Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov interviewed by Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency

Thursday, 08 February 2018 18:05

Question: The Russian side has noted the need for coordinating Russian-US counter-terrorism efforts and for launching closer cooperation between both countries’ secret services. Are any meetings on this issue expected soon? When are they scheduled to take place, and at what level?

Oleg Syromolotov: Russia and the United States, the largest nuclear powers and permanent UN Security Council members, assume special responsibility for resolving global problems s linked with protecting states, nations and ordinary citizens from terror and other types of violence.

However, our counter-terrorism cooperation has evolved in various ways. In 2011, long before the April 15, 2013 terrorist attack in Boston, the Russian side repeatedly informed the United States through partner channels about the activities of the Tamerlan and Jokhar Tsarnayev brothers. At first, the US side did not respond and later said it would independently deal with its citizens. As a result a tragedy took place.

At the same time, we have some positive experience of cooperating with the United States in this area, including during the preparations for the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and during the Games themselves. At that time, the US secret services established really business-like and partner relations with their Russian colleagues and helped maintain security. On December 17, 2017, it became possible to prevent terrorist attacks in St. Petersburg, after the Russian side received CIA intelligence data. This is another example of constructive, and what is particularly important, efficient counter-terrorism cooperation. 

However, I regret to say that Washington now prefers dual approaches towards US-Russian counter-terrorism cooperation and towards collaboration on other aspects. On the one hand, the Americans are interested in practical cooperation, as confirmed by specific results of contacts between secret services. On the other hand, the US administration diffidently hushes up specific examples of bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation in an atmosphere of Russo-phobia that has now engulfed Washington. Only those situations when top-level bilateral contacts on counter-terrorism issues were maintained did not match this context. On December 17, 2017, the White House issued a rarely positive press release after a telephone conversation between the leaders of both countries that praised the combined efforts between secret services to prevent the terrorist attack in St. Petersburg.

Judging by the latest well-known initiatives of the US side, comprehensive Russian-US counter-terrorism dialogue, including its past-time format, is hardly possible in the near future. Too many bridges have been burned. This is not our fault. Too much has already been said about this.

You are right in saying that we have repeatedly stated our readiness to negotiate the most topical counter-terrorism issues with the United States. But we have never imposed ourselves on anyone. We believe that Russia does not need cooperation in this area more than other states. We have accumulated rich, unique and successful experience for dealing with terrorism by force and for preventing these attacks. Many foreign partners request assistance from us, Russian military and law enforcement agencies, and they receive the required assistance or advice.

The Americans “knock” on our door only when they face something urgent or some critical situations. Today, Washington has virtually tabooed ordinary official and working contacts with Russia.

Nevertheless, officials in charge of security matters sometimes hold bilateral meetings even in these difficult conditions, and their participants may also discuss the subject of counter-terrorism. This is proved by several examples, including meetings held earlier on this year between heads of national secret services and consultations on issues of countering the financing of terrorism. New contacts are being planned and prepared. However, I will not anticipate them. Quite possibly, our US partners will find it more preferable not to widely publicise these contacts.

Question: Won’t Turkey’s military operation in Afrin impair Russian-Turkish counter-terrorism cooperation?

Oleg Syromolotov:  Operation Olive Branch being conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces and militants of the “Free Syrian Army” against Kurdish terrorist elements in northern Syria currently ranks among the main global news stories.

We regret to say that another hotbed of tension continues to expand in Syria. US and Turkish interests in the region are becoming more and more differentiated. In effect, both NATO allies are virtually confronting each other.

Ankara is assuring us that the efforts of the Turkish military don’t run counter to Turkey’s current and future efforts in the area of the Syrian political settlement. At the same time, developments in Afrin that have, among other things, been provoked by the actions of the Americans (the United States is planning to supply more weapons to US-controlled groups in Syria, allegedly for combating ISIS) might, indeed, destabilise this region still further.

It would be no exaggeration to say that Russia and Turkey are playing a key role in the context of stabilising the situation in Syria. This is proved by our practical cooperation at all levels and by daily inter-departmental working contacts. It is precisely the joint efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran that have made it possible to completely rectify the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, to eliminate substantial pockets of resistance of ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nusra and other terrorist groups, to create the required conditions for a detailed and interested intra-Syrian dialogue on issues concerning the country’s future political system. The Astana agreements regarding specific parameters of Syrian de-escalation zones’ operation and consolidating the ceasefire regime are an example of productive cooperation between our countries. Turkey supported Russia’s initiative to hold the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi and exerted efforts to facilitate its successful work.

We are determined to continue an in-depth exchange of opinions and our intensive work with Turkish partners, primarily for the purpose of countering international terrorist organisations in Syria. This will make it possible to gradually improve the situation in that country and the entire Middle East.

Regarding Operation Olive Branch, it is certainly our principled and consistent position that the fight against terrorism in any sovereign state, including the Syrian Arab Republic, must be conducted in full compliance with the UN Charter and the norms of international law. Our position is based on the statements of Turkish leaders that Turkey has no claims to Syrian territory. 

Question: Earlier, Uzbekistan and Kabul proposed holding an international ministerial conference in Tashkent. Conference participants are to discuss such topics as resolving the situation in Afghanistan, combating terrorism and maintaining security cooperation. Will Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attend the event? Will the Russian side voice any initiatives?

Oleg Syromolotov:  In mid-January 2018, Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov proposed holding a ministerial meeting on the Afghan peace settlement in late March 2018 in Tashkent. He made this proposal on the sidelines of the UN Security Council meeting in New York City. Just like Central Asian states, Russia is worried about processes in Afghanistan that directly influence regional security.

Despite numerous international formats, the issue of the Afghan political settlement remains unresolved. So far, it has proved impossible to involve the warring parties in peace talks. We are reviewing Tashkent’s initiative in the context of elaborating on the Moscow format of consultations on the Afghan peace settlement that involves 11 regional countries and which leaves the doors open to the United States. Indicatively, the lineup of the planned meeting’s participants virtually duplicates the Moscow format. Apart from the 12 above-mentioned countries, the conference is to involve Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, as well as UN and EU representatives.

Obviously, it is necessary to conduct a dialogue with the Taliban Movement as part of the Afghan society for the purpose of establishing peace and security in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We are confident that diplomatic efforts to launch the process of national reconciliation are a highly important element of stabilising the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.  Russia advocates equitable cooperation between international partners, with due consideration for the national interests of all regional countries without exception. In this connection, we perceive the Moscow format and the mechanism of the upgraded SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group as optimal venues for conducting specific and detailed talks to facilitate national reconciliation in that country.

We are also planning to stick to the above-mentioned line during the Tashkent conference. Speaking of practical issues, including the level of Russian participation and the above-mentioned conference’s agenda, it is still too early to talk about this.

Question: Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin said recently that Kiev is holding talks with football federations and fan organisations on staging protest actions during the FIFA World Cup in Russia as explicit reference to act? What will be Russia’s response?

Oleg Syromolotov: Moscow paid attention to the recent provocative statement made by the Ukrainian minister who tried to incite representatives of the inadequate public to anti-sports extremist actions. In conditions when the Ukrainian team failed to qualify for the World Cup we did not expect anything from the Ukrainian authorities but the attempts to spoil a universal sports festivity.

As for the World Cup, I would like to assure all the fans that we are taking all necessary measures to ensure the highest level of security for both the athletes and the spectators. Russian law enforcement and special services are conducting large-scale preparatory work aimed at preventing any excesses, attempts to violate the law or cause disturbances during the World Cup.

I will quote just several examples of such activities. First of all, by analogy with the 2017 Confederations Cup, we have established an interdepartmental operational headquarters on ensuring security during the World Cup that is operating regularly to coordinate these activities. We are also actively cooperating with the relevant services of foreign states. The international police cooperation centre will function during the World Cup. It will include representatives of the law enforcement bodies of the participants in this event. One more channel of cooperation are national football information centres the formation of which is envisaged by the Council of Europe convention on integrated safety, security and service at sports events. Each of these centres has access to the official website on which information can be shared on people of interest to law enforcement. The Russian centre is integrated into the European network and its representatives are taking part in the work of the European Expert Group on security during football matches.

We are confident that the World Cup will take place at the highest level and bring a lot of positive emotions to Russia’s guests and all football fans.

Question: Did Russia share with South Korea its experience on ensuring security at the Winter Olympic Games?

Oleg Syromolotov: Of course, the successful conduct of the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang is the main goal for the Republic of Korea. The task of ensuring security is of key importance in this respect. We are sure that the South Korean authorities will do everything for this important event to be held at the highest possible level and with proper security.

Russia has good experience when it comes to conducting such events. The international Olympic and Paralympic committees, delegations of the participating countries and the international sports public highly praised our Winter Olympics in Sochi. Russia also took impeccable security measures at the Confederations Cup last year. The Russian and South Korean relevant bodies have a solid communications channel for intensive exchange of experience. We are always ready to share it with foreign partners to ensure security during both large-scale entertainment and sporting events.

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