Russia: ‘Free Syrian Army No Longer Exists’; Rebels Are Coordinating With Terrorists

By Patrick Goodenough | September 17, 2014 | 4:26 AM EDT

Free Syrian Army rebels attend a weapons training session outside Idlib in this 2012 file picture. (AP Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Russia on Tuesday accused the West of ignoring its warnings about the growing terrorist threat in Syria, and claimed that the moderate rebel front – the one the Obama administration wants to arm as part of its anti-ISIS strategy – “no longer exists.”

The remarks by Russia’s ambassador in Geneva Alexey Borodavkin came during a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which was discussing the most recent report by a U.N.-mandated independent commission of inquiry into the conflict.

The report, released late last month and roughly covering the first half of this year, recorded atrocities by the Assad regime and by some of its opponents, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

“The commission in its report,” Borodavkin told the council through a translator, “recognizes that the Syrian government is working against a huge army of trained armed terrorists.”

“The Free Syrian Army no longer exists,” he continued. “Armed groups qualified as ‘moderate’ are closely coordinating their activities with terrorist groups.”

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is the mainstream rebel movement affiliated to the U.S.-recognized Syrian National Coalition which the administration wants to train and equip to fight ISIS jihadists in Syria. Lawmakers are expected to vote as early as Wednesday to authorize the proposal.

The commission of inquiry report to which Borodavkin referred does not state that the FSA no longer exists. It does say however that “ideological, political, tribal and personal” divisions and rivalries among rebel groups had prevented them from becoming more effective, and that “[e]fforts by external backers to reinforce the so-called ‘vetted moderate armed opposition’ failed to reverse the dominance of radical armed groups.”

The report also says that where “groups labeled as moderate” managed to score military successes against the regime they did so “closely coordinating with extremist groups, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Borodavkin used his intervention in Geneva to chide countries – especially Western countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad – for their approach to the three-and-a-half-year civil war.

“It’s clearer than ever that the real threat to Syrian statehood and the whole region is the activity of terrorist groups,” he said.

“I’d like to remind you that Russia right from the beginning suggested that we unite the efforts of the international community, the Syrian authorities and the moderate opposition to combat jihadists.

“If we had been heard at the time, the spread of this cancerous tumor could have been stopped,” Borodavkin said.

“Now, regrettably, we must admit that our worst scenarios have materialized: the Islamic State [ISIS] has seized a third of the country’s territory, have proclaimed the Syrian city of Raqqa as a capital of their ‘caliphate’ and is committing heinous crimes. This is supplemented by violent raging of other terrorist groups.”

The Russian envoy said the new international focus on countering ISIS was to be welcomed, citing a meeting convened by France on Monday at which 26 countries, Russia and the U.S. among them, expressed support for a broad campaign against the jihadist group.

Russia was willing to contribute to the effort, he said.

On the sidelines of the meeting in Paris, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russian help in the anti-ISIS campaign included providing military and other assistance to Iraq “to strengthen its ability to ensure security.”

Moscow was “also providing military and other aid to Syria,” he said, as well as to other countries in the region, including Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon and Jordan.

Russia does not, however, support President Obama proposal to extend airstrikes against ISIS from Iraq into Syria, insisting that it would violate international law.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow