Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Niger Ibrahim Yacoubou, Moscow, March 1, 2017
We have held talks with my colleague Ibrahim Yacoubou, Niger’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, African Integration and Nigeriens Abroad. These talks are evidence of our trust-based and friendly relations.
As you know, last month we marked 45 years of our diplomatic relations. Today we reaffirmed our mutual interest for the further development of our political dialogue, the legal framework of our relations, our business ties and cooperation on the international stage.
We have similar views on the key international issues, in particular, the UN’s central role and approach to conflicts, primarily in Africa. Our friends provided interesting insights into their views regarding solutions to problems in Africa, including Sub-Saharan Africa, and on these countries’ efforts to join forces in the fight against terrorism, extremism and illicit drug trafficking. We will support these efforts, including at the UN Security Council and in the framework of Russia’s bilateral cooperation with African countries.
I am grateful to Foreign Minister of Niger Ibrahim Yacoubou for this informative conversation.
Question (addressed to Ibrahim Yacoubou): What additional steps could the African Union and sub-regional integration associations, including the Sahel Five, take to make international cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and extremism more effective?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Ibrahim Yacoubou): I would like to add a couple of words. Today, Foreign Minister of Niger Mr Ibrahim Yacoubou and I discussed the need to facilitate efforts to stabilise and normalise the situation in Libya, to achieve national accord and reconciliation there, and to restore that country’s statehood, because it was after Libya’s disintegration due to the illegal intervention that vast areas, including the Sahara-Sahel zone, were destabilised and northern Mali was turned into a drug trafficking route, where illicit arms are supplied and militants arrive, which concerns everyone. Therefore, there is much for the world community to do there, with account taken of the approaches developed by African countries themselves. We will support these approaches.
Question (addressed to Sergey Lavrov): The agenda of the Geneva talks has not been formulated. What are the chances of success in this round, given that the agenda issue is still undecided? Don’t you think that the talk about removing the point on combating terrorism from the agenda is an attempt by certain regional players to torpedo the Geneva format? What role would Damascus’ reconciliation with its regional neighbours play in the negotiating process? Is Damascus doing all it can in this area?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think that the Geneva agenda issue is undecided. This agenda has been determined by UN Security Council decisions, primarily Resolution 2254. As for the political process, it [the agenda] is about forming a common vision on how Syria will be governed during the transition stage and agreeing on a national unity government of sorts. Moreover, this should be done, according to the UN Security Council resolution, based on the common mutual agreement between the Government and the entire spectrum of the opposition. Next is the political process. In keeping with the resolution, it involves the parties jointly drafting a new Syrian constitution. After that, an early general election is to be held, based on the new constitution.
But the same resolution contains a crucial clause demanding that an uncompromising fight against terrorism be launched and that the moderate opposition disengage from those who have chosen the path of terrorism and extremism, because it will be very difficult to do the rest, if we don’t understand who the legitimate participants in the political process are. The extremist circles from the organisations banned by the UN Security Council must not be allowed to infiltrate this process. In the same way, it is very difficult to agree on how to ensure the participation of all ethnic, religious and political groups of the Syrian population in national governance after the reform until we know whether all Syrian parties will be able to agree on a new constitution. Everything is interconnected here.
The agenda of the Geneva talks will not conform to UN Security Council Resolution 2254 unless it includes a point on fighting terrorism. According to my information, participants in the Geneva talks are beginning to realise that new approaches should be sought, approaches that will conform to this resolution, including the need to fight terrorism. I hope that the “Geneva format” will not be derailed and, like the “Astana format,” will continue to play an important role in a progress towards a settlement in Syria.
As for the chances of Damascus achieving reconciliation with its neighbours in the region and whether Damascus is doing all it can for that, we are voting with both hands for this reconciliation to occur, because ultimately they will have to live side by side with each other and they have a common enemy – terrorism and extremism. To our great regret, at the very start of the Syrian crisis, some Arab countries insisted on expelling Damascus from the League of Arab States. Their position prevailed, and today Damascus is not represented in this Arab organisation. Of course, this has curtailed opportunities for dialogue, including informal and pragmatic dialogue. Today, some of our Arab partners acknowledge, albeit not very loudly so far, during confidential contacts, that this was a mistake. Under all circumstances, we are for this dialogue developing and for all Syrian parties and outside players being guided by the settlement concept included in UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which offers a comprehensive approach to the fight against terrorism and to political reforms. Moreover, the political reforms should be based on mutual, reciprocal agreement between the Government and the entire spectrum of the opposition.
Question: As we know, in response to a transport blockade by Ukraine, authorities in Donetsk and Lugansk said Ukrainian companies will be placed under external management. Could you comment on this step in the context of the Minsk agreements? Donetsk and Lugansk claim they will re-orient their enterprises to the Russian market. Will Russia contribute to cooperation on this matter in any way?
Sergey Lavrov: With regard to the transport blockade, neither it, nor the socioeconomic blockade are allowed under the Minsk agreements. On the contrary, the Minsk agreements involve the restoration of a common economic, transport and infrastructure space even before reaching the goals of a political settlement by way of an amnesty, the definition of a special status of Donbass, and enshrining this status in the constitution and organising local elections. The process that is now underway in Ukraine, where the government is powerless in the face of radical actors, who organised this blockade, is now at odds with the Minsk agreements, the commitments of the Kiev government and the obligations of the patrons of this government, above all our Normandy format partners, namely, France and Germany. Failure to overcome this blockade despite the decisions made by the Ukrainian government, put Donbass residents in very difficult circumstances. Even without that, they already existed in very, mildly speaking, modest circumstances. They had a very limited access to pensions and social benefits. There were just a few checkpoints between Donbass and the rest of Ukraine, which people could use to gain access to banking services. What they have now is a total transport and, in fact, economic blockade. In such circumstances, the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics had no other way to ensure the proper functioning of the enterprises. This involves the preservation of jobs, the need to not only manufacture, but also sell and market the output in order to pay wages in a situation where the Ukrainian government is unable to ensure the normal operation of industrial enterprises due to acts of disruption by radicals, which it can’t do anything about.
I don’t see any problem in the actions by Donetsk or Lugansk in terms of compliance with the Minsk agreements. We strongly support full compliance with these agreements, but those who have influence with Kiev should make sure that the government can exercise power against those who are openly seeking to thwart the peace settlement and provoke a military solution.