Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions, March 13, 2018

Tuesday, 13 March 2018 10:20

Question: How will Russia respond to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s demand to provide an explanation over the poisoning of Sergey Skripal in one day? What will Moscow’s reaction be if the British government takes the promised restrictive measures in this case?

Sergey Lavrov:  We have heard the ultimatum from London. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova has already commented on our attitude to this. I can only add that Great Britain, as well Russia, are part of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Prime Minister and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs are well aware of this. I have no doubt that there are still plenty of experts who work with this convention and its issues, and those of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons established in accordance with this convention. I think (actually, I am sure) that they have their experts but evidently nobody is listening to them.

According to the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, in cases of suspected use of a toxic substance banned by the convention the country affected should immediately address the country that is suspected of the production of this particular poisonous substance. The query must be answered within ten days. If the answer does not satisfy the first country (Britain in this case) it should address the OPCW Executive Council and the conference of the states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The side that is being asked about the substance has every right to receive an access to it so as to conduct its own analysis. We did this as soon as the rumours spread, by almost everyone in British leadership, that the substance was produced in the Russian Federation. We sent an official note asking for access to this substance so our experts could analyse it in accordance with the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In the same note, we requested access to the facts linked with the investigation, considering that one of the victims, Julia Skripal, is a Russian national.

We only received a vague answer to justified request that is based on the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In effect, it was rejected. So, instead of demanding that we respond to the British government’s ultimatum within 24 hours, it would be better for them to comply with their own commitments regarding international law, in particular the obligations under the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. As for manners, it should be remembered that the era of colonialism has long past.

Question: We have still not heard your response to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement. It seems that Moscow is not taking the situation seriously. I would like to understand what needs to be done to avoid confrontation.

Sergey Lavrov: I understand that you need to present information that is commensurate with the sentiment in London. I have stated what the UK needs to do before Russia answers its questions. We have not received the request that London is required to send in accordance with the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Question: Tomorrow you are planning to meet with your Turkish counterpart, and in a couple of days there will be a Russia-Iran-Turkey trilateral ministerial meeting. Will the issue of expanding the de-escalation zones in Syria to Afrin be discussed, as stated earlier? Also, yesterday, the United States and our other Western partners gave assurances at the UN Security Council about the possibility of strikes against Syria, as well as accusations against Russia of violating UN Security Council Resolution 2401. How is such rhetoric influencing the effectiveness of the strategic peace process in Syria?

Sergey Lavrov: Tomorrow I will meet with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu in Moscow. On Friday, we will meet again, our Iranian counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif will join us in Astana for a ministerial meeting of the Astana format guarantor countries. We will certainly discuss the matter of de-escalation zones. I do not think we should be striving to increase the number or expand the area. The main thing now is to ensure that they function as agreed, mainly, as ceasefire zones. Our most urgent task now is to prevent the gross violations of the ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta. Militants from several illegal armed groups were concentrated there, but Jabhat Tahrir al-Sham has dominated them all, having once again blended in with the surroundings and taken a different name; but this does not change the basic facts – this organisation is on the UN Security Council terrorist list. Mortar shelling of Damascus from Eastern Ghouta continues, also hitting the Russian Embassy grounds. People are dying. This is a gross violation of Resolution 2401 because this resolution tells everyone to observe the cease fire with the understanding that the parties’ obligation not to use weapons does not extend to fighting the terrorists, and with another understanding that the humanitarian pause that we are talking about will be subject to the agreement of all parties on the ground. Those who are on the ground in Eastern Ghouta, as I have said, and who are under Jabhat al-Nusra control, do not want to fulfill their obligations. They want only one thing – the government to stop shooting so they can get a breather. The UN Security Council has never promised a respite to terrorists. Moreover, they were told they were not getting one.

The second aspect of this problem is our Western partners, who do not conceal that they have very close contacts in Eastern Ghouta and who have failed to deliver on their obligation under Resolution 2401, which consists in influencing their charges that should be disciplined and made to stop shelling residential areas. Our US-led Western colleagues did neither. The fact that US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley threatened yesterday to introduce a new resolution which, as I understand, is ready, means just one thing: they failed to implement the previous resolution. First, the new draft that the Americans will be promoting does not contain any exemptions for terrorists (this means a ban on getting at terrorists). Second, the new draft refers, not to the whole of Syria, as UN Security Council Resolution 2401 does, but to Eastern Ghouta alone. This makes me think that, first, our assumptions that the US coalition is concerned not so much with suppressing the remnants of terrorism as with preserving a military irritant for the regime are correct. Second, if the case in point is Eastern Ghouta alone, it is just the place from which one can do the most serious damage to Syria’s capital and thus prepare the ground for Plan B, which Washington has consistently denied. But there are increasingly more facts indicating a course toward effecting regime change and engineering the collapse of the Syrian Arab Republic.

Incidentally, unlike UN Security Council Resolution 2401, the new US plan excludes any reference to the humanitarian situation in Raqqa or at the US-controlled Rukban Syrian refugee camp, to which the UN cannot get an access. No other place in Syria is mentioned.

This obvious failure to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2401 as it relates the militants and the West, their sponsor, serves as a background for introducing a new resolution under the pretext that Russia, Iran and the Syrian Government have failed to ensure what was required by the previous resolution. In this context, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley makes a statement to the effect that the US is, of course, a peaceful nation but they can at any moment launch a strike at the government forces in the Syrian Arab Republic, as they did a year ago by attacking Shayrat airbase. I don’t have any normal terms left to describe all this. Without a second thought, they make a statement that as the US once “punished the regime” (as they call it), so they will be ready to do the same now.

There are two comments I would like to make on this. I will try to word them as politely as possible. First, I have repeatedly said (but, in all evidence, those who make such statements on behalf of the United States at the UN Security Council shut their ears to this) that after the first news about the use of sarin in the area of Khan-Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017, with reports saying that the gas was contained in an air bomb delivered by an aircraft that had taken off from the Shayrat airbase, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson telephoned me to say that the United States was highly concerned over these reports. They asked Russia to obtain the Syrian Government’s consent to sending international experts to Shayrat airbase so that they might make it clear whether or not there were chemical weapons at the base. We reached an agreement with Damascus that this access would be provided. But when we passed this information on to Washington, they thanked us and said they did not need it any longer and immediately fired missiles at the airfield.

This is the information that we communicated to our US partners on several occasions, both directly and via the media. But it was totally ignored. Therefore, if another strike of this sort occurs again, it will entail most serious consequences. Ms Haley must understand that it is one thing to irresponsibly exploit the microphone at the UN Security Council and quite another when the Russian and US militaries have communications channels and a clear message has been passed down the line on what can and what cannot be done. The US coalition knows this full well.              

Question: Can you rule out Russia’s involvement in the Sergey Skripal case?

Sergey Lavrov: You’re a strange one. I said that we are members of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as is your country, which, for some reason, neglects to use the expertise of those who know what obligations the United Kingdom has. If the procedures envisaged in the Convention are fulfilled, I assure you that the Russian Federation will fulfill its obligations and respond to the corresponding request in the time allocated to prepare a response.

In turn, we are waiting for the United Kingdom to respond to our request, sent in accordance with this same Convention, to provide the substance in question, and to make the whole investigation open to us because it involves a Russian national.

If I have not explained this clearly enough, we will certainly make a transcript of my answers to the first and additional questions, will send it to the BBC in the hope that this time around, you will not censor it before publishing or broadcasting it to your listeners and viewers.

Question: Still, can you rule out Russia's involvement in the Skripal case?

Sergey Lavrov: We have already made a statement, which is that it is all nonsense. Maria Zakharova laid it out more politely. We have nothing to do with it. Everyone seems to be so brainwashed that our blogosphere is already full of comments that turn things upside down. I read with amazement on one blog that I had claimed it was unacceptable to compare the Alexander Litvinenko case and the Skripal case. I said exactly the opposite. They asked this question during my last trip to one of the African countries. I said, there was a similarity with the former case – when we began to cooperate with the investigators, it was classified, and we were told that we could not have all the information. Pretty much the same is happening this time around. We are given nothing in return for our request. So please, again, I beg you, please report all I am saying now, in detail, rather than limit your report to what I am imagining: “Asked whether Russia is guilty, Mr Lavrov fudged the issue.” Russia is not guilty. Russia is ready to cooperate in accordance with the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, if the United Kingdom condescends to fulfill its international obligations under the same document.

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