Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin wanted Syria to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections, as Moscow intensified its drive to convert its increased clout with Damascus into a political settlement.
In comments which mark a shift in Russia’s position, he also said that Russia’s air force, which has been bombing Islamist militants in Syria since Sept. 30, would be ready to help Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels, if it knew where they were.
“External players cannot decide anything for the Syrians. We must force them to come up with a plan for their country where the interests of every religious, ethnic and political group will be well protected,” Lavrov told Russian state TV in an interview broadcast Saturday.
“They need to prepare for both parliamentary and presidential elections.”
Lavrov said the Kremlin has discussed the need for political progress with Assad during his Moscow visit and that his army’s increasing success on the battlefield, with Russian air support, would consolidate his government, making it more interested in pursuing a political path.
He said Russia is ready to provide air support in the form of airstrikes to help Syrian opposition forces like the Free Syrian Army, who are fighting Islamic State.
Russia’s top diplomat also added that Washington is making a big mistake by refusing to coordinate their anti-terror campaign with Moscow.
“We are ready to back the patriotic opposition, including the so-called Free Syrian Army, with our air support. However, Washington is refusing to inform us of the locations of the terrorists and where the opposition is based,” he said.
“The most important thing for us is to find people who will be true representatives of the armed groups who will confront terrorism among other things,” he added.
According to Lavrov, Russia “has never stopped working” either with Syrian President Bashar Assad, or with the Syrian opposition.
“I believe we are probably the only country which supported and will support contacts with all political forces in Syria,” he said.
Russia’s growing prowess
NATO may not be that mighty after all, according to US Navy Adm. John Richardson, who urged the alliance to update its naval strategy, at the same time raising alarm over Russia’s “growing prowess” and lamenting that it “threatens the ability of the US and its allies to operate in the Black and Baltic seas,” Sputnik News reports.
Russia has demonstrated growing prowess with its ships and demonstrated a willingness to use military coercion, The Wall Street Journal quoted US Navy Adm. John Richardson, as saying at a meeting in Venice with the top naval officers of Europe.
“Their operational tempo has risen to levels not seen in over a decade,” the US Navy Chief said, sounding obviously alarmed. “Their proficiency is increasing.”
Adm. Richardson is worried that Russia may now be able to challenge US’ military in “anti-access, area denial,” the newspaper said, explaining that this military term refers to “the ability of a country to restrict the US from conducting operations in a specific area.”
He called on NATO to “re-examine its maritime strategy to see if it adequately describes the problem set that we have got.”
According to the newspaper, US military officials have been increasingly alarmed over the build-up of Russian military capability in Crimea and in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Russian missiles and naval power there could threaten the ability of the US and its allies to operate in the Baltic and Black seas.