Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference following the 34th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Member States of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation, Sochi, July 1, 2016
First Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of Serbia and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić, Romanian State Secretary for Political Analysis and Liaison with Parliament Victor Micula, and I are co-hosting this news conference. We represent the troika of BSEC chairs. This meeting ends Russia’s six-month BSEC chairmanship. I would like to briefly inform you about our performance.
We discussed in-depth all BSEC issues, and compared notes on ways to make the BSEC more effective. The meeting showed that the member states share approaches to resolving urgent problems within the BSEC, and revealed our constructive approach that favours further deepening the broadest possible cooperation in the Black Sea region.
We are grateful to the participants for their kind words in connection with Russia’s chairmanship, including the initiative to strengthen the financial base of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation with an eye towards developing specific collective projects. We are also grateful for the support of our initiatives, including the establishment of cooperation between the BSEC and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Foundation. The goal of such interaction is to implement infrastructure projects in the Black Sea region.
Russia has also initiated work to form the Project Cooperation Promotion Facility with the participation of the BSEC and the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank.
The texts of agreements between these entities are being drafted. The future facility is designed to develop projects in the sphere of renewable energy, energy efficiency, green technology, small- and medium-sized businesses, and to improve regional and municipal infrastructure. During the meeting, we announced that the Russian Government has decided to release up to $1 million as a voluntary BSEC contribution to finance this facility. We hope that other members of the organisation will also contribute to the facility.
We have decided to make proper arrangements for the 25th anniversary of our organisation, which will be celebrated in 2017. It will be a good occasion for outlining broad plans for additional steps we can take together.
I would also like to note that during the six months of Russia’s chairmanship, we have organised dozens of different events, including in Moscow, Rostov-on-Don, and Sochi. We have held six ministerial meetings covering areas such as transport, healthcare, culture, tourism, customs and statistical services, and disaster relief services. This work involved the participation of 14 Russian ministries and departments. In addition, there was a meeting of the Committee of Senior Officials, and a meeting of the troika of BSEC chairs. Importantly, all of us, in our efforts to achieve practical results, have focused on cooperation in the sphere of transport, in particular, the implementation of the Black Sea Ring Highway project. In addition, the prospective development of ferry-based multimodal transport is of practical interest. In the sphere of energy, there is an interesting draft strategy to develop green energy.
The participants discussed interesting initiatives in the sphere of e-commerce, one-stop shop arrangements, and using online declaration of goods at the ports.
We all agreed that tourism, including Black Sea cruises, holds a lot of promise.
Also notable is the fact that the experts at an Emergencies Ministry centre have recently demonstrated in Sochi what modern Russian equipment can do to provide relief to natural disasters. We are willing to share our expertise in this area with our BSEC partners.
We have agreed upon the wording of the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in ensuring the quality of medicines.
In closing, we are quite satisfied with today's meeting and the quality of the discussions. We wish every success to Serbia as the new BSEC chairman for the next six months. Russia and Romania as members of the co-chair troika will provide full support to our Serbian friends.
Question: You described in detail the results of Russia’s BSEC Chairmanship. Could you mention two or three of Russia’s key initiatives as the outgoing chair?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the most important initiatives of Russia’s BSEC Chairmanship, I’d like to mention the formation of a mechanism for funding specific projects, an idea that was supported by everyone. I hope the BSEC Secretariat and the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank (BSTDB) will sign an agreement on this in the near future. Russia has allotted one million dollars for this purpose. We hope this example will be followed by our colleagues and this will help us launch practical projects. This work was time-consuming, we discussed details, but now it is time to translate this into reality.
I’d also like to mention in this context the development of cooperation between BSEC, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund. It is aimed at establishing a financial and institutional foundation for implementing a number of infrastructure projects in the Black Sea region.
The Memorandum on Cooperation signed by BSEC and the International Congress of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (ICIE) today is also aimed at taking practical steps that will be felt by the citizens of our countries. I hope that by taking such steps, each of which may not be so striking, we will create a critical mass that will allow us – I hope under the Serbian Chairmanship – to achieve practical results that will be undeniable and useful.
Question: What can you say about your meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu? What specific agreements did you reach at this meeting, especially on the broader fight against terrorism in the region, and monitoring the Turkish-Syrian border?
Sergey Lavrov: As you know, this meeting took place at the direction of the Russian and Turkish presidents after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent Mr Putin a letter expressing regret and condolences over the incident on November 24, 2015.
The two leaders had a telephone conversation in which they recognised that the conditions for normalising relations were ripe and agreed that my Turkish counterpart Mr Çavuşoğlu and I would meet in Sochi to discuss future steps.
I would like to emphasise that yesterday President Putin signed an order instructing the Russian Government to start consultations with the Turkish cabinet on specific steps towards normalising the full range of our relations. Mr Çavuşoğlu and I agreed to plan such contacts in the near future.
The presidential order has already lifted restrictions on tourism. Naturally, our Turkish colleagues were happy to hear this news. They assured us, like Mr Erdoğan assured Mr Putin over the telephone, that Turkey will take all the necessary measures to ensure the security of tourists from Russia, and, of course, other countries.
Nevertheless, we believe – and I told my colleague about this – that citizens of Russia and other countries will have to take into account the threat of terrorist attacks in Turkey when making decisions on their vacations. To our great regret this threat still persists, as the absolutely brazen act of terror in the Istanbul Airport showed. Today we again expressed condolences to our Turkish colleagues in this context.
It goes without saying that it is becoming even more urgent that we work together to counter terrorism. We set up a joint Russian-Turkish working group on combatting terrorism that includes representatives of the foreign ministries and intelligence agencies. The work of this group was suspended for the past seven months for obvious reasons but today we agreed to resume it promptly.
I think we will also develop our contacts via other channels, including military ones, considering the actions of our Aerospace Forces at the invitation of the Syrian Government and Turkish membership in the US-led coalition. I believe we will be able to discuss in practical terms all issues, even the most complicated ones, primarily during our bilateral contacts. This applies to the need to curb supplies to terrorists in Syria and prevent the use of Turkish territory for supporting terrorist organisations in Syria. We spoke about these issues in broad strokes today. I hope we will achieve our shared goal in actuality.
Question: During the last conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan both sides reiterated the need for all countries to work together to combat terrorism. Turkey voiced its intention to support Russia and cooperate with it in this direction. However, there are differences between Russia and Turkey concerning certain groups in Syria that Russia regards as terrorist, while Turkey does not. For instance, Ahrar al-Sham. How will this cooperation be translated into action on the ground in the immediate future?
Sergey Lavrov: Strictly speaking, we have no differences on which groups should be regarded as terrorist and which – as non-terrorist. In accordance with the UN Security Council resolution, the terrorist groups are the ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and various smaller groups affiliated with them. That’s what we proceed from.
Indeed, when this resolution was discussed, Russia suggested two more organisations that should be included, Ahrar al-Sham, which you mentioned, and Jaysh al-Islam, because there is evidence that those organisations violate all laws of warfare and plan their attacks using terrorist tactics, targeting civilians in order to sow fear. As no consensus had been reached at the UN Security Council by that time, Russia decided not to insist on adding the aforementioned organisations to the list, driven exclusively by its desire to start to do at least something collectively in the Syrian Arab Republic. By now, fairly significant progress has been made, there is a ceasefire agreement from which the ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated groups, as well as groups that for some reason are refusing to join the ceasefire, are excluded. This rule serves as the basis for the activity of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the US-led coalition with Turkey among its ranks.
Today, we discussed a situation that has long been worrying us, namely, that our American partners cannot separate out opposition groups that are not linked with Jabhat al-Nusra, something they promised to do long ago. When concerns are raised, some of them addressed to us, and to the Syrian Government, that our aircraft attack the wrong targets because there are opposition groups there, who cooperate with the Americans, we remind them of the promise, which was made publicly by the US, that those who do not want to be bombed must leave the positions occupied by Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. As simple as that. Today, our Turkish colleagues confirmed that they absolutely agree with this logic. Therefore, both Russia and Turkey hope that the patriotic and constructive opposition groups that for various reasons still remain in terrorist-controlled areas pull out from those areas as soon as possible. Otherwise, they will be regarded de facto as accomplices of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. I will repeat that today we reaffirmed our shared understanding on this issue in the talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.