ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A strike against Syria will almost certainly fail to win the support of the U.N. Security Council. That is because of Russian opposition, and the Chinese also oppose it. Why are the Russians so determined in their support of the Syrian regime despite Western claims that Bashar al-Assad's army has committed an atrocious war crime?
We're going to ask Andranik Migranyan. He is director of the New York-based Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, an NGO which is funded by Russian private donors and is considered close to the Russian leadership. Welcome to the program.
ANDRANIK MIGRANYAN: Yeah. Thank you for having me here.
SIEGEL: The White House says the Syrians have used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians several times on a small scale and, on August 21, on a large scale. Syria denies it. Does Russia also deny that?
MIGRANYAN: Russia denies because yesterday, Minister Lavrov said that there is no proof that Syrian government used the chemical weapons. And it's very strange that without any investigation and without experts' work, American government already announced that Syrian government used chemical weapons.
SIEGEL: You do accept that somebody used chemical weapons on a large scale a week ago. And it seems to have claimed, according to Doctors Without Borders, over 300 lives; many more sickened. Are you saying that it actually was that Russia knows, or thinks it's logical, that it was done by anti-government forces?
MIGRANYAN: What is interesting here is that Russia is not, in advance, blaming either government or opposition. Russia's position is that government has no logic to use these chemical weapons when inspectors are on the ground, and situation of governmental forces are much better than opposition.
But on top of that, Lavrov mentioned that in Ireland during G-8 Summit, there was very detailed procedure what great powers have to do if this kind of event happened. It meant initially, investigation;, then experts must submit the results of their investigation to Security Council. And after that, there could be the decision - who used the chemical weapons, what kind of punishment the users must carry on.
SIEGEL: How would you describe what Russia's interests in Syria are, and what guides Russian policy in Syria?
MIGRANYAN: Oh, Russia's position is very easy to understand. First, Russia is against any regime change from outside of Syria or any other country because according to Russia, any attempt to change the regimes, they are ended up in a chaos and results are quite opposite what were the intentions. This was proved in Iraq after the invasions of Americans over there. This was proved in Libya. This was proved in Egypt. And Russia is against principally this regime changes.
And second, Russia would like to know, OK, Bashar al-Assad has to go. But who is coming next? That's why Russia was in favor of negotiated settlement, initiated Geneva 1, and now Geneva 2 conference with participation of all sides involved, including Bashar al-Assad.
SIEGEL: One criticism of Russia's policy is that Russian policy, to have a Geneva conference, bring all parties together and decide some future for Syria, made a lot more sense before 100,000 people had been killed in the civil conflict, that hopes to bring such people around a table, they're just far-fetched at this stage.
MIGRANYAN: No, no. Listen, one must be realistic. Bashar al-Assad enjoys the support of a very large number of Syrians in Syria. He enjoys the support of his army. It's not even Assad, but somebody must represent this enormous number of people over there - minorities, Christians, Armenians, Kurds, many others - because everybody is afraid that jihadists are coming. They're going to organize bloodbaths. Comparing to what could happen, what is now happening it's just a joke.
SIEGEL: Mr. Migranyan, thank you very much for talking with us today.
MIGRANYAN: Oh, you are welcome.
SIEGEL: Andranik Migranyan is director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. That's a Russian NGO based in New York.
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