Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Vladimir Vinokurov | Don't jump the gun on Syria

Published:Wednesday | April 12, 2017 | 4:00 AM

In this response to the April 9, 2017 editorial in The Gleaner, I want to clarify my country's position on Syria.

1. Russia assists Syria in its fight against ISIL and affiliated organisations. The Syrian army is the main force combating terrorist groups in that country.

With regard to Russia's support for the Syrian president, we believe that the future of Bashar al-Assad must be decided by the Syrian people and not imposed by foreign powers. And this is not just empty rhetoric. Russia has been actively working for the past several months to facilitate a political settlement by bringing together government and opposition forces in several rounds of so-called Astana talks.

2. Russia considers any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances absolutely unacceptable. The same applies to Syria, especially taking into account that Russia, together with the United States, had an important role to play in the elimination of a Syrian arsenal of chemical weapons.

The editorial alleges that this was not the first time that Assad had deployed chemical weapons, specifically mentioning the attack in 2013. A number of experts in the field of military science and ballistics, including American scientists from MIT, crunched the numbers and showed how the alleged 'sarin attack' in Eastern Ghouta was, in fact, the work of opposition rebels not of the Syrian army.




I don't want to go into details because of the space constraints, but there is a thorough and factual comment on the Syrian chemical dossier by the Russian MFA (en.rejamaica.ru).

What I suggest here is to use common sense. The Syrian government has lately been winning on all fronts. Why would it endanger its political and military gains and risk losing Russia's support by using chemical weapons? At the same time, those who benefited most from the chemical attack are the same rebel groups who had accused the Syrian government of it. Isn't it evident that objective and impartial fact-finding is needed before apportioning blame?

Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable. But we are against taking decisions based on videos provided by an untrustworthy organisation that has a direct interest in vilifying the Syrian government, especially when the government itself categorically denies the use of chemical weapons.

Besides, Russia has information that terrorists operating in Idlib province, where the chemical-weapons attack took place, were producing toxic landmines for use in Syria and Iraq. And according to Russia's defence ministry assessment, the toxic agents were released when a Syrian air strike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal.

That's why Russia insists on a full and impartial international investigation into this attack. And the longer this investigation is delayed, the harder it will be to have a clear picture of what had really happened.

3. In any case, the unilateral use of force against a sovereign state bypassing the United Nations is a violation of international law. But more to the point, for advocates of the principle that the ends justify the means, recent history has shown that such military actions don't resolve problems; they only exacerbate them.

I want to quote the final sentence of the Gleaner editorial from November 17, 2015: "It is perhaps also worth remembering that the incubator for IS was the instability caused by the Iraq invasion, on the contrived evidence of Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction, and which also exacerbated the chaos that is now Libya after the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi."

It doesn't take an expert to predict that the overthrow of the Syrian government instigated from abroad will only lead to a further destabilisation in the Middle East with dire consequences.

- Vladimir Vinokurov is ambassador of the Russian Federation to Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and russianembassyjamaica@gmail.com