, although we fear nothing and no one. The military operation in Syria is in the international community’s interest. Logically, the latter’s reactions and responses should be somewhat positive.”

He pointed out the measures that the other camp — which believes that it is necessary to bring down the Syrian regime rather than fight terrorism — may resort to. “By mobilizing all of their capacities against Russian efforts to combat terrorism, the members of this camp may impede us since they possess huge sums of money, armament and staff. This, however, does not mean that the military operation will stop. It will continue,” he said.

He added, “In any case, we are expecting reasonable stances from the Americans and the regional parties. We have a constructive agenda because we want to reach an objective, which is stability in the region. So why maintain chaos forever? We reject what happened in Libya and Iraq since it leads to chaos. Russia does not want to see this repeated in Syria. They want a war of attrition. The West wants to keep expanding in several regions, including the Middle East.”

Zasypkin indicated that Moscow adopts the position of the Syrian regime. He explained, “Moscow considers terrorist any party described as such by the regime. There is no universal agreement on the definition of terrorism, and in the absence of this agreement, each party acts in accordance with its respective standards, nomenclatures and classifications. Therefore, Moscow submitted a draft resolution on the definition of terrorism last month before the UN Security Council.”

Everyone is now convinced that IS is the main danger. Zasypkin added, “However, the Western propaganda used IS to accuse Russia of fighting the moderate opposition, since only IS is a terrorist group, while all others are moderate. This is not true, and we do not agree with this classification. When we say that IS is more dangerous than others, this does not mean that we are only against IS but we are also against any armed party adopting the style of IS and killing people, no matter who this party is.”

Zasypkin said he was surprised by the argument that the Russian intervention aims at curbing Iranian influence. He stated, “Moscow and Tehran are interacting with utmost positivity and cooperation, especially as they realize that they have one enemy, which is terrorism. Therefore, it is irrational to talk about a Russian-Iranian rift.”

Some voices were heard warning of an emerging Russian involvement in Syria — a scenario mimicking the Afghanistan one. This hypothesis, however, has no value according to the Russian assessment.

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