Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of External Relations of Angola Manuel Domingos Augusto, Moscow, August 26, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had a very productive meeting. We held in-depth discussions on Russian-Angolan relations and our cooperation on the international stage.
Our countries are bound by years-long ties of friendship and cooperation that go back to the period of Angola’s fight for freedom and independence.
We noted the high and ever growing standards of mutual understanding and mutual trust. We spoke at length about the specific fields of bilateral collaboration, primarily those where our cooperation was put down on paper during the official visit of President of Angola Joao Lourenco to Russia in April of this year and his talks with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
Both of us called for strengthening our political dialogue. We agree that our trade and economic ties are growing ever stronger, which meets our mutual desire to advance our business partnership even further. We are preparing to implement several mutually beneficial industrial and mining projects, especially in diamond mining, as well as in the sphere of power generation, fishing, transport, agribusiness, space communications, finance and lending, plus military and technical cooperation. We have decided that the next meeting of the Russian-Angolan Intergovernmental Committee on Military and Technical Cooperation will be held in the latter half of the year to confirm our movement towards this goal.
Economically-wise, Russian companies have shown considerable interest in the broad and promising Angolan market. We have agreed to continue to help establish direct contacts between our business communities, including at the level of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation and Trade. The Russian-Angolan Business Council, which was established in March of this year, will be instrumental in this. The list of side events of the Russia-Africa Summit, which is scheduled to be held in Sochi on October 23−24, includes a meeting between the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Commission and a dialogue between the Russian and Angolan companies that are working together within the framework of our plans for deepening our economic cooperation.
We are also promoting our cultural, humanitarian and interregional exchanges. We pointed out the positive practice and experience of training Angolan professionals at Russian universities, where some 1,120 Angolans are currently being educated. In addition to this, several score of Angolans are studying at the universities of the Russian Ministry of the Interior.
We have agreed to discuss the improvement of our contractual legal framework in various areas, such as mutual recognition of diplomas, the establishment and operating terms of culture and information centres, cooperation in crisis management, the peaceful use of nuclear energy and commercial shipping.
We have exchanged views on pressing issues on the regional and international agenda, revealing similar or even identical positions. Our two countries are unanimous in their advocacy of strict respect for international law in full compliance with the UN Charter. This implies, first of all, respect for the sovereignty of each state, the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, and, of course, the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world, where every nation has the right to independently determine its development path. Based on these most important principles, we closely cooperate at the UN and support each other. We are grateful to our Angolan friends for their co-authorship and for voting in favour of all the main Russian initiatives at this global platform.
It was very useful to listen to our Angolan friends' assessments of the situation in Africa, especially in such hot spots as the Congo and Africa's Great Lakes, the Central African Republic and others. We greatly appreciate the active peacekeeping role of Angola in helping to resolve conflicts on the African continent. We are confident, like our Angolan friends, that addressing Africa’s problems requires a comprehensive approach, which involves coordinated action by Africans themselves with support from the international community. For our part, we have reaffirmed our readiness to continue to contribute, including as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to the consolidation of stability and security in Africa.
The cooperation between African states and organisations and BRICS is an important aspect of modern international relations. We agreed that we will continue the practice that began in 2018, when representatives of leading subregional African organisations attended the BRICS summit.
I especially would like to emphasise that, concerning the UN Security Council reform, Russia strongly advocates reaching the broadest possible consensus, with priority given to fixing the main shortcoming of the existing Security Council – the underrepresentation of emerging countries. Any reform of the UN Security Council should be ultimately aimed at increasing the representation of Asia, Latin America and Africa of course. Russia will preside over the UN Security Council in September. One of the key priorities of our presidency is to help Africans deal with their problems – crises, conflicts and other situations.
In general, we are satisfied with the outcome of the talks. I am confident that Angolan Foreign Minister Manuel Augusto’s visit will contribute to the further promotion of Russian-Angolan cooperation. Thank you.
Question: The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, went on record as saying the other day that, in his opinion, the Syrian army’s advance to liberate Khan Shaykhun and other areas was a gross violation of the spirit of both the Astana and Sochi arrangements. Do you agree with this?
Sergey Lavrov: As far as the developments in the Idlib de-escalation zone, specifically in the area of Khan Shaykhun and its environs, are concerned, [I can say that] the Syrian armed forces are operating with our support and breaching no arrangements. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that last September’s agreements provided for the establishment of a de-escalation zone and encouraged the cessation of hostilities conducted by the illegal armed groups, given the understanding that no one has freed the terrorists (identified as such by the UN Security Council) from [implementing] the Security Council resolutions. The ceasefire regime has not applied to them from the start.
It became clear that the terrorists had not calmed down. More than that, they were intensifying their provocative activities from within the Idlib zone by attacking the Syrian army’s positions, civilian facilities, and Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base. Early in 2019, we again came to terms with the Turkish colleagues on the need to create a demilitarised strip within the Idlib de-escalation zone so that it is stripped of weapons capable of “reaching” the Syrian army’s infrastructure I have mentioned, the civilian facilities and the Russian military base. Our Turkish colleagues have established several observation posts there for this demilitarised strip to start operating. We suggested organising joint patrolling. So far, we have failed to do this. Regardless of all the measures that have been adopted, including the establishment by the Turkish armed forces of their observation posts, the shelling from within the Idlib zone, as we have repeatedly said, continued “over the head” of the Turkish observers and, to some extent, even grew more intense. Of course, to cut short these violations and the provocative, unacceptable actions, strikes are delivered at the targets that present a threat for the Syrian territory and the Russian air base. No one has ever agreed that there would be no retaliation of this kind against terrorist organisations that attack [us] by fire. This is why, when the Syrian army eliminated the seat at Khan Shaykhun, this was done totally legitimately and it was necessary from the point of view of the Syrian settlement goals set by the UN Security Council.
I would like to note that we too often hear emotional remarks about the sufferings of the civilian population and international humanitarian law violations caused by the Syrian army as it operates, with support from the Russian Aerospace Forces, in Idlib. They are pointing to hospitals that were allegedly ruined on purpose and spreading other fabrications. Once again, I would like to express the hope that the international media and the press community will use facts rather than the above-mentioned allegations, the more so that the majority of these insinuations come from the notorious White Helmets. We will do all we can to enable journalists to see with their own eyes what the current rather nervous campaign is all about.
Question: The G7 leaders held a heated discussion on the possibility of readmitting Russia to the club. Does cooperation in this format have a future? Under what conditions would Russia agree to re-join the group? Would it accept a possible US invitation to attend the next G7 summit meeting?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the eight- or seven-country format, they did not sign any documents even though Russia did not attend. President Vladimir Putin said on this subject during his talks with President of France Emanuel Macron a week ago that the G8 does not exist. This was our Western partners’ decision. We are working actively and productively within the framework of other formats, such as BRICS, the SCO, the integration associations created in the post-Soviet space and the G20, not to mention the UN. Never during that time have we raised the idea of relaunching the G8 in our contacts with anyone. In fact, it wasn’t considered when making our foreign policy plans. But our Western colleagues suddenly started talking about the G8, making several public statements on this matter. Some of them spoke about the need to revive the G8, while others argued that Russia does not deserve it and that it’s impossible or can only be done on certain conditions.
Someone suggested creating a 7+1 group. It appears the G7 leaders are trying to convince or dissuade themselves. We have no connection to this at all.
We have not asked anyone about any of this. As I said, we learned about these developments from the public statements made by some of our Western colleagues. We have not made and will not make any requests regarding this. Life has moved on. As President Putin said at Fort de Brégançon, we are not trying to avoid contact with the G7 countries, but if we look at the global economy and politics, including financial policies, the main problems are decided on at the G20, which includes the G7 and all the BRICS countries. Our positions at the G20 are determined by the approaches that are coordinated at BRICS. This is a fact. It is the reality from which we must proceed.
Question: How would you assess the threats from the United States to the Damascus International Fair participants?
Sergey Lavrov: The Damascus International Fair opens in a few days. We heard that the US is threatening all participants in this exhibition with sanctions, seeing their very presence at this event as “support” for “the Syrian regime,” as they say. This is the kind of rhetoric that we regularly hear from the US concerning Syria or other countries where governments hold independent positions, not dance to someone else’s tune.
At the same time, I would like to point out one circumstance the US administration fails to mention while threatening the Damascus International Fair participants. I am referring to what the US is doing and making its allies do on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. There they are doing the opposite: not only do they allow anyone to carry out projects in the area, but they even urge their allies in the region and in Europe to make every effort to help get life back to normal there, rebuild infrastructure, resolve humanitarian issues and, in the longer term, create conditions for the normal functioning of this territory. I will not discuss how realistic this is while they still fail to agree on how to resolve military and political issues and ensure security in the region.
As you know, discussions are underway between the US and Turkey, and between the Kurds and Arabs. The situation is not simple. But I am only mentioning this to emphasise that this approach is unacceptable – by pursuing this policy with respect to the eastern bank of the Euphrates, the United States is undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR). This is a gross violation of the US’ obligations undertaken together with all other members of the international community by voting for the UN Security Council resolution that unequivocally reaffirmed the inviolability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. I hope our American partners will be more respectful of international law. Right now, their actions regarding the Iranian nuclear programme, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the INF Treaty do not give us any hope that these calls will be heeded.
Question: It has become known that there may shortly be a Normandy format summit. Will there be a ministerial meeting before this? When will it take place?
Sergey Lavrov: We have already said many times that the Normandy format is helpful. Vladimir Putin confirmed this during his meeting with President of France Emmanuel Macron at Fort Bregancon. We are also constantly reminding our partners that to keep this format going it is important to implement the decisions reached within its framework before. One of these decisions is the disengagement of forces and military hardware, starting with three pilot districts. Disengagement has finally started in Stanitsa Luganskaya that was a stumbling block due to the absolutely destructive position of the Poroshenko regime. Moreover, it has already made substantial progress. Now both sides have started eliminating fortifications on both sides of the contact line. The repair work of a bridge in Stanitsa Luganskaya is being discussed. This is a very positive turn of events. After this, it will be necessary to organise the disengagement of forces in two other districts – Petrovskoye and Zolotoye ‒ that were mentioned in the Normandy format. The disengagement took place there but the Ukrainian armed forces crept back. The Contact Group is dealing with this. I hope that the disengagement of forces will take place in all three districts and that the Normandy format can be applied to the entire line of contact. This would be very important.
The second term that must be fulfilled is to seal legally the Steinmeier formula to the effect that the special status of the Donbass territory will temporarily be introduced on the day of the elections. It will become permanent when the OSCE observers submit a report on the free and fair elections. I think this is the minimum that is common knowledge that is essential for another Normandy format summit to take place.
As for a ministerial contact, as you already know we do not yet have a partner in Ukraine. The government is still to be formed there. Before talking about contacts in the Normandy format and planning them, we would like to understand what position the new government will assume as regards the Minsk Agreements when it is formed. As with our German and French partners we really do hope that the new government will unequivocally reaffirm its commitment to the Minsk Agreements.
This is all the more important since during the election campaign and immediately after the elections we heard many contradictory statements on behalf of the new administration, the new office of the Ukrainian president, that ran counter to Kiev’s commitments to this very important issue. So let me emphasise once again that confirmation of the commitment to the Minsk Agreements on behalf of the Ukrainian authorities will be very important.