Russia’s primary aim is to enhance its own security by preventing jihadists from former Soviet republics fighting in Syria from returning to Russia and carrying out attacks there, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Israel’s Channel 2 TV.
“You probably know that thousands of Russian citizens and individuals from other post-Soviet republics are fighting in Syria,” Medvedev said in an interview with the Channel 2 ahead of his visit to Israel scheduled for next week.
“These completely brainwashed people return home as professional murderers and terrorists. And we don’t want them to stage something similar in Russia after their Syrian stints expire,” the prime minister said, explaining the reasons behind Russia’s campaign in Syria.
“First of all, we want them to stay there,” he said, adding that Russia already faced similar problems “in the context of the Caucasus war in the 1990s,” referring to two wars Russia waged in Chechnya.
About 2,900 Russians left for the Middle East and joined the ranks of various jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, including ISIS by the end of 2015, according to Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Russian security service, the FSB.
Russia’s actions in Syria are based not only on the need to counter “the growing threat of destabilization of the Middle East” but, above all, on the “necessity to protect our national interests,” Medvedev said.
At the same time, the Russian prime minister also said that list of Russia’s goals in Syria includes lending assistance to President Bashar Assad. “Syrian government addressed us … asking for military assistance,” he said, adding that Russia has a relevant treaty and stressing that Russian President Vladimir Putin took the decision to “render them [Syrian government] military assistance in a limited way that corresponds with our national interests.”
Medvedev also emphasized that Russia is not helping Assad to retain power, but instead is trying to prevent Syria from disintegration and falling into the hands of terrorists.
“What we would definitely not like is Syria disintegrating into several enclaves … parts, as it happened in Libya so that each such sector would be controlled by various terrorist groups,” he told Channel 2, adding that “it would be very dangerous for everyone.”
How does Russia explain its support of the UNESCO vote “to disregard the historic connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” Levy asked Medvedev.
The issue had been blown out of proportion, he responded.
There have been some ten votes by UNESCO Boards and Committees on such Jerusalem resolutions, Medvedev said.
“There is nothing new here,” he said, as he dismissed the significance of UNESCO texts that refer to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of Al Haram Al Sharif.
“Our country has never denied the rights of Israel or the Jewish people to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall,” Medvedev said.
“Therefore there is no need to politicize this decision,” Medvedev said, adding that such resolutions, were “not directed against Israel.”
Similarly, he said, there was nothing contradictory in Russia’s sale and shipment of the advanced S-300 advanced surface to air missile defense system to Iran.
Israel had opposed such sales because they significantly upgrade Iran’s ability to defend its nuclear sites against any attacks. It is particularly concerned because it does not believe that the Iran deal, put in place in 2015, will limit Tehran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons.
Medvedev told Channel 2, that prior to the Iran deal, Russia respected the sanctions against Tehran and refrained from delivering the S-300, he said. Now that the deal is in place and the sanctions were lifted, there was no reason not to complete the sale, he said.