Exclusive: Russian spokeswoman on ‘ridiculous’ airstrikes in Syria, French election, fake news and dangers for gays in Chechnya

By Steven Shapiro

Recent U.S. airstrikes against Syria were “ridiculous,” according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.

In a blunt, at times contentious, interview with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric, Zakharova called the strikes “unacceptable” and said they violated international law and made no military or political sense.

“They brought the situation nowhere,” she said.

She went on to say that the goal of the West to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad is “not a way out, it is a dead end.”

When pressed on whether Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks that led to the U.S. military action, she said, “Our decisions should be based on real evidence,” detailing Russia’s desire to have independent investigators determine blame. She pointed to U.S. claims in 2003 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which later turned out to be false.

“That was the worst thing that happened to the Security Council, to the United States, to the Middle East region,” Zakharova said.

The wide-ranging, exclusive conversation began with Zakharova objecting to Couric’s characterization of the Russian government as a “regime.”

“I think if a president is elected by the people of his country, it’s not about being a regime, it’s about being a democracy,” she said.

Zakharova said that relations between the U.S. and Russia began to deteriorate during the Obama administration, in part because of what she called “fake news” reports about her country that were disseminated during those years.

“What I’m facing today is, the main role of the media is to separate people (in order) to divide the world into separate parts. I think it’s dangerous.”

She dismissed claims from American and European intelligence officials that, in actuality, Russia is disseminating fake news to achieve its geopolitical goals.

“I just want any example of Russia spreading fake news, just show me one example,” she said. “I can present you tons, dozens, billions of examples of Western media spreading false news about Russia,” she told Couric.

She rejected the conclusion of U.S. intelligence assessments that Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” aimed at the 2016 U.S. presidential election. She also brushed aside the notion that Russia supports Marine Le Pen in the French election. “We do not support candidates for foreign elections. It’s not our business at all.”

Regarding North Korea, Zakharova said Russia does not support that nation’s testing of nuclear weapons despite vetoing a U.N. Security Council statement to condemn the tests, put forth by the U.S. and reportedly backed by 14 other nations, including China.

“There is a mechanism, six-party talks, and the question is not for Russia. The question should go to the United States (as to) why they have rejected this mechanism of improving the situation in the Korean Peninsula.”

Zakharova was less forthcoming when it came to discussing recent reports that the Chechnyan government is arresting and torturing gay men. She would only say that Russia is holding an investigation into the matter. Human rights groups say at least three men have died in these alleged incarcerations.

And as for the future of former NSA contractor and fugitive Edward Snowden, who has been living in exile in Moscow, Zakharova said the duration of his stay in her nation is up to him.

“He’s just a human being. He’s a person, and he has his own will to decide where he will stay.”