Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a news conference following talks with First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic, Belgrade, February 22, 2018

Thursday, 22 February 2018 09:28

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are indeed celebrating a glorious date, the 180th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. The way our Serbian friends organised these festivities reflects, in my view, the true scale of our strategic partnership at the level of both government and civil society.

I was very impressed by today’s ceremonies, where we laid wreaths at the Memorial to the Liberators of Belgrade and the Monument to the Soviet Soldier-Liberator, and unveiled the mosaic interior of the dome of the Church of St Sava.

During my meeting yesterday with President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic and today’s talks with First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic, we discussed at length the current state of our bilateral relations. We are unanimous in our opinion that the Intergovernmental Committee on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation, which is co-chaired by Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic on the Serbian side and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on the Russian side, is playing a very effective role in developing trade, economy and investment cooperation. During its regular meeting in Sochi a week ago, our colleagues noted the robust progress made on the agreements reached last December, when President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic visited the Russian Federation.

Today, we also focused on our foreign policy cooperation, on coordinating our steps on key multilateral platforms, including the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

We support Serbia’s efforts to pursue a self-reliant and independent multi-vector foreign policy. Russia, in its own foreign policy, is guided by exactly the same principles. We reaffirm our commitment to international law in addressing any problems that emerge in Europe or elsewhere. This fully applies to the need to strictly comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on the autonomous region of Kosovo. 

We have also discussed the situation in Europe. Unfortunately, an unhealthy environment is taking shape due to attempts by some NATO and European Union members to step up the confrontation, to further expand the North Atlantic alliance to the east without taking account of the public opinion in some countries, as was the case with Montenegro and as they are trying to do currently in Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Let me reiterate, we are committed to the earlier agreements that have been enshrined in the UNSC resolutions. It concerns the Kosovo settlement and the settling of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the basis of the Dayton Accords. We will resist attempts to “lance” those agreements and damage the cornerstone principle according to which all the issues of Bosnia and Herzegovina should be authorised by the two entities and the three nation-forming peoples.

On the whole, let me reiterate, our positions on the international agenda largely overlap, which is key to our further interaction on the global stage.             

Question: The UNSC is discussing today a draft resolution on the introduction of a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire in Syria. What does Russia think of the draft? Will Russia support the idea?

Sergey Lavrov: We are concerned about the context in which humanitarian issues are being discussed. To put it briefly, it is hard to object to ceasefire calls for the civilian population to have a break, so as to deliver humanitarian aid, medicines, and to render assistance to people who are in a grave situation.

In the meantime, we would like to draw attention to the following. The ceasefire is elicited primarily by the escalating tensions and rhetoric regarding the development in Eastern Ghouta. Our western colleagues focus on this district, which is, in fact, a suburb of Damascus. Let me remind you that over at least the past two years residential areas in Damascus, including the city centre, have been regularly shelled from that district, and this has continued to this day. Mortar strikes targeted the Russian Embassy a number of times, and quite recently, a few days ago, the premises of the Russian Trade Delegation. After each such terrorist attack from Eastern Ghouta (and we know that Jabhat al-Nusra and extremist groups collaborating with it are behind those attacks) we addressed the Security Council urging it to give a principled assessment of those unacceptable attacks. And each time our US and European partners were reluctant to give such a response. This suggests certain ideas.

We are ready to consider the draft resolution but we suggested a clear wording saying that the ceasefire will in no way cover ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and those groups that are collaborating with them and systematically shelling residential areas in Damascus. Unfortunately, our western partners do not want terrorists to be clearly exempt from the ceasefire. This also gives rise to certain questions. Moreover, literally a few days ago our military working in Syria at the Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides suggested to the militants that they should leave Eastern Ghouta peacefully, the way the evacuation of the militants and their families was organised from Eastern Aleppo. Jabhat al-Nusra and its collaborators categorically refused to accept the proposal and continue shelling the city from their positions while using the civilians of Eastern Ghouta as a human shield.

The array of the factors I have just mentioned suggests to us that the goal of those who want to adopt the resolution without including our principled amendments lies not in the desire to really help the civilians but rather in shifting the focus of the Syrian agenda from the need to urgently start the Geneva talks, relying on the success of the National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, in accusing the regime of all possible sins, blaming the Syrian Government so as to promote the so-called Plan B, namely, the overthrow of the regime in violation of the UNSC Resolution 2254, which demands that everyone must accept the necessity for the Syrians themselves to decide the destiny of their country.

Incidentally, today’s UNSC meeting was summoned at our request. We suggested considering all aspects of the situation in Eastern Ghouta and around it. If our arguments are ignored once again, this will do nothing but validate our belief that the goal of the initiative’s authors is to put blame on Damascus and to shield the terrorist groups.

Question: Hashim Thaci said that Russia could play a very positive role in the peacekeeping process if it recognised Kosovo’s independence, that Serbia would heed Russia.

Sergey Lavrov: Ivica already mentioned those statements. We spelled out our position on Kosovo. The rhetoric used by Hashim Thaci will not alter our position. I would advise the Pristina leadership to attend to their own affairs. The majority of them are accused or were accused of military crimes. Regrettably, this sad chapter is being sunk into oblivion, including by our European colleagues, who protect the Pristina authorities. Our position was spelled out by me and it is reflected in the UN Security Council resolution, to which we are fully committed, unlike our western colleagues.  

* * *

Sergey Lavrov (adds after Ivica Dacic): Thank you very much. I know that Serbia is in the same group with Brazil. If I my memory does not fail me, on June 27, I believe, there will be a match with Brazil at the stadium of my favourite team, Spartak. So, we will root for a great match.

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