Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement at the Rome Med 2020 – Mediterranean Dialogues international conference Moscow, December 4, 2020
Thank you for inviting me to the Rome Med 2020 – Mediterranean Dialogues conference. Unfortunately, I could not come to Rome this time. This meeting is being held online, but it is important that we continue with our discussion.
It is deeply regrettable that the rich unification potential of the Mediterranean is not being utilised today. The Southern Mediterranean is still plagued by numerous problems such as the terrorist threat, the sway of organised crime, humanitarian emergencies and numerous infringements on human rights and the rights of national minorities, which has led to a mass exodus of refugees and migrants from the region. We are deeply concerned about the situation with Christians in the Middle East, who are being harassed and persecuted. They are paying an unacceptably high price for the irresponsible geopolitical games played by Washington and its European allies, who have decided to test the unipolar world order on the people of the Middle East and North Africa, and to force on them the development formulas that disregard these nations’ values. It was an attempt to bring to the Middle East and North Africa the rules on which the world order must be based, according to the West, and which completely disregard universal norms and principles of international law.
Problems have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has increased socio-economic instability, hitting the most vulnerable groups of people especially hard.
The majority of these problems have trans-border character. The challenges facing the region are having an impact on other parts of the world. Foreign terrorist fighters are a matter of special concern. After taking part in hostilities in the region, they return to their home countries, where they start active subversion, propaganda and recruiting operations.
We have stated on numerous occasions that peace and stability can only be restored in the Middle East and North Africa, and conditions can only be created for the development and prosperity of their people on the basis of international law. This calls for an end to foreign interference, respect for the UN Charter and states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as for an inclusive national dialogue in every country divided by civil discord.
Russia has adhered to this policy in all regional developments, including in Syria. A stable ceasefire is being maintained on a larger part of the Syrian territory. Largely thanks to Russia’s assistance, the Syrian Government has broken the back of terrorism in the country. The current goal, in addition to eliminating the remaining terrorist groups, is to create dignified living conditions for the millions of Syrian citizens who have survived this devastating war. This calls for the involvement of the entire international community.
Regrettably, we have to point out that positive results achieved by Damascus in the field of political settlement are being set off by the illegal presence of US troops, which are being openly used to encourage separatism and hinder the restoration of the country’s unity. Instead of getting support, Damascus has got the Caesar Act, new US and European sanctions, unsubstantiated and groundless accusations of chemical attacks and war crimes. The West applies double standards and refuses to help Syria even when it comes to humanitarian problems. The West continues with its policy of economic strangulation of the Syrian Arab Republic even amid the pandemic.
The problem is particularly acute for the millions of Syrians who found refuge in neighbouring countries and several other states, including in the Mediterranean. Russia wholeheartedly supported the idea of an international conference on the return of refugees, which was held in Damascus on November 11-12, 2020. Regrettably, many countries in Europe, including EU members, and in the Mediterranean succumbed to harsh US pressure, refusing to send their delegations to the event. Moreover, the United States forced the UN, which is a universal organisation, to limit its participation in the Damascus conference, attending it as an observer. I don’t think this reflects well on the UN.
We are also concerned about the developments in another regional country, Libya. Its statehood was destroyed in NATO’s air raids in 2011. Now all of us have to deal with the consequences of that absolutely illegal act of aggression. We welcomed the signing of a ceasefire agreement at the October 23 meeting of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission in Geneva as a positive step towards an inclusive national dialogue. But progress on the political track has stalled. The recent meetings did not produce the headway everyone hoped for. We believe that at this stage the main task for the international community is to help Libyans overcome mistrust and find compromise solutions, without trying to enforce external solutions on them or giving priority to either side. It is alarming that a new Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya has not been appointed yet. Our American colleagues have been hampering this for months, disregarding the position of the African Union, trying to dictate conditions to it and refusing to look for a compromise that would suit all sides.
The revival of the Libyan oil sector could have a positive impact on the overall situation in Libya. Relevant agreements have been coordinated between the command of the Libyan National Army and representatives of the Tripoli administration. The main thing now is for hydrocarbon export revenues to be distributed fairly and transparently in the interests of all Libyans and to be used for rebuilding the ruined national economy.
There is serious concern about the situation in the Persian Gulf. President of Russia Vladimir Putin has recently proposed holding an online meeting of the heads of state of UN Security Council permanent members, with the participation of Germany and Iran. The proposal included outlining steps that can prevent the exacerbation of confrontation and coordinating the parameters of joint efforts to facilitate the establishment of a collective security system in the Persian Gulf. Russia advanced this concept many years ago. We have renewed it last summer, submitted it for the consideration of the international community and presented it at the UN Security Council debate we organised at the level of foreign ministers in October this year.
Overall, it is important to work towards the settlement of all these and other conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa – we must keep in mind Yemen as well. The situation in that complicated region will never be completely stabilised as long as the old wound of the Arab-Israeli conflict remains open. We are closely watching the nascent normalisation of relations between Israel and several Arab countries. We believe that any move towards interaction is a positive development. However, we also think that such rapprochement must not be accepted as a substitute for the settlement of the Palestinian problem on the basis of international law. We must consolidate international efforts in order to resume direct Palestinian-Israeli talks as soon as possible. Any unilateral actions by Israel should be avoided. I am referring to Israel’s rapidly intensified settlement policy and the illegal demolition of Palestinian houses in the West Bank.
This is a good occasion to mention the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. We regard as unacceptable any actions that can exacerbate the conflict potential there. There is a universal platform for effective dispute resolution – the UN. A mechanism for the delimitation of exclusive economic zones and continental shelf is set out in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and it must be used.
We are not against the implementation of energy projects aimed at diversifying gas supply routes to Europe, including in that region. At the same time, we refuse to accept political bias in cooperation in this sphere. The choice must be made by the consumer countries themselves based on the logic of free competition, economic expediency and benefit, rather than under the influence of ultimatums and threats made across the ocean.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe that it is in our common interests to do everything we can to transform the Mediterranean from an area of confrontation into a bridge connecting the North and the South, so that the regional nations gain access to the benefits of peace and prosperity. This is a difficult but possible objective, provided we join our efforts to attain it. Russia is ready to continue providing all-round assistance towards this.