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No promises of high oil prices will ever make Russia turn its back on Assad

February 04, 2015, 17:05 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Sergei Savostyanov

MOSCOW, February 4. /TASS/. Russia will never agree to curtail support for Syria’s President Bashar Assad and his government — either for the sake of high oil prices or any other materialistic considerations, polled Russian experts have told TASS. Their comments follow a controversial report by the New York Times, which the Russian authorities have already dismissed as utterly groundless. The main thrust of Moscow’s policies, analysts say, is to promote an intra-Syrian dialogue and preserve Syria’s statehood. Otherwise, they warn, there will be chaos and sprawling expansion of the Islamic State, something nobody wishes to see.

The New York Times on Wednesday quoted anonymous Saudi and US officials as saying that Riyadh might agree to cut oil output in order to push up oil prices, if Russia abandoned its support for Syria’s Bashar Assad-led government. The head of the State Duma’s International Affairs Committee, Alexey Pushkov, has dismissed these claims. "The New York Times is known to have distorted information so many times, in particular since the eruption of the Ukrainian crisis, that I would by no means recommend anyone to regard this periodical as a trustworthy source," Pushkov told a Moscow radio station. He added that Russia was not conducting talks about any such swap. And in a brief remark posted on Twitter, Pushkov dismissed the New York Times report as "canard."

"That we support Assad by no means signifies that he is an ally of ours. There is no alternative to him at the moment," the deputy president of Russia’s Centre of Strategic and International Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, Irina Zvyagelskaya, told TASS. "For Russia, it is important to preserve Syrian statehood. Should it be ruined, there will follow chaos and a real tragedy for the entire Middle East and for all ethnic groups in Syria. The point at issue is not the future of Assad. If everything collapses, we shall have instead an Islamic State, of which the Saudis are enemies, too, by the way."

"A discussion of this sort is out of the question," Zvyagelskaya said. Russia, she explained, puts the emphasis on talks, on a peace settlement. It sees a way out through political dialogue, which might someday lead to the emergence of a government of national unity involving members of the opposition. It is not accidental that Moscow last week hosted negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition. "Moscow’s stance perfectly matches the international agreements. Any offers addressed to us like: ‘If only you turn away from Assad, you would get this and that in return’ just won’t work," Zvyagelskaya said.

"That Moscow might ever agree to strike such a shady political deal for the sake of some economic benefits is absolutely ruled out," agrees Vladimir Sotnikov, a leading research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies. A while ago, Sotnikov told TASS, the Saudis had tried to talk Russia into revising its stance on Syria in exchange for large purchases of Russian military hardware. Moscow refused, in a very predictable reply.

Stability and pragmatism are the key features of Russia’s policy towards the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular, Sotnikov said. Moscow will certainly go ahead with its efforts to bring about an intra-Syrian dialogue, he believes.

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