Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Rossiya Segodnya, December 11, 2015
Question: The terrorist attacks in Paris have highlighted the need for joining forces in the fight against terrorism. This issue was at the top of the agenda of the recent G20 summit. Do you think that our Western partners are coming to see the importance of cooperation with Russia? Has the idea of a broad front against ISIS, which Russia has been advocating for some time, become more realistic?
Sergey Lavrov: The series of barbarous terrorist attacks around the world has clearly shown that the attempts to create individual “islands of security” and to fight international terrorism single-handedly, by one country or a small group of countries, have no future. It is only through concerted and coordinated actions that we can deal with this global threat.
It is heartening in this connection that our Western partners are coming to see the need to join our counterterrorism efforts, as we can see from the results of the recent Russian-French summit meetings.
Russia has supported the UN Security Council resolution on fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, which was drafted by France and amended upon Russia’s initiative. At the same time, we still hold that there is no alternative to creating a broad counterterrorism coalition under the UN auspices and based on international law. We continue to advocate the passing of a UN Security Council draft resolution that was prepared by Russia in late September of this year. Our American partners have co-authored this resolution by helping us adjust it with due regard for recent developments.
We are convinced that it is possible to create a united counterterrorism front. To do this, we must forget about our differences and ambitions and abandon the practice of double standards and all attempts to use terrorists for geopolitical games.
Question: US President Barack Obama has invited Russia to join the US-led coalition. Will Russia do this? If not, why?
Sergey Lavrov: It is our firm stance that the solution to any global issue, including the fight against terrorism, must be based on international law and on decisions of the UN Security Council, which bears the brunt of responsibility for global peace and security. Russia has stated more than once that the US-led coalition against ISIS has been ineffective. Terrorists have only strengthened their position and spread their influence to more territories.
I’d like to remind you that Russia has urged the pooling of international efforts on the universal basis of international law since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, and long before the recent terrorist attacks that have claimed the lives of Russian and French citizens.
The Russian Aerospace Force is operating in Syria on the basis of an official request by the Syrian authorities. Of course, we are willing to closely coordinate our efforts with everyone who shares our common goals, and primarily the goal of liquidating the hotbed of terrorism in Syria. Closer coordination is also necessary to prevent any reoccurrence of the tragedy of November 24, when a Russian Su-24 warplane was treacherously shot down by a Turkish fighter plane over Syria.
By the way, the US’s stubborn unwillingness to complement the bilateral memorandum on preventing incidents between Russian and US combat aircraft in Syria with an agreement on the rescue of air crews looks especially strange against this background. It would appear that such an agreement should be a logical step under current conditions of the Syrian conflict. As to the question of who is willing to join forces and who is not ready for this, it should be addressed to Washington. I’d like to point out the growing awareness of the effectiveness of Russia-proposed approaches.
Question: It has been suggested that some of those who prepared and implemented the terrorist attacks in Paris have come to Europe among the refugees. Can we protect ourselves from this danger? Can such measures as the suspension of the Schengen agreement help? What experience in preventing illegal migration can Russia share with its European partners?
Sergey Lavrov: In this interdependent world, erecting fences will hardly protect you from neighbouring regions, as we can see from the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and London and the unprecedented migration crisis that has hit Europe.
We believe that half-measures, including the suspension of the Schengen agreement, will not radically improve the situation and will not reliably protect Europeans’ security. As I said, the international community must work as one against terrorism based on international law and the UN Charter. At the same time, we must not slacken our efforts to bring about a political settlement in the Middle East, primarily Syria, and to work out a comprehensive strategy for political stability and socioeconomic rehabilitation in this region based on respect for the sovereignty of regional countries. If we do this, we won’t have to build refugee camps, as President Vladimir Putin has said.
We are willing to share experience with our European colleagues, including in preventing illegal migration. A possible form of this cooperation is the Russia-EU Dialogue on Migration, which was launched in 2011. We have proposed holding a regular meeting in this format in Moscow. The next move belongs to our partners.
Question: At the last meeting on Syria in Vienna an agreement was reached to launch a political settlement in this country and hold elections under a new constitution once it is adopted. In your opinion, would Bashar al-Assad take part in this election? Would Moscow back him?
Sergey Lavrov: First, I would like to emphasise yet again that Russia rigorously abides by the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries, and respects the development paths and models they chose. This is our principled position for Syria or any other country.
The October 30 and November 14 meetings in Vienna as part of the International Syria Support Group resulted in the adoption of two important documents outlining all the principles the “external parties” are ready to support and offer to the Syrian people to help them achieve a political settlement of the crisis in their country. We are satisfied with the fact that these principles reaffirm a commitment to fundamental principles like the protection of all ethnic and religious groups and ensure a transition period that can be led and initiated by the Syrian people and based on the June 30, 2012 Geneva Communiqué.
So it would be the Syrian people who would elect the new president in Syria. No one can decide for them what the Syrian state will look like and who will run it. This is clearly stated in the Vienna documents.
Question: It seems that the G20 Summit was the first time Obama had something positive to say about the Russian Aerospace Forces campaign in Syria. Other Western leaders, for instance, David Cameron, have also mentioned the need for closer cooperation with Russia. In your opinion, could this mean a major change in the West’s or Washington’s position on this issue? Does this create an opening for a possible extension of the Russian campaign into Iraq? Maybe the US won’t oppose this as they were? Is Russia contemplating this possibility?
Sergey Lavrov: We will be able to judge the real intentions of the US and other Western powers by whether they are prepared to form a single counter-terrorist coalition, as well as by the level of cooperation between our respective military personnel in Syria. Russia has always been open to this cooperation, but unfortunately so far they have been clearly unwilling to engage in a more trust-based dialogue regarding counter-terrorist efforts.
It remains a mystery to us why information about the operations of the Russian Air Force that is being sent to our American colleagues, among other things, to the attention of their allies in the coalition was not taken into account to prevent the incident with the Su-24. The Pentagon’s refusal to exchange intelligence on the location of ISIS sites in Syria is also questionable amid assertions by the Pentagon that we were allegedly “hitting the wrong targets.” We can hardly see any logic in this.
As for Russia’s interaction with Baghdad in fighting international terrorism, we have a very advanced relationship. We are providing military technical assistance to our Iraqi partners. In seeking to coordinate our efforts to fight ISIS, Russia, Iraq, Syria and Iran opened an international information centre in the Iraqi capital this September. This issue is often raised during bilateral contacts, including at the top level.
Time will tell whether our combined efforts to fight ISIS will reach a new level. This will depend on many factors, including the progress in forming a broad international counter-terrorist coalition. In any case, let me emphasise that Iraq will remain a crucial partner for Russia in dealing with these matters.
Question: What countries does Russia intend to ask for assistance in finding those involved in the downing of the A321 commercial airliner over the Sinai Peninsula? What kind of assistance is needed? If the terrorist threat in Egypt is so high that Russia had to suspend air service, will the Foreign Ministry recommend that Russian citizens refrain from visiting Egypt and maybe other countries? If not, why?
Sergey Lavrov: Let me remind you that on November 17 at the instruction of President Vladimir Putin, the Foreign Ministry called on all the countries, organisations and people to help us find those involved in the terrorist attack that was carried out against Russia’s MetroJet airliner in Egypt on October 31. We were glad to see that almost all foreign partners told us that they were ready to cooperate in a constructive manner.
At this point what we need the most is specific information that will enable us to identify and locate those responsible for the attack. Russian special services are working on this alongside their foreign colleagues, while foreign ministries are facilitating these initiatives through diplomatic efforts. The search for terrorists will continue until all those who were involved in this crime are identified, located and held accountable, wherever they are.
As for the second part of your question, Russian air service to Egypt was temporarily suspended in accordance with the Presidential Executive Order No. 553 of November 8, 2015 On Measures to Ensure the National Security of the Russian Federation and the Protection of Citizens of the Russian Federation against Criminal and Other Illegal Acts. As long as this is in force, it is recommended that travel operators and tour agents refrain from selling tours that involve air service to these destinations. Flights by Egyptian carriers to Russia have also been suspended. Russian tourists have been flown back from Egypt; the last group returned to Russia on November 30.
In its statements, the Foreign Ministry provides impartial assessments of the security threats that Russian citizens, including tourists, could face in other countries such as terrorist threats. For example, on November 26, the Foreign Ministry confirmed the recommendation that Russians refrain from visiting Turkey, and called on those on private business in that country, to return home. Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency uses the Foreign Ministry’s statements when it informs travel operators, tour agents and tourists.
The relevant authorities in Russia and Egypt are working together on a set of measures to enhance security in the airports at Cairo, Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh. The Foreign Ministry recognises that the Egyptian authorities have been acting responsibly, expressing their willingness for comprehensive cooperation on this track. Once this work is completed and the mechanisms are in place, the issue of resuming air service between our countries can be discussed.