Russian FM: We and the US Are Arming Opposing Sides in Syrian Conflict

By Patrick Goodenough | October 22, 2014 | 4:21am EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet at Winfield House in London on March 14, 2014, to discuss the Ukraine crisis. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

( – Russia is not a member of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition because its military actions are “paradoxical” and not in line with international law, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week. He pointed out that the coalition and Russia were arming opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.

Delivering a lecture on Russia’s foreign policy, Lavrov said Russia has been sending “large-scale weapons and military hardware supplies” to the Syrian and Iraqi governments -- thereby greatly improving their ability to fight “religious extremists vying for power.”

Meanwhile the U.S.-led coalition was both bombing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) terrorists and providing armed support “to the opposition forces fighting the Bashar Assad regime alongside the Islamic State,” he said.

“The U.S. considers this support ‘moderate’ and therefore acceptable,” Lavrov continued. “Its purpose is to help the Syrian opposition achieve the potential to overthrow the current regime in Syria. The controversial and paradoxical nature of these actions is obvious, in my view. We have been discussing this with our U.S. counterparts, trying to understand their logic, but have not received any clear explanations so far.”

Lavrov’s comments at Monday’s event in Moscow were made available by the Russian foreign ministry.

Russia, a longstanding ally of Assad, has argued for months that the regime should be a partner in the effort to defeat ISIS, but the U.S. has ruled out any cooperation with a despot whose legitimacy it does not recognize.

For America’s Sunni Arab coalition partners, toppling the regime in Damascus is an important part of the mission, and they intend that the support being given to the rebels to fight ISIS will also better equip them to bring down Assad.

Trying to moderate expectations, administration official say ISIS is the priority, and that the broader civil war needs a political, not military, solution.

“We wholeheartedly agree with the (U.N.) Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] that a political solution is absolutely essential to address the root causes of extremism in Syria, and to address the legitimate aspirations and grievances of its people,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

In his lecture, Lavrov said Russia supports coordinating with others in the fight against the common threat of terrorism, but those efforts “have to rest on a solid foundation of international law under the auspices of the U.N. Security Council.”

Bombing ISIS positions on Syrian territory without prior coordination with Damascus “does not fit with these principles.”

“[O]ur country is not part of the U.S.-led international coalition,” he said.

Lavrov accused the West of employing double standards and baffling logic in its approach to Islamic militancy across the Middle East, and of failing to work through the Security Council – “the body that shoulders the responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.”

“The United States and its allies have claimed the right to interfere, sometimes brazenly, in the events of other countries under the mantle of protecting human rights and promoting democratic values, up to an including sanctions and the use of force.”

He pointed to the chaos in Libya three years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi – in a NATO-led operation which Russia opposed – but reserved his harshest criticism for Western nations’ approach to the conflict in Syria.

“The West was so anxious to overthrow Bashar al-Assad that it turned a blind eye for four years as extremists strengthened their hold on Syria, allowing [ISIS] to flourish and seize huge swaths of Iraq and Syria, which they rule according to shari’a,” he said.

For its part the U.S. blames Assad’s abuses for the growth of ISIS and other terrorist groups.

“More than three years ago, Bashar al-Assad lost legitimacy to lead when he responded to peaceful protests with brutal violence,” Power said in New York on Tuesday. “Atrocities committed by his regime – atrocities of the kind and scale this world has rarely seen – played a key role in spurring the emergence of ISIL and other terrorist groups.”

“The regime declares itself the antidote to the horrors of ISIL,” Power said, “but its chemical and barrel bomb attacks, its use of starvation as a tool of war, are every bit as indifferent to the fate of innocents and every bit as grotesque.”

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