On June 22, 2018, the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily, which is close to Hizbullah, published an interview with Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin; in it, Zasypkin stated that the Iranian presence in Syria is legitimate as long as the war on terrorism there has not ended, and as long as it is coordinated with the Syrian government. He stressed that the U.S. and French presence in Syria constitutes an occupation and that the U.S. is continuing to support the terrorists in Syria. Russia and Iran, he added, are deeply allied, and share interests not only in Syria but in all of Europe and Asia; therefore the U.S. and its allies should not be anticipating a Russia-Iran rift in Syria.
Regarding the tension in southern Syria and at the Syria-Israel border, Amb. Zasypkin said that the Syrian army was working to regain control in the south from the terrorists, and that Israel therefore has no justification for carrying out operations that could disrupt this. He assessed that no war between Iran-Hizbullah and Israel should be expected in the near future, and noted that there would be no peace in the region as long as Israel did not relinquish its occupied territories in the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and Gaza. Criticizing the U.S., he said that President Donald Trump's "Deal of the Century" constitutes surrender, not peace, and accused the U.S. and U.K. of attempting to change how international institutions operate, of taking advantage of them to further their own interests, and of attempting to falsely accuse Russia and Syria of various things, among them the use of chemical weapons. He concluded by calling on the Lebanese to ask for military aid from Russia and not to settle for the American and Western aid Lebanon is currently receiving.
Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Zasypkin (Source: Al-Akhbar, June 22, 2018)
The article with the interview consisted partly of direct quotes from Zasypkin and partly of summaries of his statements.
The following is a translation of the Al-Akhbar article:
Russia, Iran Have Shared Interests And "Are Deeply Allied"; Russia Is Determined To Confront The U.S.-West Axis
"The ambassador spoke at length on [anticipated] future conflicts and on the continuation of those currently underway, particularly the conflict in Syria, which caused some pessimism, but he stressed that Russia and its allies are determined to confront the U.S.-West axis.
"There is no doubt that the Russian ambassador hears much about the gamble by the U.S.'s allies in the region on a rift between Russia and Iran in Syria. As far as he is concerned, 'this is statements to the media and bets that are out of place.'
"Zasypkin told Al-Akhbar that Russia and Iran have very important shared geopolitical interests and a deep alliance, not only in Syria but in all of Europe and Asia, in addition to widespread [shared] economic interests. Moreover, he said, the battle against terrorism in Syria is not yet over: 'It is true that ISIS, [Jabhat] Al-Nusra and the other terrorists have been seriously defeated, but they are still in the zones under American auspices, and they can destabilize Syria and start attacking again. Likewise, there is now new information that the Americans are again aiding some of the terror organizations, as well as the White Helmets group belonging to Jabhat Al-Nusra.'"
The U.S. And French Presence In Syria Is Occupation – But The Iranian Presence Is Legitimate
"[We asked:] But the official Russian elements spoke about a withdrawal of Iranian and Hizbullah forces from Syria. What is your response? Zasypkin answered: 'That is true; the overall position is that reaching a final arrangement in Syria involves the withdrawal of all foreign forces. This is our general position, but we must differentiate [among these forces]: We see the American and French presence as occupation; the Turkish presence as against the desire of the Syrian government – and there is dialogue with the Turks vis-à-vis a future withdrawal; but Iran's presence is legitimate and coordinated with the Syrian government. As I said, it is too early to talk about its withdrawal now, as long as the war on terror has not ended. The Americans are continuing to support the terrorists and are continuing the occupation; therefore, the aid from Syria's allies is continuing.
"[We asked:] The Syrian army is now preparing to conduct military action to retake southern Syria from the terrorists. Has an arrangement been reached vis-à-vis the south? And are there guarantees that Israel will not interfere on behalf of the terrorists?
"The ambassador replied: 'When the discussion began about the de-escalation zones, it was carried out with all the sides in the countries around [Syria] in order to fight terrorism, ensure the interests of the countries, and prevent the danger of terrorism against them. Israel fears Hizbullah's and Iran's presence in [Syria's] south. We say that the Syrian army, with the backing of the Russian forces, is retaking areas in the south, and is regaining Syrian government control there. [Thus], Israel has no justification for carrying out any operation that can disrupt the fight against terrorism.'"
No Imminent War Between Iran-Hizbullah And Israel
"[We noted:] But Israel is supporting the terrorists in southern Syria, and it is the one who is attacking the Syrian forces. Zasypkin replied: 'Indeed, Israel is taking advantage of the presence of the terrorists in Syria for its own war, but ultimately the terrorists will be struck. We do not believe that war will break out between Israel and Hizbullah-Iran soon, because no one has any interest in it. There is a balance of deterrence.'
"[We asked]: Another thing that Israel is doing is attempting to forcibly remove the Golan from Syrian sovereignty and to gain American recognition for Israeli sovereignty' over this occupied territory. What is your take on this?
"[He replied:] 'Russia is operating in accordance with UN resolutions, not by the whims of the U.S. and Israel. The Golan is occupied Syrian land that must be returned to Syria. Israel believes that Syria is weak now because of the war, and that a team in control in the U.S. [government] is very biased toward its interests, and therefore it is trying to take advantage of this. But this will complicate the peace process to which we will return in the future, in accordance with the UN resolutions, and no [peace] will be achievable as long as the Golan, the West Bank, and Gaza are occupied and [as long as there is no] Palestinian state within the 1967 borders whose capital is East Jerusalem.'"
President Trump's "Deal of the Century" Is Surrender, Not Peace
"[We asked:] What is your view on [President Trump's] 'Deal of the Century?' Zasypkin replied: 'As I said, Israel is relying on the Arabs' weakness. The Deal of the Century is surrender, not peace. We believe that Israel's considerations, that are acceptable to some Arab countries, are not acceptable to Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine.'
"As far as the Russian ambassador is concerned, if the U.S. continues supporting the terrorists, the conflict in Syria will continue for a long time. Furthermore, the ambassador expressed pessimism with regard to the U.S.'s intentions vis-à-vis Europe. [He said:] 'It is in the Europeans' interest to be with Russia, but, unfortunately, there are countries that do not dare to clash with the U.S. They [i.e. the Americans] want to prevent Russia from finding its place in the global energy market, and are trying to disrupt the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas and oil pipeline project; thus, new clashes in the world are likely to break out. [The Americans] want to strip Europe of energy and take its resources from it. The pressure on the Europeans will increase, but as I said, there are unfortunately countries [in Europe] that do not want conflict [with the U.S.].'"
The U.S. Is Exploiting International Institutions For Its Own Interests
"The Russian ambassador expresses great resentment about the British and American diplomatic activity aimed at changing the rules of operation of the international institutions. In Moscow's view, 'there is an attempt to eliminate the international institutions and to exploit them for U.S. interests alone, as is happening in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). They want this organization's decisions to be approved by officials, instead of by the [UN] Security Council. Next week there will be discussions in the organization on this issue. The British in particular, as well as the Americans, are waging a campaign to sell this idea of theirs to the member countries, which include Lebanon, and therefore it is important that the organizations' decisions will remain up to the countries and the UNSC, not to officials. The member countries must know that changing [how] the organization operates will harm their interests, and therefore they must vote against such decisions.'
"The ambassador presents an example of this – that is, attempts to exploit the OPCW in order to accuse Syria and Russia [of using] chemical [weapons] in Ghouta, and also in the matter of the spy [Sergei] Skripal. He stressed that Russia and Syria have rid themselves of their chemical weapons, but that despite this there are those who are trying to pressure them. But, [he said,] 'we are preventing them from adopting a resolution in the Security Council, and this situation must prevail."
Lebanon Must Ask Russia For Military Aid – And Not Settle For American Aid
"What about Lebanon? Zasypkin hopes that a government will be established as soon as possible, and that Lebanon will begin to seriously discuss, together with the Syrian government, bringing the displaced [Syrians now in Lebanon] back home. The ambassador called the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri 'good' and stressed that there is a need for the Lebanese-Russian joint committees to create initiatives, not only hold meetings. With regard to the military aid that Russia can provide to Lebanon, Zasypkin said... 'We are helping Syria a great deal, and it is also possible to help Lebanon, but the Lebanese must request this, and not settle for [only] American and Western aid.'"
 Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), June 22, 2018.
 The White Helmets are West-supported volunteers defending civilians, particularly by providing first aid in rebel- and opposition-controlled regions.
 The Russia-Europe initiative for the world's longest underwater natural gas pipelines, stretching from Russia to Germany, that will significantly increase the volume of Russian gas transported to Europe as well as European dependence on it.
 Britain is attempting to expand the powers of the OPCW to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons so that it will also make it possible to determine who is responsible for chemical attacks, not just whether one has taken place, as is the situation today.
 The former Russian military officer who spied for the UK, who was poisoned there together with his daughter Yulia in March 2018. Britain alleges that the Russians carried out the poisoning.