Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Mevlut Çavusoglu following the 6th meeting of the Russian-Turkish Joint Strategic Planning Group, Moscow, March 14, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held the sixth meeting of the Russian-Turkish Joint Strategic Planning Group that is part of the High-Level Cooperation Council (HLCC) headed by the presidents of Russia and Turkey.
We focused on preparing the next top-level meeting that will take place in early April in Turkey, and also reviewed matters that will be on the agenda of this meeting.
In terms of bilateral relations, we focused on the activity of our respective economics agencies to deliver on the objectives set by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step up investment and trade cooperation.
We noted with satisfaction a 37 per cent increase in trade to $21.6 billion in 2017.
We agreed to continue moving toward lifting restrictions, including on agricultural products, as well as on other goods we supply to each other. This is largely related to the need to streamline bureaucratic procedures that stand in the way.
Of course, we shared a positive view of progress in implementing strategic projects, such as the Turkish Stream pipeline as well as the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant at Akkuyu.
We expressed our support for the proactive efforts undertaken by the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, and agreed on the need to revitalise the Russian-Turkish Public Forum. We hope that its next meeting will take place ahead of the High-Level Cooperation Council meeting.
We also noted the fulfilment of the contract to deliver S-400 Triumph surface-to-air systems to Turkey alongside other current and future projects in the field of military-technical cooperation. We noted that in all these areas our relations are developing in keeping with the agreements between the presidents of the two countries.
We discussed preparations for the cross years of culture and tourism to be marked by Russia and Turkey in 2019. There are some very interesting projects. I strongly believe that the people in Russia and Turkey will be positive and enthusiastic about these events.
We noted the record growth of the number of Russian tourists arriving in Turkey. Last year the number of our citizens who visited Turkey reached 4.7 million people. Last year we overtook Germany in this number, which had been the leader in terms of tourists visiting Turkey.
We reaffirmed the need to continue observing our agreements on ensuring the security of tourists, which were reached by the relevant agencies. Naturally, we will be guided by the priority of the life and health of our citizens in approaching another important issue that we would like to resolve with our Turkish colleagues – mutual easing of travel restrictions. We discussed several steps that could ease visa procedures now and that could eventually lead to the return of visa-free travel.
We also reviewed international issues, emphasising the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, primarily in Syria where Russia, Turkey and Iran are working within the Astana format on implementing the agreements of the presidents of these three countries. The results of the Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi, which was a joint initiative of the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran, were approved by the United Nations and became the foundation for preparations for resuming full talks on a political settlement of the Syrian crisis in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
Our agenda included such issues as the situation in the South Caucasus, Central Asia, the Black Sea region and Ukraine, as well as cooperation in international organisations, including the UN, the OSCE and the EU.
I believe today’s agreements on promoting our bilateral agenda and consolidating foreign policy cooperation are making a very useful contribution to the preparations for a regular summit that, as I mentioned, will take place in early April in Turkey.
Question: Did you discuss military-technical cooperation in this meeting? When will the S-400 air defence missile systems be delivered to Turkey?
Sergey Lavrov: As I said in my opening remarks, we discussed military-technical cooperation, including the Russian-Turkish treaty on supplying the Republic of Turkey with S-400 air defence missile systems. These issues are now being discussed in practical terms by the experts – this is not public information at this time. I can only say that we are ready to meet the request of our Turkish partners to expedite this agreement.
Question: Have you discussed the problem of US military bases in eastern Syria? What responses are there to the plans to split the country?
Sergey Lavrov: As part of other aspects of the Syrian problem, we have discussed US actions, primarily on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and along the entire length of the eastern Syrian Arab Republic, where the Americans are creating their military bases. I am confident that there are no grounds for doubting the intention – at least that harboured by certain members of the US leadership – to entrench themselves there for long, if not for good, and facilitate the split of the Syrian Arab Republic. Most varied methods are being used for this purpose. Yesterday, we informed the public via the Russian Ministry of Defence and the Russian Foreign Ministry that another series of provocations involving the use of chemical weapons were being prepared. They will stage shows, hysterical as usual, in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere, to attract the world community’s attention to the suffering of peaceful civilians and innocent victims. Under this pretext, the US-led coalition are planning to use force, including against the Syrian capital. Yesterday, we issued a harsh warning to the US through all channels. I hope these irresponsible steps will not be implemented. But in any event, they are indicative of the fact that the policy of creating any pretexts to topple the regime remains on the US agenda. It is not for nothing that they say that all options are on the table. This will be a violation of all thinkable norms of international law, UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and Washington’s solemn assurances that it is not attempting to undermine the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. This will have to be proved by deeds, not by words. There are too many deeds that are at variance with this rhetoric.
You asked whether our Turkish colleagues had discussed with us the things they considered in contacts with the Americans. Yes, today we received information from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. We are grateful for this. As he said, we do not agree one hundred percent on all counts, but nevertheless, our exchange of views helps to coordinate efforts and move forward towards the goals set by UN Security Council Resolution 2254 within the framework of the Astana Process, which were confirmed by the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Question: You said recently that the Russian Foreign Ministry has not yet received an official request from London on the Sergey Skripal case. Has anything changed during the day? Moscow also drew attention to the need to conduct a joint investigation and presentation of samples of the toxic agent. Is there any progress in this case?
Sergey Lavrov: There is regress. We are not seeing any progress. We have not yet received any official inquiry from London on the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter. In turn, we officially notified the Brits that we will be ready to answer their inquiry if they formulate it on the basis of their own commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) that requires that an official inquiry is sent in such cases to the competent bodies of the country that is suspected of the crime that has been committed. Such an inquiry has not been sent.
Moreover, a spokesman of the United Kingdom in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons started asking our representative why we are bringing the Chemical Weapons Convention into this conversation. It was allegedly enough for British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to have invited the Russian ambassador and told him everything. This is amazing self-conceit that is visible in the steps taken by London not only in this case but also in many other situations. We calmly explained once again that holding consultations in accordance with the CWC is mandatory, not optional. If there are no more experts in London that could advise the heads of the Foreign Office and Downing Street how a law-abiding member of the international community should behave in such cases, this is not our problem. When the official inquiry is made we will definitely respond to it in 10 days in line with our CWC obligations. Our answer will meet the requirements of this international document. However, for the time being instead of making this inquiry the United Kingdom continues playing political games.
Yesterday Theresa May sent an official address to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, which was distributed in New York. It said the chemical was produced in the USSR and later on became Russia’s property. How does this correspond to the complete destruction of chemical arms by this country, which was registered by the CWC in the presence of observers, including US experts? This question is not answered. It is claimed that nobody but Russia could bring this chemical to Britain and nobody but Russia has motives to target these victims. I will leave this allegation without any comment because yesterday Russian and Western media provided numerous arguments demonstrating that Russia could not have any motives for the crime.
Meanwhile, those who would like to continue this Russophobic campaign in all areas of human activities without exception could have and definitely had motives for it.
In her letter Ms May uses the phrase “highly likely” about her assertions (I think this is the most interesting point in it). People who are urging respect for international law simultaneously refuse to abide by their CWC commitments. Talking about some party’s involvement in certain actions and describing it as “highly likely” is not really defensible or serious.
Incidentally, such terms as “highly likely” or “with high confidence” were frequently used in the report on the notorious incident involving the use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, on April 4. This incident was investigated remotely, in part by laboratories located in the UK. The results of the investigation were forwarded to The Hague. When we were told that this organisation will rely on the information of a British laboratory, we asked our British colleagues competently as representatives of any country that want to have precise information to tell us how samples from Khan Shaykhun were received. We were told that this area was controlled by militants and was unsafe. We wanted to know how the analysis was conducted and how samples were delivered to the relevant laboratories.
We were unceremoniously denied any information. London has been repeatedly employed this approach – we know everything, believe us, and we demand that you accept everything.
I even thought that this approach outdoes even Soviet Prosecutor-General Andrey Vyshinsky who used to say that “confession is the tsarina of all evidence.”
But this is not enough for our British colleagues and those who start supporting them without any proof, without even knowing the results of the investigation that has not yet been completed. For them it is not confession but suspicion that they voice themselves that should be treated by the international community as “the tsarina of all evidence.” There is no deal on that. We will uphold international law. We do not see our partners putting forward any arguments. Those who make accusations without citing any facts will be taken to task for their crude attempt to mislead the public.