Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with President of the Republic of Abkhazia Raul Khadjimba, Sukhum, April 19, 2017
I would like to thank Mr Raul Khadjimba and all our friends for their hospitality. We had detailed talks during yesterday’s informal meeting and today at the Residence of the President of the Republic of Abkhazia, reaffirming our mutual commitment to strengthening our alliance and strategic partnership in all areas with a special focus on trade, economic and investment ties. At the end of 2016, the Intergovernmental Commission for Socioeconomic Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia held its regular meeting. A Russia-Abkhazia business forum was also held. Concrete steps to further develop the economy and resolve social issues were outlined. We reaffirmed our commitment to fulfilling all the agreements arising from the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia on Alliance and Strategic Partnership, and reviewed progress in drafting the relevant sector-specific instruments.
We strongly believe in the need to keep up international contacts. The so-called Geneva Discussions are yielding results, although this is not happening as quickly as we could have hoped. At any rate, we expect a legally binding instrument on the non-use of force to be signed in the foreseeable future. This would be an important signal for the Caucasian region in general, taking into account our past experiences.
I would like to once again thank President of the Republic of Abkhazia Raul Khadjimba and other colleagues in Abkhazia for helping resolve issues which enabled us to inaugurate the new building of the Russian Embassy to Abkhazia. Once again, thank you.
Question: What do you think about the prospects for cooperation with the US on Syria following the visit to Moscow by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? Did you actually discuss the US proposals related to settlement stages, which reportedly mention Bashar al-Assad’s resignation? To what extent do these proposals suite you?
Sergey Lavrov: Kremlin spokespersons have already commented on the reports that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came to Russia with some kind of a phased settlement plan for Syria. Of course, we discussed Syria. We believe that UN Security Council Resolution 2254 sets out a plan covering all the aspects of a peaceful settlement based on the principle whereby the Syrian people should be the ones to determine the future of their country. This is the framework we abide by.
We have been seeing lately attempts to stage provocations, like the one that was orchestrated on April 4 in Idlib province with toxic agents. It was followed by a US strike against a Syrian airbase. This prompted calls for overthrowing the regime. There are perhaps those who do not like the UN Security Council Resolution, and the principle of respecting the sovereignty of Syria and the Syrian people, which has the right to decide on its future and that of the country. These forces are trying to create some artificial provocative pretexts for pursuing regime change instead of a settlement.
The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and I had a detailed discussion on the situation in Syria. I am confident that there is no alternative to implementing the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 in good faith.
Question: In Paragraph 2 of Article 4 in the Agreement on Alliance and Strategic Partnership it states that Russia undertakes to assist Abkhazia in every possible way in strengthening its international ties, including creating conditions in order for Abkhazia to be able to join international organisations and associations, including those created at Russia’s initiative or with its support. We do understand that in order for Abkhazia to be able to fully participate in international affairs, it should be recognised by all countries within a specific organisation. In some cases, having an observer status in organisations like the CSTO is even more important. Can Abkhazia work with Russia toward reaching this goal?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the CSTO, of course Russia would welcome cooperation between this organisation and the Republic of Abkhazia. As you so rightly mentioned, in order for Abkhazia to become a full member, all countries within the organisation in question should come to a consensus. The same goes for the observer status. There is no difference in this respect. This decision requires backing from all the members of a given body.
The CSTO is in charge of ensuring the security of its member states. Abkhazia’s security is ensured and guaranteed by its relations with the Russian Federation as per the international treaties between the two countries, as well as specific measures undertaken by Russia in cooperation with Abkhazia’s armed forces to guarantee that the country won’t be subject to external aggression ever again.
Question: The simplified naturalisation procedure for becoming a Russian citizen was discontinued after the 2008 events. Article 13 of the Agreement on Alliance and Strategic Partnership between Russia and Abkhazia stipulates that Russia shall take additional action to ease naturalisation procedures for the citizens of Abkhazia. Could you share what’s new concerning the implementation of this provision?
Sergey Lavrov: In November 2016, Russia proposed signing an agreement on dual citizenship in order to put this process on a stable footing and ensure that it is executed accordingly. We passed the draft version to the other side. We discussed this topic today, and hope that the draft will be coordinated and adopted in the near future. This will enable us to reinstate the naturalisation procedure. We should not forget that a vast majority of Abkhazian nationals already have Russian passports. All we need to do is streamline this process by signing an agreement to this effect.
Question: Is Russia interested in using Abkhazia as a transit route for delivering goods to Georgia and Armenia? Did you discuss this at the meeting? Were any agreements reached?
Sergey Lavrov: This issue was raised during the talks. Russia has no problems with resuming transit. The legal framework is in place. It can be based on agreements reached by the Russian Federation with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2011, when we joined the trade club. We also know that our Armenian colleagues are interested in resuming transits. Today, the President of the Republic of Abkhazia said that his country did not oppose this either. So it now depends on other countries, where these transits are heading, not us.