Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at a meeting with participants in the Dialogue for the Future research and education programme and active members of the Gorchakov Fund’s Club of Friends, Moscow, December 14, 2016
As Mr Drachevsky has said, the format of our traditional meeting within the Dialogue for the Future framework has been expanded this year due to the involvement of the Gorchakov Fund’s Club of Friends. I’m glad to see a growing number of young people from many countries, including young researchers and representatives from the Gorchakov Fund’s regional youth programmes, who want to get a better view of international relations and Russia’s position in this complex situation. It is our pleasure to satisfy this interest.
I believe that the world can and must be safer and more comfortable. If all members of the international community shared this view, we would live in a more peaceful world and would have more confidence in our future. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues cannot resist the temptation to try to maintain their once dominant positions, to change political regimes in sovereign states to their own liking, to export not just revolutions but democracy, which results in bloodshed in most cases. Of course, this policy contradicts the standards of international law and the need to maintain a democratic world order. This policy also runs counter to historical experience. We have seen many times over the past decades that the dream of global domination is a dangerous chimera.
Attempts to enforce development models at all costs and without due regard for national traditions, including by provoking revolts and through direct military intervention, have destroyed statehood in several countries and turned vast regions, primarily the Middle East and North Africa, into zones of chaos and anarchy and a source of terrorist threat and extremism. As I said, all of this is a direct result of the untenable policy of interference in internal affairs, manipulation of the development models of states and a passion for geopolitical engineering.
We are especially concerned about Syria, which has been a zone of tragedy for more than five years. The terrorists were on the verge of seizing the country’s capital 18 months ago. In that period, Russia sent its Aerospace Forces to Syria at the request of its legitimate government to help the Syrian Army fight the terrorists. This has prevented ISIS from implementing its plans to seize control of not just large regions in Iraq, where they had been firmly established by that time, but also in Syria, in particular, the eastern coast, Aleppo and Damascus. A huge “terrorist international” – tens of thousands of terrorists from over 80 countries – has been fighting to achieve these unsavoury goals. Only the intervention of the Russian Aerospace Forces helped prevent the tragedy – and this only with great difficulty – and push the terrorists back. I hope the situation in eastern Aleppo will settle in two or three days. We have created humanitarian corridors which tens of thousands of civilians have used and are using to leave the city and receive humanitarian assistance. We have also created corridors the terrorists can use to leave on good terms and have offered them security guarantees if they left the city. It’s another matter that we will yet have to fight them in some other place where they settle. But our immediate goal is to end the tragedy of Aleppo, to help people resume their peaceful lives and start rebuilding this ancient and Syria’s largest city. I hope the terrorists will stop their resistance in two or three days. The minority who refuse to do so will have to face the circumstances.
It is obvious that crises can be only settled politically, including the crises in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq. The developments in these countries, and primarily in Iraq where an operation to seize Mosul is ongoing, are connected in a highly dramatic manner to the exodus of civilians and the numerous tragic instances when the US air force and the aircraft of the US-led coalition obviously hit the wrong targets, such as the positions of the local regular army or civilian facilities.
As it often happens in this world, the sole purpose of the propaganda machine is to demonise the Syrian Government, as well as Russia and Iran as supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his fight against terrorism, and to make up all kinds of fake stories to prove war crimes allegedly committed in eastern Aleppo. In a number of cases these attempts have already been exposed. There is that organisation called the White Helmets. The BBC went as far as nominate it for the Nobel peace prize. What these White Helmets do is pretend to save people from under the rubble left after Russian air strikes. The BBC even showed footage of this kind, but later the full video appeared on YouTube in which not only do we see how a man is extracted from the rubble, but also how he gets into it so that he can be saved. They did a few takes. The BBC was even forced to offer excuses, and later came out with a statement that these White Helmets were just kidding. What an innocent statement. There was also this story about an eight-year old girl Aya who, if the reports are to be believed, was saved from certain death three times on the same day by different people in different Syrian cities. She also appeared in a fake video.
This has become all too common. When western countries want to demonise someone, they use outright lies. They later acknowledge it, but it is too late. The British finally acknowledged last year that they had misled the international community in claiming that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. The US also knew that, at least the CIA did, but it slipped a vial to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who, confident in the US secret services, waved this vial in the UN Security Council.
Outright lies and forgery have long been used, and our Western colleagues have mastered them. But having lied once, you can hardly expect others to believe you in the future. I, for example, have heard first-hand reports by independent humanitarian organisations who have their representatives in eastern Aleppo. No one confirmed that atrocities were being committed there or that military-aged people trying to leave eastern Aleppo were being kidnapped. At the same time, they are not free people. International NGOs receive money for their work, so even when they have an objective assessment they are not always able to make it public.
Nevertheless, I am confident that those who want truth have every possibility to get it. We are still confident that a military solution is not an option for Syria or any other country. Political processes are underway in all crisis situations that I have mentioned (Syria, Iraq, and Libya). Neither in Iraq nor Libya, much less in Yemen, has anyone requested an immediate cessation of hostilities and one or two weeks of silence before sitting down at the negotiating table. But this is what they are asking in Syria. And every time these demands of a ceasefire have a single purpose: to give the fighters a break, reinforcements and ammunition. This is what has recently happened in Palmyra.
The much advertised operation to retake Mosul all of a sudden came to a halt; the city was not fully surrounded, leaving a corridor so that criminals and ISIS fighters could leave. They left safe and sound, with their weapons, including heavy ones, and headed to Palmyra. They got a signal that Mosul will not be taken right now, and that the operation has been delayed until spring. Such games do no good.
Unfortunately, those playing with geopolitical engineering have not heeded the lessons of the past. In order to counter Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the US backed the Mujahedeen and armed them. It was following the Afghan campaign that Al-Qaeda emerged, spiralled out of control and on September 11, 2001 attacked those who nurtured it. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq under a false pretext and threw all members of Ba’ath Party into the street. They had formed the core of Saddam Hussein’s army, police and security forces. All these young and grown men, with extensive military training, found themselves unemployed. They are now the bulk of ISIS forces, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whom the US released from an Iraqi prison in 2006, is at the head of this organisation. Now, I am not saying that this was done intentionally, that they wanted to create ISIS. But having done what they did in Iraq, they have turned these people against them. ISIS ranks are dominated not be religious fanatics, but people who understood that they do not have any job while ISIS pays them money, and helps them make a living and make ends meet.
The Americans finally began to fight ISIS, but only after it had taken the lives of several American citizens. The Americans have engaged in this fight over the past two years. Prior to that, the US-led coalition was just treading water, and they are still unwilling to focus specifically on neutralising Jabhat al-Nusra. It turns out that following the creation of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, the Americans are consciously or unconsciously working to create another monster which will go out of control, committing terrible terrorist attacks around the world.
Things can go bad just about anywhere. It is imperative that intelligence services, politicians, and the military are interacting in order to create some kind of a safety net allowing us to have a system of information sharing. A proposal advanced by the FSB to establish a terrorist organisation database now enjoys wide support. I’m confident that this is a promising initiative. As a matter of fact, this is a concrete step to implement the idea put forward by President Putin when he spoke at last year’s UN General Assembly about forming a truly universal antiterrorist front. We are working on these issues, and, as I mentioned, we’ve been ready for a long time now for the UN to resume talks. So far, they have been delayed.
There are some petulant people there who have formed the so-called High Negotiations Committee (HNC). This is just one group of the Syrian opposition made up mostly of immigrants, which has little influence on what is happening on the ground, but, for some reason, it receives strong support from the so-called Friends of Syria Group, which includes Western countries and countries of the region. Many of them insist that the HNC must be the only representative of the opposition during talks with the Syrian government. The committee itself says it will not negotiate with the government until Assad goes away or disappears from the face of the earth some other way, although the UN Security Council resolution, which calls for holding talks, drafting a constitution, and holding elections, does not include any preconditions for such negotiations to begin.
While the UN has been literally held by the hand and not allowed to do things they are paid to do in accordance with UN Security Council resolution, we, together with our colleagues, have already begun to work with those who are really in control of what happens on the ground. We are talking with all the militant groups, except ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, which are on the terrorist list. We are in dialogue with all the countries of the region, including our Turkish colleagues, who also have contacts with the militants on the ground, including the armed opposition. I think that this channel can be more effective than the many months of fruitless gatherings with our US colleagues. We maintain contacts with them, but every time we reach an agreement on something, the Americans walk away from it.
That was the case in September and early December. We are being lectured and told that Russia proposes agreeing upon the corridors to let the militants out, but first you need to immediately stop all hostilities and only then, several days later, proceed with the creation of such corridors. This argument has been on the table since August. Instead of bickering and trying to impose pauses on us, which have always been used by the fighters to regroup, the Americans could have agreed a long time ago to spend three days in order to create such corridors, and we would have removed the militants from eastern Aleppo a long time ago. But they stick to this stance for reasons unknown to me.
The only explanation that I have already provided is that they want to keep Jabhat al-Nusra safe from airstrikes. Nevertheless, you can see that fighters are already leaving Aleppo. Many of them have realised that staying there is pointless. Civilians are also leaving the city. By the way, the US representatives of international organisations publicly state that this is a bad idea and that the Russians are allegedly forcing civilians out from Aleppo. Nobody is forcing anyone out. Only those who want to leave are leaving. When the Mosul operation was planned in Iraq, the Americans were doing exactly the same thing that we are doing now in Aleppo. They called on the civilian population to leave town. But things that the Americans can do, they cannot allow Russia to do.
I’ll take a moment to discuss other matters. In addition to anti-terrorism cooperation, we want to combine our efforts with regard to all other issues of world politics. There’s a lot of work, including various conflicts, even long-standing ones, such as the Middle East conflict. Our failure to resolve it has a major impact on the extremists’ ability to recruit more supporters, arguing that the Palestinians were promised a state in 1948, but they are still without one after all those years.
There’s a wide field for cooperation on economic issues, social development, combating drug trafficking and the narcotics trade in general. All these issues are part of our agenda and regular contacts, including in the UN, the G20, the SCO, BRICS, the EAEU, the CIS and the CSTO. All of these organisations are promoting close contacts with each other and other multilateral entities.
A few words about the Foreign Policy Concept, which President Putin approved on November 30, 2016. It has been revised to reflect changes in the global situation, but it has also reaffirmed the continuity of our foreign policy and its fundamental principles, such as independent actions within the framework of Russia’s obligations under international treaties, the multi-vector nature of our foreign policy, based on readiness to work with anyone who is willing to do the same on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, as well as openness to developing cooperation with everyone on this basis. We see that the majority of our partners accept these principles as part of the objective emergence of a fairer and more stable polycentric world order, which will better reflect the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world and will respect the desire of nations to determine their future for themselves.
We welcome the desire and interest of the global public for developing relations with us and for cooperating with our Foreign Ministry. We have a regular format of dialogue with civil society, in the foreign minister’s annual meetings with NGOs and these organisations’ regular contacts with the ministry departments that are concerned with these their spheres of activity and programmes. We appreciate the contribution of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund, the Russian International Affairs Council, the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy and the Russkiy Mir Foundation to promoting dialogue and creating dialogue venues in order to provide objective information about Russia and Russia’s position on international issues. I know that researchers, political analysts and experts are facing crucial tasks. We have an interest in your research and in a direct exchange of opinions. We used the ideas that were formulated thanks to this dialogue when revising our Foreign Policy Concept. Obviously, we want to carry on this interaction and to look for new forms of it.
As you know, we have created a new format, the Primakov Readings International Forum, which has been recently held in Russia with much success. The Readings were preceded by a summit of the global think tanks, where world-class experts met in Moscow. Last week, these discussions continued at an international conference of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, entitled Hypocrisy vs Democracy. I attended this interesting event, which brought together outstanding representatives of the intellectual elite from Europe and the United States.
As President Vladimir Putin has said in his address to the Federal Assembly this year, we do not want confrontation with anyone. We do not seek and never have sought enemies. We need friends. But we will not allow our interests to be infringed upon or ignored. We want to and will decide our destiny ourselves and will build our present and future without others’ unasked-for advice and prompting, but based on international law, our own experience and the experience of countries that want to maintain an equal dialogue and to exchange historical views of events.