Question: What ways are there of influencing the current situation in Donbass? Maybe, reforming the OSCE mission? Today, in the course of a conversation between President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an agreement was reached to intensify contacts in the Normandy format and between foreign policy chiefs.
Sergey Lavrov: There is only one recipe. Nobody questions the viability of the Minsk agreements or the fact that there is no alternative to them. This is not a figure of speech but gospel truth. Nothing better has been devised. If someone hopes that Ukraine’s problems can be resolved simply by restoring the present regime’s full control over Donbass, that is a utopia and everyone in Europe, including Paris, Berlin and Brussels, understands this. Washington began to understand it even under the previous administration. There is no getting around the delegation of powers in full compliance with the Minsk agreements. The Normandy Four is currently drawing up the so-called roadmap that will ensure synchronised, harmonised progress in all areas outlined in the Minsk agreements, strengthening the security regime and promoting political reforms. These processes should go hand in hand and step by step.
It is puzzling how our Western partners fail to see through all the tricks that the Ukrainian authorities resort to in order to find a pretext for not complying with the Minsk agreements. President Vladimir Putin spoke about that in detail. He was especially outspoken on the issue at his news conference in Budapest. All those evaluations were heard and not challenges by anyone. What’s more, such media outlets as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and recently also Foreign Policy magazine (all of them are financed by the US State Department, among others) have suggested in no uncertain terms that the latest escalation is beneficial above all to Petr Poroshenko’s regime in order to divert attention from his own inability to do what he is obligated to do under the Minsk agreements and try to convince the Donald Trump administration that Russia is to blame for everything. But this provocation has failed. You know the position that US President Donald Trump has taken. He stated that he wants to get to the bottom of what is going on in Ukraine and understand who is doing what there. I believe that this is a major breakthrough compared to the Barack Obama administration, which tried to hold us responsible for everything while shielding Mr Poroshenko.
Question: What is the likelihood the United States becoming involved in negotiating a Syrian settlement? Can the precedent of the Americans providing our Aerospace Forces with ISIS coordinates in Syria grow into full-scale military cooperation?
Sergey Lavrov: First, we have yet to see and understand what the Trump administration will do at the practical level. It is still in the process of staffing the relevant agencies in the State Department, the National Security Council and other subdivisions. We are in contact with the people who have already been appointed. We expect that as soon as they complete the formation of the relevant subdivisions in all governing bodies related to foreign policy we will be able to go ahead with normal dialogue, and then it will become clearer how closely we will be able to cooperate. However, even now it is clear that Donald Trump’s firm position on the priority of the fight against terrorism, above all ISIS, in the international arena has a favourable impact on the general situation and the formation of a joint antiterrorist front that President Putin spoke about from the UN General Assembly rostrum way back in 2015.
Regarding the concrete actions to coordinate antiterrorist efforts. From day one, when the Russian Aerospace Forces, at the invitation of the legitimate government, the legitimate president of the Syrian Arab Republic, began targeting terrorist positions in that country, we proposed to the Obama administration coordinating those actions with the Americans, who by that time had already led the coalition, which provided air support in fighting terrorists in Iraq and also started doing the same in Syria, for almost a year. The Syrian government did not object to that. At that time it was a very good opportunity, at the initial stage, to ensure a more effective fight against ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the like. Then the Americans rejected coordination out of purely ideological considerations but went ahead with the so-called “deconflicting,” that is, an agreement on procedures to avoid air incidents between their and our aircraft. These procedures started working although it took four to six weeks to coordinate them. They are still in effect. However, at all stages, including during last year’s “marathon” between myself and former US Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as between our military officials, which led to the approval of a very concrete document to coordinate actions that was subsequently rejected by the US administration, we have always believed that in addition to incident avoidance procedures, we should establish real coordination regarding targets and airstrikes against terrorist positions.
The fact that despite months of conversations, which resulted in a corresponding agreement, the Obama administration did not comply with it, whereas the Trump administration, within the first several days in office, took concrete, if one-time, action in the fight against ISIS, is a good comment on both White House administrations. I believe the present administration is far less ideological and far more focused on concrete results, which, with this approach, in my view, will be more meaningful and substantial.