Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Interfax news agency, December 28, 2017
Question: Mr Lavrov, what was the main factor influencing Russian diplomacy in the last year? What foreign policy challenges will we face in 2018? Will peace be restored in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: 2017 was a difficult year. The international situation has not improved. The main task for Russian diplomacy was to protect national interests, security and sovereignty, neutralise threats and provide an appropriate response to external challenges in the interests of consistent internal development. There were quite a few such challenges, from the fratricidal conflict in neighbouring Ukraine, which has an internal Russian dimension due to the special national-historic ties between our countries, to an alarming growth of tension in the Russian Far East, which borders the Korean Peninsula. Some irresponsible forces in the West are fueling conflict in a bid to contain Russia and other independent centres of global influence. The increasingly radical policies of some Western countries and their lack of any pragmatic basis in reality are seriously increasing pressure on international law and threatening to bring chaos to interstate relations.
The Russian Foreign Ministry continued to work efficiently in this difficult situation. Our diplomats are used to seeing problems as an impetus for creativity. Of course, we are glad that we can rely in our work on the unanimous public support for our President’s principled, honest and independent foreign policy. We are advocating a positive, balanced and future-oriented international agenda, including as a permanent UN Security Council member, aimed at finding effective solutions to global problems.
One of our key priorities was the promotion of a peaceful settlement in the long-standing internal Syrian conflict. We joined hands with Iran and Turkey to initiate the Astana format, which has proved effective: we have introduced and promoted a ceasefire between the government forces and the armed opposition, which allowed us to focus on defeating ISIS. Four de-escalation zones are operating effectively in Syria. Refugees are returning to their country, which is rebuilding its infrastructure. Therefore, the necessary conditions for a political settlement, based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254, have been created largely thanks to Russia’s efforts.
We closely monitored the development of integration within the EAEU and the strengthening of cooperation within the CSTO and the CIS, where Russia held the rotating chairmanship. We continued to work on the implementation of Vladimir Putin’s initiative on the creation of a Greater Eurasian Partnership, including through the alignment of Eurasian integration and China’s Belt and Road initiative.
All-out partnership and strategic cooperation with our great neighbour China has made considerable headway and has been enriched with new content. Other high-priority areas included the development of an especially privileged strategic partnership with India. Relations with Turkey have been normalised. The quality of ties with an overwhelming majority of Asia Pacific, Latin American and African states continued to improve steadily. We actively cooperated with our partners at such new multilateral associations as the G20, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS where there are no “teachers” and “pupils,” and where equitable dialogue is conducted.
In 2018, we will continue to focus on the uncompromising fight against international terrorism in line with Vladimir Putin’s well-known initiative to establish a broad anti-terrorist coalition under UN auspices. We intend to continue to help scale down tensions around the Korean Peninsula in every possible way and to prevent an armed confrontation there.
We will do everything we can to restore peace and stability in Syria as soon as possible. At the same time, it is obvious that progress in achieving a political settlement in the Syrian Arab Republic primarily depends on the people of Syria themselves. The efforts of outside players should be aimed at helping the Syrian parties to reach agreement. In this connection, we want to continue working energetically with the government and the opposition and to urge them to reach a consensus and to stop confrontation. Currently, we are focused on practical issues of convening the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi in close contact with our partners from the Astana format. This Congress is called upon to facilitate UN-mediated intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.
We continue to make our contribution to finding political and diplomatic solutions to other crises and conflicts, with which the world is, unfortunately, oversaturated. We will promote the universal values of justice, honesty, wide-ranging and equitable partnership and conflict-free constructive development. We will help strengthen multilateral aspects in international affairs for maintaining a more equitable and democratic world order, based on the UN Charter, reflecting and respecting the cultural-civilisational diversity of nations.
Our responsible and well-thought-out approaches meet with the broadest possible support. Therefore one can safely say that Russia has reinstated its historically essential role as the guarantor of global stability.
Question: Washington has said that it is not going to pull out of Syria. Is Russia ready to work together with its American partners in Syria in order to rout terrorism and maintain peace and security there in the post-conflict period?
Sergey Lavrov: We have said many times, at various levels, that if the Americans’ goal in Syria is indeed to fight terrorism, as they say, there are objective opportunities for cooperating with them in this sphere.
The joint statement, which President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump adopted on the sidelines of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Danang on November 11, seals their resolve to continue to work together in Syria. In addition, on November 8, Russia, the United States and Jordan signed a trilateral memorandum on de-escalation principles in southern Syria, which is designed to reinforce the ceasefire initiative in this region. The de-escalation zone, which has been functioning there since last summer, has proved effective.
We believe that Americans should pull out of Syria as soon as terrorist activity is totally eradicated there, which will happen very soon. I would like to point out that the United States and the US-led coalition do not have the UN Security Council’s mandate for their operations in Syria. The legitimate Syrian Government has not invited them either.
We are surprised, therefore, at the statement made by US Defence Secretary James Mattis, who has said that US forces will remain in Syria until progress in a political settlement is reached there. Washington is acting as if it has the right to judge progress towards a political settlement and wants to control a part of Syrian territory until it achieves the result it wants. This is not how it is done. Under UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the adoption of which the United States advocated, the Syrians themselves must decide the future of their country. We will be guided by this understanding in our relations with our American partners.
Question: Did President Trump live up to our expectations in terms of bilateral relations? Or are you disappointed? How will Russia-US relations be affected by the coming into force of new US sanctions on the Russian energy sector and defence industry, and the planned publication of lists of the Russian elite early next year?
Sergey Lavrov: Disappointment comes from inflated expectations, which we didn’t have with regard to Russia-US relations.
In our efforts to build a dialogue with Washington – no matter who is sitting in the White House – we rely on pragmatic approaches and realistic assessments. We do not entertain any illusions. From the outset, we realised that overcoming the burdensome legacy of the Obama administration in the sphere of bilateral relations would be an extremely difficult process.
We are still willing to do our part in order to get them back on track. We regularly remind our US colleagues that building a normal dialogue between our countries and establishing productive cooperation in international affairs is only possible if the national interests of both countries are taken in account and respected.
So far, we have been unable to achieve any changes for the better because of the Russophobic hysteria that has swept the political circles in Washington and has taken on, without exaggeration, a paranoid character. This is what prevents us from moving forward in areas that are important for both our states, and provokes additional tensions in the international arena. The United States is taking unfriendly actions with regard to our country. The implementation of Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act will inevitably affect our relationship. That said, Washington is clearly off the mark – the Russian economy has not only adapted [to sanctions], but has regained an economic growth trajectory, and is about to break new ground.
We will respond to any hostile actions against Russia and our citizens in the way that is best for us. However, we expect that Washington will at some point realise the futility of exerting pressure on our country. In fact, the sooner certain American politicians get rid of the illusions that Russia can be cowed by restrictive measures or a show of force, the better it will be for everyone, including themselves. This will not only improve the atmosphere of Russian-American relations, but will also allow us to more effectively address pressing global and regional problems plaguing the entire international community.