Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions on the sidelines of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, New York, September 28, 2018
Question: Is Russia disappointed by the new administration of Cyril Ramaphosa declining to move ahead on the nuclear deal with ROSATOM? That was something President Putin raised at the BRICS Summit earlier this year in Johannesburg. Can you give us Russia’s position on this deal?
And also there have been some reports that Russia is trying to lure hundreds, if not thousands of disgruntled farmers over the land question. The land question is a very big topic in South Africa. Are you trying to lure some of those farmers to Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: I didn’t understand what you said about the farmers. What was that?
Question: There is a policy of land expropriation in South Africa that they are implementing. This is a parliamentary process. People could lose their farms without compensation. There is talk that Russia is trying to take the gap, if you will, and lure some of those disgruntled farmers to Russia.
Sergey Lavrov: No. Now we are busy with meddling into the elections in Catalonia. No time for this, you know, and too far.
As for the nuclear power station, any deal depends on the readiness of both sides to agree on the format of the deal, on the availability of resources, and so on. This rethinking started before the current president became president. If the government of South Africa found out, as it was looking into the project, that it needed some time, and some more analysis of the situation, it is their sovereign right, and we always respect the rights of our partners.
Question: Can I ask you a question about Syria and about the important deal Russia did with Turkey? There is a question in this deal, which is what happens with the fighters from the group that used to call themselves al-Nusra? Can you explain to us, how they are going to leave, and if they don’t leave, who is going to force them to leave and where they are going to go?
Sergey Lavrov: The agreement on the Idlib de-escalation zone that provides for the creation of a demilitarised belt 15 to 20 kilometres deep was reached by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Syrian government endorsed it, and so did Iran as the third party in the Astana format. Two days ago we had a meeting here with the Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu, during which we stated that the agreement has taken hold: the withdrawal of fighters and heavy weapons from the demilitarised belt is underway. The question is what is going to happen next.
As you probably know, if you have read the memorandum that was signed in Sochi, Turkey undertook to separate opposition forces that are ready to take part in the political process from Jabhat al-Nusra. This is not an easy job. The United States had promised us to do this back under the Obama administration on numerous occasions, and later under the current administration but was never able to do it. We truly hope that Turkey succeeds in separating normal, adequate and patriotic opposition from Jabhat al-Nusra, since this is a terrorist organisation that was designated as such by the UN Security Council. It has no place there. There is much speculation about how the problem with these fighters will be resolved, there was even talk that they may be transferred to some other hotspots, for example to Afghanistan. This is all unacceptable. Terrorists must be destroyed, or suffer the punishment they deserve and put on trial. The way this will be done will have to be decided as the ongoing developments unfold. No one pretends that the agreement that was reached in Sochi dotted all the i's and crossed all the t’s, and that it will now serve as a roadmap to a definitive solution. However, it is a fact that we have won time for the civilians and for removing a direct threat to the Syrian army and the Russian base, since it is from this demilitarised belt that government troops and our military base were shelled.
We will proceed in an extremely pointed and cautious manner so as to minimise all possible risks for the civilians. I guarantee you that we will not allow what happened in Raqqa or Mosul, Iraq, when they were liberated by the US-led counter-terrorist coalition, to happen again. We prevented this in Aleppo and in Eastern Ghouta, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced by hostilities are returning back there. Only recently, a journalist from a certain media outlet travelled to Raqqa, and reported that people are trying to return back there, but are unable to do so with unburied bodies still out there on the streets and due to the fact that the area is infested with mines. This is also a problem that needs to be resolved.
Let us not forget that there are other territories in Syria that require the attention of the international community. I am referring to a 55 kilometre area unilaterally created by the US around Al Tanf. The Rukban refugee camp is located within this area. The living conditions there are terrifying. This 55-kilometre radius around Al-Tanf has become a refuge for terrorists, and this is well known. We are currently talking to the US in order to put an end to this illegal situation. The United Nations joined the efforts to move people out of the camp where they face inhumane conditions. I hope that we will pay attention to all the problems that exist in Syria. Regarding Idlib, we will definitely share with our colleagues from the media information about our next steps.
Question: September 13 marks three years since the Russian military launched their operation in Syria. This might be a good date for summing up what has been achieved both on the ground and in the political sense. We would like to ask you to do this.
But now back to what US President Donald Trump said at his news conference… He took time thanking Russia, Syria and Iran for suspending the Idlib operation but then said, “That doesn’t mean they can’t be selective … you know, go in, and they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do, with terrorists.” Do you perceive this as a signal of sorts? Do you think his own diplomats will accept this as a signal?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t know how some or other things are perceived in the government circles of other countries and therefore I would rather refrain from commenting on this here. As I said in my reply to the previous question, terrorists should be destroyed or, as an alternative, put on trial. If they resist, they must be destroyed. There are methods that the military have mastered. There are special operations forces that have mastered urban antiterrorist warfare tactics. I suppose professionals should consider these matters but there is no doubt that their position of principle on the unacceptability of leaving a terrorist hotbed in Syria is the same as ours.
As for the political results and prospects of the three years, during which Russia’s Aerospace Forces and military police are present in Syria at the request of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, I would identify as the main achievements, first of all the elimination of the terrorist hotbeds in the south, in Homs, and in Eastern Ghouta. Second, the problems of rendering humanitarian aid to the civilian population are addressed more actively. Third, the establishment of the Astana Three at the political front, a group that assumed the initiative to promote the political process during the period of inaction of our UN colleagues. At the previous stage, this work was crowned with the holding of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in January of this year. The Congress approved a declaration, which for the first time stressed on behalf of the Government of Syria and the opposition agreed to work on the basis of the 12 principles formulated by UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Before the Sochi Congress, Staffan de Mistura failed to win support for these 12 principles from both the opposition and the Government of Syria. In the same declaration, a decision was made to create a Constitutional Committee, where Syrians themselves would decide what constitutional system they wanted to see in their country. Today, this Constitutional Committee is being formed, with President Bashar Assad of Syria being the first to send his representatives to this body. It took the opposition several months to make their lists.
The job for now is to add civil society representatives to the Constitutional Committee list. An important consideration in this regard is that we should not rush things and adopt a most careful approach to that part of the Committee, which will represent the civil society: It should be acceptable to both the Government of Syria and the opposition. Regrettably, the so-called Small Group on Syria, primarily the four Western and three Arab countries, which met not so long ago, issued a statement urging the Constitutional Committee to start its work immediately. We know that pressure to this effect is being brought to bear on Staffan de Mistura, whom they are trying to make declare that he is establishing the Committee on his own with such and such a composition. This will be a great mistake. This pressure is aimed at crossing out everything that has been achieved within the framework of the Astana Process and trying again to prevent the Syrians themselves from deciding what country they will live in and how they will organise their life. Once again they want to impose on this long-suffering country a scheme coordinated with the outside forces. These approaches are being observed all too often. I will not name the countries, but almost any conflict that exists now in the Near and Middle East can be a good example of how outside players commit to the paper their own vision of how people ought to live in this or that country. There is no single instance of these attempts bringing stability and normalisation to a state in question. This is why we will insist on not rushing things. Of course, we cannot procrastinate ad infinitum, but the quality of the Constitutional Committee’s composition is more important than some artificially devised deadline. We don’t see any artificial timeframes in any other conflict, no one is demanding them, and so in this case too we must be guided primarily by the need to help the Syrians rather than dictate to them what they should do.
Question (translated from English): Russia said it will do everything within its power to protect JCPOA. Does this include creating a system for purchasing Iranian oil? Do Russia and China have plans for Iranian oil bypassing US sanctions?
The US Permanent Representative to the UN Nikki Haley accuses Russia of trying to ease sanctions against North Korea to extend the Trans-Siberian railway to South and North Korea. Would you like to comment on this?
Sergey Lavrov: My answer is very simple – this is something both Koreas want. If our American colleagues’ words about wanting prosperity for the North and, naturally, South Korea, are sincere, they should not have any problem here with the proposal that we made, which was discussed for a long time between us, Seoul and Pyongyang. It is to benefit the development of infrastructure in Northeast Asia, to serve the interests of all those who trade between Asia and Europe. This will be one of the shortest and most effective trade transit routes.
Answering the question on Iran, I must remind you that on July 6, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, China and Russia – as well as Iran – held a Joint Commission meeting chaired by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, where the European parties to the deal took the initiative to form ad hoc consultative mechanisms, which would consider how to continue to provide the economic benefits that are due to Iran in accordance with the 2015 agreement, and prevent any outside parties from influencing the arrangements to be developed in financial, banking and other sectors.
We met in the same format on September 24 and the Europeans confirmed that the work is underway, and our experts are also involved in it. I can see good opportunities here, unless our European colleagues resort to the excuse that their companies do not want to work in Iran. This would be a big mistake. I hope neither of us will step aside and shrug, well, businesses do not want to, we cannot force them. Such words are already being said, and some companies, including European ones, are leaving Iran. But others are filling their places. Europeans are aware how easy it is to lose the market, and how difficult it would be to return. This is not politics. It is a commitment to what was agreed. In our country, a bargain is a bargain, especially when that bargain is put on paper and sealed by the UN Security Council decisions.
As for the use of national currencies in payments, so as not to depend too much on the US dollar, this idea has long been implemented and put into practice in our relations with China and several other countries, as well as between countries that are partners but are third parties in relation to Russia. This is only natural. Our Western friends are reluctant to mention international law, but prefer talking about a rules based order. One of the rules, one of the pillars of that order was the dollar system, which was guaranteed by the United States. As soon as the United States began to abuse the position of the dollar in the global monetary and financial system, all countries that are at least a little concerned about their future began to look for ways to avoid such dependence. So this process will go on and will ultimately weaken the United States and its impact on the global economy.
Speaking about the barter system in the Iranian oil trade, as our European colleagues have proposed, we are discussing all the ways and possibilities of ensuring that Iran received what it was promised by the UN Security Council.
Question: This morning your counterpart US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with GCC Foreign Ministers plus the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt. They agreed on a strategic coalition for the Middle East to stabilise Yemen, Syria and Iraq, and to stop the malign activities from Iran. Where do you stand regarding this strategic coalition? How do you evaluate Russia’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries?
Sergey Lavrov: We have very good relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Russia maintains an advanced dialogue with each of the GCC countries, and good relations in trade and the economy. We have established and are about to expand military technical cooperation with a number of these countries. Russia highly values these relations.
Apart from maintaining bilateral ties with each of these countries, Russia also takes part in ministerial meetings in the Russia plus Gulf Countries format with regular meetings either in Russia or one of the countries of the region. This mechanism is also very useful in terms of promoting dialogue and exchanging views on regional matters.
As for the Middle East Strategic Alliance, we have heard that this alliance is about to take shape. I am aware of the ministerial level meeting that took place this morning. That said, there was no announcement of the final decision or the establishment of the alliance. At the outset the decision was to be announced at an October summit in Washington, but the event was postponed until early 2019. Let’s refrain from drawing any hasty conclusions.
You mentioned plans to promote stabilisation in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, while constraining Iran. This seems to suggest that in order to promote stability in these three countries: Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Iran’s positions have to be weakened, if not suppressed altogether so as to be able to do away with any Iranian influence. I am not the one to judge whether these plans are realistic, but there is no way a country like Iran, with its history, population and civilizational values, can be locked within its borders, as if in a cage.
Saudi Arabia has legitimate interests of its own, and it promotes these interests beyond its borders. A small country like Qatar also influences processes in various parts of the region, drawing criticism from its neighbours. For this reason, it would be extremely naïve and unrealistic to attempt to lock the Iranians within their own borders. This is not a way forward. Instead, a discussion on long-standing and increasingly apparent differences has to be launched so as to find ways to overcome them. We know about the relations, or the lack of relations and the tension that exists between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, or between Egypt and Iran. At a certain stage, all interested parties must sit down at the negotiating table.
If this is a gathering of like-minded countries, united by their negative perspective on Iran, this will do nothing to promote stability in the region. Russia has long called for convening a conference that would include Iran among its participants. We have a concept for promoting security in the Persian Gulf involving the Gulf countries, as well as Iran, the Arab League, and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the UN, the EU, the US, Russia and China. The Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe got off the ground in a similar manner. The first steps must consist of trust building measures, promoting transparency on military matters and exchanging visits. Make no mistake, this is how it will unfold. I do not think that there are those who want to resolve problems the region faces through another war the consequences of which would be absolutely unpredictable.
Question: You have said something quite controversial: You want Iran to be an expansionist country in the region, because you say that you cannot be realistic and expect them to stay within their own borders. Why would you support such expansionism?
Sergey Lavrov: This is how fake news is born.
Question: This is what you just said.
Sergey Lavrov: No, I said you cannot limit, I mean put Iran within its own borders, and prevent Iran from exerting influence outside its borders, while Saudi Arabia exerts influence outside its borders, and so does Qatar. This is what I said.
Question: You have used the word cage. This was an interesting choice of word. Your explanation is of course more important than my point.
Sergey Lavrov: I thought that eloquence was one of the journalistic methods, so I tried to be eloquent. I am sorry. But, please, do not misinterpret me.
Question: What are the differences between your and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's stances on Iran's role in Syria? The US has made it clear they do not want Iran's military presence in Syria. What do you think about this?
What do you think of Benjamin Netanyahu's statements regarding threats towards Lebanon when he listed the three Hezbollah missile sites? Are you concerned about future strikes?
Sergey Lavrov: Asking about Russia or the US's stance on Iran's presence in Syria, you should not address me but the legitimate Syrian government which invited Iran to help preserve Syria's nationhood and fight terrorism. I can confirm that Iran is efficiently helping to solve counter-terrorism tasks.
We have never considered Iran as a terrorist threat, including during the periods that were hard for my country, when international terrorists were operating in the North Caucasus. We have never seen any links between terrorists in our country and Iranians. By the way, as regards the United States and its stance on this, several months ago FBI veterans, US military intelligence, sent an open letter urging not to create a fake terrorist threat from Iran. They cited the official statistics, which stated that there is only one Shia organisation among one and a half dozen organisations identified as terrorist by the United States. The rest of them included Iran on the list of their enemies.
Our aims do not entirely coincide; maybe they coincide even less with both Iran and Turkey in Syria. Currently, we are allies in our fight against terrorism, preserving Syria’'s nationhood, providing aid to the Syrians, and creating conditions to begin their political dialogue that will allow them to choose their future on their own. I have no doubts that this cooperation is fruitful under the Astana format which was welcomed by everyone.
As regards Israel, as we publicly stated, it has assured us many times it would maintain a deconflicting channel similar to the one we have with the United States. This is what we are now demanding from Israel.
When Israel voiced concern over Iranian or pro-Iranian units actually located in the disengagement line on the Golan Heights, we managed to come to an understanding − all the more so as the southern de-escalation zone had been liberated from terrorists and the Iranian units had withdrawn over 100 kilometres, as we were asked by Israelis and Americans. The positions in the disengagement line on the Golan Heights were taken up by Syrian army units. Then, members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force returned there. Our military police are helping them. We have taken efforts to deliver on the promises we made to Israel following its concerns about their security in the area of the Golan Heights. Sadly, our American colleagues (I have already mentioned Al-Tanf) have repeatedly claimed they would eliminate this totally illegitimate zone created for unclear purposes. But they are not performing their obligations.
Question (via interpreter): What do you think about state-sponsored terrorism? What do you think about US sanctions against Venezuela? What are the risks of an invasion?
Sergey Lavrov: State terrorism or state-sponsored terrorism – there is no such concept in international law or the UN vocabulary. Yes, the United States and some other countries have put this concept into use. But it should be clearly understood that either you have evidence or you don’t. We have no proof that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism. I have already mentioned this. Neighbours have suspicions with regard to a number of countries, including in the Middle East. But let me say it once again: If a state intentionally trains terrorists and sends them to other countries to carry out terrorist attacks, then this is unacceptable. There is absolutely no need to use the term “state terrorism.” Any type of terrorism should be eradicated and curtailed so that no one is ever tempted to engage in these bloody acts.
As for Venezuela, I said today in my remarks that any unilateral sanctions were not only illegal but also counterproductive, including for their introducers. It is hardly possible to achieve a result using these methods, if the case in point is countries possessing self-respect as well as respect for the traditions and their people. I have cited one example: more than 50 years of US unilateral sanctions against Cuba have brought no result in terms of changing the Cuban leaders’ behaviour. I am confident that the sanctions against Venezuela will be ineffective as well. The parties should come to terms. It is difficult to do this because the Government seems ready for this, while the opposition constantly gets signals from abroad, primarily from the US, that they are supporting them. This is why, the Venezuelan opposition (or at least part of it) has no incentive to come to terms with or even talk to the Government. The outside players should call on the Government and the opposition to sit down and come to an agreement instead of taking the side of this or that party. I said as much today, I see no other option for any crisis-torn region. The course of action should be precisely as has been outlined, with no one putting a stake on either side.
Question (via interpreter): Addressing a high-level meeting on North Korea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi suggested revising the sanctions, given the positive shifts. What would you like to say about this?
US President Donald Trump condemned both Russia and China for meddling in the US elections. What comment would you make concerning this?
Sergey Lavrov: I think positively about my colleague Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s words about the need to encourage progress at the talks on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and relax the sanction pressure. I said exactly the same as my Chinese colleague at the UN Security Council session.
I heard US President Donald Trump’s speech. But this time, I think, he has accused only China of meddling in the elections. He has not mentioned Russia, although earlier he did name us. You need facts to present this sort of things. We are the last to want someone to interfere in someone else’s internal affairs. If some criminals in our or Chinese territory or in some other countries do this sort of things, they should be tracked and caught via Interpol or other mechanisms for cooperation between the special services and the police. If there is just a suspicion, it should be discussed. We and the US had a working group on cybersecurity. The US itself froze it under Barack Obama. We proposed to the Americans, when they began worrying about interference in their elections, to resume this group’s work to enable professionals and specialists to look at the real state of affairs and the concerns that the parties may have with regard to each other.
Generally, if we speak about meddling (not the hacking of various websites, and the figures that are named, the number of such hacking attacks and the posting of ads, are just ridiculous – less than 0.01 per cent of all social media content), we have a million examples of the US openly, without having scruples urging this or that government to take this or that position. When Ukraine events were on everyone’s lips, US Congress passed an Ukraine democracy support act making it mandatory for the Department of State to spend $20 million per year on promoting democracy in Russia, including by supporting NGOs that champion pluralism in Russia and oppose the government. This is a fact, not some abstract deliberations. There is such an act. There are a lot of NGOs in Russia that get funding from the United States. On our side, as soon as someone wants just to talk to like-minded firearms enthusiasts, you know what happens: Maria Butina is in jail. She came [to the US] and promoted ideas shared by the National Rifle Association.
Let me give you yet another fresh example on the meddling. The United States has appointed Kurt Volker as its Special Representative for Ukraine. He had several meetings with our representative Vladislav Surkov. He is promoting ideas that are foiling the Minsk Agreements reached by the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. While the 2015 agreements contained the requirement and the consent of Kiev and the territories in Donbass to have direct talks and come to terms on a constitutional reform, a special status for this region, amnesty, resumption of economic ties and the holding of elections on terms to be coordinated between the Kiev government and this region, then Kurt Volker has suggested a different course of action. He believes the first thing to do is to send to that territory 20,000 or 30,000 armed UN military with heavy equipment to be followed by 500 or 600 civilians, who would form an administration, disband all existing municipalities and other life support bodies, and determine when and how to hold the elections. This is how the US sees the implementation of the agreements. It would be fine if Volker just talked about reconciliation in Ukraine, but he constantly says that, first, Russia is to blame for everything, and next he takes the liberty of saying things like, I quote (I have even written this out so as not to forget it): “Russian people deserve freedom” – that’s the US special representative for Ukraine speaking – “And the Ukrainian experience should inspire Russian people.” Draw your own conclusions as to who calls for interference, and who doesn’t. I don’t even mention the fact that US ambassadors are telling all East European, Asian, African and Latin American countries not to have contacts with Russia, or trade with it, or buy Russian gas, oil, or military equipment. We are also accused of interfering in the internal affairs of the Balkans. Look at what is taking place ahead of the referendum in Macedonia. Heads of government, of EU countries come there in person and say that they should make a choice in favour of NATO and EU membership and change the name of their country. The same appeals are made by US leaders. US Defence Secretary James Mattis just paid a visit to that country and said the same. Even if we said 10 per cent of that, we would have been nailed to the pillory. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini declared in a speech in early September that the Balkans were EU territory and that there should be no place for others where they were. Perhaps we ought to conduct some educational work with our colleagues so that they behave a little bit more decently when dealing with the outside world.
Question: In August the Foreign Ministry said that Russia appealed to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres back in May regarding the situation with Russian diplomatic property in the US with a view to mentioning this in a report for the 73rd Session of the UNGA.
You had a meeting with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this week. Did you bring this topic up, and was there any response to this letter? Are there any possible ways left to settle the situation with the Russian diplomatic property as far as international law is concerned?
Sergey Lavrov: We have not touched upon this subject, since this matter has already been decided. Information to this effect has been included in the report to be reviewed during this session. This question has been discussed during meetings of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, which confirmed that Russia’s position is justified.
As for further legal action, we are about to take this case to US courts. We have hired lawyers, and our intention is to begin with US courts. We do understand that this journey will not be a simple one. At the same time, we remain open to settling this case out of court on a reciprocal basis, if the US finally decides to abide by its international commitments after all.
Question: The Israelis who visited Moscow regarding this incident over Syria, the downing of the Russian plane, have they changed any minds there? Do you think that the Israeli-Russian agreements or understandings that existed before the incidents can come back, and when will Russia deliver those S-300s and start jamming the skies near Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: The delivery has started already, as President Putin said after this incident. Our military presented the picture at a press conference held by the Ministry of Defence. As the President said, the measures that we will take will be devoted to ensuring 100 percent safety and security of our men in Syria. And we will do this.
Question: And the understandings that were in place until now?
Sergey Lavrov: As I have said, the full answer was provided at a briefing at the Ministry of Defence, and the President provided an exhaustive comment on this situation.
Question: With your President coming to India in just a few days, I have two short questions about that. The latest information we are getting is that there could be a possibility that the signing of defence deals to the tune of $8.5 billion maybe put on hold, may not be done, when he comes.
And the second question: in light of the allegations that have come about with France and India’s defence deal – it’s the biggest controversy in India, is Russia doing anything to be more thorough in the signing of the deal with India, checks and balances, etc.?
Sergey Lavrov: I did not understand what you said about France. Did you mention France?
Question: The Rafal jet deal for 36 jets. There is a controversy about that in India that it is a corrupt deal. So I am asking, in your deal with India, are you going to be more thorough? Are there any changes in the processes?
Sergey Lavrov: I have not heard that there was some corruption case around this deal, around Rafal. We participated in the bid for this delivery, and we did not get it. I have not heard about this since.
As for the other deals, which are being negotiated, I have not heard anything about the timing, about postponement, about putting anything on hold. I understand that India will be taking a sovereign decision on how to proceed, and what kind of weapons India needs.
Question: President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko has been talking at the UN about an upcoming joint resolution by Ukraine, the US, Germany and France, pretending that they form a single front. At the same time, he refrains from sharing any details on this resolution, arguing that Russia may learn something and take counter action.
Yesterday, you had a bilateral meeting with the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves le Drian. A month ago he said that this step would be premature. Has he changed his position, or do Europe and the US have different perspectives on these matters, considering what you have said on the Special Representative of the US Department of State for Ukraine Kurt Volker?
Sergey Lavrov: The French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves le Drian has not mentioned Ukraine at all.
As for the statements made by President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko, I would like to refrain from commenting on them. After all, there are the Minsk Agreements, and Russia has proposed adopting a UN Security Council draft resolution on sending a UN mission there to protect OSCE monitors, since it is not uncommon for these monitors to operate in quite challenging conditions or situations. No one has seen any other draft resolutions. There are no limits when talking to like-minded people. I would like to refrain from making any comments until I see the text. If it turns out to comply with what the Special Representative of the US Department of State for Ukraine Kurt Volker says all the time, this just makes me smile. I am surprised how grown up and serious people who have read the Minsk Agreements can suggest anything of this kind.
Question: Are you satisfied with the situation in Libya? You expected to see a different situation?
And the second question. There were two speeches on Tuesday, one by President Trump and before by Secretary-General Guterres. Which one does Russia prefer? Is Russia’s vision for the world closer to President Trump or the Secretary-General?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding Libya, it is quite strange to hear a question whether Russia is satisfied with the situation in Libya.
Question: I do not think Russia is satisfied. Did you expect the situation in Libya to be different?
Sergey Lavrov: I thought that you were thinking more about whether Italy was satisfied with the situation in Libya, or France for that matter.
We are trying to help create conditions for the political process. Frankly speaking we do not believe that in this case as well, like in the case with Syria, there should be any artificial deadline. We welcomed the meeting which took place between the four leaders of various Libyan parties in Paris in May, I think. We support the efforts by the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ghassan Salame. But to say that we must die, but to make sure that elections take place in December, I do not think that this would send the right signal. Elections must be held when all key political forces have an understanding that this would be something the result of which they accept. We still do not see that level of agreement between them.
Question: What did you like better – Donald Trump’s speech or Guterres’?
Sergey Lavrov: US President Donald Trump said he strongly supports the sovereignty of every country in the world. I very much agree with this. The United States says that sovereignty is the main thing, and all multilateral affairs are secondary. The US Constitution and the laws on joining the UN say priority is given to national legislation. But the previous administration has never pursued this policy so openly and harshly. On the other hand, if the United States is committed to sovereignty as a fundamental principle, they probably do not need to interfere in the affairs of other countries. I have already given examples. But multilateralism is still a necessity of our time, when all problems become transboundary, technologies unite the whole world and help organise life in a completely new way, providing opportunities for those who want economic and social development for the benefit of the people. Technology also provides opportunities to those who want to use them with corrupt goals, including terrorists, extremists and other criminals.
Question (via interpreter): You and other members of your Government criticise Eastern Europe, where allegedly Nazism is being revived. But you are seeing the same thing in Western Europe, where neo-Nazism manifests itself in the governments of Austria or Italy. Do you follow these trends?
Does Russia supply weapons to Myanmar? If so, maybe this is also about pressuring the generals to stop ethnic cleansing?
Sergey Lavrov: As for Nazi trends, yes, this certainly happens in the European Union as well. In Latvia and Estonia, former SS marches are regularly held, and they receive honours. In my remarks at the UN General Assembly, I mentioned the demolition of monuments to those who liberated Europe. It is most common in Poland, but there are neo-Nazi trends in a number of other countries as well. That is why we annually introduce the draft UNGA resolution on the unacceptability of glorifying Nazism. Unfortunately, the entire European Union abstains unanimously seeing this as a threat to the freedom of speech. If the EU considers fulfilling the Nuremberg Tribunal verdict as an infringement on the freedom of speech, well, then EU lawyers have to rethink what they are required to do.
Question (via interpreter): Regarding neo-Nazis in Austria and Italy, with whom your Government is friends.
Sergey Lavrov: We are not necessarily friends, but we maintain relations. They are system-forming political parties who do not profess misanthropic ideologies, or display Nazi symbols, as they do in Estonia, Latvia, and Ukraine. Here I see no reason to draw any parallels.
As for our arms trade, naturally, I cannot keep all statistics in my head. We sell weapons exclusively in accordance with existing international legal norms that regulate the arms trade.
Question: We’ve been hearing increasingly strong rhetoric from Israel and the United States against Iran. Russia’s a friend of Iran and is heavily involved in the Syrian conflict. Is there a way Russia can act as a mediator to promote reconciliation between the two sides?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already touched upon this subject. We have been promoting the concept of creating a security system in the Gulf for many years now. We certainly support this cooperation. All it takes is to start talking. If both sides view Russia as a convenient platform where they could meet, we will be happy to give a helping hand.
Question: Given the political trends dominating the world today and new developments, what do you think about the future of the United Nations?
Sergey Lavrov: The UN does have a future. It will not be an easy future considering what you have just mentioned and the developments we are witnessing today. On the one side, the US has gone on a crusade against multilateralism and wants sovereignty to prevail. However, by this the US means above all and maybe exclusively that its sovereignty must prevail in all international affairs. I strongly believe that a new world order is taking shape with the emergence of the Asia-Pacific Region, China and India as new centres of gravity, and considering that Africa begins to make use of its immense resources, and given the potential of the Latin American continent. It would be impossible to control all these processes from a single centre and impose a specific line of conduct. All these sanctions, threats and attempts to impose trade partners instead of letting countries trade with whom they desire, all this comes and goes. In any case, we will have to sit down at the negotiating table and come to an agreement. If there is a place for reaching agreements and finding a balance of interests among the key players, without forgetting other countries, this is the United Nations.
Question: Is there a possibility that relations between the US and Russia might improve in the near future?
When does President of Russia Vladimir Putin intend to visit Washington to meet with US President Donald Trump?
Sergey Lavrov: Everyone understands that the current relations are bad. They are perhaps even at their all-time low. By the same token, everyone noticed and paid attention to the fact that the two presidents have already met in Hamburg and this year in Helsinki, and their talks were quite constructive. My takeaway as someone who was present during both meetings is that the agreements that were reached catered to the interests of both countries and are viewed positively by our presidents. It is also obvious that those who are expected to deliver on those agreements are in no particular hurry to do so for one reason or another. I am referring to the joint efforts on counterterrorism (we had a working group that has been suspended once again) and cybersecurity, as I have already mentioned. There was also a dialogue on strategic stability, including matters that need to be addressed in order for the relevant treaties to be operational (New Start and INF treaties). In addition to these documents, there is a number of factors that affect strategic stability. A conversation on these matters is overdue. The fact that this dialogue is currently in limbo cannot be viewed as a positive development by any of the parties.
We used to have meetings with the US in the 2+2 format between foreign and defence ministers, as well as chiefs of the general staff, and Russia-US meetings at the level of deputy foreign ministers together with senior military, intelligence and security officials. All this is currently suspended. However, Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev and the National Security Advisor to the US President John Bolton have started a dialogue. They had a meeting in June in Moscow, followed by an August meeting in Geneva, and preparations for another meeting are underway. This is something that may keep our relations alive and prevent them from any further deterioration.
Military-to-military dialogue is essential for preventing unpleasant situations. As you know, the US Congress passed legislation preventing the Pentagon from cooperating with the Russian military. ‘Deconfliction’ efforts that we undertake in Syria are the only exception.
You have also asked about the visit by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin to the US. It is true that he received an invitation from US President Donald Trump, who was also invited to visit Russia. The decision will be made when everyone is ready and the sides determine their desired timeframes.
Question: I want to ask you about the peace in the Middle East. You have the speeches by Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Peace in the Middle East now looks very unattainable, very far. The Trump administration is trying to dismantle the basic tenants of what is called a ‘just peace,’ which includes Jerusalem, the right to return for refugees, the illegality of settlements. Mahmoud Abbas is suggesting a new mechanism, which is to expand the number of peace brokers or peace mediators to include Russia, China, France, maybe other countries. What do you think? How can the Palestinians believe that the international community has not abandoned them? What can Russia do to make peace possible in the Middle East?
Sergey Lavrov: We never abandoned the mechanism that was universally endorsed for mediation, namely the Middle East Quartet. The Quarter envoys met during the week here in New York, on the margins of the UN General Assembly. There was no practical result, but at least they met and conveyed to each other what they think about the state of the game now.
We are committed to the decisions of the UN Security Council, General Assembly and the Arab Peace Initiative. Of course, we see what is going on. As you have said, these are persistent attempts to dismantle all the cornerstones of the potential deal on the two-state solution, and this causes concern. I met yesterday with Mahmoud Abbas. He is very much frustrated. Whatever the Palestinians believe they should do in these circumstances, we will certainly understand and support. Another worrisome development is the situation in Gaza and the situation between Gaza and Ramallah. We highly appreciate, value and support Egyptian efforts to bring them together, but the latest round of efforts did not bring results. This is also worrying, because it does not add to the ability of the Palestinian people to present their case more forcefully.
Question: The Israeli government is running a warning for travellers not to go to Beirut via Rafic Hariri airport because sites near the airport related to Hezbollah missiles will be attacked. Do you think that the Israelis will act on this threat?
Sergey Lavrov: This would certainly be a gross violation of international law. We would be very much against such an action. What actually will happen, I cannot predict. But we warn against the violation of the Security Council resolution. Even the use of the Lebanese airspace is a violation of the UN Security Council resolution.
Question: You made a comment at the Security Council on the weaponisation of medical care. Can you comment on the fact that humanitarian exemptions to the resolutions against North Korea have been a notorious failure? The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has cut off funding to North Korea. This is a form of biological warfare.
Sergey Lavrov: I fully agree with you. Using bacteriological weapons is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions which provide for humanitarian exemptions from the sanctions regime. I said yesterday at the Security Council that we want this to be reviewed especially in line with the progress that is being made, albeit slowly, on the political front.