Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Arab Republic Faisal Mekdad, Moscow, December 17, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had an in-depth exchange of opinions on the situation in Syria and around it with my colleague, Foreign Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic Faisal Mekdad, and his delegation. We discussed major issues on the regional and international agendas, and the development of the Russian-Syrian bilateral cooperation in line with the agreements between our presidents.
We confirmed Russia’s unchanged stance in favour of unconditional respect for Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence as well as the right of the Syrian nation to determine its own fate and future. All these principles are clearly and unambiguously stated in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. All countries without exception must follow these principles.
We discussed the political process. We welcomed the positive development in the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee's Drafting Commission. This body was established during the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi in January 2018 at the initiative of Russia, Turkey and Iran as the guarantor states of the Astana format.
We believe that it is necessary to continue the work of the “Astana three.” It is the only international assistance mechanism for the Syrian settlement that has actually proved its efficiency and relevance.
As the military-political situation in Syria gradually improves, these results should be complemented with the settlement of socioeconomic problems. This will help create the most favourable conditions for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
Several weeks ago, Damascus hosted the first international conference on the return of Syrian refugees, which was organised with our active support. It was attended by over 20 countries, including many Arab states. This is proof of international recognition of the importance of practical measures that must be taken to deal with the matters related to the return of refugees.
The attainment of socioeconomic development goals in Syria is being hindered by the illegal (and even criminal in light of the COVID pandemic) unilateral sanctions adopted against Syria by the United States and some of its allies.
We reaffirm our condemnation of the continued illegal presence of foreign troops in Syria.
We held an in-depth discussion on our bilateral relations, including military, military-technical, trade and economic cooperation and ties in the humanitarian sphere.
We have coordinated some practical aspects of our collaboration in international organisations, in particular, at the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
I would like to once again thank our Syrian friends, and personally Minister Faisal Mekdad, for our close cooperation and a productive conversation.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Damascus and Moscow have always highlighted the importance of combating terrorism in Syria. When Russia speaks up for respecting the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, which Minister Lavrov never fails to mention, we understand that the Russian Federation condemns all kinds of occupation of Syrian regions, be it American, Turkish or Israeli. We are now facing ambitious goals when it comes to economic restoration. Did you discuss this at today’s meeting?
Sergey Lavrov: Today we discussed an entire range of issues related, one way or another, to the Syrian settlement and the deepening of our strategic cooperation.
We condemn any activities that take the form of illegal presence of foreign troops on the territory of sovereign states, in this case without an invitation or approval by the Syrian leadership.
As for economic rehabilitation, in the past few weeks we have adopted a number of very serious decisions, which will greatly enhance Syria’s opportunities to organise systemic work in this sphere. We continue providing humanitarian aid. We have delivered 100,000 tonnes of Russian grain. These deliveries will continue. We are discussing practical steps now. A comprehensive strategic programme for economic cooperation is being prepared.
A new Syrian co-chair of the intergovernmental commission in trade and economic cooperation has been appointed this month. The commission is preparing for a full-scale meeting early next year, during which all these topics and joint practical actions will be discussed.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Mr Lavrov, I would like to ask you about your opinion of the work of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva. Are there any obstacles or difficulties in its work? Can we expect a breakthrough, especially after what the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy for Syria has said recently?
Sergey Lavrov: We have noted positive changes in the work of the Constitutional Committee and its Drafting Commission. They completed the fourth meeting early this month and have agreed to hold the fifth meeting in January 2021. Productive discussions were held on the national foundations, that is, the principles for ensuring the identity of the Syrian nation. The agenda of the next meeting will include discussions on formulating these principles as the text of the preamble to the Constitution.
There are too many problems and contradictions regarding the situation around Syria due to a different degree of the external players’ involvement. This is why I am not talking about a breakthrough, but rather about the importance of careful and consistent efforts on a permanent basis. In my opinion, and this conclusion can also be drawn from the UN Security Council meeting yesterday, this line is also favoured by Geir Pedersen and his team. I believe that this is how it should be.
Question: On Tuesday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that you “got the facts wrong and attempted to rewrite history” when you accused the United States of “playing political games in the Mediterranean and stalling the appointment of a new UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Libya.” He also said that “Russia continues to threaten Mediterranean stability.” What is your opinion of this statement by the current US Secretary of State? Do you expect the US policy towards Syria and Libya to change after the Biden administration assumes office?
Sergey Lavrov: During the past four years of working with the current US administration, we have become used to the United States showing no desire, ability or skill when it comes to discussing their concerns openly and on the basis of facts during direct negotiations. The Americans and their Western allies have developed a trend of publicly accusing others without any facts, making these accusations part of the international agenda and, finally, presenting them as a proved matter. This is what they did and what they are doing regarding the US elections and the recent complaints about hackers. This is what they did in the case of the Skripals, and this is what they are doing in the Navalny case. They have no facts, not a single one, to prove their point.
As for the appointment of a new Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Libya, I did indeed mention at the MED Dialogue something that is a fact: the post has been vacant since March 2020, or for almost a year. The new envoy was only appointed the day before yesterday. Everyone is aware that it was the Americans who prevented the UN Secretary-General from appointing the Algerian candidate, who was supported by the African Union (AU). When the Americans blackballed that candidate, the AU proposed a candidate from Ghana. The Americans blocked it as well. These facts are common knowledge.
In his statement, Mr Pompeo also said that Russia and several other countries continue to violate the embargo on arms deliveries to Libya, approved by the UN Security Council. This is a perennial subject. Nobody has ever provided any facts to prove this allegation. But this is not what matters. The US Secretary of State complained that UN Security Council decisions are not implemented, according to US information. I would like to note in this connection that in 2011 the United States and its NATO allies, acting in violation of the relevant UNSC resolution, destroyed Libya’s statehood, which the international community is trying, though not very effectively, to restore now. UNSC Resolution 2254 on Syria, which calls for respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Syria and the right of the Syrian people to choose their future development path, has been mentioned many times today. Instead of respect for that resolution, Mr Pompeo has actually called for a regime change in Syria and is concerned that Russia helped the Syrian people and their government prevent the enactment of the Libyan scenario in their country. It makes little difference for the Americans where to disregard UNSC decisions, in the Eastern Mediterranean, in Iraq, or in Yugoslavia in 1999.
In his statement, Mr Pompeo suggested that Russia should use “open democratic means to advance its interests” throughout the world. This reminded me about the US Secretary of State’s recent trip to Africa, where he publicly called on African countries, or rather demanded that they stop trading with Russia and China, which allegedly pursue bad and self-serving interests in their ties with other countries, and urged them to do business with the United States, which simply wants to help African countries with no string attached. This is almost exactly what he said. This is not democracy but an open and unscrupulous attempt to suppress competition.
It was very touching to read in that statement about Mr Pompeo’s concerns about the orthodox religion. He has again accused us of “meddling in Greek Orthodox religious affairs,” even though there is no proof of this, while facts are common knowledge and must be respected. Mr Pompeo knows very well that in this respect the United States has provided a shining example of promoting its own interests by “democratic means,” as he noted. The United States is promoting a division in the orthodox world in flagrant violation of democratic – I would like to emphasise this – principles, including by destroying the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and creating the so-called Ukrainian Autocephalous Church. The US administration is actively and absolutely openly using completely undemocratic means to force the other canonical Orthodox Churches to support this illegal transformation. We know about similar plans to split the Serbian Orthodox Church and other “dissenting” Orthodox Churches. Mr Pompeo has recently visited Istanbul, where he had a special meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople to coordinate their plans regarding Orthodox Christianity.
Such accusations against us bring to mind many pieces of folk art. The idea is presented differently in different languages, but the way our fable writer Ivan Krylov did it is probably the best.