Building a buffer zone inside Syria and imposing a no-fly zone over the country’s airspace requires a U.N. Security Council resolution, Russia’s envoy to Turkey has said, urging the United States-led Western block not to commit the same mistake it did in Libya while dealing with extremist jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
“These well-intentioned steps if not approved by the U.N. Security Council could bring more evil. It should not be forgotten that ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions,’” Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.
Russia is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and has veto power. It vetoed a number of resolutions on Syria introduced to the U.N. by the U.S. and other Western powers. The Russian envoy’s statement comes at a time when the Turkish government is pressing its allies and international community to impose a buffer zone aimed at dealing with a growing number of refugees fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria.
How do you evaluate the developments in the Middle East?
We are looking into the recent activities of the Islamic State to understand the potential developments in Iraq and Syria. Russia has been the first country to see how terror organizations could turn into a source of threat. We had warned all countries that supporting terror organization to weaken the Bashar al-Assad regime was wrong.
Did you also warn Turkey?
In fact, our president and foreign minister have warned all of the international communities over this issue. We are now facing the threat that we have warned in the past. The West did not want to believe in it but it’s there now. We were telling our American partners not to support these kinds of groups. We were at the same time issuing messages to the al-Assad administration as well. We were aware of the problems in Syria and we knew that they could only be resolved through an international mechanism like the Geneva process. The U.N. is the best venue for the resolution of such conflicts.
Syria-Iraq may turn into new Libya
But, the Syrian case is not the first issue in which our Western partners did not give an ear to our advice. The same occurred in Libya which is facing huge difficulties. Different parts of Libya are being ruled by different groups. The weapons used in this country are now being used in Syria by terror organizations. Our Western partners did not get adequate lessons from Libya. It’s perhaps good to pretend as the world’s reign capable of changing borders or administrations but here we have consequences of such feelings.
How were these weapons transported from Libya to Syria? There are concerns that they might have been carried via Turkey.
Don’t let me be misunderstood. I am the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey. Talking about rumors about the country I am serving in would surely be wrong. But I may say this: Of course, these weapons were taken from Libya to Syria through legal ways. But who is now using these weapons? Mostly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Nusra. They were observed to be used in Mali as well. These weapons deemed to be the means to bring freedom to the Libyan people are now targeting the West. We are facing such a huge danger. Weapons in Libya are not going to terror organizations in Iraq and Syria but to some other parts of the world because these groups are somehow interconnected. In one or two years, weapons stolen from Moammar Gadhafi’s armory can be used in different conflict areas of the world.
How do you evaluate the situation in Iraq in the face of the ISIL threat?
This is a never-ever-happened-before situation for Iraq. One third of its territory is under ISIL control. They are structuring like a state and imposing rules and laws. We see how cruel they treat against people with different ethnic and sectarian identities. Thousands of people have been killed because of their faith or sects. There is of course a need to struggle against this international menace but within existing mechanisms. We are against a group of countries’ dictating what to do.
A coalition is being built and Turkey is asking to establish a buffer zone and no-fly zone in Syria. What’s Russia’s take on these?
These well-intentioned steps, if not approved by the U.N. Security Council, could bring more evil. It should not be forgotten that ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Do not misunderstand. We do not want to leave the Iraqi government all alone against this threat. We are equally concerned over the developments. We are continuing to provide military and technical support to the Iraqi government. In some cases, a group of countries can come together to give support but the most important thing is to do this assistance within a certain frame. In 2003, the U.S. launched its offensive against Iraq after it claimed that Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction. At the end, it caused such a huge mistake that caused a deeper anomaly in the country.
But permanent members of the Security Council can hardly agree on issues. How will global problems will be resolved?
The best part of the Security Council is the fact that it regards all parts’ views, which leave no room to make a mistake. Members of the councils have naturally different views on issues and therefore cannot agree on common points. Then, what shall we do? Shall we lend all the authority to a single country? We have the Libyan experience… We are in fact open to discuss all these issues but the West wants to isolate Russia. They are afraid to listen to us. I don’t want to exaggerate Russia’s role but it’s highly difficult to resolve existing international problems without Russia.
You mean Ukraine?
The situation in Ukraine is very sensitive, but we have an existing cease-fire. From the very beginning, we were pushing for a dialogue to let Ukraine and the European Union be informed about Russia’s concerns that its interests could be put in danger as a result of a deal between Ukraine and the EU. As a sovereign country, Ukraine has all the right to make such agreements. We just wanted to hold tripartite meetings between Russia, Ukraine and the EU so that this deal with EU would not harm Ukraine-Russia [economic] relations. But the EU told us, ‘It’s none of your business, we’ll do this without you’. … When we look at the picture now, we see that the signing of this agreement was delayed for six months and it will enter into force by Jan. 1, 2016. And in this 15-month period, talks between Russia, Ukraine and the EU will be held. No one is still interpreting this picture as the rightfulness of Russia. It was only Ukraine that paid a price out of this process.
Will Ukraine be further divided?
We want just one Ukrainian state. But this can be realized through just one way: by taking the rights and interests of the people in the south and east of the country into consideration and by discontinuing the armed clashes.
Turkey has stated that it won’t accept the annexation of Crimea and is criticizing Russia over its stance against the Crimean Tatars.
Crimea is part of the Russian Federation. One may not like it but this is the situation. We are aware of Turkey’s positions and respect its approach towards its kin in Crimea. In the last five months after Crimea became of Russia, we have taken important steps toward Crimean Tatars. Their language has become official, for example. Representatives of Crimean Tatars have met with President [Vladimir] Putin to express their demands. … When my Turkish colleagues express their concerns about Crimean Tatars, I ask them one question: What do you think Russia should do? They mostly keep silent or raise the issue of Cemilov [Mustafa Abdulcemil Kırımoğlu, leader of Crimean Tatars whose entry into Crimea was banned by Moscow]. We have tried to find a common language with him and Putin cannot be blamed for the non-communication. Russia will treat foreign citizens that violated its laws and not issue entry permission, just like Turkey [would do] in a similar case.
How could the Crimea issue impact bilateral relations?
Turkey is a sovereign country, and we respect its positions on international issues. It’s true that we differ on Crimea, but it’s not the only issues that our countries are not on the same page. What is valuable for us in our ties with Turkey, differently from the European countries, is the fact it does not leave the table. … My personal view is that Turkey will see the improvement in the living conditions of Crimean Tatars and it will become a new area of cooperation between our countries.
If I don’t misremember, Turkey has a position on Black Sea, which underlines that it should be looked after by littoral states. On the other hand, what can we do against such military moves if the convention [Montreux] is not breached and they remain within the legal frame? We are of course not pleased vy it. How can we feel pleased over such military maneuvers just outside our territorial waters?