Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yildiz and BSEC PERMIS Secretary General Michael Christides after the 35th meeting of the BSEC Foreign Ministers Council, Belgrade, December 13, 2016
Mr Secretary General,
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like once again to convey our condolences to the Turkish leadership and the Turkish people over the heinous terrorist attacks. We support the fight against terrorism. We understand the reasons why Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had to remain in Ankara and was unable to attend our meeting.
We regard the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) as the only full-scale regional economic organisation in the Black Sea region whose members, through joint efforts, manage to strengthen cooperation in various economic, infrastructural and social spheres. Black Sea countries have always been, and still are, our major economic and political partners. We are convinced that the BSEC’s further development will facilitate the consolidation of multilateral ties and ensure stability in the Black Sea region.
Russia is interested in improving the BSEC, based on respect for its Charter and its institutional foundations. We consider it important to adhere to the existing work format and the organisation’s mandate, preserving, above all, its depoliticised character. There are other formats for dealing with political issues, including those related to regional security.
We are grateful to the Serbian chairmanship for its efforts to steer the organisation away from tasks that do not fall within its purview. We hope that Turkey, which assumes the chairmanship on January 1, 2017, will continue this line.
We believe that a key to the BSEC’s future success is the implementation of mutually beneficial projects in developing land and sea transport lines, energy projects and cooperation in responding to natural disasters and emergency situations.
Next year, we will mark the BSEC’s 25th anniversary. This is a very good opportunity to review the result of the work done and map out a plan for the future. We welcome the intention of our Turkish partners to organise an anniversary meeting next year. It will be a notable event for the entire Black Sea region.
On July 1, at a meeting of the BSEC Foreign Ministers Council in Sochi, Russia announced its initiative to create a project cooperation development mechanism in the Black Sea region and to provide $1 million to it as a one-time voluntary contribution. On November 18, a donor agreement, approved by the Russian Government, was signed in Thessaloniki between the BSEC, the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank and the Russian Government on the transfer of Russia’s contribution. I believe this is a good gesture in the context of our organisation’s upcoming 25th anniversary.
We are grateful to our BSEC colleagues for their approval of a corresponding decision at today’s meeting. We invite all BSEC members to join the initiative. We believe that this could become an additional positive factor in expanding the organisation’s potential for new projects.
I would like once again to sincerely thank the Serbian chairmanship which has successfully held numerous events over the past six months, and wish success to our Turkish colleagues.
Question: Does it make sense to continue talks with the Americans on the situation in Aleppo, given that according to recent reports, 98 percent of eastern Aleppo is already controlled by the Syrian army? Are there bilateral consultations with Turkey on the same issue? Could you comment on the choice of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the last question, I am not in a position to comment on a decision contemplated by the US president-elect. These plans became known and were confirmed today. We regard this as the US president-elect’s decision. As President Putin has repeatedly stated, we are ready to work with any partners who are interested in developing equal relations with the Russian Federation. I believe that President Trump and future Secretary of State Tillerson are not opposed to closer engagement. On the contrary, these are pragmatic people and we expect that this pragmatism will serve as a good foundation for building mutually beneficial relations from the standpoint of Russian-US cooperation and the resolution of international issues.
Regarding Aleppo, we are already tired of hearing the jeremiads of our US colleagues from the present administration over the need to end hostilities as soon as possible, while [claiming] the Russians want to do so only after an agreement on corridors is achieved. They say three days is not enough and that hostilities should end at once. However, if we recall history, right after September 9, it was still possible to spend two, three, four or seven days and coordinate such corridors for militants to leave Aleppo so that a legitimate government could be reinstated there. Instead, we and the Syrian armed forces are urged every day to end hostilities tomorrow, but for their part, they are doing nothing, they have not lifted a finger to separate their moderate terrorists from the others. This is strange because I regularly hear these complaints at State Department briefings. In reality, everything is very simple. We were in contact with US experts in Geneva. A very simple thing had to be done. The time that was wasted could have been used long ago to resolve all issues related to the pullout of militants and the release of civilians who are in fact being held hostage by the militants. As I have said more than once, we are working with all those who in some way or other influence the situation on the ground. These are countries in the region, above all Turkey. The Russian and Turkish presidents regularly speak in person and by phone and they discuss issues to prevent the spread of the terrorist threat and stop it on the territory of Syria, Iraq and other countries because ISIS has in effect spilled over to the entire region. As part of this contact, a cooperation mechanism for diplomatic agencies, the military and special services was coordinated. We have a shared understanding of the tasks the international community is facing, primarily antiterrorist tasks and the tasks of preserving Syria’s territorial integrity and preventing its disintegration. So I can assure you that our contact with Turkey and our actions aimed at coordinating our steps on Syria are intensive and regular.
Question: What would you say to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande announcing the renewal of sanctions on Russia for another six months?
Sergey Lavrov: I think they are not the only politicians in the modern world who threaten Russia with sanctions, this time on account of Syria. We hear some say that we are not doing enough in other areas, either. Perhaps we will soon be accused of the failed talks on Libya, or things falling apart in Yemen.
Our NATO colleagues originally sowed trouble in that region by violating every norm of international law and UN Security Council resolutions. Now, they are looking for someone to blame. It’s not only about the German Chancellor and the French President, but also other leaders of Western countries, such as Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom - the so-called Group of Seven less Japan. This Group of Six released a statement a few days ago, in which they accuse us of preventing the United Nations from delivering humanitarian aid. To put it mildly, this is not true. We were accused of supposedly keeping the Syrian government from agreeing to the UN humanitarian plan. This is not true, either. The government has provided its consent. Except that the militants haven’t put their signature to this plan. The claim of the six Western powers that the militants have allegedly agreed to it is not true, either. The UN representatives have shown us a piece of paper which didn’t show a single signature - just a list of seven or eight organisations holed up in eastern Aleppo that are allegedly willing to cooperate in delivering humanitarian aid. In order to be able to work with them, you need to have specific signatures, and the coordinates of these people to be able to talk with them directly, not some useless scrap of paper.
The statement by these six countries had a lot of things in it, including a direct accusation of war crimes, and threats to all those who support the Syrian government. I think it is being done out of despair and the inability of our Western partners to talk some sense into those whom they created and armed for the sole purpose of toppling the Syrian government. They hoped that they would be able to cooperate with the extremists, since they share a goal of overthrowing the Assad government. Following that, they planned to do away with the extremist organisations. It does not work that way. Our Western partners have done this before. Their actions led to the creation of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Now, as a result of their actions, another terrorist organisation called Jabhat al-Nusra is gaining a foothold.
We remain willing to work within the framework of an equitable dialogue with the participation of all countries that have some influence on the situation in Syria in order to stop the violence as soon as possible, get rid of the terrorists and begin, without any preconditions, the political process as required by UN Security Council resolution. The criterion for assessing the actions of a particular country is not unilateral declarations by our Western partners, such as the United States or Europe, but the requirements spelled out in the UN Security Council resolution on the Syrian settlement.