Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Chairperson of the African Union Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Moscow, April 20, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held talks with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Ms Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. This is not her first visit to Moscow, and I have been to the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, too. As usual, our talks were open, confidential and substantive.
This reflects the standards of the relations between Russia and the African states. Our relations are based on the traditions of friendship, equality and mutual respect. Russia received observer status in the African Union in 2006 and regularly attends the AU ministerial and summit meetings. We welcome the strengthening of Africa’s positions as part of the objective process of development of a polycentric, fairer and more democratic world order. We actively support the African states’ desire to play a key role in dealing with the continent’s problems and in working towards sustainable development.
Today we have reaffirmed our mutual resolve for cooperation. Russia will continue to provide comprehensive assistance to the African states’ efforts to attain economic, trade and other goals at the bilateral level and in the framework of multilateral formats. I wish to point out that in addition to maintaining constructive cooperation with the African Union we have been working to create an institutional framework for cooperation with subregional organisations in Africa.
We have exchanged opinions on the international and regional agendas. We hold similar views on most key issues of international politics. We believe constructive relations between the African Union and the UN, including in peacekeeping efforts, are very important. Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has actively promoted this and will continue to act in this spirit. At the same time, we have pointed to our commitment to the AU principle, African Solutions to African Problems. This means that those who want to support the efforts to normalise the situation in various regions of Africa should primarily do so in keeping with the agreements and solutions proposed by Africans and must not attempt to force any external solutions on them.
Of course, we also discussed solutions to the ongoing conflicts and crises in Africa, including South Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic, Burundi and the Horn of Africa. We are concerned about the growing terrorist threat coming from various extremist groups in Africa, including in the Sahel where ISIS is actively spreading its influence and is interacting closely with local terrorist groups.
We have agreed to continue our joint efforts not only against terrorism and its elements, but also in stopping terrorists’ supplies through the illegal trade in oil and other commodities and any other illegal activities. One of the ways to weaken the terrorist potential is to fight illegal drug trafficking. Conferences are regularly held on this issue, and Russia and the African states maintain a dialogue on the illegal drug issue. In addition, we have agreed to create an AU-Russia permanent working group on drug trafficking. Of course, we support the African Union’s call for a comprehensive approach to the issues of peace, security and economic development.
Although we maintain active trade and economic and investment cooperation, we believe that more can be done in this sphere. We have pointed to the growing activity of Russian businesses in Africa and agreed to carry on joint efforts to create favourable conditions for cooperation between Russian and African business partners. We will consider practical opportunities for the participation of Russian companies in large infrastructure projects at the level of Russia’s bilateral relations with individual African countries and also in the context of multilateral programmes, which the African Union is promoting with UN assistance, such as Agenda 2063 and New Partnership for Africa's Development.
We have agreed with Ms Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma that the African Union Commission, which she chairs, will prepare proposals and a list of specific projects for consideration by Russia. We have also agreed to consider opportunities to launch ties between the AUC and the Eurasian Economic Commission. We will submit proposals to this effect. We hope they will help us choose the possible spheres of mutual cooperation.
Cultural ties are an important part of our cooperation. We are actively implementing cooperation programmes in education. About 10,000 citizens of African states are receiving an education in Russia. Today we discussed ways to complement bilateral cooperation in education with multilateral ties. The African Union has created Pan-African University (PAU), which is comprised of the most effective African universities. We will consider the possibility of developing cooperation between PAU and Russia’s leading universities.
Russia is providing humanitarian assistance to African countries, primarily those affected by conflict. We appreciate the high assessment of Russia’s contribution to the fight against the Ebola virus in Africa, made at the AU summit in January. We used the system of public-private partnership to contribute over $60 million to this fight, which included setting up hospitals, creating a vaccine and assisting the African countries in other ways.
Our friends have told us that the African Union is creating a regional centre in the fight against pandemic diseases. We are ready to cooperate with this agency, considering its embracing regional nature. Of course, our plans also include continued cooperation in many other areas, about which I won’t speak here for lack of time.
As you can see, our talks were very substantive. We have a good roadmap for the immediate future, and we will move by a coordinated route.
Question: The international community has been actively consolidating its efforts lately to resolve the conflict in Libya by legitimising the Government of National Accord formed by Fayez al-Sarraj. At what stage does Russia intend to become more actively involved in this process, taking into account that not all people in Libya support this settlement framework? Do you see any link between the Libyan and the Syrian conflicts? Will a settlement in one country affect the situation in the other?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia has never opted out of these efforts. We supported the agreement concluded in December 2015 in Skhirat, Morocco. This agreement was endorsed by the UN Security Council. It is because of Russia’s initiative that the UN Security Council resolution to this effect features a provision on the need to ensure the inclusiveness of this agreement. This requirement is expected to be implemented by having the Skhirat Agreement approved by the Libyan parliament in Tobruk, whose legitimacy is recognised by the UN. I’m talking about the Skhirat Political Agreement. Russia insists on this approach and believes that it is crucial to refrain from trying to resolve serious issues in haste. We should be patient and tedious in moving toward reuniting all parties in Libya, instead of making statements on imposing sanctions against those who are not ready to join this process. Such proposals can already be heard from some hotheads within the UN Security Council.
This is becoming a general trend, not only regarding the situation in Libya but with other conflicts as well. Some of our Western partners are quick to propose sanctioning those who do not agree with them, if things do not go according to their plans. Russia will firmly oppose these attempts. It is not that we are against the whole concept of sanctions, although it should be said that they never yield any positive results, but primarily because in situations like this one sanctions undermine the prospects for achieving national reconciliation and accord. Russia stands for resolving the Libyan crisis through consolidated international efforts, which should be carried out not through coercion, but by consolidating Libyan society and helping Libyans work out positions that would unite the nation.
So far, some of the ideas put forward by the most active Western players along with some UN representatives do nothing to consolidate the country. National consolidation is more important that consolidating external efforts. The former should be a priority, while the latter is a secondary concern. As Ms Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma has said, it is not uncommon that cutting corners and taking a path that seems easier at a given stage turns out to be counterproductive and harmful. It makes much more sense to invest more time, efforts and creativity in order to make the process sustainable, rather than striving to meet some deadline for reporting on the result, all the while risking that the situation will spiral out of control.
Russia opposes the line of some of our partners, including the Europeans who are openly promoting it, and I have heard that similar discussions are also gaining traction in Great Britain, who posit that there is no need to wait until all parties to the Libyan conflict join the Skhirat Agreement, since the al-Sarraj government is in place and can request foreign assistance, which will include military advisors, special forces and even troops to fight terrorists. It is very important to fight terrorism, but we also have to be mindful of how terrorism gained a foothold in Libya in the first place. It happened after an illegal intervention, an attack against the Libyan state without any mandate from the UN Security Council.
It is crucial that the initiative to call for foreign intervention is actually backed by a consensus of all political forces in Libya, and not just by certain individuals’ desires. Russia assumes that this scenario would be totally illegitimate if it bypasses the UN Security Council. There are aspirations of this kind, and we find them unacceptable. Only five years ago this permissive interpretation of international law led to this catastrophe. It is striking that people who again come up with these kinds of thoughts have such short memories.
Speaking about the last part of your question in regards to the connection between the Syrian and Libyan crises, there is only one link between all the crises in the region and not only between Syria and Libya. Everywhere where there is a gross and unlawful interference from the outside, where traditions, history and culture of a state are ignored, countries get destroyed. Crises begin and chaos spreads instead of stability, no matter how you look at it. Then fights drag on forever and the price is too high. More times than not, people’s lives is the price they pay.
Fortunately, if we can use this word in the situation, Syria, unlike Libya, managed to prevent the state and state institutions from being destroyed. Russia contributed to that when the legitimate government in Damascus requested that Russia send its aerospace forces to intercept the terrorist threat and suppress terrorists who were ready to take over Damascus, whose loss would have been a complete disaster. I will stress once again that at the moment, the disaster has been averted. We also noted that our actions motivated other external parties, including the US-led coalition, to begin acting together in the interests of solving the main task, which is to prevent the seizure of power in the region by terrorists.
I hope that our cooperation on the anti-terrorist front, within the framework of the International Syria Support Group and unfolding step by step, although not without difficulties, and garnering the support of the overwhelming majority of other countries, will produce results. And those who are trying to sabotage these collaborative efforts will not succeed. Positive developments in Syria are obvious. In addition to the sharp weakening of terrorist forces, the government and the “patriotic opposition” have declared a truce, although some terrorist groups are still lurking within the oppositional ranks. These groups must be excluded from the truce and classified as international terrorists who need to be eliminated.
As you are aware, along with the truce, many humanitarian issues in Syria have been successfully tackled. Equally important, if not more so, is the achievement of the political process. As you also know, there are parties too that are trying to derail this train but we will do what we can to prevent it. Our contacts with American and European partners (French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault was in Moscow yesterday), with colleagues in the region demonstrate that there is a growing understanding of the need to ensure that certain geopolitical whims will not destroy the settlement prospects in Syria. Syria plays a critical role in many issues of that large and important region. If we succeed in all the aspects of the Syria conflict resolution, this will beyond all doubt have a positive effect on the situation in neighbouring states.