Question: Moscow said that it maintains contacts with Donald Trump’s staff “at an adequate level”. Do these contacts continue, in what format and what subjects are discussed? Do you think Trump changed his rhetoric after the election? Have you started preparations for his meeting with Vladimir Putin? Is it possible that Trump will visit Moscow and when?
Sergey Lavrov: As President Vladimir Putin emphasised more than once, we are ready to work with the future US President and his team in order to overcome the crisis that developed in bilateral relations through no fault of ours. Naturally, we welcomed Trump’s intention to build normal cooperation with Russia, which he declared during his election campaign. During their telephone conversation on November 14, both leaders underscored the need to improve Russian-US ties, which are in very bad shape.
As for contacts, the Russian President made public our position on this score. We are open to contacts at any time in various formats but we are not pushing it because we understand that now President Trump is very busy staffing his administration. Obviously, this is his priority for the time being.
The same applies to organising a top-level meeting. It is worth waiting for the new President to take office on January 20, 2017, when channels of dialogue with the Republican administration will be fully open.
Question: Will Russia be able to return to full-scale work in the G8 if its relations with the United States improve under the new administration? Or do we no longer consider this format a priority?
Sergey Lavrov: Your question is not quite accurate. It was not Russia but our colleagues that walked out from the G8. But this is just a remark. Seriously speaking, at one time the G8 was a useful forum for dialogue, but times are changing
Today we do not consider it necessary to work in this format. We believe it has largely exhausted itself and lost its international weight. In fact, the G7 is a kind of get-together that is lagging behind the rapidly changing world. First and foremost, I am referring to the emergence and consolidation of new influential power centres without which topical global and regional issues simply cannot be resolved.
Moreover, many members of this informal club are suffering from the anti-Russian syndrome and continue taking openly unfriendly steps. Members of the G7 are blocking in unison any projects on Russian territory in some international financial institutions, for instance, the World Bank.
We think it is much more useful to promote dialogue with leading Western and other states at other, much more efficient venues. Many key problems are discussed by the G20. This is a much more representative format that unites advanced countries and states with emerging markets. The recent G20 summit chaired by China in Hangzhou confirmed the efficiency and relevance of this cooperation mechanism.
We are attaching special importance to deepening our cooperation in the SCO and BRICS. We are convinced that our joint efforts in these associations with reliance on international law and the UN Charter not only meet the vital interests of our nations but also strongly promote the consolidation of positive, unifying principles in world and regional affairs.
Question: Do you think the United States will agree to carry out joint operations with Russia against al-Nusra in Syria? Is Moscow ready for this?
Sergey Lavrov: From the very start of the operation by our Aerospace Forces in Syria, we suggested that Washington establish very close contacts between our defence agencies.
Despite President Barack Obama’s public statements about the need to coordinate all efforts in the fight against terrorism, the United States had a sluggish response to our proposals on cooperation and only agreed to sign a memo on preventing incidents in the air. Washington also avoided exchanging intelligence information on the coordinates of ISIS facilities in Syria although at the same time it claimed that we were hitting the wrong targets.
Several joint mechanisms on cooperation in Syria were just barely launched. For example, from March to July of this year the military of both countries conducted daily video conferences. The Russian-US Rapid Response Centre operated in Geneva from May to August. True, our partners were “embarrassed” to admit in public to engaging in direct military cooperation, making references to legislative bans or openly speaking about the vestiges of the Cold War mentality in the minds of many members of the US administration.
After the air force of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition dealt “by mistake” a strike at Deir el-Zour in the north of Syria, killing 62 Syrian servicemen, the implementation of the Russian-US agreement on establishing a Joint Executive Group was wrecked. The group was supposed to coordinate the actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the coalition against the positions of terrorists in Syria.
We noted that in an interview with the Boston Globe, US Secretary of State John Kerry frankly admitted that responsibility for the failure of this agreement rests with members of the US cabinet that were “bitterly opposed” to any cooperation with Russia. Clearly, you understand whom he had in mind. Therefore, it would be naïve to expect the current US administration to adopt a different approach in the remaining weeks of its term.
It is also public knowledge that Washington proved unable or simply reluctant to separate the “moderate” opposition from terrorists.
We are ready to cooperate in the anti-terrorist fight with the team of the new US President, Donald Trump, and not only in Syria.