Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a news conference on Russian diplomacy in 2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all I would like to wish you belated happy holidays. I wish you success, health and prosperity in the New Year. We are grateful for your participation in our traditional news conference.

I don’t think I should occupy too much of your time with my opening remarks.   Just recently the President of the Russian Federation held a detailed and long news conference. Several days ago Vladimir Putin also met with heads of Russian media outlets, in particular, news agencies. I am sure you watched these major events and listened attentively to his comments, including those on foreign policy issues.

I will briefly say yet again that last year was not easy in the context of foreign policy. There were numerous hotbeds of tension in different parts of the world – from the Middle East and North Africa to neighbouring Ukraine. In the last few months the situation was seriously aggravated by Washington’s threats to resolve the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula exclusively by force. Similar threats were made regarding the Afghan issue for which use of force exclusively was also suggested. Recent statements aimed at sabotaging implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear issue did not contribute to optimism and stability, either.

Regrettably, our American colleagues and their allies still want to operate only on the basis of dictates and ultimatums. They do not want to listen to the views of other centres of world politics, thereby refusing to accept the realities of the emerging multipolar world. The methods to which they resort to contain their competitors are, for the most part, quite dubious and conceived in bad faith, and their range is extensive – from the deployment of a global missile defence system to unilateral sanctions, exterritorial use of their own legislation and, as I have already said, threats to resolve any international issues exclusively in line with their own scenario, without stopping at anything, including the use of crude armed force. As a result, we are witnessing the devaluation of international law, diminishment of the role of international institutions and a growing number of countries placing their bets on an arms buildup which they see in the current situation as essentially the only guarantee for preserving their sovereignty.

In these conditions we did all we could to protect, first and foremost, the national interests of the Russian Federation in our work in the international arena, including the interests of our citizens and Russian businesses that are being more and more often subjected to discrimination. In parallel, we did all we could to defend international law and the international system that are based on the UN Charter. Together with other constructive actors in the international community we upheld the universal values of truth, justice and equitable and mutually respectful cooperation and also tried to prevent the degradation of the international system that is badly out of balance today. We wanted to do everything to halt the descent into chaos and confrontation.

I am prepared to speak about specific areas of our work in my answers today. I will just mention that this year we will continue acting in the same vein as I have just described. Naturally, this concerns the continued struggle against terrorism, in which we have achieved success in Syria, which is undergoing a very important stage – the transition to political settlement. In cooperation with our Turkish and Iranian partners we are organising the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that is supposed to be attended by a broad range of Syrian forces, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We will work to preserve the agreements on the Iranian nuclear programme and normalise the situation around the Palestinian-Israeli settlement process. The unsettled Palestinian issue seriously aggravates the situation in the Middle East. Needless to say, we will continue working on the Ukrainian issue that can only be resolved through the full and consistent implementation of the Package of Measures that was adopted in Minsk in February 2015.

We have a very important political event on our agenda – the election of the President of the Russian Federation. Our foreign missions – embassies, consulates general and Russian centres of science and culture are doing everything necessary to make sure that all Russian citizens abroad who want to take part in the election can do so as conveniently as possible. 

Question: Mr Lavrov, you are probably aware that the media often publishes lists of key issues and expressions at the end of the year. If you were to compile such a list in the sphere of international relations for 2017, what key stories and phrases would you include in it?

Sergey Lavrov: I'll stay away from the phrases, or else I may be misunderstood again.

As for the stories, of course, it’s Syria. This issue is a focal point for many interests of many actors. We are trying, as I said, to use the initiative of convening the Syrian National Dialogue Congress to harmonise the interests of all Syrian parties and all external players who have influence on the situation and want to secure their interests in this region, including as part of the Syrian settlement. This is a complex process. To reiterate, we have reasons to believe that the pro-active role of Russia, Iran and Turkey will remain unchanged. It made the Astana process possible one year ago, helped create de-escalation zones, which continue to operate despite individual violations and the attempts to thwart it. It is also important that the Astana process stimulated UN activity, which, prior to the meetings in Astana, remained, in fact, inactive for some ten months. I hope that the initiative of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress will also act as an incentive for the UN to step up its activities. In any case, the Congress in Sochi is aimed at promoting the Geneva talks. We are saying it unambiguously to all our colleagues, including the UN leadership and the countries involved in the Syrian settlement process in one way or another.

The second topic, probably, includes everything else that concerns the Middle East and North Africa. The Syrian settlement process is only a part of the complex tangle of issues in this region. I will mention Libya and Yemen. I have already mentioned the Palestinian-Israeli settlement process, which has ended up at an impasse. I remain convinced that the dead-end in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement process, in moving towards creating a Palestinian state, has a part to play in radicalising the Arab street.

There is another topic - Ukraine, which is artificially inflated to make it look bigger than it is, and is seen as a touchstone in the confrontation between Russia and the West in general. I consider this approach to be erroneous and absolutely politicised. If we were to abandon the assessment, the prism of confrontation between "authoritarian Russia" and the "liberal West" through which the Ukrainian crisis is being viewed, and focus instead on what’s written in the Minsk Agreements (everything is clearly spelled out there and cannot be construed in more than one way), then, I think, the Ukraine crisis would have been settled a long time ago. This would mean that rejecting the ideology-driven interpretation of the situation as supposedly having global significance for relations between Russia and the West would allow our Western colleagues to move away from their thoughtless and reckless support of the policies pursued by official Kiev designed to shirk its commitments under the Minsk Agreements.

Of course, we can talk at length about positive trends as well – there’s no end to such conversations. They include promoting Eurasian integration, implementing the greater Eurasia project with the participation of the EAEU, the SCO, and ASEAN, its openness to new participants in the East and the West. Of course, it is also necessary to talk about integration processes on a broader scale - in the Asia-Pacific region, the activities of APEC, the G20, and BRICS. These associations embody major trends of the modern world, namely, the objective emergence of a polycentric system of international relations.

I’m sure I forgot to mention a thing or two. I was speaking off the cuff about issues that we have on our desks on a daily basis.

Question: Before the New Year the leaders of Russia and China announced that they would like to continue cooperating in international affairs. Could you name the main international issues on which Russia could maintain effective cooperation with China this year?

Sergey Lavrov: I am very grateful that you were given the floor second because you raised the subject that I did not mention when answering the first question about what keeps us busiest.

Of course, the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula is one of the most serious items on the international agenda. Russia and China are actively cooperating on this track. As you know we have a joint initiative with China on transitioning from confrontation to political settlement of the problem that has arisen on the Korean Peninsula. To begin with, we suggest that everybody calm down and freeze all confrontational activities, primarily those linked with military undertakings, whether missile launches, nuclear weapons tests or large-scale exercises that the United States has been holding in this region with the Republic of Korea and later on also with Japan. When these activities are frozen and a moratorium on hostile, confrontational steps enters in force, we will actively support direct contacts between the main stakeholders. Speaking about the nuclear issue, these are primarily Pyongyang and Washington but we will be ready to accompany their bilateral dialogue also in the framework of the six-party process with the participation of Russia, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. This is probably the most important issue on the bilateral agenda that Russia and China are now working to resolve.

I must say that the work on this issue is difficult. I have already said that the United States is almost openly talking about the inevitability of a military solution although everyone understands the disastrous consequences of such a venture. When there were conditions for transitioning to dialogue, provocative actions were undertaken in the vast majority of cases – increasingly large-scale military exercises around North Korea, which provoked another round of tensions. We have a joint roadmap with China and we will actively promote it.

We are also cooperating on the problem posed by the Syrian settlement process. Our Chinese colleagues occupy the same positions as the Russian Federation. I am referring to the need for an exclusively political settlement on the basis of the resolutions of the UN Security Council, which provide for political dialogue without preconditions and with the participation of the full spectrum of Syrian society – both the Government and all key elements of the opposition representing the diversity of political, ethnic and religious groups in Syria.

We have one more highly important joint initiative with China on the draft treaty on the non-deployment of weapons in outer space. It was submitted at the UN Disarmament Conference several years ago. Regrettably, this treaty has not yet been discussed due to the US position. All other countries understand the urgency of this problem but the United States continues nurturing plans to militarise outer space, I mean the deployment of weapons in outer space, which will, naturally, have very adverse consequences for problems of international security. Incidentally, speaking about the Disarmament Conference, China was our co-author in the drafting of another major document – the convention on the suppression of acts of chemical and biological terrorism. This draft is also being hindered by the United States, much to my surprise.

The intensive process of consolidating integration efforts is underway in Eurasia. China has the One Belt One Road initiative. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping agreed to work toward conjoining Eurasian integration and the One Belt One Road initiative. The members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are elaborating a treaty on trade and economic cooperation with China. In parallel, the EAEU and the SCO are maintaining contacts that ASEAN countries are welcome to join. Many ASEAN countries have already signed free trade area agreements with the EAEU or are negotiating them. What President Vladimir Putin called “the greater Eurasia project” is a very promising initiative. Needless to say, it will be necessary to take into account a large number of specific factors because too many economic interests overlap at this point. This is a winning initiative because it is based on reality. It is not being implemented via the initial formation of some framework and subsequent transition to practical action. Here is an illuminating example: pavement being laid in lawns in England. They first look where it is convenient for people to walk and then put down concrete or pave. Our processes that we call by the common name of the “greater Eurasia project” are proceeding in the same way.

I could probably spend a long time listing the joint initiatives that Russia and China are undertaking in the international arena. But for the sake of brevity I wanted to highlight these major issues.

 

 

To be continued...

Meeting with service personnel who took part in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria

Vladimir Putin met with Russian Armed Forces service personnel who took part in the anti-terrorist operation in the Syrian Arab Republic. During the meeting that took place in the St George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace, the President presented state decorations to those who distinguished themselves while performing special missions in Syria.

Over 600 soldiers and officers from all branches of the Russian Armed Forces have been invited to attend the event.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Comrade officers, friends,

I am honoured to welcome you to the Kremlin’s St George Hall, the hall of Russian military glory to which you have added your own bright and victorious page.

Today we are celebrating you as true defenders of Russia. You did your duty excellently. You fulfilled the most difficult tasks in Syria and have returned home to your relatives and loved ones victorious. As your Supreme Commander-in-Chief, I thank you and all your comrades-in-arms for your professionalism and selflessness and for your commitment to your military duty and your oath.

But my warmest words go to the female military personnel who endured combat hardships alongside their comrades at the forefront of hostilities. Thank you very much.

Over 48,000 Russian soldiers and officers took part in the operations in Syria in a little over two years. They came from nearly all military fields: Air Force and Navy, special units and military police, mine clearing units, reconnaissance, communications, special medical and logistics services, military command and military advisers. Each of you acted valiantly and resolutely, as the sons and daughters of our great Homeland, the soldiers of our Army and Navy should, considering their enduring and heroic traditions of valour, honour and dignity.

You fought for Russia’s interests, for Russia, for your home, for the right and just cause. Therefore, our entire nation was behind you. I am sure that you felt this civil solidarity and patriotism, and this unity between the army and the people empowered you. The public followed the daily developments and reports from Syria. Our people believed in you. They are proud of you and our Armed Forces. They felt the pain of every grievous loss sincerely, as their own.

We will always remember your comrades who were killed in the line of duty. They perished defending Russia. Their names will be eternalised in the personnel lists of their units. Their heroic deeds will serve as examples to the younger generation of officers and soldiers. We will always support and take care of their families, parents, children and loved ones. We will do everything for this.

Now let us honour their memory.

(A minute of silence)

Comrade officers,

The memory of our heroes will strengthen our determination in the fight against international terrorism as well as other threats to our country.

As it has happened many times in history, Russia made a crucial, decisive input to the defeat of the criminal forces that challenged the entire civilisation, to the destruction of the terrorist army, the barbaric dictatorship that brought death and devastation, erased hospitals, schools, mosques, churches, historical and cultural monuments from the face of the earth, and planned to turn Syria and its neighbours into a launching ground for global aggression targeting our country. Should the terrorists have won in Syria, expanded their ranks with new recruits, accessed money, oil sources and modern weapons they would have certainly continued their global attack with new and advanced forces.

They received a deserved punishment for their crimes. Their equipment, headquarters, infrastructure and thousands of militants were destroyed.

As you know, a terrorist attack was perpetrated in St Petersburg yesterday, and the Federal Security Service has recently thwarted another terrorist attack. And what would happen if hundreds and thousands of people whom I have just mentioned came back here well trained and armed?

By the way, I instructed the Director of the Federal Security Service yesterday to act within the bounds of the law while dealing with these thugs and arresting them. However, if the lives and health of our operatives and officers are at risk, the FSB must act resolutely, take no prisoners and eliminate terrorists on the spot.

The Russian Army and Navy have displayed their improved capability in full measure, and they have successfully used up-to-date weapons and equipment. Aerospace Forces pilots flew 34,000 sorties and launched 166 high-precision strikes against terrorist facilities. The Syrian Army has liberated the entire country and over 1,000 population centres with the key support of Russia’s Aerospace Forces and Navy.

Your heroism and professional actions have made it possible to preserve Syria’s statehood, to stop mass murders, executions and terror against civilians, have made it possible to launch a political settlement of the conflict in that country, to restore normal life and to return tens of thousands of refugees.

Syrian citizens will remember with gratitude the courage of Russian service personnel who sometimes delivered food, medications and essentials under fire. They will remember with gratitude the peacekeeping efforts of Russian officers who worked at the Centre for the Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides to stop bloodshed and to give people hope.

Comrade officers,

You have performed all the missions that were assigned to you. Your military units have returned back to the places of their permanent deployment in Russia. In Syria, two Russian bases – an air base in Khmeimim and a naval facility in the port of Tartus – will remain and operate on a permanent basis. This is an important factor in defending our national interests as well as ensuring Russia’s security in one of the key, strategic sectors.

We intend to continue improving the Armed Forces and their combat and technical capability, to create a new-generation army, and to develop a system of special guarantees for service personnel, their family members, and military pensioners. These are our absolute priorities, because the Armed Forces are the basis of Russia’s independence and security, which means its irreversible, sustainable development and progress.

In this large-scale and responsible work to promote military organisation, strengthen the army and the navy, and address other large-scale tasks facing our country, I certainly count on you, merited and still very young veterans of the Syrian operation, on the patriotism, willpower, experience and military conditioning of all our officers and men.

I wish you every success in your careers. Let me congratulate you on returning home. I am happy to have this opportunity to present state decorations to you.

Colonel General Sergei Surovikin: Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces,

Permit me to express my gratitude for your appreciation of my military service and the high decoration I have been awarded today. This obliges me to many things, such as to continue to serve Russia selflessly to my last breath. I believe that this state decoration has been awarded to me not just for the services I have done personally, but primarily for the services done by my subordinates and comrades-in-arms, as well as for the mastery of my commanders and my teachers, which they shared with me during my student years as well as my military service.

While doing our combat duty in Syria, we never forgot for a second that we were protecting Russia and that we must do this to the best of our ability, as we had pledged to do in our military oath when entering military service, as well as out of the deep understanding of our responsibility to the country for eliminating the global terrorist threat.

Speaking on behalf of all service personnel, I thank you, Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief, for your high appreciation of our military operation in Syria, for your efforts to strengthen peace, Russia and the army, as well as for your concern for service personnel.

We are ready to fulfil any task you will give us. Please, rest assured that the Aerospace Forces will ensure the inviolability of Russia’s borders and will protect national interests in the air as well as in space.

Allow me to wish you and all citizens of Russia a happy New Year and to wish you all the very best, happiness and prosperity.

Thank you.

Major Maxim Makolkin: Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,

Let me express my sincere gratitude to you for this high state decoration.

Military pilots are proud of being the ones whom you entrusted to be the main attack power of the Russian forces in Syria. We received a unique opportunity to test our weapons and hone our piloting skills in combat conditions. The high potential of our aviation equipment, its reliability as well as the professionalism of our aircrews enabled us to feel our indisputable superiority in the sky.

On seeing our Western coalition partners in the air, we always tailed them, as pilots say, which means a victory in real combat.

Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief,

Let me assure you that Russia’s military pilots are always ready to defend our Motherland, ensure its stability and protect its interests in any region of the world.

Thank you.

Senior Sergeant Tatyana Kovaleva: Comrade Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,

Let me express sincere words of gratitude to you for the opportunity to represent here, in the heart of Russia, at the Moscow Kremlin, the medical specialists who were performing their mission in the Syrian Arab Republic.

It is the greatest honour for me today to receive a state decoration from you personally, from the President of our country and Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. I share this very high assessment of my work with my comrades-in-arms, my glorious Airborne Troops and Medical Specialists Corps of the Russian Army.

While in Syria, we acted in accordance with our Russian traditions, in Russian style: protecting the Syrian people, showing mercy and compassion through real deeds and rendering comprehensive assistance and support to the population of that long-suffering country. Russian military medics, often at the risk of their lives, provided medical aid to hundreds of people, delivered medications to remote villages, trained and consulted our Syrian colleagues and helped restore the war-embattled medical system. And all the time, we remembered that we represent Russia and this helped us do our job.

Mr President, let me, on behalf of all medical specialists, thank you for the high assessment of our work and assure you that we faithfully serve and will continue to serve our Fatherland, great Russia led by our President.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Comrade officers, friends,

I would like to once again congratulate the recipients of the state decorations, and everyone attending this ceremony, as well as the 48,000 service personnel who took part in the Syrian operation.

You know and see better than anyone else that our armed forces have changed radically over the past two years, because our people have proved equal to the task, which is the most important thing, as well as because they have seen how our military equipment works, how command and logistics elements work, and how modern our Armed Forces have become. The entire world has seen this as well, but the most important thing is that our people have seen it. This is very important, because people must feel protected; they must feel that their security is reliably guaranteed.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the defence industry, whose personnel often worked side by side with you, doing their duty by adjusting the latest military equipment to combat duty and turning this modern equipment into a powerful force.

As I have told you, we will continue to modernise our Armed Forces, the Navy and the Army. I pin my hopes on you and those like you. This means that I pin my hopes on the entire Army and Navy, which is made up of such people as you.

I also want to extend my gratitude to your families and loved ones, who worried about you, and to thank them for their understanding and support.

Thank you, and a happy New Year!

Russian Minister of Defence General of Army Sergei Shoigu holds teleconference with Armed Forces leadership

Today, the National Centre for State Defence Control hosted the final teleconference with the leadership of Armed Forces chaired by Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu.

In his opening statement, the Defence Minister stressed that a significant work had been done on development of Armed Forces and enhancement of state defensive capacity.

He also reminded the attendees that results of the defence department’s work in 2017 had been discussed in detail at the extended board session of the Russian Ministry of Defence.

‘A successful completion of the military operation in Syria is considered to be the main event for the Russian Armed Forces. The Russian military fulfilled their military duty with dignity’ said Sergei Shoigu.

The Russian concerted and skillful actions, efficient and reliable armament promoted a devastating blow to international terrorism.

Sergei Shoigu highly appreciated contribution of the Russian military police to the Syrian operation.

Minister of  Defence pointed out that the fight against terrorists had been one of the key missions for the Aerospace Forces, military police, Marines, UAVs and the Navy.

According to Sergei Shoigu, having defeated the ISIS terrorists in Syria, main part of military contingent returned home with victory.

Minister of Defence announced that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief had approved the structure and staff of the main stationing bases in Tartus and Khmeimim.

Sergei Shoigu stressed that positive momentum for development of the Russian Armed Forces had been gained in 2017.

According to him, the Armed Forces have been rearmed with modern armament for 59.5%. More than 3,000 various samples of armament have been introduced in the troops.

Military infrastructure has been developed in 2017. In total, 3,000 facilities has been erected, reconstructed and recovered.

A lot has been done to address social issues for servicemen and their families.

The head of defence department highly appreciated addressing housing issue. This year, more than 31,000 servicemen have been provided with service accommodation, more than 9,000 servicemen – with         permanent home.

Moreover, combat training has been intensified over the last year. In total, six unexpected inspections and some 15,000 events took place within the combat training programme.

The Zapad 2017 Russia-Belarus strategic exercise was the main event of combat training. The two armed forces confirmed their readiness to defend the Union State.

 

At the final teleconference Sergei Shoigu also received reports from Commanders of Military districts on implementation of the 2020 Activity Plan.

Vladimir Putin sent Christmas and New Year greetings to heads of state and government and heads of international organisations

In his greetings to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin noted that the passing year has been marked with an important anniversary, 70 years of diplomatic relations between Russia and India. Appreciating the outcome of bilateral contacts in 2017, the Russian President expressed confidence in further advancing the privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India even further in politics, trade, the economy, science, technology, culture and other areas in the upcoming year, and in expanding constructive cooperation within the UN, BRICS, the SCO and other multilateral bodies in the interests of solving current regional and global issues.

Comment by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on US arms deliveries to Ukraine

The United States has crossed a line when it announced its intention to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine. Now the deliveries will not be carried out under US companies’ business contracts, as it has been happening for a long time, but under state contracts. They will start with the Javelin missile systems. The question is: what will happen next? In any case, US weapons can lead to new victims in our neighbouring country, and we cannot remain indifferent.

Having played an active role in staging the coup in Kiev several years ago and now gently nurturing the Maidan authorities as they banned the Russian language and bombed those who did not want to stand under Bandera's banners, today the US is clearly pushing them to new bloodshed. Kiev’s revanchists are already shelling Donbass every day, refusing to negotiate peacefully and dreaming of cracking down on the disobedient people by force. Now the United States decided to give them weapons for this.

Unfortunately, it is a waste of time to urge American politicians to see reason. Many of them are so blinded by Russophobia that they are happily applauding the Ukrainian nationalist battalions.

History, of course, will inevitably put everything in its place. However, how can we talk about United States’ reconciliatory role in resolving the conflict in Ukraine in the current situation? Washington is trying to present itself as an intermediary. But it is not an intermediary: it is an accomplice in fomenting a war.

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