The Consulate-General of Russia in the Kurdistan Region, Victor Simakov in an interview with K24 broadcast December 11 said Russia was one of the first countries among the world most powerful that opened a Consulate in Erbil.
Simakov, who has been in Erbil for a year, said that he feels very close to the Kurdish community since they are an open and understanding people. Previously, he was employed at Russia's Consulate in Palestine.
Asked about why Russia did not militarily assist the Kurdistan Region in the war against IS Simakov replied, “We need time to work carefully and to clarify our position according to this condition.”
Simakov continued that though Russia has not given heavy weapons to Peshmerga forces, they provided them with other military equipment necessary for Peshmerga like chemical-proof masks protecting them from IS chemical attacks and also pointed out Russia helped Kurdish forces fighting against IS in Syria.
Regarding Russia’s stance towards the Kurdistan Region’s independence, Simakov said, “we support a country in the context of international law with the name 'Iraq,' and this will help fight IS more effectively. Though there have been lots of conflicts among Shia, Sunni, and Kurds in Iraq, they have lived together throughout history. I think the related parties can compromise once more and maintain the union among them.”
However, in referencing the former Soviet Union when it collapsed in the early 1990s Simakov said: “There is a UN bylaw in which it has clearly been mentioned that each nation has the right to determine its destiny. My stance is that independence is the right of every nation.” He continued, “It’s for the different Iraqi components to decide on this matter. We support whatever decision they make, provided that no outsiders contribute. Russia, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council always supports international laws. If any of the Iraqi sides--without any outside interference ….decides to become independent, Russia will respect their decision.” He added.
Regarding the Kurdistan Region’s potential to declare independence, while Palestine and Kosovo—countries that announced independence but failed to receive appropriate support by other superpowers, Simakov said, “The U.S recognized Kosovo, but Russia has not so far. And the only reason for that is, Russia relies on the international laws. Kosovo separated from Serbia in an illegal way. They must have conducted a referendum to gain the opinion of Kosovo people on the separation first.”
Simakov continued “As for Palestine, Russia always supports the Palestinian government and has cooperated with them in establishing many internal institutions and committees regarding Palestine-related issues. Palestine’s case was decided in the Security Council in 1947 to be given this right. Even the United States voted to the decision." Regarding Russia’s recent attacks on Syria and criticisms that it only targets anti-regime forces rather than IS, Simakov said Russia became involved in Syria based on the regimes' request to confront Islamic State (IS).
“From September 3, we started serious combat against IS. Before Russia entered Syria, President Vladimir Putin informed all sides during a UN meeting that we are going to fight against IS. All the members, including the United Stets of America, Germany, the European Union, and all other member-states in the coalition against IS were informed. Even before we started our attacks against IS many media outlets said that Russia is secretly taking part in the Syrian war, all of which were just baseless accusations.”
“On October 7, Deputy Defense Minister of Russia [Anatoly Ivanovich Antonov] invited all the military officials of those countries to Moscow and informed them about Russia's decision. We had prepared a concise plan on how to confront and destroy IS and delivered it to all the representatives of the countries in Moscow.”
Simakov also stated that other groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, armed Turkmen forces as well as the Islamic State are referred to as terrorist organizations by Russia.
He also mentioned that after the plan was distributed, military representatives of many countries formally asked to share their ideas about the plan and cooperate in confirming the target spots specified as IS bases as being true and whether there were any shortcomings in the plan.
“Though, unfortunately, none of these countries have had had a clear response. Not Washington, nor Britain, and even the Arab countries that contribute to anti-IS coalition responded to us.” Simakov said.
“Our purpose is not to control Syria, but to destroy the Islamic State. It’s for this purpose that we always ask other countries to reveal their position on the groups that we attack them. Nobody can deny this evidence,” he added.
Regarding US-Russian relations Simakov stated, “Russia has lots of conflicts with the U.S but we insist ... that we now have a mutual enemy, so we need to work on that ... Russia’s main purpose for negotiating with Syria and other countries is to destroy IS in Iraq and Syria.”
Russia’s Consul-General in Erbil claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin twice mentioned that Russia is in Syria to destroy IS, not to protect Bashar al-Assad's regime. Russia believes that Syria needs reform but that this will be declared in two stages, both of which are important to Russia and are complementary to each other. The purpose of the first phase is to destroy IS while the second phase concerns reform though it was unclear what the details of such a reform would look like.
Simakov also mentioned that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, has attended all events on resolving the Syrian crisis in Geneva and Vienna, and always openly expressed the way Russia intends to eradicate IS.
“We have tried to create a mutual stance among all Syrian opposition groups inside and outside of Syria and to cooperate with them. Russia has a clear policy; it says we negotiate with every party, be it Kurd, Turkmen, or any other party” he explained.
Concerning Russia’s position towards Kurds in Syria as a group that has created partial autonomy, he said Russia constantly negotiates with all representatives, including those in Syrian Kurdistan cantons and have hosted the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Salih Muslim in Moscow several times.
“Russia clearly says that in any future democratic Syria, the rights of all the different ethnic and religious groups must be protected without discrimination and this is our transparent policy.”
The Russian Consulate-General stated that though Russia has not sent any weapons and ammunition to Syrian Kurds, they are working on furthering cooperation.
Simakov denied Turkish media claims that Russia provided weapons to the armed wing of the PYD, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). “Turks are very good at lying; they have also lied about downing our [Russian] jet many times, and they still continue even with bigger lies. I do apologize for expressing my view in such a non-diplomatic way." his said. Simakov concluded the interview by congratulating the Kurdish people and Peshmerga for retaking Shingal (Sinjar) from the Islamic State last month.
(Omed Ali as a presenter of the TV program contributed to this interview)