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

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 12:16

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...

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