Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a news conference following political consultations between the foreign ministers of Russia and three African Union countries (South Africa, Egypt and the Congo) via videoconference, Moscow, July 8, 2020
Today, we held the first political consultation meeting at the foreign minister level between Russia and three members of the African Union. This mechanism was established after the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi last October. These countries are the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Republic of South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are the former, current and next presidents of the African Union.
Russia and Africa are linked by traditional friendly relations, strong political dialogue and extensive trade, economic and investment ties. We have even more ambitious plans in all of these areas. Today, Russia and these African countries expressed their reciprocal interest in further building up cooperation in all areas, including the economy, humanitarian ties and political consultations.
We discussed the priorities of developing cooperation through the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum established by the Russian Foreign Ministry. It was set up for daily contact with the foreign ministries of various African countries and the mechanisms of the African Union and other integration associations in Africa. The Secretariat will oversee the organisational and practical preparations of new initiatives for the next Russia-Africa Summit scheduled for 2022 in accordance with the Sochi agreements.
Having met in Sochi, the heads of state decided that it was expedient to hold these summit meetings once every three years.
We also discussed the energy requirements of the African states. They are growing fast given the African countries’ development rates. We reviewed opportunities for enhancing the energy security of African countries, in particular, by supplying them with hydrocarbon resources and especially by developing the nuclear power industry. Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev gave a relevant presentation. Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Alexey Gruzdev spoke about industrial cooperation at our videoconference.
The issues formulated by our African partners today and initiatives on the best ways to develop investment, trade and economic ties will be discussed at the Association of Trade and Economic Cooperation with African Countries. This was established last month by the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. Large Russian companies are members of this association. They are interested in developing cooperation with African states. In addition to Rosatom, it brings together ALROSA, Gazprombank, Transmashholding, and the Innopraktika development institute, to name a few. As I mentioned, the association will be used as a platform for helping Russian companies that want to work in individual African countries or with the integration associations on the African continent.
We also discussed humanitarian issues focusing, for obvious reasons, on the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic has made a tangible impact on many aspects of interstate relations and has done harm to the economy. This is also being felt in Africa. Our African colleagues expect this damage to be heavier than it is now.
They expressed gratitude to the Russian Federation for the assistance that our departments have rendered to African states. We continue receiving requests for additional aid. Over 30 countries have sent requests. We are reviewing them as quickly as possible. Deputy Head of Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare) Alexander Simanovsky talked about this in detail today.
We agreed to continue our assistance in countering the coronavirus infection, in part, via African and global multilateral associations. We will support the adoption of decisions that favour the African nations at the UN, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
We emphasised our mutual interest in further cooperation in developing vaccines against such pandemic threats, in particular, by using the very helpful and effective experience of our cooperation (several years ago) in combatting the Ebola virus.
As part of our political dialogue, we focused on the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. This anniversary is marked this year. It is a historically meaningful document that played a critical role in breaking down the world colonialist system. It was the Soviet Union which played the lead role in adopting that declaration. We stressed the need for preserving the historical truth about colonial times. Now, many of our Western colleagues, who have a colonial past on the African continent, prefer to forget where the problems of contemporary Africa largely come from. We believe it is unacceptable to forget about that period or turn a blind eye to the neocolonial practices that continue in Africa, the harmful effects of which were mentioned by our interlocutors today.
We agreed that the establishment of the UN played a decisive role in the upcoming process of decolonization, and the UN itself appeared as a result of defeating Nazism and the Victory in WWII. There is an interesting connection: the countries that try to rewrite the history of World War II try, at the same time, to forget the consequences of the colonial past on the African continent.
We shared the opinion, and Russia made it a point, that decolonisation cannot be declared completed. UN General Assembly resolutions and the International Court of Justice demand the completion of this process, specifically, with respect to the Chagos Archipelago. Mauritius’ sovereignty over it should be restored. The sovereignty of Madagascar should be restored over the Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean and Comoros’ sovereignty over the island of Mayotte. This French territory preserves its status despite numerous UN General Assembly resolutions.
We think it is important to continue these discussions at the UN’s Special Committee on Decolonisation. Together with our African and other partners we will promote implementation of the existing decisions made by the world community.
In general, the talks were very useful. We agreed to draft relevant proposals that would let us start working on the agenda for the next summit, which, as I have said, is scheduled for 2022 pursuant to the understandings reached in Sochi last October. I mean that the next summit will be held in Africa.
We have adopted a joint statement following our discussions which will be distributed to the media. You are welcome to read the document.
Question: I would like to ask you about the situation in Libya. This is a source of constant concern for the international community because of the differences between the confronting parties and the discord among their supporters. Moscow keeps talking about the need to conduct a direct dialogue based on the Berlin Сonference. Russia has also backed Cairo’s initiative – recently the Foreign Ministry has started talking about the need to enhance the UN role in a Libyan settlement. How can this be done in practice when nothing really changes?
Sergey Lavrov: In practice this can be done in only one way – both sides must immediately stop the hostilities and their attempts to move armed units westward and eastward, respectively, or in any direction. Regrettably, the statement of obvious fact by our partners, notably, that the Libyan conflict has no military solution, is not leading to practical actions. At some point, last January before the Berlin conference, we invited the main parties to Moscow: Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar, Head of the Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj, and Speaker of Parliament in Tobruk Aguila Saleh. At that time, the LNA believed in its superiority on the ground and did not want to sign a document that suited al-Sarraj. In our estimate, the LNA is now willing to sign a document on an immediate ceasefire but the government in Tripoli is now reluctant to do so in the hope of a military solution once again. This is the main reason for what is happening there.
In the framework of a dialogue as sanctioned by our presidents, we and our Turkish colleagues are coordinating approaches that would make it possible to immediately announce a ceasefire and embark on resolving the other issues, including those mentioned at the Berlin Conference and reaffirmed at the meeting in Cairo in the so-called Cairo Declaration. This is the main problem now.
Recently, we spoke in Moscow with Speaker of the Libyan Parliament in Tobruk Aguila Saleh. We stay in touch with Fayez al-Sarraj who heads the Government of National Accord in Tripoli and, of course, with Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the LNA commander. We express to them that an announcement of the complete cessation of hostilities must be the first, indispensable step and that this has no alternative. Our Turkish colleagues are working with the National Transitional Council towards the same end. I hope they will manage to achieve the only correct solution under the circumstances.
As for the UN’s role and the need to increase it, we do want the UN to be more active here. Unfortunately, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya Ghassan Salame resigned soon after the Berlin Conference, almost half a year ago. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been unable to appoint a successor so far. His first proposal to appoint Foreign Minister of Algeria Ramtane Lamamra was supported by most countries except our American colleagues. They refused to support his nomination. Almost two months ago a proposal was put forward to appoint former Foreign Minister of Ghana Hanna Tetteh but for some reason Mr Guterres has failed to have her nomination approved. We tend to think that the US representatives are trying to “hobble” him.
Now the situation is like this. After Salame resigned, the UN mission was headed by the acting special representative. By circumstance, this position is now occupied by an American citizen. We don’t want the US to hold the UN Secretariat by the hand and prevent the appointment of a full special representative in the hope that their compatriot will resolve some objective that we fail to understand.
I say this in the open because it is no secret. I am hoping that commitment to multilateral principles will still prevail in this case, and that the UN Secretary-General will fully display his responsibility for the functioning of this mechanism. I am convinced that this position must be occupied by a representative of the African Union.
Question: Can you comment on the UN commission report that says Russian and Syrian aircraft strikes against civilian infrastructure in Idlib are equated with military crimes?
Sergey Lavrov: You, probably mean the commission that calls itself an international independent commission of inquiry on Syria. This commission was not set up by consensus decision, and its mandate raises many questions as does its methodology. The decision to establish this commission was pushed through primarily by the Western countries, which wanted to change the Syrian regime. They didn’t hide this. Using a vote at the UN Human Rights Council, they provided a mechanism with the established purpose of searching for evidence against and discrediting Damascus and those whom they call its allies.
The commission never went to Idlib like many other entities employed by the West in the non-government sector to gather information compromising the activities of the legitimate Syrian authorities. This so-called independent commission uses facts taken from social networks, from some sources they ask to remain anonymous referring to security considerations. These are the same methods as are currently used by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Our Western colleagues are trying to jam through a resolution based on the report prepared in gross violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention based on information taken from social networks, civil society partners, whose names and addresses they refuse to give saying that it would subject their security to risk and threat. This is why we proceed from the exclusive need to resolve and consider any issue concerning the Syrian or any other conflict based on hard facts alone, and on information for which the relevant entity is ready to be responsible. This independent commission just cannot be responsible for its statements, as has been proven on many occasions.
Question: Mark Esper has said that in the year since he became head of the Pentagon the US Department of Defence successfully restrained Washington’s main strategic rivals – Russia and China. How would you comment on this statement?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not see that there is anything to comment on here. If he thinks the Pentagon’s main objective is to “restrain” Russia and China, then this is the philosophy of the current US administration. It is really burning with a desire to “restrain” everyone except for themselves, and is seeking to get rid of everything that could restrain its freedom to act with impunity on the international stage, such as the INF Treaty, the TOS, the CTBT, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council and the WHO. If this is the case, this is rather regrettable. We believed that the military act much more carefully than politicians in situations that can erupt into a conflict, especially a hot conflict.
This mood and this philosophy of the Pentagon chief are really regrettable, because we are interested in developing a normal dialogue with all countries, including the United States. Telephone contacts between Mark Esper and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu were highly professional and based on mutual respect. We would like the foreign policies of all countries not to be aimed at “restraint” but at strategic stability based on a balance of interests of all states, including the world’s leading powers. The phrase “strategic stability” is being replaced with “strategic rivalry” in our dialogue with the Americans. In other words, this philosophy shows that the Americans are preparing for conflicts with any country that will attempt to defend its interests.
This is bad for the United States itself. Maybe Washington is using the alleged threats coming from Russia and China to distract the Americans from the incredible problems we see unfolding in that country. Maybe this is part of the election campaign, for the contenders need to gain points. It would be regrettable if they did this by removing all checks and balances on the international stage and by taking the freedom to venture into risky projects in the hope of getting more votes. We stand for dialogue and strategic stability, as President Putin has noted, including when he proposed a summit meeting of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Question: It has been reported today that Ukraine plans to withdraw from the 2012 memorandum on counterterrorism cooperation with Russia. The interpretative note reads that “this decision will allow for the creation of additional legal and political grounds for protecting the national interests of Ukraine in conditions of Russia’s armed aggression and enhancing Ukraine’s prestige.” Will you comment on this, please?
Sergey Lavrov: I am not aware of our Ukrainian neighbours’ decision to withdraw from the memorandum on counterterrorism cooperation. They are withdrawing from many documents now, which they have a right to do. They also have a right to present their decisions to terminate cooperation in any way. If they think this will help them to protect their national interests more effectively, be that as it may. But it is obvious to us that counterterrorism must not be a victim and hostage of geopolitical games. Any more or less well-read person can see that the Ukrainian authorities are playing geopolitical games. Just look at the statement made by President Vladimir Zelensky, who has said that the Minsk Agreements are only needed to ensure Western sanctions against Russia. This statement is self-explanatory. I leave this on the conscience of the Ukrainian leadership.
We continue our contacts in the Normandy format. The advisers and political aides of the Normandy format leaders have recently had a meeting. It has reaffirmed that the Ukrainian side categorically refuses to honour the Minsk Agreements, which have been approved by the UN Security Council. It has refused to answer the direct questions of our representatives to this effect. We hope that Germany and France as the parties of the Normandy format will take their share of responsibility for Kiev’s position regarding the vital document titled the Minsk Package of Measures.
Question: Is there any chance of a ceasefire in Libya and that the forces of the Government of National Accord will not cross the Sirte – Al Jufra red line, given yesterday’s reports of attacks in Al Jufra, which neither side in the conflict has confirmed?
Sergey Lavrov: I cannot say if the ceasefire has a chance or not. There is always a chance, but it is difficult to say if it will be used. There was such a chance half a year ago, as well as two, three and four years ago when conferences on Libya were held in Paris, Palermo and Abu Dhabi. A conference was also held in Berlin half a year ago, and before that there was a meeting held in Moscow. A document was adopted, an open and simple document that was only a page and a half long, which stipulated a ceasefire in the first place. One of the sides invited to Moscow and Berlin did not use that chance. Now the other side does not want to use this chance, which still exists. As I have mentioned, it is not simply a chance but a demand which has no alternatives and which must be implemented if we want to start settling the situation in Libya.
As for the military situation on the ground and which side’s forces are preparing to cross any lines, this is of secondary importance. If we agree – and it appears that all sides agree that there is no military solution in Libya – the only thing to do is to stop fighting now. Next we can use the tried and tested mechanisms such as the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission and the proposals sealed in the Cairo Declaration, including the proposal recently advanced by the head of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, who has recently visited Moscow. I am referring to the establishment of truly collective and equal bodies of power where all the three historical regions of Libya will be represented based on a balance of interests. I regard this as an absolutely reasonable proposal.
Question: Is Russia ready to act as a mediator in the conflict around the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam?
Sergey Lavrov: We have offered our assistance, including in the form of technical support, to the conflicting parties. We can do useful things. They know this. The United States has offered its assistance as well. Several meetings have been held in the United States. We welcome the progress achieved so far.
It is encouraging that the sides have recently agreed to stimulate contacts between the concerned ministries. This topic has been discussed at the UN Security Council upon Egypt’s initiative. During the discussion held there, we proposed accelerating the coordination of mutually acceptable approaches based on the existing norms of international law and the interests of the parties involved in this dispute.