Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov interviewed by Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, February 10, 2018
Question: Does the Foreign Ministry have any special traditions for celebrating Diplomatic Workers’ Day?
Mikhail Bogdanov: First of all, I would like to congratulate my fellow diplomats who work at the central office and our foreign missions all over the world on their professional holiday, Diplomatic Workers’ Day. The deeply respected veterans of Russian diplomacy deserve words of special gratitude and the warmest congratulations. They have a priceless role to play while working consistently to strengthen the Foreign Ministry’s system of tutorship and passing rich experience on to young diplomats.
As is our tradition, the Foreign Ministry hosts an official meeting marking Diplomatic Workers’ Day with the Foreign Minister offering an address to event participants. On this day, we also remember and honour the memory of our comrades, our outstanding Russian diplomats who have passed. Flowers are laid at a memorial plaque that lists the names of our colleagues killed in action during the Great Patriotic War, as well as diplomats killed in the line of duty and during the Stalin-era purges, at the Foreign Ministry building. Russia’s foreign missions hold traditional protocol events involving senior officials of the receiving countries’ foreign ministries and representatives of the diplomatic corps.
Question: When will Astana host the next meeting on Syria? Will meeting participants raise the issue of extending the agreement on the de-escalation zones that were established in the summer of 2017 for six months? Will they discuss a new zone around Afrin?
Mikhail Bogdanov: Exact deadlines for the next Astana meeting on Syria have not been set yet. I can only say that the meeting will take place soon. We cannot lose momentum given to the Syrian peace settlement on January 29-30 by participants in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. Iran and Turkey, our partners in the Astana process, played an important role in ensuring the success of this event. They worked with us to include as many Syrian political forces, representatives of civil society, ethnic and religious groups as possible in the work of the congress. They facilitated the adoption of well-thought-out decisions that could form the foundation of the intra-Syrian negotiating process under UN auspices.
We see the Sochi forum as the result of constructive cooperation between our three states in the Astana format, which marked its first anniversary in January 2018. The results achieved are quite impressive. A ceasefire has been declared in Syria, and the de-escalation zones were established. This has drastically reduced the level of violence and improved the humanitarian situation. The Syrian Army was able to focus on fighting military-political hotbeds of international terrorism in Syria and to defeat ISIS with the decisive support of Russian service personnel.
We consider it necessary to preserve this tool and to continue effectively using it to promote and restore peace in Syria through a political settlement under UN Security Council Resolution 2254. In no way is the Astana format a substitute for the Geneva format. The Astana format supplements and incentivises it in a natural way.
As regards the establishment of a new de-escalation zone, participants in Astana meetings continue to focus on this issue. At the same time, we consider it important that the parties to the talks in Astana address other aspects of the Syrian peace settlement, including political and humanitarian aspects, as well as the issue of strengthening trust between the Syrian warring parties. For example, a working group on arrested and detained persons has already been established. It is necessary to discuss the coordination of efforts to support and implement the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress with our partners. This concerns the establishment of a Constitutional Committee and initial efforts to implement constitutional reform.
Question: Are you now in talks with other countries, including Egypt, Italy and the United States, on the post-war arrangements for Libya? Does Russia have its own plan on this issue?
Mikhail Bogdanov: We have never tried to draft and implement any peace settlement concepts for Libya or to introduce post-conflict arrangement plans for various areas of society activities. That said, we have never held any talks on this issue with anyone; nor do we plan to in the future.
Since the beginning of the Libyan crisis, our efforts aimed to help launch wide-ranging intra-Libyan dialogue under UN auspices. This dialogue would be expected to put an end to the fratricidal civil war in this country. Our goal remains the same: We must help the people of Libya overcome their current disagreements and reach mutually acceptable compromises on all issues on the intra-Libyan agenda.
It is certain Western and regional players, which are actively involved in Libya, that strive to impose ready-made solutions on the people of Libya. We consider this approach counterproductive. Our principled stand implies that the people of Libya should independently decide the destiny of their country.
At the same time, in an effort to rule out any doubt on this, I would like to note that we do not support any specific party to the domestic Libyan conflict. In our work, we are guided solely by the imperative task of preserving the unity and territorial integrity of Libya. This is our unconditional priority. We would like Libya to overcome the protracted crisis as soon as possible and once again become a prosperous state with dependable state institutions and law enforcement agencies capable of countering terrorism. We want Libya to again become an important player in the Middle East. Our Libyan policy aims to achieve these tasks.
Question: Did Baghdad or Erbil request mediation during their bilateral talks? To what extent did Baghdad’s sanctions against Erbil, imposed after the regional independence referendum, affect Russian companies and Russian oil contracts?
Mikhail Bogdanov: It is not quite correct to talk about requests for mediation that are addressed to Russia. Moscow consistently advocates the unity of the federative Iraqi state, supports its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is our principled stand. In our contacts with Baghdad and Erbil, we urge the parties to search for compromise solutions through constructive and mutually respectful dialogue based on the constitution of Iraq. This is a difficult goal considering the list of accumulated problems and the level of mutual mistrust. Nevertheless, as experience shows, the compromise is possible if the sides have the political will.
Regarding Russian companies, they continue to do business in Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan region as an integral part of Iraq with a special status. At the same time, any problems arising during operations due to restrictive measures against Erbil, are addressed, one way or another, in cooperation with the Iraqi authorities who understand the difficulties of foreign economic operators working in the country.