Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov’s interview with Interfax news agency, December 12, 2017

Friday, 15 December 2017 06:45

Question:  After almost all of Syria’s territory has been cleared of ISIS, what tasks in the sphere of combating terrorism are coming to the fore?

Oleg Syromolotov: International terrorism in Syria is not limited to ISIS. Many other al-Qaeda offshoots are operating in that country, such as Jabhat al-Nusra. To reiterate, despite changing its name several times, it remains on the UN Security Council’s sanctions list, and its members, just like the militants of other illegal formations, must be brought to justice for their crimes.

However, I agree that the defeat of ISIS as the current leader of the “terrorist International,” especially amid the intensified political process in Syria, truly marks a new stage in the counter-terrorism efforts. Neutralising the remaining terrorist threats is coming to the fore. Ensuring the rule of law and order, this time through the efforts of the Syrians themselves, without arbitrary external interference that, as a matter of fact, led to destabilisation in that country in 2011−2012 and to rapid growth of terrorism there and across the region, is of paramount importance now.

Under the new circumstances, it is becoming increasingly clear that the greatest danger is coming from the spread of terrorist ideology in the information space. The issue is not only about the efficiency of the terrorist groups’ masterminds or sponsors, but also about the fact that those in the West who manipulate international public opinion and refer to outright terrorists as “freedom fighters” or “violent extremists” play the leading role in the cyberspace and social media.

Russia is convinced that opposing the disastrous spread of terrorist and extremist ideas is only possible through combining the capabilities of the state and society on a single solid basis of international law and honest cooperation and rejecting double standards and attempts to justify terrorist activities.

Question: Were we successful in moving the terrorist threat further away from Russia's borders as a result of our operation in Syria?

Oleg Syromolotov: Without any doubt. Most of the terrorists, especially their ringleaders who planned to export jihad from the Middle East to other regions of the world, including Russia, were destroyed. This work continues and it is being done effectively. Russia has all the legislative and organisational means to be successful. Actually, the terrorist threat has been moved further away not only from Russia’s borders, but also the borders of our allies and neighbours, and many other international partners of ours. It is important to bolster state-to-state interaction and remain united as we fight our common enemy.

Question:  According to some reports, a fairly significant number of foreign mercenaries were Russian nationals who fought in the ranks of ISIS in Syria. Have they been destroyed, or are they likely to melt away now and turn up later in other regions, including Russia?

Oleg Syromolotov: There’s no need to overstate the role of the Russian or other CIS countries’ nationals in ISIS. Indeed, several thousand citizens from former Soviet republics joined this terrorist organisation, which had tens of thousands of militants at its peak. Most of them were used as cannon fodder. Those who managed to escape from Syria, may get some help in order to melt away. We are aware of this and keep tabs on their accomplices. I will tell you one thing – nothing will come out of it. These terrorists face only one choice: justice or elimination.

The ongoing rumours about Russia as the main supplier of terrorists is a trick designed to shift the blame on us, and to divert attention from real reasons for the growth of terrorism across the world and in the MENA region. The reasons lie in an ill-conceived policy of Western states which decided – in order to promote their geopolitical interests – to destabilise the MENA region and to destroy, in particular, the traditional foundations of security.

Question: According to experts, following the defeat in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has chosen Afghanistan as its main foothold, and is getting closer to the borders of Russia and our CSTO allies. Do we see an option of using the Syrian format in Afghanistan, which involves using various local opposition groups to fight ISIS?

Oleg Syromolotov: We can see the threat of ISIS in Afghanistan, especially in its northern parts along the borders with the Central Asian republics. However, we are much more worried by the fact that the now fairly variegated terrorist potential in Afghanistan has been steadily building up over the course of the 16-year military presence of NATO and its allies there. However, NATO has no strategy to deal with it. One can get an impression that someone is benefitting from keeping up this controlled chaos. Now what, we will have to fight terrorists instead of them in Afghanistan, too? What other Syrian format is in question? What do opposition groups have to do with this? Do not forget that the Russian Aerospace Forces’ operation in Syria is a fully legitimate effort carried out at the request of the Syrian government.

Question: Do we assess as successful the model of counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States and the US-led coalition in Syria? Do we consider it necessary to continue such cooperation during the post-conflict period in order to strengthen security and prevent terrorists from rearing heads in Syria?

Oleg Syromolotov: We would very much like our interaction with the United States to be successful and to focus on countering terrorism. So far, our relations with the Americans in Syria have been reduced to ensuring military de-confliction. However, counterterrorism cooperation implies comprehensive activities involving competent authorities. There is the Anti-Terror Working Group’s mechanism. We are ready to resume its work, and, strictly speaking, we never closed the door to dialogue and cooperation.

Let me remind you about the all too familiar instances when the United States took or ignored actions that allowed terrorists, including ISIS fighters, to avoid being hit, or to escape occupied areas and recover in order to pursue their terrorist and combat activities against the Syrian army. That is why we cannot talk in earnest about counter-terrorist interaction with the Americans in Syria. Moreover, that created threats for the Russian servicemen. This is unacceptable.

Question: Do we see an opportunity to apply the experience of cooperation with the United States in Syria to Afghanistan? Is it realistic to expect to settle the Afghan conflict and to eliminate the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan, which jeopardises the region and the world, without interacting with the United States or NATO?

Oleg Syromolotov: I think I gave you quite an exhaustive answer. Allegedly, NATO and its allies who sent military there under the mandate of the UN Security Council were supposed to resolve the problem of terrorism in Afghanistan. It is not working out at all. The situation is only getting worse. Do they interact with Russia or numerous other states in the region? Unfortunately, not or not enough. As soon as our Western partners realise that there is no alternative to cooperation, there definitely will be less terrorism in Afghanistan and the rest of the world.

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