Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan Beibut Atamkulov, Moscow, January 28, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are delighted to welcome a delegation of the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan led by the new minister, Beibut Atamkulov, to Moscow. It is Mr Atamkulov’s first visit to Russia in his new capacity, but we know him very well. He closely cooperated with his Russian colleagues in the previous official positions he held in Kazakhstan. We appreciate Mr Atamkulov’s contribution to the strengthening of our strategic partnership and allied relations.
Today we held very productive talks in the spirit of strategic partnership and alliance, discussing nearly all spheres of Russian-Kazakhstani cooperation. Our relations are traditionally based on the principles of equality and mutual respect in the best interests of each other. We noted with satisfaction the dynamic development of bilateral relations within the framework of the Agreement on Good-Neighbourliness and Alliance, which was signed on November 11, 2013 at the initiative of President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.
A regular and trust-based dialogue held at the top level is making an invaluable contribution to our common efforts. During the 15th Russia-Kazakhstan Interregional Cooperation Forum held in Petropavlovsk in November 2018, President Vladimir Putin and President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a Joint Action Plan of Russia and Kazakhstan for 2019−2021, which sets out the key priorities for bilateral trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation, including in energy, transport and space exploration, as well as in educational, research and technological exchanges. We agreed with Foreign Minister Atamkulov to do our best to implement this fundamental document, which includes the agenda of Russian-Kazakhstani partnership for the next few years.
We highly value cooperation between our foreign ministries, which will be boosted by the Plan of Measures for 2019−2020 we have signed today.
We found out that we hold identical or very close views on current global and regional topics and agreed to strengthen our interaction at the main multilateral venues such as the UN, the CIS, the SCO and the OSCE. We expressed our immense appreciation for Kazakhstan’s efforts to strengthen its international positions, primarily the performance of Kazakhstani diplomats in 2017−2018 when their country held a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Our Kazakhstani friends implemented all the priorities of Kazakhstan’s OSCE Chairmanship last year. In particular, 12 joint statements on crucial international matters were adopted last year.
We spoke at length, of course, on the importance of promoting integration within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). We agree that better use of the huge potential of Eurasian integration can enhance the competitiveness of the EAEU economies and the prosperity of our citizens. We will continue to promote the organisation’s international ties. We also talked about the role the EAEU countries’ foreign ministries and their external offices can play in this regard.
We welcomed the positive development of ties between Central Asian states and their efforts to build up trust and mutual understanding and to resolve the backlog of problems. We see such efforts as a major factor when it comes to regional stability. Today we outlined Russia’s readiness to promote the effectiveness of these efforts.
We held a detailed discussion on Afghanistan, in particular in light of the challenges and threats to security coming from it and our readiness to facilitate a political settlement in this vital member of a neighbouring region.
We noted the effectiveness of the Astana venue created for talks on a Syrian settlement. The guarantor countries’ efforts made in this format in hospitable Kazakhstan have launched a political process that is now growing on the basis of intra-Syrian agreements reached following the Syrian National Dialogue Congress. Preparations are underway for the next meeting in the Astana format, which is scheduled for February.
Overall, I believe that our talks were very fruitful. I am satisfied with our first meeting, which was meaningful and productive.
Question: As you’ve already said, a meeting on the Syrian settlement process in Astana is scheduled for February. Has an exact date been set? Is it possible to speak about a date for the summit of the Astana Three? Does Moscow tie the holding of this summit to the results of the meetings on Syria in Astana?
Sergey Lavrov: Preparations are underway for the 12th international meeting on Syria in Astana with the participation of the delegations of the government, the opposition, the three guarantor countries – Russia, Turkey and Iran – as well as observers from the UN and Jordan. As you know we regularly invited US representatives to be observers at such meetings. At first they took part in them but later on left these invitations unanswered, although I am sure that their participation would be obviously useful for the cause.
Now we are finishing up coordinating all technical details. An international meeting on Syria will be held in Astana in the middle of February. There is already an agreement in principle, an understanding that the next summit with the participation of the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran will be held next month. As soon as the details are coordinated we will let you know at once.
Question: Moscow has repeatedly voiced its concern over the implementation of the agreements with Turkey on Idlib. Does the position of Moscow mean that Ankara will be able to work within the framework of the Adana agreement only after it fulfils its commitments on Idlib?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe that many important issues have been resolved in the framework of the Syrian settlement process but there are still many other tasks on the negotiating table. I don’t think that preconditions should be attached to any of these tasks. The existence of a terrorist hotbed in Idlib is an obvious fact. Our Syrian colleagues have confirmed their willingness to eliminate it. We are ready to take actions that are envisaged by the Russia-Turkey agreement on Idlib, including provisions on a demilitarised zone. But the fact that al-Nusra and its reincarnation Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham have essentially seized the overwhelming majority of its territory does not correspond to the agreements on the security of Idlib Province. Our Turkish colleagues together with the Russian military are working on ways of overcoming this situation. Everyone understands that the terrorist hotbed cannot remain there permanently.
As for security issues on the Syria-Turkey border, they emerged primarily as a result of the US decision to withdraw its special forces and military advisors from these areas, with units loyal to the US leaving as a consequence. This situation requires urgent action to prevent a vacuum. We think Turkey and Syria could well use the 1998 Adana agreement for these purposes. The Syrian government has recently announced its readiness to work on the basis of this agreement to ensure the security of its borders. Obviously, security should be the only goal of this specific border operation. It will become a step towards the most reliable and stable settlement of the problem on this part of Syrian territory and the restoration of the Syrian government’s control over the relevant areas. This should be done in other parts of Syria as well.
Let me emphasise that it is impossible to give priority to one task over another in Syria because everything is important there. At the same time, it is necessary to eliminate terrorist hotbeds, prevent border security problems, expand humanitarian aid and create conditions for the return of refugees. It is also essential to prevent the initiatives put forward by the Syrian government and the opposition, with the active participation of the guarantor countries (Russia, Turkey and Iran), on starting the work of the Constitutional Committee as soon as possible, from being blocked by those who would like to destroy all progress in the Syrian settlement process and revive ideas that have nothing to do with the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254.