Russia is willing to work with other leaders than Bashar al-Assad and happy to entertain alternate solutions to the Syrian war, but has yet to hear any, a Russian insider and member of parliament told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“It’s up to the Syrian people to choose their leadership.” If they choose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, so be it, Vyacheslav Nikonov said.
“If they are going to choose someone else, OK. If you have some better plan, please provide us with a plan, or give us some names with whom we can talk,” Nikonov said.
“If you have a name of a person who can substitute (for al-Assad) immediately without causing real trouble in Syria, I would like to hear that name.”
Russia has carried out intensifying airstrikes in Syria since last week to bolster al-Assad’s regime. Rather than go after ISIS, the U.S. and NATO have said that Russia has almost exclusively attacked other rebels opposed to al-Assad, including the moderate rebels America supports.
Nikonov did not list the Free Syrian Army among those groups Moscow believes is fighting al-Assad.
“The goal of the Russian action in Syria is to support those forces on the ground which are fighting ISIS. It turned out that the only forces to do that are the Syrian army, the Iraqi army, the Kurds, and the Iranians.”
Only 10% of those fighting al-Assad, he said, could be considered “secular opposition.”
“Even from the Syrian opposition, we are really interested in getting information about those people, because we have tried to contact them for many months, and we couldn’t reach them because we just don’t know who those people are.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week said he did not believe the FSA was a terrorist group.
But speaking in Moscow today, according to Reuters, Lavrov said the FSA is a “phantom structure” – “Where is this Syrian Free Army? Who is in charge of it?”
The head of the political group behind the FSA, The Syrian National Coalition, told Amanpour on Thursday that the Russians “have been deceiving the international community since the beginning.”
“The targets are being given by (the) Syrian regime to the Russians, and the Russians are targeting the FSA and the civilians,” Khaled Khoja said.
Asked by Amanpour why Russia did not join the American-led coalition to go after ISIS, Nikonov called the group “absolutely inefficient.”
“The only progress it’s achieved in the course of a year was the expansion of the area of ISIS control.”
“The coalition of the United States is heading is composed of the countries like, for example, Saudi Arabia or Qatar, which are not at all – or not so much – interested in hitting ISIS rather than hurting the regime of (al-Assad) or hurting the Shiites.”
“It looks like the American-led coalition is not fighting ISIS – that’s how it looks from Moscow.”