Interview: Russian Ambassador Alexander Aksenenok talks about the logic of the recent events in Syria, explaining the reasons why the Russia-U.S. agreement failed.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and United States Secretary of State John Kerry talk during a meeting of the International Syria Support Group, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, in New York. Photo: AP

The interview was first published at Russian International Affairs Council website

The new ceasefire deal on Syria, which modified the previous Russia-U.S. deal from February, proved to be a failure almost as soon as it came into force on Sept. 12. The proposed cessation of hostilities was in jeopardy not only because of the numerous violations committed by different groups in Syria, but also because of external forces and the increasingly active terrorist organizations in the country. All of that contributed to the destabilization of the fragile ceasefire.

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For more background on what actually happened in Syria, the Russian International Affairs Council talked to Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation, Alexander Aksenenok, who explains the logic of recent events.

Russian International Affairs Council: Following the Sept. 20 meeting of the International Syria Support Group, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that it was too early to give up on the peace process in Syria. Do you agree with the recognition that there is resistance to the agreement?

Alexander Aksenenok: I hope it is not an exaggeration to say that everything that happened just a few days ago was not unexpected, although the scale and horror of the incident exceeded our worst fears. However, despite the numerous accusations being thrown around between Russia and the U.S., the opposition and the Syrian leadership, and the U.S. and the Syrian leadership, you get the feeling that the parties are interested in the same thing  in finding a formula that would put an end to the vicious circle of violence in Syria and move towards real negotiations involving all groups.

RIAC: Will the threats from the U.S. hinder the negotiations and the implementation of the ceasefire? For example, do you see the U.S. State Department statement on the need to review the prospects of cooperation with Russia on Syria following the supposed shelling of a UN humanitarian convoy as such a threat?

A.A.: You’ve identified the problem correctly, and it is very real. The U.S. does not have a consistent approach to the issue. There are elements within the Pentagon and other agencies the U.S. State Department, for example that are against searching for an agreement with Russia. And I can say that there are people in Russia who hold similar sentiments. It’s pretty easy to conclude as all you have to do is to look at what the media are saying or listen to the state TV channels.

RIAC: Is it fair to say that we are witnessing the uncoordinated actions of the U.S. Department of State and the Pentagon? Was the airstrike on the province of Deir ez-Zor a planned attack or did the Department of Defense act alone?

A.A.: Of course, it is a lack of coordination. More than that, the Pentagon and other U.S. agencies are more than likely trying to throw a spanner in the works for John Kerry. It is possible that certain individuals within the Obama administration are involved. And all the hints coming from the American side about it being the “last chance” or “the dialogue could be ended” are not the right methods of working with Russia.

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In fact, Russia has a great deal of experience in working with everyone with both the Syrian government and the opposition. So we have a very good understanding of all the nuances of the situation in Syria. And the Americans are often compelled to acknowledge that the Russian approach makes sense.

What unites Russia and the U.S. today? The reluctance and unwillingness to allow a situation in which the regime of Bashar al-Assad is overthrown by force and where chaos would rule under newly established jihadist rule in Damascus. This is what unites the Russian and American sides, and it can serve at the very least as an incentive to preserve their fragile relationship, if, of course, the upcoming U.S. presidential elections do not ruin these efforts.

RIAC: It is not just the Americans who have carried out airstrikes on the Syrian Army’s positions in Deir ez-Zor. The United Kingdom, Australia and Denmark have also bombed the area. Can we assume that our European colleagues will more readily try to project their “soft power” in the form of a negotiation format and act as mediators in the U.S.–Russia dialogue?

A.A.: I think that Germany, and its Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in particular, is trying to play a constructive role. Although Russia was categorically opposed to Steinmeier’s proposal to establish a no-fly zone or a so-called “safe zone” in Syria.

Nevertheless, I think that Europe could take part in the negotiation process. But they don’t have a unified stance on the issue: the problem is that it is far too difficult to bring the differing approaches to the various issues together. And we’re talking not just about Syria here. In this case, I believe it would be best if the main players continued to be the U.S. and Russia, particularly if they can find a common ground with the powers in the region (Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey).

RIAC: Recently, you talked about the “face-saving” formula that allows opposition groups to become official political parties (similar to what happened with the FARC the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia a guerrilla movement involved in the continuing Colombian armed conflict). Do you think this could work in Syria’s case?

A.A.: I do. The Geneva Communique signed on June 30, 2012, which, along with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, is one of the basic international legal documents on the settlement of the Syrian crisis, includes a proposal on the very kind of government model you are talking about.

The interview was first published at Russian International Affairs Council website.