Russia needs to cooperate on the political process in Syria. Interview with The Guardian

Interview by Julian Borger

Russia risks being trapped in another quagmire like Afghanistan unless it helps orchestrate a political transition in Syria, the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has warned.

Referencing the Soviet-Afghan war, Mogherini spoke on Wednesday on the eve of a new multilateral push to end the four-year Syrian conflict.

In the broadest peace talks since the war began, foreign ministers from western Europe and the US will meet counterparts from Russia, Saudi Arabia and countries that border Syria – including, for the first time, Iran.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is due to join the negotiations accompanied by three of his deputies in response to a US invitation to take part. The invitation broke with previous American policy – strongly supported by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states – of excluding Tehran.

Shortly before the Iranian announcement on Wednesday, Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, spoke with Zarif by phone, urging him to attend.

“To me the important thing is that we manage to involve the relevant actors,” Mogherini said in an interview in Strasbourg. “Because unless we do that, the leverage we have on the parties involved directly in the conflict inside Syria is not sufficient to start the transition. And there are very concrete ideas on how this would look like, in terms of reforming the constitution, in terms of elections. I believe that if we create the political space with the relevant actors to start this, I am confident that this can move forward with a reasonable pace.”

She said the participation of Russia was also critical to progress. “I believe that Russia is aware that if they are not working equally hard for the beginning of a political process they risk being trapped in a sort of Afghanistan scenario in Syria, and they risk being perceived by a large part of the Arab community, and Muslim citizens of Russia, as taking part in the Sunni-Shia divide,” Mogherini told the Guardian.

She said the potential presence of Russian Muslim fighters among the jihadists in Syria would be a serious security concern if they returned home. “I think the Russians see very clearly that together with their military buildup … their interest is to actively push for the beginning of the political process,” she added.

Read more on The Guardian’s website