The blogger who I know as the Vineyard of the Saker (“Saker”) has written three posts on the subject of the Lavrov Kerry agreement of 14th September 2013, which has resolved the immediate Syrian crisis.  Though I have great respect for this blogger whose views on the Syrian crisis have been very close to my own, I think he has misjudged the nature of the agreement that Lavrov and Kerry have reached.  I wish to show that his fears concerning the agreement are baseless.

My intention was to post my response on his blog but unfortunately the length of my response makes that impossible.  What I propose to do therefore is write my response here and post a link to his blog.

Here are his three posts on the subject of the Lavrov Kerry agreement I take issue with:

The second of these posts sets out the text of the agreement itself with the parts of the agreement Saker is concerned with highlighted.

Before discussing the agreement there are two important points to make:

1. Saker is absolutely right to doubt the good faith of those in the US administration whose objective from the start of this crisis has been regime change.  The regime change agenda has not gone away.  On the contrary its recent defeat is widely (and wrongly) seen as a humiliation of the United States by much of the US political class.  Unfortunately that all but guarantees that they will now work overtime to try to reverse it.  There is no room for complacency.  A battle has been won but the war is far from over.  We have fierce battles ahead.

2. It is essential to understand Russia’s position, which has been consistent throughout this crisis.  This is to defend international law and the primacy of the Security Council and of the United Nations in securing world peace and to resist the extremely dangerous doctrine that has been gaining ground in the United States, Britain and to a lesser extent in France, which says that the governments of those countries have the right to intervene unilaterally to overthrow governments of which they disapprove and which they say misbehave.   I discussed this all in detail in the following article I wrote for my own blog.

Putin’s own comments discussed this further in his now famous article in the New York Times.

Lastly I would also refer to certain of comments discussing this very issue in a recent Crosstalk debate in which I appeared on RT TV, which as always was expertly handled by Peter Lavelle.

Turning now to yesterday’s agreement, Sergei Lavrov who negotiated the agreement is if he is nothing else an exceptionally experienced and professional diplomat.  He is not the sort of person to make unforced errors especially when he is negotiating from a position of advantage.  That in itself and Syria’s support for the agreement announced today (Syria has hailed the agreement as a “victory”) is in itself a good reason tor think that the terms of the agreement are in Russia’s and Syria’s interests.

Turning to the agreement I will now address the specific points in it that concern Saker:

1. Saker is worried that the agreement requires Syria to grant the inspectors “unfettered access”.  He presumably fears that this will set the stage for provocations such as took place with the inspection team sent to Iraq in the 1990s and which were subsequently used as grounds to claim that the Iraqi government was not cooperating with the inspection team.

The part of the agreement that refers to “unfettered access” is an unavoidable part of an agreement of this sort.  The inspectors have to have unfettered access if they are to do their work properly.  If Russia were to seek to deny the inspectors unfettered access the US would quite rightly say that Russia was not negotiating in good faith.  At that point the US would on past experience have simply walked away from the whole negotiation.  Obama would in that case have been in a much stronger position to argue for a military strike than he was before the negotiation took place since he would have been in a position to say quite rightly that Russia’s stance had exposed the whole negotiation as a sham.

Saker’s concern about “unfettered access” is really a concern about the impartiality of the inspectors.  That is a fully legitimate concern of which more below.

2. Saker is worried that the agreement will be set out in a Security Council Resolution.  He has previously and correctly argued that since Syria is joining the Chemical Weapons Convention such a Resolution is not legally needed.

In fact the decision to proceed by way of a Security Council Resolution reflects the Russian position not the US position in this crisis. It is Russia which throughout this crisis has insisted that it is the Security Council and the Security Council alone which is authorised to decide whether military action should or should not be taken against Syria.  It is Russia which has insisted that it is the Security Council alone that is entitled to judge whether or not Syria is in breach of its treaty obligations.  It is the United States, which by contrast has insisted and which continues to insist on its unfettered right to act unilaterally without reference to the Security Council in any circumstance where it judges it appropriate.

By ensuring that the agreement is set out in a Resolution of the Security Council Russia has ensured that the agreement becomes the property of the Security Council and is subject to the supervision of the Security Council.  That means that if there are any breaches of the agreement they must be referred to the Security Council, which Russia says can alone decide what to do.  By contrast if there was no reference in the agreement to the Security Council and no Resolution by the Security Council setting out the agreement then this would simply be an agreement between Russia and the United States.  The United States would in that case in conformity with its unilateralist doctrine consider itself free to decide without reference to the Security Council whether the agreement had been violated or not.  Knowing what we do about the eagerness of some people in the United States to launch an attack on Syria it is a foregone conclusion in that case that at some point in the future someone in the United States would argue that the agreement had been violated and would press for an attack without any reference being made to the Security Council.  Were that to happen it is more likely than not that an attack would take place.

3. Saker is concerned that the agreement says that in the event of breaches of the agreement the Security Council might take action under Chapter VII.

After the Libyan experience I understand Saker’s concerns about Security Council Resolutions that mention Chapter VII.  However, the text of the agreement shows that it has been carefully drafted with precisely such concerns in mind.

The reference to possible measures by the Security Council under Chapter VII follows directly from Putin’s comments in his interview with the Associated Press that I discussed in my previous post.

Putin said in that interview that Russia might in appropriate circumstances agree that the Security Council might authorise military action against Syria under Chapter VII.  As I explained in my previous post those comments were misinterpreted as an indication that Putin’s opposition to military action against Syria was softening.  In reality what Putin was doing was avoiding the trap Jacques Chirac fell into in the run up to the attack on Iraq in 2003.  As I have previously said, on the eve of that attack Chirac made certain comments that were misrepresented by the US and British governments as indicating that France would veto Security Council authorisation of military action against Iraq in any circumstances whatsoever.  The US and British governments on that basis were able to claim that there was no point in discussing the matter further in the Security Council because Chirac’s “intransigence” had already ruled the option of military action out supposedly making any further discussion pointless.

Having insisted on the sole authority of the Security Council to decide what happens in the event that the terms of the agreement are violated Russia cannot afford to appear to foreclose the Security Council’s options in advance by denying the possibility of action under Chapter VII.  Were it to do so the United States would again say that there was no point in leaving the decision to the Security Council since Russian “intransigence” had made that pointless.  The agreement has to refer to possible action under Chapter VII if it is to stick.

What Russia has however managed to do is to take out of the agreement any reference to military action or sanctions (as opposed to “measures”) under Chapter VII.  Russia has made it clear both in the body of the agreement and in the comments Lavrov made in his press conference yesterday that Russia expects (and is in a position to insist) that any action under Chapter VII does not initially take the form of military action or sanctions.

This is an important victory for Russian diplomacy.  It means that in the event of violations Russia can point to the agreement when it insists on a graduated response allowing time for diplomacy to work.

4. Having set out in the agreement what would happen in the event that there are violations of its terms the Russians have also managed to keep open the question of who might be responsible for such violations.  This is what has resulted in the paragraph that most worries Saker.   The exact wording of the paragraph is as follows.

“….in the event of non compliance, including unauthorised transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone, the Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter”.

(Highlights and Italics added)

The US and its allies have been insisting throughout the crisis that the only party that has used chemical weapons in Syria is the Syrian government.  Russia has strongly disputed this claim.  The wording of the paragraph and the agreement as a whole reflects Russia’s position.  Nowhere in the agreement does the agreement identify the Syrian government as the perpetrator of any chemical attacks.  The wording of the paragraph is intended to leave open the possibility that chemical attacks, both those that have already happened and any which might happen in the future, might be the work of the rebels and not of the Syrian government.

Having achieved this and in order to ensure balance (something which was previously completely lacking in all the draft Resolutions the US and its allies have presented to the Security Council throughout the Syrian crisis and which was also lacking in Resolutions 1970 and 1973 which were passed during the Libyan crisis) the agreement makes clear that in the event of violations of the agreement by any party the Security Council will take action.  I should say at this point that it is clear from the wording of the paragraph and from the agreement as a whole that it is the Security Council and not any other party acting unilaterally, which will decide what sort of action to take.  I say this because much of Saker’s objection to this paragraph appears to come from a groundless fear of the contrary and a belief, that is not supported by anything in this paragraph, that it makes possible unilateral action without the authority of the Security Council.

This part of the agreement is of course a natural result of Russia’s insistence that the agreement should leave open the question of who in Syria is responsible for any chemical attacks that have occurred or that will occur.  Having vested the Security Council with the power to act in the event of any violations of the agreement the agreement confirms that the Security Council may exercise this power against whoever violates the terms of the agreement.  That means either the Syrian government or the rebels.  The paragraph renders the agreement neutral and balanced something which as I said no previous Resolution proposed by the United States or its allies over the course of the Libyan and Syrian crises has done.

It will be for Russia to ensure that in the event of false flag operations the Security Council is not stampeded into authorising action on false premises in the way that it was stampeded into authorising such action against the Libyan government in 2011.  With inspectors on the ground in Syria reporting to the Security Council false flag operations ought to be more difficult and easier to expose.

5. Which brings me to what is actually the heart of the agreement and the part of the agreement which I suspect took the most time to agree.  This is the lengthy technical section that deals with the composition and control of the inspection team that will be sent to Syria to enforce the agreement.

What went catastrophically wrong in Iraq in the 1990s is that an enfeebled Russia ceded control of the inspection team in Iraq to the US government.  The result was that Richard Butler the head of the inspection team was reporting and taking instructions from the US State Department instead of the UN Secretariat.  I can remember him actually doing this in 1998 on the eve of Operation Desert Fox when he actually met with US officials before he met with anyone from the UN Secretariat.

If the same thing happens in Syria then the agreement is in serious trouble for all its other safeguards. Precisely so that does not happen the agreement goes into great detail about the composition, responsibility and accountability of the inspection team making it clear that it is a joint enterprise of the United States and Russia.

In other words Russia is going to be actively involved in the work of the inspection team.  Indeed I suspect that a significant proportion of the inspectors will be Russian.  Russia will have a say on how the inspectors carry out their work and through its position as a permanent member of the Security Council (the body the agreement says has the final authority) will jointly receive their reports and will be party to any decisions taken about how to respond to them.

Overall in my opinion this is the best possible agreement that could have been obtained in the circumstances and represents a triumph for Russian diplomacy and a victory for international law.  Assad for his part has been forced to give up his chemical arsenal and to allow inspectors into the country.  Saker has himself explained why possession of chemical weapons is not in Syria’s interests whilst I would argue that having impartial inspectors in the country able to report on what is actually happening there as opposed to relying on what are often mendacious reports from the Syrian rebels is strongly in the Syrian government’s interests.  It is worth at this point pointing out that on the two previous occasions when inspectors/observers were in the country over the course of this crisis – as a result of the Arab League peace plan and following Kofi Annan’s peace plan – it was the Syria government’s enemies who on both occasions successfully insisted that they should be pulled out.

I would add in passing that one further important gain for Assad from this agreement is that the agreement implicitly recognises the government he heads as the legitimate government of Syria.  I say this because at various times various persons including various western officials as well as officials of the Arab League have cast doubt on his legitimacy.

The US is now party to an agreement that requires it to accept the authority of the Security Council and which contains safeguards so that the inspection team created by agreement is not manipulated.  That does not mean that the Syrian crisis is over or that an attack on Syria will not take place.  Despite all the safeguards there may still be attempts to manipulate the inspection team as happened with the one in Iraq.  It will be for Russia and its ally China to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The US for its part must know by now that it stands little chance of bullying Russia (and by extension the Security Council) into authorising an unwarranted military attack on Syria.  However it continues to make clear that it still considers itself entitled to act unilaterally.   It is for persons like Saker and others who think like him to mobilise politically to ensure that public opposition to an attack that takes place without authorisation from the Security Council is so strong that it doesn’t happen.  The way to do that is through the sort of work Saker is doing on his blog.  By binding the US to act within international law and by upholding the authority of the United Nations and of the Security Council this agreement has made that task easier.

17th August 2013

Here is Saker’s response to my comment with much of which I agree.

Here is my response.

Dear Saker,

There is so much in what you say that I completely agree with.  The difference between us is actually very small. You are quite right in questioning the total bad faith of some people within the US government.  You are also absolutely right in saying that they will try to spin any agreement to mean what they say even if doing so goes against the plain meaning of the words.  Indeed they are trying to do that very thing now as they claim that the agreement requires a Chapter VII Resolution when of course it does no such thing.  They are also busy spinning yesterday’s report of the UN inspectors to say that it “conclusively proves” that the Assad regime carried out the gas attack on 21st August 2013 when the report itself is careful to do no such thing.  Here by the way is the report.

I would by the way add that there is nothing new in this.  If you go back to the 1988 Geneva Accords agreed prior to the Soviet pull out from Afghanistan you will find that the US again did the same thing.

The Russians for their part can have absolutely no illusions about this.  Remember they have had more history of trying to negotiate with the US than anyone else.

However the point always to remember is that the US is in a position to attack Syria at any time.  The question is whether this agreement makes such an attack easier or more difficult to justify given that the only real constraint on the US is US public opinion,  The short answer in my opinion is that it unequivocally makes it much more difficult.

The US public has shown that it does not want to become involved in a war in Syria.  Setting up a process for Syria’s chemical disarmament removes the one pretext for such a war that the hardliners had latched onto.  Putting in place in Syria an inspection team that will be partly under Russian control and which will include Russian personnel makes it more difficult for this process to be manipulated and easier to ensure that this process is carried out properly.

Having said that there is absolutely no room for complacency.  We are going to have a battle over the next few days over the text of the Security Council Resolution.  There will be a struggle over the composition and control of the inspection team itself and of its work.  More weapons will be sent to the rebels and attempts will be made to make conditions for the team more difficult to justify pulling it out.

The battle will be fought diplomatically (by Russia and China) and politically by people like us.  This is far from over yet.

By the way don’t underestimate yourself or the importance of what you do.


Here for anyone interested are my views on the Moscow mayoral election.  I have posted up essentially the same comments on Kremlin Stooge and on the Russia Debate.  I basically made the same points in the debate on RT earlier today upon which I appeared with Dmitri Babich, with whose views incidentally I find myself in wholehearted agreement.

The final result was that Sobyanin got 51.3% and Navalny 27.2%, so there’s no first  round.  Navalny’s total is slightly below what most of the exit polls gave him except bizarrely the exit poll by Golos, which I believe gave him 26%.

Here are my comments:

1. The turnout at 33% was way below expectations.  Before anyone starts criticising the  polling agencies, Levada gave Navalny 10% of its total respondents, VTsIOM 11% of its total respondents and Ipsos 13% of its total respondents.  Navalny’s final result was around 9% of the total Moscow electorate.  This is actually in line with or slightly below the figures the polling agencies were giving him.  The fact that his final figure was slightly below his polling figures is as one would expect since even amongst the most motivated body of voters there will always be some who fail to turn up and vote on election day.  What the result nonetheless shows is that Navalny’s supporters were highly motivated and came out to vote for him in a way that no other group of voters did for any other candidate.  The reason Navalny’s percentage of the vote was so much higher than anyone expected is because his voters were more motivated than the others, which had a big impact in an election with a low turnout.  The forecasts the polling agencies were giving for the final result were based on an expected 50% turnout.  It’s clear that it was disproportionately Sobyanin’s supporters who remained at home whilst it was Navalny’s supporters who turned up.  Had more of Sobyanin’s voters turned up bringing turnout up to the expected range of 50% Navalny’s final vote would have been in the region of 18-20% that most of the opinion pollsters were giving him before the vote.

2. The reason so many of Sobyanin’s supporters remained at home is because of Sobyanin’s lack of skill as an electoral candidate, which meant that his supporters were simply not motivated enough to come out to vote for him in their full numbers.  I have discussed Sobyanin’s limitations as a candidate previously during the election on the Russia Debate and Kremlin Stooge.  Sobyanin’s problem is that he is a functionary not a politician.  Since he is not a politician in this election he barely campaigned at all.  Bluntly I don’t think he knows how to. Certainly he has entirely failed to create the sort of formidable political machine that Luzhkov his predecessor did.  As far as I can see the only things Sobyanin actually did during the election was intervene repeatedly to keep Navalny in it.  That of course automatically negated any criticisms of Navalny he might have made. Why take seriously such criticisms if the person making them repeatedly goes out of his way to help the person he is criticising?  On election day Putin said that cities should be run not by politicians but by apolitical technicians.  That’s all very well but elections are politics and politics needs politicians.  If Putin thinks cities should be run by technical specialists then he should simply appoint them and not expect them to run for office or stand for election.

3. That Navalny failed to force a run off in this situation despite the low turnout and despite Sobyanin’s limitations as a candidate confirms that the liberals in Moscow inhabit a political ghetto.  Yavlinsky in the Presidential election of 2000 and Prokhorov in the Presidential election of 2013 both got the votes of around 12% of Moscow’s registered electorate.  Navalny got less than this in an election where his support was mobilised and that of his opponents wasn’t. An indicator of the problem liberal candidates face even in Moscow is that probably because he is a liberal Navalny consistently got the most negative responses of any candidate in the election, even more than the LPDR candidate Degtyarev who came across to me as an intelligent clown. In the discussion programme on RT I have just appeared on, Dmitri Babich put Moscow’s liberal electorate at 15-20%.  Based on actual votes it is rather less than this, probably in a range of 12-15%.  The fact that it makes more noise and is more motivated than the remaining 85-90% of the Moscow electorate should not mislead as to its size and electoral limitations.

4. This means that no effective challenge to this result or colour revolution in Moscow will take place.  Quite apart from the fact that this was a conspicuously clean election as almost everyone apart from Navalny admits, with the support of just 9% of  the Moscow electorate (around 630,000 votes) Navalny simply lacks the numbers for that.  Navalny may be able to bring out a couple of thousand supporters but the core of any protests will probably remain the 20,000 or so who form Moscow’s regular protest community.  Navalny is nonetheless obliged to challenge the result not because it is politically sensible for him to do so (it isn’t) but because a failure to do so would dismay his supporters.  A failure to challenge the result would be tantamount to admitting that he has the support of only 9% of Moscow’s electorate.  That might suffice for a conventional politician but for the Messianic figure that Navalny sets out to be that simply will not do.

5. I doubt this result is anywhere near good enough to enable Navalny to force the authorities to modify the Judgment or the sentence in the KirovLes case.  As I said in my long post on the subject, I believe Navalny was properly convicted after a fair trial which the authorities were extremely careful to conduct by the book.  I don’t think they will now intervene in a way that would jeopardise all that by appearing to confirm that his was a politically motivated case after all.  On the basis of this result I don’t think they will feel under any real pressure to do so.

6. Further afield, I don’t think the Roizman result in Yekaterinburg has any wider political significance despite such claims made about it in the Guardian today.  I have always spoken against restoring direct elections for mayors and governors in Russia.  I think doing so was a regressive step rushed out as a panicked and unnecessary response to the 2011 protests by Medvedev who like Sobyanin is also less a politician than a functionary.  The low turnout even in Moscow (the most politicised city in the country) shows how little actual demand for such direct elections there really is.  I have always felt that the combination of low turnouts typical in regional elections everywhere together with a poorly developed party system risked throwing up eccentrics and mavericks that Russia can ill afford whilst draining political and electoral energy out of local councils, which in a well functioning parliamentary system should work as the building blocks and training areas for political parties.  I am afraid the result in Yekaterinburg is just what I feared  Having said this I don’t see Roizman in far away Yekaterinburg as any sort of threat or challenge to Putin or the government even if he wants to be, which I am sure he doesn’t.  As for Roizman’s political and economic views, I doubt he has any and to the extent he does I doubt they were the reasons anyone voted for him.

7. Lastly, for Russia, these elections have been a good thing.  They refute the claim that Putin has “lost” Moscow.  On the contrary in a conspicuously clean election against the best candidate the liberal opposition has to offer in what is by a long distance Russia’s most politically liberal city, Putin’s candidate won in the first round despite his all too obvious limitations.  At the same time the fact that in Moscow and elsewhere there have been properly contested and conspicuously clean and fair elections ought to refute the claim that Russia is any kind of dictatorship or sham democracy.


Normally I would not make a single interview the subject of a post.  I am going to do so in relation to the interview Putin gave to the Associated Press today because I think it is an important interview in itself in the context of the Syrian crisis and because it is not being reported correctly.

The interview has been reported as signalling a weakening of Russia’s stance on Syria and as containing a hint that Russia might be preparing to back down and to agree to military action against Syria provided this is done with the agreement of the UN Security Council.  This is a misrepresentation of the interview.  Here is what Putin actually said:

“AP: What would Russia’s position be if you became convinced that it was by the government of Syria, would you agree to military action?

Putin: I do not exclude this, but I would like to draw your attention to one absolutely key aspect.  In line with international law, only the UN Security Council could sanction the use of force against a sovereign state.  Any other pretext or method which might be used to justify the use of force against an independent sovereign state is inadmissible and can only be interpreted as an act of aggression.”

These words show that Putin was simply being careful to avoid the trap the French President Jacques Chirac fell into at the time of the Iraq  crisis in 2003.  In the run up to the Iraq war and whilst discussions on a possible Security Council Resolution authorising an attack on Iraq were still underway, Chirac appeared to say that France would vote against such a Resolution under any circumstances.  This allowed the British government to claim that there was no point in going to the Security Council to seek a second Resolution because the French would veto it anyway regardless of what the facts were.

In reality Chirac’s words were misrepresented but the damage was done and Blair and his supporters were able to misuse Chirac’s words to get their way in the British parliamentary debate held on the eve of the attack on Iraq.

Of far more importance than Putin’s words about a hypothetical Security Council authorisation of military action against Syria was his careful use of the word “aggression” to define an attack on Syria that is not authorised by the UN Security Council.

“Aggression” is an international crime.  The Nuremberg Tribunal said this explicitly when it defined Crimes against Peace:

“(I) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (I)”.

Moreover in the famous words of Robert H. Jackson, the chief US prosecution of the Nuremberg Tribunal

“To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”.

Putin is not merely the President of Russia and a politician who choses his words carefully.  It often gets forgotten that he is also a trained lawyer.  By using the word “aggression” to describe an attack on Syria without authorisation from the UN Security Council he undoubtedly means what he says.  Since that is precisely what is being proposed what Putin has just made clear is that in Russia’s view it is the US and its allies who are currently posing the threat to peace by their conduct of the Syrian crisis.  In passing I would add that this is also the view of the Vatican and of parts at least of the UN Secretariat.

Putin has also gave in the interview a broad hint that in the event of such an “aggression” Russia would unfreeze deliveries of S300 missiles to Syria in order to help Syria defend itself.  Though Putin obviously did not say so, it is likely that delivery of S300 missiles would be only part of the military assistance Russia would provide Syria in the event of an attack.  In other words the pending US attack on Syria is going to intensify Russian military deliveries and support for Syria.

On the broader issue of Russia’s stance in the Syrian crisis and in the light of repeated comments from Patrick Armstrong and me to the effect that Syria is not Russia’s ally and that Russia is not defending Syria’s government but international law, here is what Putin said:

Putin: We aren’t defending the government.  We are defending something completely different.  We are defending the contemporary order of the world.  We are defending the modern international order.  We are defending the discussion of the possible use of force exclusively within the confines of international order and international rules and international law.  That’s what we are defending.  These values are absolute.  When issues related to the use of force are solved outside the UN and the UN Security Council, the danger arises that such illegitimate decisions could be made against anyone under any pretext…..”

Putin went on in the interview to discuss how precisely such a pretext was used to justify the attack Iraq.

As I have said previously (see my previous comment given how often Putin and Medvedev and Lavrov have explained Russia’s stance in the Syrian crisis, it really is astonishing that so many people including it seems from recent news reports Prince Bandar and the Saudis still refuse or are unable to understand it.

Lastly, Putin also confirmed what I and others (see my previous comment have been saying all along, that the proper way forward is for there to be a full investigation of the incident on 21st August 2013 near Damascus by the UN investigators who can then provide details of their findings to the Security Council, which will then decide what to do.  As Putin made clear the interview and as should by now be obvious, “intelligence assessments” based on secret and unexplained methodologies, which contain no evidence but which are built almost wholly on inference, are no substitute for a proper impartial and independent investigation carried out by trained and professional investigators on the spot.

Putin’s specific words were as follows:

Putin: We will be convinced by a deep and specific probe containing evidence that would be obvious and prove clearly what means were used by whom.  After that, we will be ready to take the most resolute and serious action”.

Elsewhere in the interview he made it clear that he expected this investigation to be carried out by the UN inspectors currently working in the country.

Russia and China have now both called for such an investigation.  The point has often been made that the UN inspectors at present are merely authorised to establish whether chemical weapons have been used, not who used them.  Earlier comments by the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov have confirmed that those responsible for limiting the remit of the UN investigators in this way are not the Russians and the Chinese but the western powers.  From Putin’s latest comments it is now absolutely clear that those who are preventing an impartial and independent investigation from taking place to ascertain what really happened and who was responsible are not Russia and China or indeed the government of Syria but the three western powers on the UN Security Council: the US, Britain and France.  If the western powers really want to find out what happened near Damascus on 21st August 2013 and to find out who was responsible, they would authorise the impartial and independent UN investigation to which Russia and China both agree and which is therefore on offer.  It is extremely worrying to say the least that they do not.  In the meantime it is essential to say that the reason such an independent investigation of the incident is not happening is not because of Russian “obstruction” or Russian or Syrian “intransigence” or because the UN Security Council is “paralysed” but because the western powers don’t want it.  It is unfortunately also clear that the reason they want to attack Syria instead is not because they want to “punish” Syria for its use of chemical weapons but because they do not want an impartial and independent investigation of the incident on 21st August 2013 to take place and are using military action or the threat of military action to prevent it from taking place and so that they can instead impose on everyone else their own version of what happened.

Lastly I am sorry to say that this interview serves as a further example of poor news management or even news manipulation.

The full text of Putin’s interview was briefly available in an easily accessible form on the Associated Press’s website, which is how I was able to make the above notes.  After a short time it appears to have been deleted.  I have made many efforts to find it but cannot do so, which is why I cannot provide a link to it.

In place of the actual text of the interview, Associated Press now provides “summaries” of the interview, which report the interview in accordance with Associated Press’s own assumptions.  It is these “summaries” rather than the interview itself, which are now being used by the rest of the media for their reports of the interview.  These reports in turn add a further layer of interpretation to what Putin said.  The result is that we get further and further away from what Putin actually said.  This in turn leads to the absurd situation we saw this morning of the British government “welcoming” signs that Putin’s “support for Assad” is “weakening” and that Russia “may be willing” to “support military action via the Security Council”, when none of this in fact is true.

An accurate summary of Putin’s words would be as follows:

(1) the perpetrators of the incident near Damascus and the very nature of the incident are unknown.  The incident should be thoroughly and impartially investigated by the UN inspectors to determine the truth.  The various “intelligence assessments” published by the governments of the US, Britain and France are evidentially worthless since they are built on inference and do not provide the evidence on which they are based;

(2) no action should be taken before the investigation is completed and the investigators have reported their findings and conclusions to the UN Security Council.  The only body authorised to act on the basis of those findings and conclusions is the UN Security Council;

(3) any action taken in the absence of authorisation by the UN Security Council is illegal and constitutes “aggression” and would therefore be a war crime and a Crime against Peace;

(4) in the event of such “aggression” Russia will act in accordance with its international duties and obligations and its security interests.  This may include stepping up arms supplies and conceivably other support to Syria to enable Syria to defend itself.

Postscript: Thanks to the efforts of Mark Chapman and the person I know as Peter I can now provide a link to the complete transcript of Putin’s interview with Associated Press.

Apparently the transcript was shifted to a section of Associated Press’s website marked “Big Story”.  I have been struggling today with internet connection problems, which have included accessing websites, and this may be why I struggled to find the transcript.