Russia wants to increase cooperation with Israel regarding Syria, and would like Jerusalem to use any influence it has to get opposition groups there to lay down arms and enter negotiations, Konstantin Kosachev, a senior Russian parliamentarian, told The Jerusalem Post.
Kosachev, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, was in the country on Tuesday and Wednesday with Viktor Ozerov, the chairman of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee, for meetings with the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
In a late night interview Tuesday in his Jerusalem hotel, Kosachev said that Russia’s intervention and actions in Syria serve the interests of other countries in the region, including Israel.
“If there will be violent regime change in Syria, we are sure that the new regime will not be democratic at all, but rather someone like Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and that will certainly have a negative influence on all of Syria’s neighbors,” he said.
Asked if Israel – which has reportedly bombed arms depots or convoys in Syria on the way to Hezbollah – is acting against Russia’s interests in the country, Kosachev said, “I wouldn’t say that, but I would like to see closer cooperation.”
He said he would like to see more cooperation in the spheres of “information sharing,” regarding what is happening inside Syria: the organizations acting there, and the groups with whom it is possible – and impossible – to negotiate with. Kosachev said he would like to see this type of cooperation with the US as well.
Furthermore, he said, it is “no secret” that Israel has contacts with moderate Syrian opposition groups, and could perhaps help to convince them to lay down arms and join negotiations based on the UN Security Council resolutions. He said he was speaking about this in his capacity as a politician and not as an “intelligence operative.”
Regarding the redlines that Israel has set in Syria – that no game-changing arms be transferred to Hezbollah, nor any permanent Iranian presence be established – Kosachev said that while he understands Israel’s concerns and recognizes that it has the right to defend itself, he cannot accept that it has the right to “interfere or be the regulator of relations between countries.”
As to Israel’s demand that Iran be prevented from establishing a permanent presence in Syria, he said Israel is talking about relations between two UN member states, “and therefore I can’t accept Israel saying that this ‘is not acceptable.’ I can accept them saying that ‘we are very concerned, and something must be done about it.’”
Asked whether Russia can indeed prevent an Iranian presence on Israel’s borders, he said, “We are not interfering in bilateral ties between countries.” Kosachev said that the situation in Syria would look a lot better had all the nations involved in the conflict abided by international law.
“Today, Russia is the country acting in accordance with international law, and is there at the invitation of the legitimate government,” he said. “Russia is working with other countries in the region to reach a ceasefire to calm down the situation, and the countries we are working with are Iran and Turkey, with the agreement of Syria – in accordance with international norms.”
Kosachev denied that Russia was in Syria to preserve the regime of President Bashar Assad.
“We do not have the right to say what the government will be in Syria, and no one but the Syrian people can do that,” he said. “We are sure that outside interference in Syria can cause additional instability in that region and lead to situations similar to what exists in Iraq and Libya, something that will certainly strengthen the international terrorist organizations.”
Kosachev said Russia was willing to cooperate with any state to fight terrorists in Syria and solve the conflict, “on the condition that we will deal precisely with these issues, and not regime change.”
He rejected the characterization of recent developments in Syria – the US downing of a Syrian plane, Iran’s firing of missiles there, Russian threats to down US planes – as “a mess.”
“A mess is what happened in Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011,” he said. “Thanks to determined Russian actions in Syria, that country is not a mess.”
The Russian foreign policy expert acknowledged that there was a risk of direct confrontations with the US in Syria, but said, “This is not our choice, and our military men are doing everything to prevent that eventuality.”
Kosachev and Ozerov’s quick visit and meeting with the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is the second installment of an enhanced discourse instituted last year aimed at “strengthening the dialogue” between parliamentarians. Kosachev said this type of communication allows for a closer degree of cooperation than merely reciprocal meetings from time to time by parliamentarians. And it is a mechanism that Moscow has only with a few other parliaments around the world, such as with France.
The discussions with the Knesset committee, including a trip with its chairman Avi Dichter to the border with the Gaza Strip, focused on two areas, he said. The first was the region, including Syria and Iran, and the second was bilateral relations.