Question: What do you think about last night’s US air strikes on the pro-Iranian formations in eastern Syria near the border with Iraq? Did the Americans inform Moscow about this through military channels? How will this affect the situation in the region and cooperation with the new US administration on Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: Our military were notified of this four or five minutes before the strike. Even if we talk about de-conflicting, which is customary in relations between Russian and US military personnel, this kind of notification, when a strike is literally in the process of happening, doesn’t do much. This concerns the military side of the matter. But in no case should it be considered in isolation from the fact that the United States’ presence in Syria is illegal and breaks every norm of international law, including the UN Security Council resolutions on the Syrian settlement.
We have repeatedly expressed concern over the US actions in Syria, including in the Al-Tanf area on the border with Iraq and on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria. They continue to play the separatism card and block, using pressure on other countries, all supplies (even humanitarian aid, let alone the equipment or materials needed to rebuild the economy) in the areas controlled by the Syrian government. In every possible way, they encourage and force their allies to invest in the regions that are not controlled by Damascus. At the same time, they illegally use Syrian hydrocarbon resources.
Recently, we have been receiving information from various sources (we cannot confirm them yet, and we want to ask the Americans directly) that they are allegedly in the process of making a decision never to leave Syria and even to break up that country.
We have communication channels to keep in touch with the Americans. The military are using de-conflicting. They are there. This is real. We need de-conflicting to avoid collisions. However, we believe it’s important to resume political and diplomatic contacts. We hope that the new US administration will soon form its teams to deal with these matters. It is important for us to understand how Washington will be building its strategy on the ground and in the region, since the United States is voting for resolutions confirming the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.
The United States believes it properly notified Russia ahead of its airstrikes in Syria without compromising the security of the mission, Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby responded on Friday to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s criticism of the US short-term warning regarding the attack.
“Without getting into the details, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody that we are going to do what we have to do to notify, but we also going to do what we have to do to protect our forces, in this particular case the air forces that were conducting this strike. There is a matter of operational security that we take very seriously,” Kirby said during a press briefing.
Lavrov said earlier that the warning through the deconfliction channel came four or five minutes ahead of the attack of two US F-15 fighter jets on the infrastructure of Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria. The strike came in retaliation for Iran’s rocket attack on the Erbil Air Base in Iraq.
“We did what we believe was a proper amount of notification,” Kirby said, adding that he is grateful to Lavrov for his willingness to confirm that the notification was served.
“As for Foreign Minister Lavrov, I won’t get into specifics of exactly the timing that was involved here, but I am grateful to see that the Foreign Minister confirmed what I have been saying for the last couple of hours that they were in fact informed through the deconfliction channel. So I am grateful that he was willing to confirm that,” Kirby said.