Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, after taking a 24-hour break from public statements, has returned to talk about the bombings by the “humanitarian coalition” last weekend in an interview with the BBC. He accused the leaders of the United States, Britain and France of basing their accusations “on media reports and social media.” Apart from Syria, Lavrov also turned his attention to the conclusions of the investigations of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPAC) on the Skripal case.
The Russian diplomat made public the conclusions of the Swiss biological laboratory Spiez, which took samples from Salisbury. Spiez has not commented, but according to Lavrov, they’ve determined that the ex-Russian agent and his daughter were poisoned by the chemical “BZ,” used in the United States and Great Britain but not in Russia. Previously, the Swiss laboratory has clarified that if British scientists have determined that the chemical involved was Novichok, then they had “no doubt whatsoever” that was true.
As foreign controversies swirl around the Kremlin, Putin now faces headaches on the domestic front. Immediately after the bombings on Friday night, the authoritative political scientist, chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Fyodor Lukyanov spoke. “Russia faces difficult choices,” said Lukyanov. According to the scholar, Russia would not have the economic strength, increasingly crushed by sanctions, to sustain a long fight in Syria.
“Russia must verify its objectives and real possibilities in Syria. This is the current situation. … It is not about the problem of immediate response, but about developing a strategy that can lead to withdrawal, because over time its vulnerability will increase,” he concluded. Many deputies in the Duma agree, but until now it would not have been convenient to say so.
The Vedomosti newspaper is convinced that “the demonstrative attacks against Syria have allowed Russia and the United States to save face, but have not led to the resolution of the conflict.” According to that Moscow daily, “this clearly shows the instability of the Russian presence in Syria, where Moscow can only act if the United States allows it.” The editorial Monday in Kommersant, the the Russian Confindustria newspaper, expressed a similar view.
The rest of the Russian public too is very skeptical. According to a recent survey by the Levada agency in Moscow, it emerged that 49 percent of respondents are for the withdrawal of troops from Syria, 30 percent favor the continuation of the intervention and 21 percent have no opinion.
Meanwhile, the journalist Maxim Borodin, who worked for an outlet called Novy Den, died in Ekaterinburg. Borodin had reported last February the presence of Russian foreign fighters in Syria operating in the ranks of the Syrian regular army and that at first the Russian government had tried to deny it. His fatal fall from his fifth-floor balcony leaves more than a little doubt. According to Novy Den’s director, Polina Rumyanzeva, Borodin had no reason to take his own life.
From the rise of Putin in 2000 to today, more than 120 journalists have been killed or died in unclear circumstances.