Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu following talks, Antalya, June 30, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held useful, intensive, and detailed talks on a wide range of issues figuring on the agenda of the Russian-Turkish partnership.
We stated that Russian-Turkish relations continued to develop dynamically in all areas without exception, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Our political dialogue, which is regular and stable, is also complemented with large-scale collaboration in trade, investment, humanitarian sphere and other fields.
We focused in particular on the implementation of the agreements reached at the top level. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan continue their active contacts. There have been six contacts this year alone. In addition, on March 10, 2021, our leaders participated via videoconference in the ceremony of launching the construction of the third power unit at the Akkuyu nuclear power station.
We welcomed the 22.5 percent growth of trade to $9.1 billion during the first four months of 2021. To consolidate this positive trend, we have agreed to work on removing the remaining barriers in mutual trade.
We reviewed preparations for the 17th meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Russian-Turkish Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation. It is planned to hold it in Moscow soon under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak and Trade Minister of Turkey Mehmet Muş.
We analysed the implementation of Turkey’s first Akkuyu nuclear power project built by Russian specialists. The facility is being erected as planned. The physical launch of the first power plant is scheduled for 2023, when the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic will be celebrated.
We exchanged views on steps to be taken to ensure the flawless functioning of the TurkStream gas pipeline.
We highly appreciate Turkey’s position of principle on promoting military-technical cooperation, including our Turkish friends’ intention to use the first Russia-supplied regiment of S-400 Triumph antiaircraft missile systems to ensure their defence capability.
We agreed to build up collaboration in an effort to curb the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have concurred in the opinion that the use of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and the start of its production in Turkey will help stabilise the sanitary and epidemiological situation in the country.
This, in turn, will make it possible to actively promote yet another major joint project, tourism, which is highly popular in both countries, especially here, in Antalya, a magnet for Russian holiday-makers. Let me emphasise our shared resolve to continue creating all the conditions for the development of tourist exchanges. We thanked our Turkish partners, who assured us that they will adopt all the necessary measures to protect the health and security of Russian citizens, primarily tourists. This is particularly important in the context of resumed air links.
We have discussed regional and international affairs in detail: the situation in the South Caucasus as such and in the context of the endeavour to implement the trilateral agreements of November 9, 2020, and January 11, 2021, reached in the interests of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We have arranged to continue the close coordination of efforts in aiding Baku and Yerevan to address practical matters involved in normalising their relations with an emphasis on the strengthening of confidence-building measures.
We are satisfied with how the Joint Russian-Turkish Centre for Monitoring the Ceasefire and the Cessation of All Hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone operates in Azerbaijan’s Agdam District. We exchanged views on the concrete situation on the ground. We are confident that its comprehensive stabilisation will be aided by efforts to unblock transport routes and promote multi-faceted economic cooperation in the Transcaucasia involving both local countries and their neighbours, including Turkey and Russia.
We covered the situation in the Middle East and North Africa in detail. As Astana Format countries, we have agreed to continue to make a contribution towards achieving the targets set in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We have reaffirmed the necessity of consistent steps to assist the effective performance of the Constitutional Committee, including as part of preparations for the upcoming sixth session of its Editorial Commission. We will focus on these and other matters at the next international meeting on Syria scheduled to take place in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, next month.
We also discussed the situation in north-eastern Syria and in Idlib Province, including tasks pertaining to the implementation of the Russian-Turkish Supplementary Protocol of March 5, 2020, to the Memorandum on the Establishment of a Demilitarised Zone in Idlib of September 17, 2018. We have spoken in favour of the final eradication of terrorism in the Syrian territory. We also stressed the importance of providing humanitarian assistance to all Syrians, without exception.
We reaffirmed our support for efforts to bring about an early peaceful resolution of the Libyan crisis under the aegis of the UN. We also expressed readiness to help the new bodies of power formed in March 2021 to hold a constitutional referendum and organise general elections scheduled for December 24, 2021.
We exchanged views on Middle East settlement and on the situation in Central Asia and Afghanistan, Ukraine, Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea region.
I think that these contacts help us to consider the current tasks that have to be addressed and to determine mid- and long-term objectives, including in the area of political coordination. I would like to express gratitude to our Turkish friends for the hospitality extended to our delegation.
Question (addressed to Mevlut Cavusoglu): Turkish President Erdogan announced plans to build a canal, which is supposed to serve as an alternate route to the straits connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The purpose of the construction is to unclog traffic. However, Turkish officials are saying that, in fact, the Montreux Convention, which regulates the passage through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles straits, will no longer be in force. What will happen to the convention in that case? Who will regulate the passage and how? Do you expect your partners to have concerns about this? Will the elaboration of a new convention be initiated?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mevlut Cavusoglu): We are satisfied with the interaction with our Turkish friends on implementing the Montreux Convention. Today, during the talks, we stated that the plans for building the Istanbul Canal will in no way affect the parameters of the presence of the foreign countries’ navies in the Black Sea.
Question: Less than two weeks passed between the summit of President Vladimir Putin and President Joseph Biden in Geneva and the publication of your article. In it, you said that the Americans “backpedalled” on the fundamental aspects of the parity basis for further consultations and contacts. What and who exactly were you talking about? Does this jeopardise the agreements reached? If not, are such statements by the Russian side something that may harm potential stabilisation in bilateral relations?
Sergey Lavrov: President Vladimir Putin answered this question during the Direct Line today. He gave quite a succinct account in broad strokes of what is happening.
We are not acting as if we are offended, but we are clearly seeing that the Americans want to implement all the issues discussed in Geneva primarily through promotion of their interests, rather than through balancing the interests of the United States and the Russian Federation.
In the coming days (hopefully, before mid-July) we are planning a meeting of the delegations that should address the strategic stability goals set by the presidents, namely, arms control and arms limitation. Here, we have full understanding with our US partners that the conversation will begin with the presentation by each party of their vision of the new talks, their content and subject. The result of such preliminary consultations can only be an agreement that suits both parties.
We have proposed a “security equation.” To find this “equation,” it is necessary to consider all types of weapons, without exception, that affect strategic stability, including nuclear, non-nuclear, offensive and defensive. Here, in my opinion, we have an understanding of what to expect from each other, and the realisation that only talks on a mutually acceptable basis will make these talks possible.
Other matters, on which we agreed to continue consultations, include cybersecurity, the functioning of diplomatic missions, and the situation with incarcerated persons. With regard to cybersecurity, we have proposed a detailed, large-scale dialogue. Immediately after Geneva, our US colleagues began to say that first we must arrest and punish the hackers who infiltrated their pipelines and meat packing plants. It is not about that. We are used to going from general to specific things. We are also ready to go from specifics to general things, if we consider all the particulars, including the attacks on our resources that occur every day. That is, again, this approach is not balanced.
With regard to our diplomatic missions’ activities, due to the fact that the hiring of local personnel has been terminated, the United States is asking us to issue 180 visas in order to bring in US citizens to replace local personnel. If we do this, we will forget how it all began and move on to the teacher-disciple relationship. We are not going to do that. This was started by the Barack Obama administration, which illegally seized our property and kicked out our diplomats which triggered a chain reaction. Our approach is extremely comprehensive: let's reset this entirely unhealthy and unacceptable situation. The Americans are saying: let's do it later, first issue 180 visas for us.
With regard to detention facilities, our US colleagues are focused on two names - Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed as a “litmus test’ and want us to release them. We will discuss these issues, but only on a mutually respectful basis and taking into account the balance of each other's interests. We stand ready to find that balance. I hope that the Americans will also “mature” to realise this and will look for it not only in the sphere of strategic stability, but all other areas where we have problems as well, and there are many such areas.
Question (retranslated from Turkish): The duration of the UN resolution on humanitarian aid to Syria expired on July 10. What do you think about the possibility of extending it?
Sergey Lavrov: This is yet another example of “first I get what I want, and we will think about coming to an agreement later.” If all of us are really concerned about the humanitarian plight of the Syrian people, we should analyse all the reasons that have created this situation, starting with the sanctions, including the absolutely stifling and inhumane Caesar Act, which was adopted by the Trump administration, the illegal seizure of Syrian assets in foreign banks at Washington’s request (this is simply plunder), and our partners’ refusal to ensure the delivery of international organisations’ humanitarian aid through Damascus and the contact line, to the regions which are not yet under the government’s control.
It was in this spirit that we discussed the developments in Syria today. This remains our position.
The resolution submitted by Norway and Ireland to the UN Security Council completely disregards everything I have mentioned just now, including the unacceptable activities of the European Union. When the EU wants to help refugees, it convenes conferences and sends invitations to the UN Secretary-General, as if the Syrian Government has nothing to do with it. Decisions are made and funds are invested, but they are not transferred to Syria for creating an elementary infrastructure needed for returning refugees, but to the countries where these people are living now, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. It looks as if they want to perpetuate this situation, so that these refugees continue living in these countries in the region. This is what our partners are doing, the partners who are interested in preserving only one approved border crossing between Turkey and Syria for the delivery of the UN Security Council’s aid.
Let us be honest about the reasons behind the Syrian citizens’ current major problems. We are ready for a comprehensive analysis of this situation, just as we have agreed today.
Question: What is your opinion of Turkey’s role in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, including the recent visit by President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Shushi?
Sergey Lavrov: We have already commented on the interaction between Moscow and Ankara in facilitating the settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh in our opening remarks. It not only includes regular consultations or the coordination of our political positions, but also the functioning of the joint Russian-Turkish monitoring centre on the ground. The centre, which is responsible for the verification of the ceasefire and hostilities in general, has been working effectively and beneficially to strengthen interaction in this situation.
President Erdogan’s visit to Azerbaijan was held within the framework of bilateral relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan.
We agreed with Mevlut Cavusoglu that we would use the available possibilities to promote reconciliation and normal relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and to help create conditions so that Armenians, Azerbaijanis and people of other nationalities can live there side by side as good neighbours. It is our shared belief that this will facilitate the settlement of any problems, including political ones.
Another area where we are cooperating is in assisting with the restoration of trade, economic and transport links in the region. We previously expressed support for and a positive reaction to the idea of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan to create a 3+3 mechanism of three South Caucasus states plus Russia, Turkey and Iran in order to promote the region’s development. We discussed this today. There are good initial plans.
We are satisfied with our close and effective collaboration on the Armenia-Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh issues.
Question (retranslated from Turkish): What practical steps can Russia and Turkey take regarding Syria and Libya?
Sergey Lavrov: Speaking about Libya, we would like to see compliance with the agreements reached in Geneva in the autumn of 2020 under the UN auspices. They provide for creating a legislative framework for constitutional reform and holding elections. This must be done quickly so as to be able to hold the election in late December 2021, just as the Libyans have agreed to do.
Efforts must be made to involve absolutely all forces of Libyan society without exception, including the leadership of the Libyan National Army and representatives of the former authorities, which still have considerable influence on the people, in the final political settlement.
The Berlin conference held on June 23 reaffirmed all these approaches and, in general, produced a comprehensive list of the tasks which the international community is willing to address in order to help the Libyans overcome the drawn-out crisis. It was provoked in 2011 by NATO aggression, which destroyed the Libyan statehood. The world is now working together to restore it. It is of principled importance to help the Libyans to become the masters of their country and to ensure its territorial integrity. In this sense, we fully support the final document of the Berlin conference. We regard it as a major incentive for the UN to continue working to end Libya’s transitional period.
The territorial integrity of Syria is a fundamental goal formulated by the UN Security Council. We can see that attempts are being made east of the Euphrates to promote separatist tendencies. They receive external support, including financial and material assistance. We regard this as unacceptable. We will continue to act in accordance with the principles set out in the documents of the Astana Format, namely, our categorical rejection of any attempts to split up Syria.
The next meeting of the Astana Troika will be held soon. It is a unique format, because, unlike the so-called Small Group on Syria or the Munich Quartet, the three guarantor countries of the Astana Format meet with delegations of the Syrian Government and the opposition, plus observers from Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. This is an important factor for the region. The United States has been invited to join the Astana Format since its very establishment. Its representatives attended several meetings, but during the past few years they have not responded to our invitations.
There are also other formats for taking into account the opinion of influential external players, which are not represented in the Astana Format. The current goal of the UN and UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen is to encourage dialogue between the sides. Mr Pedersen is a facilitator, and it is in this spirit that he and his team must act; they must not impose their views on the sides but help them reach a consensus. This is not simple. A great deal of mutual mistrust has accumulated on both sides. But the task of diplomacy is to find ways to negotiate such problems and obstacles. We have invited Geir Pedersen to visit Russia again, and we are now coordinating the timeframe. We will be able to discuss everything in detail.