UNITED NATIONS, September 27 (RIA Novosti) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the United Nations on Friday that rebel fighters in Syria were not pursuing democracy but rather the destruction of secular states to establish caliphates.
“It is common knowledge that jihadists, who comprise many radicals from all over the world, are the most battle-worthy opposition fighters in Syria,” Lavrov told the UN General Assembly in New York ahead of a vote on a resolution to outline a scheme for Syria to get rid of its chemical arsenal.
“The goals pursued by them [rebels] have nothing to do with democracy. [The goals] are based on principles of intolerance and are aimed at destroying secular states and establishing caliphates,” Lavrov added.
Russia remains one of the staunchest supporters of the ruling regime in Syria, where over two years of fighting between government and opposition forces have claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, according to UN estimates.
The administration of US President Barack Obama has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government of being responsible for an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that Washington claims left more than 1,400 dead.
Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly suggested in recent weeks that they have evidence showing that the attack was likely carried out by Syrian rebels seeking to frame Assad in order to secure outside military intervention against government forces.
Lavrov said at the UN meeting on Friday that it was hard to call “far-sighted” a policy according to which the same armed groups are met with armed resistance in Mali but supported in Syria.
After weeks of intense diplomacy and an almost three-day marathon of talks in Geneva between Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry, Moscow and Washington reached a breakthrough agreement earlier this month to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control for eventual destruction.
The UN Security Council is due to vote Friday on a resolution to outline a way for Syria’s authorities to eliminate the country’s chemical arsenal. The resolution that Russia and the United States have agreed upon will not allow military action to enforce Syria’s compliance with a US-Russian plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, Lavrov said Thursday.
Washington has insisted that the threat of military force is crucial to ensuring that Assad’s government abides by the terms of the US-Russia plan to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, while Russia has said military intervention is unacceptable.
Lavrov also told the UN General Assembly on Friday that all incidents involving the use of chemical weapons by any forces in Syria should be examined by the Security Council “on the basis of facts, not assumptions and conjectures.”
He also urged the Syrian opposition to “constructively” respond to the US-Russian initiative to convene a peace conference in Geneva.
“People keep dying in Syria every day. Civilians are affected. Religious minorities, including Christian communities, are becoming victims of the conflict,” Lavrov said. “The only opportunity to put an end to that today is to set in motion a process for a political resolution of the Syrian crisis.”
Lavrov said he hoped that decisions of the UN Security Council and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would set the required framework for eliminating Syria’s chemical arsenal.