Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov’s interview with TASS News Agency, September 21, 2017

Saturday, 23 September 2017 07:31

Question: This year, there is no meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) on the sidelines of the 72nd UN General Assembly. Does this mean that this format is no longer relevant?

Gennady Gatilov: No, the group remains in place. It was established under a UN Security Council resolution to this effect, and was very productive throughout the year. The ISSG has two task forces: on humanitarian access and maintaining the ceasefire. All in all, the ISSG continues to operate. For us, this format has been very effective when it comes to communicating to members of the task forces information on Russia’s undertakings to maintain the ceasefire and ensure humanitarian access to civilians.

Question: France proposed creating a new format, a Syria contact group. What is Russia’s position on this proposal?

Gennady Gatilov: As for new formats, it has to be said that they are not as new as they may seem. Meetings with a limited number of participants took place not that long ago, bringing together just the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and a number of regional countries. What France now proposes is close to what we saw previously.

It is so far hard to tell whether this format if needed or advisable. France believes that it is needed in order to be able to promptly resolve certain issues. Only one meeting was held in this format thus far. It took place in New York three days ago. The items on its agenda included the Syrian settlement and giving a new impetus to the Geneva talks.

This is about finding the best operational mode. In principle, Russia does not have any objections. However, we need to have a clear understanding of the purpose of this new format proposed by the French and its goal. We believe that the main efforts regarding the political settlement should be undertaken in Geneva. Mr de Mistura is expected to set the dates for the next round of the Geneva talks in the near future.

Astana has recently hosted a meeting, and it was quite a success. The participants approved a series of documents on the Syrian settlement. These are essential documents in terms of strengthening the ceasefire, creating de-escalation zones and other matters related to the implementation of these agreements. It is now time to continue the political process in Geneva.

Question: Is it possible that the opposition is represented by a single delegation at the next round of the Geneva talks?

Gennady Gatilov: We do hope that this is the way it happens. This is what Russia has been calling for from the very outset. This was one of the stumbling blocks to substantive efforts on the Syrian settlement. The lack of a single opposition platform impedes progress.

We are currently seeing signals that the Syrian opposition is undertaking certain efforts to consolidate its negotiating platform and form a single delegation. Some radical elements have stepped aside, which is a good thing, since these people insisted on deciding on the future of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before engaging in talks with the Syrian government. These people insisted on Assad’s departure as a prerequisite. This demand is now a thing of the past.

I do hope that the next round of the Geneva talks will be more constructive and brings tangible results.

Question: In that case, are direct talks between the opposition and government delegations possible?

Gennady Gatilov: That would be the ideal solution, since only direct talks can bring about substantial progress. This will depend, among other things, on Mr de Mistura, who is the mediator and oversees this process.

If direct talks do happen, it will be a breakthrough. In that case, we can expect substantial progress in terms of settlement. Of course, this is related to the changes on the ground in Syria as terrorism suffers major setbacks, and new territories are liberated. This new situation sets a different tone for political talks.

Question: Does it help or stand in the way? Damascus is becoming stronger and stronger, while the opposition has not been able to reach common ground for two years. Do you think there is a chance that they will be serious about talks this time around?

Gennady Gatilov: I think that this situation contributes to the political process, since the opposition is becoming increasingly aware of the need to talk directly to the government.

Question: In his speech at the UN Security Council Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko criticised the Russian draft resolution on deploying a UN security mission in Donbass. What further actions do you see towards discussing the draft resolution?

Gennady Gatilov: We have presented our proposal to all the Security Council members, moreover, meeting their wishes, we even made some adjustments to it.

While previously observers were supposed to be together with the OSCE mission only along the separation line, now these UN representatives, UN peacekeepers, will protect OSCE missions wherever they go. If the security situation around the activities of the OSCE mission was the problem, now we propose to solve it by having them protected by UN peacekeepers, that is, people who will really be able to ensure their safety. So, our proposal is on the table. Our partners said they were not yet ready for a substantive discussion, that it being the ministerial week everybody was very busy and they would be ready to come back to this issue after the ministerial week was over. Well, let us hope so.

Question: Ukraine has also said that Russian representatives should not be members of the protective mission. Can we agree with this approach?

Gennady Gatilov: If a decision is taken in principle, the composition of the mission will be discussed by the UN Secretariat, as always when peacekeeping missions are deployed. The national composition, strength and all the issues connected with the work of this or that mission are determined by the UN Secretariat. In this case, as I see it, this should take place in coordination with the OSCE and with the consent of all the parties, including the DPR and LPR. Only then can the UN mission work effectively without imposing any decisions on the parties.

Question: Is it the case that the Western parties at the Security Council are inventing excuses because they want to wait for the Ukrainian draft resolution rather than work with the Russian text?

Gennady Gatilov: Ukraine has a different approach: as far as we understand, they want the UN to be deployed all over the territory of Ukraine, including the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russia is not a party to the conflict, so it makes no sense to deploy peacekeepers on its border.

We all proceed from the Minsk Agreements, and they contain some issues that need to be resolved before it comes to discussing the Russian-Ukrainian border. The Ukrainians are turning everything upside down: they first want to close the border between Russia and Ukraine and then solve or not solve the other issues connected with other aspects of settlement. We do not share this approach because it contradicts the Minsk Agreements.

Question: As most of the Minsk Agreements are not being fulfilled, do you see a possibility that they will be revised?

Gennady Gatilov: No. The Minsk Agreements were reached in the course of very complicated negotiations. They are the product of a compromise supported by all the participants in the Minsk process. Therefore, Ukraine’s possible demands for revising the Minsk Agreements hold no water.
Question: Let us talk about Korea. What can be done to promote a settlement? Would a conference under UN auspices with the participation of South Korea and DPRK help?

Gennady Gatilov: This looks like a reasonable idea. The latest developments have shown that the adoption of the resolution to impose new sanctions on DPRK has all but exhausted the potential of this instrument. Sanctions are no longer effective, and their only goal is to strangle the Korean people. They are useless when it comes to preventing new missile launches.

This is why we say that we need to look for new methods. An increasing number of our interlocutors say the same. These days I have met with our partners at the Security Council, who have serious concerns about this situation and who understand that any resolutions will be useless and we need to look for new methods.

The main task is to find a political and diplomatic solution. As you know, Russia and China adopted a document to this effect on July 4. It proposes political and diplomatic measures, such as a double freeze, which is a reasonable proposal. Regrettably, our partners, primarily the United States, have not been receptive to this offer.

This led us to suggesting that we should use the potential of the UN Secretary-General, who could be charged with establishing contact with all parties so as to search for possible ways to launch a political dialogue. The UN Secretary-General, who has accepted this idea, said that it should be considered and worked out thoroughly. Our partners have not made any other proposals on this matter so far.

Question: Maybe Russia should offer to act as an intermediary?

Gennady Gatilov: If we want to do this through the UN, we need to involve the offices of the UN Secretary-General, or at least attempt to do this.

Question: Why then does the UN Secretary-General say, when he is asked why he is not brokering the talks himself, that he is waiting for a unanimous decision from the Security Council on this matter, if the council’s resolution calls for the Secretary-General’s good offices?

Gennady Gatilov: He is absolutely right to say so. He is proceeding cautiously, probably because he knows that not everyone has supported this idea.

Question: Maybe we should start acting more energetically? The United States is not being too cautious.

Gennady Gatilov: The role of the UN Secretary-General is very delicate, and we have said more than once that he must take into account the interests and positions of all countries, especially the leading ones. I would not accuse him of inaction. I think that this idea has potential and we should keep working on it.

Question: US President Donald Trump hinted in his remarks to the General Assembly on September 19 that if UN efforts to promote settlement on the Korean Peninsula fail, the United States “will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Gennady Gatilov: It is an old American idea that all options must be considered, including military ones, but we believe that the use of military force would have catastrophic consequences for North Korea, South Korea, the region as a whole, and international relations as such, so a military solution is not an option. I believe that our partners are aware of this danger, which is why they have not acted on this possibility. Common sense must prevail, after all. We must not think about military options but about ways to launch talks and a dialogue.

Question: Returning to Syria, you have mentioned efforts to find new formats for achieving a settlement in Syria. There was a discussion format in Geneva that involved Russia, the US and the UN. Can it carry on?

Gennady Gatilov: We have used this format recently, and it was rather effective since it allowed us to exchange views with our partners and the UN on a broad range of issues related to the Syrian settlement. By the way, we have proposed reviving this format to the US, and they did not deny that possibly this should be given some thought. I don’t rule out that we may resume contacts with the US and the UN in the near future.

Incidentally, Staffan de Mistura favours contacts of this kind. He made this point to us on a number of occasions. Everything now depends on the position our US partners choose to adopt. I think that when the next round of talks takes place in Geneva, we could meet with our US partners on the sidelines of the Geneva round.

Question: Does Staffan de Mistura intend to visit Russia before that start of the next round of Syria talks?

Gennady Gatilov: This has not been discussed so far, but this is not an issue for us, since we can always make arrangements to meet with him in Moscow at a short notice. As soon as he expresses a wish to come, we always receive him without delay. So if he wants to do it in the run-up to the Geneva round, we will probably find a way to arrange this visit.

Question: Let’s talk about the reform of the UN. The US held a forum and prepared a declaration, which Russia did not sign. Do we have some conceptual problems with the text or is it just a case of us not being happy that the US is behind this initiative?

Gennady Gatilov: Firstly, we did not like the way it all started. It was done with minimum publicity and with a sense that “we have prepared the document, if you sign it you are on board, if not you are out of this process.”

That is not the way business is done at the UN because approval of such documents, and this one has to do with quite serious matters of reforming the UN and making it more effective, should take place within the framework of intergovernmental talks. We believe that every state must have a say in the process and that their interests should be reflected. As it is, they present us with a document and say, “take it or leave it.” We are not prepared to do business in this way, so we did not take part in this although the issues of reform are of concern to us plus we too want to see a more effective UN.

We are ready to consider the proposals made by the UN Secretary-General, but the fundamental point is that the final decision should rest with states without any attempt to impose ready-made recipes on them. This is what we object to.

Question: Is revising the size of countries’ contribution to the UN budget a realistic proposition?

Gennady Gatilov: This is one of the challenges for the US. Contributions and their size are approved by a special committee, this is very serious work, and calculations are made based on certain indicators over a fixed period of time. The gross national product and other coefficients are taken into account. But if the US reduces its contribution unilaterally, this may have a negative impact on the work of the organisation.

We believe the problem should be looked at from a pragmatic angle. If there are outdated programmes that do not work effectively, they should be optimised. But again, this is not to be a decision made by one state, it involves a very serious and painstaking process of intergovernmental negotiations, including at the Fifth Committee where experts have been dealing with it for many years. So, there is room for activity, but the situation should be considered on a case-by-case basis. This applies to the work of the UN funds and programmes, as well as to peacekeeping operations.

Incidentally, the Secretary-General, speaking about peacekeeping activities at the Security Council, mentioned this. He referred to four peacekeeping operations that are to be completed. That too is a kind of optimisation of the UN activities in the peacekeeping sphere.

Question: The United States also insists on urgently reforming the UN Human Rights Council. It was established some 10 years ago to replace the Commission on Human Rights. What is wrong with it?

Gennady Gatilov: The US is not satisfied with the performance of the Human Rights Council, because they think that it includes states that should not be there, namely Cuba, Venezuela and several others too. The US wants the Human Rights Council to serve its own political interests. I do not think the other countries will accept this though.

The Human Rights Council was established to promote a more effective operation of states in the area of human rights as well as to provide technical and other assistance to them in the pursuit of this goal.

In fact, the council’s operation has become politicised. It is now focused on accusing undesirable regimes of human rights violations, adopting so-called country reports to put pressure on such governments, and using these decisions to move the matter to the UN Security Council so that it would adopt specific measures against the alleged violators.

Of course, this is completely unacceptable and contrary to the goals that were set before the Human Rights Council upon its establishment. As for what the Americans want, first of all, we do not know exactly what they want to do, although decisions regarding this have been taken at the General Assembly. The Human Rights Council is a UN body and hence any decisions regarding it must take the opinions of the other UN member states into account.

Question: The settlement in Yemen has been deadlocked. The upcoming meetings on Yemen on the sidelines of the General Assembly and at the US Security Council, which Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed was expected to attend, have been cancelled. However, his mandate has been extended until February. What is going on?

Gennady Gatilov: The situation in Yemen is very serious. Unfortunately, the international attention has been focused on Syria, and many matters concerning Yemen have been put aside or deliberately shelved, although the humanitarian situation there is much worse than in Syria, according to UN data. There are many more refugees there, and the situation with humanitarian deliveries is absolutely critical. We keep talking about this and have raised this topic many times, including at the UN Security Council.

Question: What can be done to help Yemen? The Special Envoy has clearly failed to attain any progress.

Gennady Gatilov: Regrettably, the international community has no answer to this question. We have pinned our hopes on UN mediation, which must become more active. At this point, as you said, one meeting is cancelled after another, probably because nobody has any practical proposals to make.

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