Remarks and answers to media questions by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a joint press conference following talks with the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Moscow, 2 April, 2018

Monday, 02 April 2018 11:59

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The talks were constructive, friendly, substantive and useful. This is our fourth meeting in two years. I think, considering this rate, the prospects for our relations are good.

Our relations began on the first day of the independence of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. We were among the first to recognize the country’s status and to assist in the recovery of its economy. Today, Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali spoke of the warm memories the people of Bangladesh hold of those years and of the heroic feat of the Russian seamen who in 1972-1974 cleaned the port of Chittagong of mines and sunken ships. Unfortunately, some loss of life occurred. We appreciate the way our friends hold that memory.

We are pleased to note the steady progress in our political dialogue, including between our diplomatic missions. We have reviewed the state of our legal and treaty framework. Negotiations on a number of draft treaties, agreements and memoranda are at an advanced stage. We have agreed to expedite this work.

We are mutually satisfied with the dynamics of our trade and economic links. Bilateral trade reached a record high last year. Equipment-manufacturing products are a key Russian export. Bangladesh is also among the leading importers of Russian wheat. In the opposite direction we have noted a serious increase in the import of Bangladeshi agricultural products to the Russian Federation.

Energy remains the key sphere of cooperation. We have discussed in detail the progress of the joint project to build the Ruppur Nuclear Power Plant, the first in Bangladesh. The ceremony for the pouring of the “first concrete” for the plant’s foundation took place in the autumn of 2017 in the presence of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation set up last year is facilitating an increase in the volume of mutual trade and investments. We have discussed the preparations for the first meeting, the time and venue are being determined.

We have stressed the potential for military-technical cooperation and noted that the mechanisms of bilateral consultations on international issues and counter-terrorism have acquitted themselves well. Our approaches to the current problems on the global and regional agendas are very close and in most cases are identical. We have agreed to promote foreign policy coordination at the UN and other multilateral structures, above all in the Asia-Pacific Region (APR).

Our friends have given us a detailed account of their assessment of the situation in connection with the exodus of Muslim refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh. We reaffirmed our support for an early resolution to this issue. We welcomed the recent agreements between Dacca and Naypyidaw on the repatriation of Muslim refugees.

We have also compared notes on how our countries cooperate at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). We have stated our shared approach in considering unacceptable the politicisation of various chemical dossiers, including the OPCW Syrian chemical dossier. We have discussed the preparations for the special session of the OPCW Executive Council which will meet the day after tomorrow on the initiative of the Russian Federation.

On the whole we are highly pleased with the results of the talks which have confirmed our mutual commitment to expanding our partnership in very diverse fields. 

Question (back translation): There is increasing talk of a new Cold War. The term is being used to describe relations between Russia and the West. How dangerous is this escalation? How far is Moscow prepared to go in its “diplomatic war” with Great Britain?

Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, there is a lot of talk of a new Cold War. Many say that the situation is worse than it was during the first Cold War because then there were some kind of rules and appearances were kept up. Now, as I see it, our Western partners, and I am referring mostly to Great Britain, the US and some countries which blindly follow them, have cast aside all the proprieties and are resorting to open lies and disinformation. Our response to this is, I think, is fairly calm and level-headed. We insist that any charges, any claims have to be backed up by facts. When there are no facts, our recourse is the steps you mentioned. They take it out on the diplomats who by definition are to maintain relations, defuse complicated situations and look for ways to overcome difficulties. The opportunities for such dialogues are shrinking as diplomats are expelled under specious pretexts. It does not depend on us how far we will go. The principle of reciprocity in diplomacy has not been suspended. This principle will be consistently followed. So, like we said as children, the one who started it has to stop first. We do not want to play children’s games, but so far this is exactly what our partners have been doing.

Question: The Western media, citing a source close to the Skripal poisoning investigation, say that the attack was so sophisticated that it is likely (the word “likely” again) to have been authorised at the highest level in Russia. What is your reaction?

Sergey Lavrov: As for the “Skripal case” and the reference to a source close to the investigation, let me repeat that Russia had nothing to do with the poisoning of the Skripals. But we are very interested (perhaps even more interested than anyone) in the truth being established and the truth about the fate of Russian citizens being made known. I think it is outrageous that to this day our numerous requests for access to these Russian citizens are being turned down or ignored. This despite the fact that our British colleagues have apprised us, in a note to the Russian Embassy, that Yulia Skripal has recovered from her coma, feels much better and is making a speedy recovery. Nevertheless, the situation on access to the Russian citizen has not changed. I hope that Sergey Skripal will follow the same course because the signs are that he was affected by the incident in the same way as his daughter. We are glad that the police officer who found the Skripals unconscious has recovered and is back to normal.

I mentioned the condition of Yulia Skripal and the police officer, and that Sergey Skripal is still alive and, thank God, nothing untoward has happened to him. I hope nothing will. Against this background, how can one take seriously the words of a source you said is close to the investigation about the attack being sophisticated? As I understand it, sophisticated attacks usually lead to a lethal outcome instantly, especially since we are talking about a military substance whose chemical composition our British colleagues have described without facts or without any opportunity for us or anyone else to verify the substance. If it was a chemical warfare agent which was, on top of that, used in a sophisticated way, you can imagine what might have happened to the people targeted by such an attack. And then these words to the effect that “it is highly likely that Russia did it because there is no other credible explanation.” 

There are explanations, and we have tried to obtain them from our British colleagues from the start, from the first day. We proposed urgently invoking the procedures envisaged under the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. A country that has suspicions with regard to any other state has a right and even an obligation to refer to that state which has to provide an exhaustive answer within ten days. If the country which has raised a query deems the answers to be insufficient, it has the right to call an extraordinary session of the OPCW Executive Council and take a number of steps as stipulated under the convention. However, as you know, the law is not written for everyone. Apparently, for our British colleagues, this is not binding. They made up their minds and, without turning to the Convention, right away publicly presented us with a verdict through the mouth of the British Prime Minister Theresa May using the words “highly likely” and demanding that Russia answer the question as to whether it was an order from President Putin or a case of Russia losing control of its chemical arsenal. Our colleagues, including the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, recently interviewed on this topic, say that there are many unanswered questions being addressed to Russia on whether it was an order “from the top” or a loss of control (somebody took the poison and used it in Britain). This is thoughless, unworthy and unacceptable in any sphere of activity, especially in diplomacy and especially when human lives are at stake.

President Putin personally commented on the situation with the claims that “the order came from the very top.” Only an absolutely biased person who initiated this hideous and crazy provocation can insist, as do the British colleagues, that Russia had a motive. What motive? Ahead of the presidential elections in Russia or the FIFA World Cup? That’s if one takes a cynical view of the problem.

We could not have had any motive. A man had been released and pardoned in exchange for Russian representatives several years ago now. If we had anything against him he would probably not have been subject to an exchange.  There are other explanations in addition to those put forward by our Western colleagues who say that only the Russian extension can be the final answer. This has been suggested by experts who note that it may well have been in the interests of the British secret services notorious for their actions with license to kill, and of the British Government, which has obviously found itself in an embarrassing situation having failed to deliver to their voters on the promises concerning the terms of Brexit. There may be a whole range of reasons which are not to be swept aside. Serious experts do not simply push things under the rug. They and the heads of a number of governments ask these questions publicly. I don’t think these questions can be dodged at this stage because they   are too obvious as is the fact that our British colleagues have gone just a bit too far.

We will insist on all the facts being cleared up and on the establishment of the truth. As I already said, a special session of the OPCW Executive Council   will be held the day after tomorrow, on April 4, at our initiative. In full conformity with the Chemical Weapons Convention we conveyed the strictly specific questions addressed to the OPCW Technical Secretariat and to our British and French colleagues because reports have suddenly appeared (the French President Macron spoke about it) that France has actively joined the investigation. It is important for us to know on what grounds this happened. There are many questions. If our British colleagues fail to answer them, this would mean only one thing: all this is fiction, or to put it more bluntly, a gross provocation.

Question: Would you like to comment on President Trump’s recent statement concerning the withdrawal of troops from Syria?  

Sergey Lavrov: President Trump’s statement about an early withdrawal of American troops from Syria is, first, a statement by the US leader and Supreme Commander-in-Chief. It has to be borne in mind that the USA sent its troops, special forces and air force and put together a coalition for work in Syria illegally, in gross violation of the UN Charter which demands respect for the sovereignty and  territorial integrity of all the member states. We have drawn attention to this more than once. Our military and our diplomats have regular contacts with the USA because we are interested in an early end to the crisis, the establishment of peace, transition to the political process and the solution of humanitarian problems. From that point of view, we need to interact with all those who have a presence in Syria. But it is still a fact that the USA is present there illegally. We are particularly worried that in spite of repeated assurances that the only aim the USA pursues in Syria is to fight terrorism, we have seen in recent months the USA digging in on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and in a big chunk of Syrian territory stretching to the border with Iraq, and they are not just setting up military facilities, but creating administrative bodies that are loyal and accountable to them and which they are going to finance. Meanwhile all these regions are being isolated from the rest of Syria. We were told that the USA has no plans of splitting Syria. The assurances were unconvincing. If the US President has announced that American troops will soon be withdrawn from Syria, this at least means that he is committed to the earlier statements to the effect that the USA would leave Syria after ISIS is defeated. We shall see.

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