Russian prime minister Dmitri Medvedev criticized France’s decision to formally recognize the Syrian opposition, telling reporters on the eve of a visit to Paris, “not a single state, not a single government should undertake any action directed at the forcible replacement of an acting government in any other country.”
However, he condemned the Syrian government for the violence it has deployed against civilians as well as rebel fighters and added, “Right now, I don’t want to say who is right and who is wrong.”
In spite of existing perceptions, Russia supports neither the Assad regime, nor the opposition. We are neutral.
President François Hollande was the first Western leader to recognize the opposition movement as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people when most rebel groups organized under an umbrella movement at a conference in Qatar earlier this month. The more Islamists factions notably refused to submit to the new regime while they constitute the backbone of the resistance against President Bashar al-Assad’s loyalist forces on the ground.
Vladimir Putin, who swapped places with Medvedev to become president again this year, referred to these very Islamist factions in an interview with RT in September to explain Russia’s policy of neutrality. “Some want to use militants from Al Qaeda or some other organizations with equally radical views to achieve their goals in Syria,” he said before comparing the situation to the United States backing mujahideen rebels during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Putin predicted that propping up Islamic extremists in Syria will similarly backfire.
Medvedev echoed his warning, saying, “The last thing we want to see is Syria falling apart, something that will lead to yet another source of tension in the Middle East.”
The religious extremists are certain to take advantage of this, which is not good for any country, be it Syria, France or Russia.
Russia, which maintains a naval facility in Syria at Tartus and fears that the toppling of Assad will embolden Muslim separatist movements in its own Caucuses frontier region, has blocked efforts in the United Nations Security Council to isolate Assad. The European Union and the United States have nevertheless imposed sanctions on the Ba’athist regime which prohibit Syrian oil exports.
Western nations that support the uprising suspect that Russia continues to supply the regime with weapons. Medvedev argued that his country is merely honoring existing contracts. “We don’t know how long a given political regime will exist,” he said before promising: “We would cease any supplies only in the event of international sanctions.” Russia previously suspended weapons sales to Iran when United Nations sanctions prohibited them.