Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Dinesh Gunawardena, Colombo, January 14, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank my colleague from Sri Lanka, Dinesh Gunawardena, for the warm reception.
Sri Lanka is a long-time partner of our country. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1957, our ties have been developing by tradition on the basis of the principles of equality, mutual respect and consideration for each other’s interests.
We were pleased to note the growing intensity of political dialogue, including contacts at the top level. Today we reviewed the progress in implementing the agreements reached during the visit of President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena to the Russian Federation in March 2017. We agreed to take additional measures to increase our trade from the current $400 million to $700 million per year. We will pay special attention to this issue during preparations for a regular meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation that will take place in Russia in the latter half of this year.
Our cooperation is making steady progress in the military-technical area as well as in military and law-enforcement contacts. We have a contractual basis for all areas of our cooperation in this respect. We agreed to accelerate the drafting of new documents, including those on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and customs.
We discussed in detail the development of tourism. As my colleague said, the number of Russian tourists is growing steadily and fairly quickly. We are grateful to our Sri Lankan friends for the measures they are taking to ensure the security of our citizens who spend their holidays on the island. The resumption of direct flights to Colombo by Aeroflot a little over a year ago is facilitating the growth of tourism from Russia.
Our foreign ministries have been closely cooperating on the basis of the mechanism of regular consultations since 2000. We have similar or identical positions on key international issues, primarily, respect for international law, the UN Charter and its central role.
We are grateful to our Sri Lankan friends for their traditional support of Russian initiatives at the UN General Assembly on the unacceptability of glorification of Nazism, prevention of the arms race in space, international information security, as well as measures to counter cybercrime and consolidate arms control and non-proliferation agreements.
Our delegations are successfully coordinating their approaches in such international bodies as the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO and the OPCW.
We agreed to coordinate our positions on the events to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Victory in WWII at the United Nations.
Russia and Sri Lanka are also united by the task of further democratisation of interstate relations with due respect for the cultural and civilisation diversity of the modern world. A new type of associations, such as BRICS and the SCO, are designed to play a big role in this respect. Russia holds the presidency of these associations this year. Sri Lanka is a SCO dialogue partner. Today we confirmed our interest in a more active and broader participation of our friends in its activities.
We will promote our cooperation in the Non-Aligned Movement where Russia is an observer and Sri Lanka is one of its founders.
Today we paid special attention to making more efficient our fight against terrorism. We expressed full support for the efforts of Sri Lankan leaders to identify and bring to justice the organisers of last April’s inhuman acts of terror.
My colleague informed me in detail about the measures taken by President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the national government to normalise the situation in the country and ensure law and order and national accord in full conformity with the Constitution. We fully support these efforts.
In conclusion, I invited Mr Gunawardena to visit Russia at his convenience. I hope that our cooperation will continue.
Question: There is a flurry of analytical reports by experts and various news agencies suggesting that the Libya conflict, given the interference of foreign countries in it, might become another Syria. Do you share these fears? What is the difference in the approaches taken by Russian diplomacy to resolving the conflicts in Libya and Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: If Libya could become another Syria, the Libyan people would only benefit from this. Unfortunately, at the moment, Libya does not have statehood. The statehood of Libya was destroyed by NATO’s bombing in 2011, and all of us, primarily, the Libyan people, still have to deal with the consequences of this criminal unlawful venture. We would like to join the efforts by the Europeans, including the Germans, the French and the Italians, as well as Libya’s neighbours – Algeria and Egypt – and the UAE, Turkey, Qatar and the Russian Federation to channel them in one direction in order to urge the Libyan parties to the conflict to reach an agreement through negotiations, rather than to continue to sort things out by using force.
As you know, during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Istanbul on January 8 of this year, Russia and Turkey came up with a ceasefire initiative for Libya. As a follow-up to this initiative, yesterday Moscow hosted a meeting between Libyan representatives, which was also attended by the Russian and Turkish defence and foreign ministers. We will continue to work on that. So far, no final agreement has been secured.
As for Syria, since you have compared these two countries, thanks to Russia’s active support in response to the request from the country’s legitimate government, Syria managed to escape the fate that NATO intended for Libya. Some 90 percent of Syrian territory is controlled by the legitimate government. Areas of terrorist activity still remain, primarily Idlib, but the extremists there are gradually losing ground. Speaking of the connection between Syria and Libya, unfortunately, the extremists largely flee to Libya to continue wreaking havoc in that country.
Of course, the problems plaguing the northeast of Syria are yet to be resolved. They have been caused, primarily, by the illegitimate presence of the US military in the area, who are vigorously encouraging separatism on the right bank of the Euphrates. We can confidently say that as these remaining issues are resolved, the control of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government over the territory of their country is steadily expanding.
Another difference between the situation in Syria and Libya is – and it is not to Libya’s advantage – the political process which began due to the responsible approach that had been taken to it by all Syrian parties to the conflict with support from external players. Currently, we are working to achieve precisely the same result, i.e., that all Libyan parties to the conflict exercise the same responsibility for the fate of their country.
Question: Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev instructed the Foreign Ministry to draft measures on ensuring the security of Russian citizens in the Middle East. Have these measures been drafted? What do they amount to?
Sergey Lavrov: The Russian Foreign Ministry cannot resolve such issues single-handedly. We are cooperating with our colleagues from the special services and civil aviation security experts. Following a collective analysis based on the opinion of professionals, we inform our citizens about these measures via special applications. You may read these recommendations in the relevant application.
Question: The media wrote that the Russian Foreign Ministry advised Aeroflot to limit its flights to Tehran at night. Is this true?
Sergey Lavrov: Aeroflot itself decided to move flights to Iran to the daytime. This is no secret.
Question: This is following from the issues between the US and Iran. There is a concern that if the situation escalates, it could affect the region, particularly in terms of things like tea, rubber and fuel prices in Sri Lanka. So if there is an escalation in tensions between Iran and the US, will Russia intervene and help this region, in particular Sri Lanka?
And if I may ask a follow-up to that question, there is a concern that there is a proxy war in Iraq between the US and Iran. Could that happen here in Sri Lanka? Could there be a proxy war in Sri Lanka between the US and China, taking into consideration the focus on Sri Lanka right now from the international community?
Sergey Lavrov: Needless to say, nobody can be satisfied with what is happening in the Gulf area, where nervous tensions are heightening and are already affecting actual actions that lead to the loss of human life.
Of course, we cannot ignore the fact that everything started from the moment when the United States said unequivocally that all troubles of the region without exception are triggered by Iran, that Iran is the main terrorist (although nobody can prove this), and that Iran should stop exerting influence on anything that is happening around its borders
In parallel, the United States walked out on its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme and began to impose sanctions on all those who conducted legitimate trade with Iran, which also escalated tensions.
Washington’s illegal actions reached their peak with the murder of Qassem Soleimani, an official representative of the Iranian Government who was on a visit to neighbouring Iraq. This is beyond international law and humanism.
We are against the escalation of tensions no matter where they emanate from. We are not going “to intervene,” as you said, in US-Iran relations, if you mean physical action by this word. We are calling on the United States and Iran to display restraint and resolve all problems through dialogue. As far as I understand, the US is saying it is ready for dialogue with Iran but “without any preconditions,” although what it calls suffocating sanctions against Iran are ramping up during proposals on such dialogue. It so happens that while inviting Iran to dialogue without preconditions, the United States itself lays them out by subjecting Iran to pressure via sanctions. Many politicians have been trying to facilitate the start of US-Iran contacts in order to reduce tensions. We have a positive attitude towards the initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron and the efforts of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and we are ready to help if the parties are really interested in this.
We understand the concern of Sri Lanka over the negative consequences of the conflict in the Gulf area, which may affect exports of traditional goods. However, your producers will not be the only victim. The Gulf has many transport routes that are of strategic importance for the global trade of many goods, including energy sources.
Therefore, it is in our common interests to build trust in the Gulf and beyond. This is the aim of the Russian proposal that we again presented at a special conference in Moscow last September. I am referring to the start of efforts to create a collective security system in the Gulf and around it.
Let’s hope that all interested parties will start discussing ways of reducing tensions and developing neighbourly relations.
Question: What concrete steps will be taken to enhance security and anti-terror cooperation between Russia and Sri Lanka?
Sergey Lavrov: Foreign Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Dinash Gunawardena and I expressed satisfaction with the development of our security cooperation. Russia supplied and is ready to continue supplying Sri Lanka with weapons that its army needs to ensure its defence capability and security.
Question: What investments, if any, can Sri Lanka expect from Russia in the coming years?
Sergey Lavrov: Our Sri Lankan friends are interested in attracting investment from the Russian Federation, in part, in exploring and producing hydrocarbons and building tourist infrastructure. I am sure that businesspeople from both countries should step up their direct contacts to discuss these ideas in practical terms.