London (CNN)Russia's military intervention to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have prevented ISIS' total control of the country, Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said on Wednesday.
Assad regime may have fallen to ISIS without us, says Russian ambassador
"Had there not been Russian intervention, the civil war perhaps would have ended earlier, with the destruction of the Syrian army and the government, and total control of ISIS over the whole territory," he told CNN's Fred Pleitgen.
When pushed by Pleitgen, Chizhov clarified that the regime was "by no means" on the brink of collapse, "but the situation was quite dramatic."
"In spite of all of the bombings for over a year by the United States and their allies, ISIS was far from being defeated."
Chizhov spoke with Pleitgen the day after Assad met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, in what is believed to be his first trip abroad since the civil war began in 2011.
During that meeting, Putin said that while his country's intervention was to "fight terrorism," the ultimate goal was to push for a political settlement.
With the rise of ISIS, Western leaders, despite insisting that Assad must eventually go, seem to have grown more comfortable with the idea of Assad staying in power for the time being.
Pleitgen asked Chizhov whether the Russian leadership was leveraging its influence with Assad to have him stop his use of the most heinous attack methods, like the use of indiscriminate barrel bombs drop from helicopters in dense urban areas.
"It's your reputation," Pleitgen asked, "that's on the line as well, isn't it?"
"Well, in conflicts like this, there are no angels, that's for sure," Chizhov said. "But it's up to the Syrian people, and only the Syrian people, to make decisions on the political future of their country."
"It's not an issue whether Assad stays of goes. You know, should he disappear today into thin air, it will not solve the conflict. Because the conflict is very deep-rooted."
Chizhov said that unlike Russia's intervention, which was at the request of the Assad regime, the American-led coalition is bombing ISIS targets illegally.
"In Syria, the U.S.-led coalition, I am sorry to say, is on the wrong side of international law."
And while he insisted that it is "not Russia's war," he admitted that "there is a danger, of course," of being dragged into a long-term conflict.
"I think as Western countries recognized in this and other conflicts, no such conflict can be won from the air. There have to be boots on the ground. But it will not be Russian boots. It will be Syrian boots."
"The Syrian army is capable of launching a counter-offensive. Yes, we've created a better, safer environment for them to do that. But they will ultimately have to deal with the terrorist groups on the ground."
Western leaders say that Russia is not concentrating on fighting ISIS, and has used that phrase, "terrorist groups," to go after many anti-Assad forces that America and others consider to be part of the legitimate opposition.
Chizhov insisted that Russia is "open for cooperation," but America has refused to engage on any level other than to avoid mistaken engagement by the two countries over Syria.
After that agreement was signed, the Pentagon press secretary said that it the talks from which it resulted "do not constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia's policy or actions in Syria, in fact far from it. We continue to believe that Russia's strategy in Syria is counterproductive and their support for the Assad regime will only make Syria's civil war worse."
Russia's goals in Syria are "quite clear," Chizhov told Pleitgen, with a gentle goad at the U.S.: "We will be able to pronounce the famous words 'mission accomplished' when ISIS and related terrorist groups are destroyed and can no longer influence the situation in Syria."