Russian ambassador to Israel tells WJC forum: We oppose Tehran's call to destroy Israel, but Syrian conflict can't be solved by fighting Iran

10 Mar 2019

JERUSALEM - Russian ambassador Anatoly Viktorov spoke Wednesday before the World Jewish Congress’ Israel Council on Foreign Relations, on a range of topics including the Middle East peace process and the Iranian threat.

In his remarks, Viktorov expressed skepticism about President Donald Trump’s heralded “deal of the century,” saying that the Palestinians would likely reject it and that the deal may include doubtful proposals contrary to the well-known framework.”

Turning to Iran, the ambassador said that Russia is opposed to Tehran’s statements that Israel as a Zionist entity should be destroyed, but also said that it doesn’t agree that the Syrian conflict can be solved by fighting Iran.

He stated that attempts to reconfigure the geopolitical landscape such that the Gulf States, Egypt, and Jordan are anti-Iran in a kind of “Middle East NATO” will not help the situation. Regarding Syria, Viktorov stressed that it was thanks to Russian efforts that the terrorists have been defeated and many IDPs have returned home. Russia maintains that the Syrians themselves must determine the future of their country.

When asked by Prof. Shlomo Avineri, who moderated the session, how he would respond to criticism that the way in which the regime in Syria, with his country's help, was able to regain control of Syria involved serious human rights violations, he countered by wondering why Russia wasn’t lauded more for assisting in the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, which he said was Russia’s "direct contribution to the improvement of human rights violations."

He also claimed there was no reliable information about the use of barrel bombs in Syria and questioned the figure of half a million dead as a political statement. Regarding the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, he noted that in 2016, Prime Minister Putin had offered to host an Israeli–Palestinian summit with no preconditions, but as yet no such meeting has taken place. He said that “direct contact could help break the current deadlock.”

The ambassador confirmed that Putin would be coming to Israel for the unveiling of a monument commemorating the Red Army’s crucial role in the victory over the Nazis.

Viktorov ended on an optimistic note, saying that despite the coming elections, he hoped that continuity would be preserved in Russian–Israeli relations. In the Q & A session that followed his talk, asked if there was a chance the Russian embassy might be moved to Jerusalem, the ambassador answered with an unequivocal “no.”   He went on to say that if conditions permitted—if there were a “resolution to the conflict”—then Moscow would do so.

Prof. Avineri concluded the evening by relating to the Russian offer to host an Israeli–Palestinian summit. He recounted that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a meeting Avineri had attended in Moscow that international conferences are important, but we should first be sure that the parties agree about possible outcomes. Avineri asserted that the same held true here, too, no matter what government is in Israel or who the Palestinian leaders are.