Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister of the State of Israel Yair Lapid, Moscow, September 9, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank my colleague, Foreign Minister of the State of Israel Yair Lapid, for accepting my invitation to the Russian Federation shortly after his appointment. We held detailed talks on bilateral and international issues. As is traditional, the atmosphere was friendly and trust-based. We agreed that the results were useful.
We discussed in detail the condition of and prospects for bilateral relations and acknowledged with pleasure the intensity of our political dialogue, including contacts between our foreign ministries at a high level. We agreed to make a schedule of meetings between them for the next year.
We are interested in holding a regular session of the bilateral mixed commission on trade and economic cooperation as soon as possible. Its co-chairs plan to contact each other soon and agree on how to plan the work of this important mechanism for this and next year.
We also agreed to continue cooperating in various interdepartmental areas, investment and other projects that were negotiated and supported earlier by the President of the Russian Federation and the Prime Minister of the State of Israel.
We focused on the need to coordinate our efforts in curbing attempts to rewrite the universally recognised results of World War II, preventing the glorification of Nazi criminals, and putting an end to the connivance of neo-Nazi trends that are being manifest in Central and Eastern European countries. We will continue coordinating our actions at all international venues, including the UN.
We talked about regional problems, in part, Palestinian-Israeli relations. We welcomed the normalisation of Israel’s ties with a number of Arab countries and we support the continuation of this process. We believe it should facilitate a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East. We reaffirmed Russia’s willingness to continue facilitating the development of direct dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians both via bilateral channels and as a member of the Quartet of international mediators.
We discussed the prospects for military and political developments in the Syrian Arab Republic. We noted the need to fully comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which reaffirms support for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria and the lawful right of the Syrians to decide their own destiny. We emphasised the importance of granting the Syrians urgent humanitarian assistance in restoring the infrastructure destroyed by the civil war. Our Western colleagues are obstructing this effort with their illegal unilateral sanctions in violation of the resolution adopted by the UN Security Council in July 2021.
We will continue our dialogue at various international organisations. We have ramified contacts in the foreign and defence ministries and security councils. This allows us to fully consider each other’s interests in international and regional affairs when planning our work.
The minister kindly invited me to visit the State of Israel, which I will do with pleasure.
Question: Did you discuss the Israeli strikes against Syria during the talks? Has Moscow expressed any concerns or requests for the Israeli side in this regard?
Sergey Lavrov: We discussed all aspects of the Syrian peace process. The situation is difficult and is not getting any easier so far. Largely because too many external players and their interests are involved in these processes. Some of these interests are legitimate, such as Israel’s security. We always emphasise that for us, this is one of the key priorities in the Syrian case as well as in other conflicts.
There are other interests that are not entirely legitimate, though. I am primarily referring to the illegal occupation of a significant part of Syrian territory by the United States, the exploitation of the natural resources that belong to the Syrian people including hydrocarbons, grain and water, as well as the US policy that indulges Kurdish separatism. This is causing problems on Turkey’s end. It is a tangle of many different interests.
There is also Iran’s involvement. Iran is part of the Astana format, alongside Russia and Turkey. The Astana Platform was designed to advance the implementation of UNSCR 2254 while considering and taking into account all the realities on the ground. This means respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (which needs to be restored), suppression of any separatist attempts and progress towards forging an inclusive Syria-wide dialogue. This has been started; several rounds have taken place. But the Constitutional Committee has not been able to meet in the past 12 months. We spoke about the steps Russia is taking to speed up the committee process.
As for Israeli strikes on Syrian territory, I can confirm that we strongly oppose turning the Syrian Arab Republic into a theatre of confrontation between third countries. We do not want Syrian territory to be used for actions against Israel or anyone else. Our military officials discuss the practical issues of this substantively on a daily basis. I think this has proven to be useful. Today we agreed that it will be continued.
Question: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said today that Kiev is ready for a Normandy format meeting of foreign ministers and expects the Russian side to confirm participation. When can such a meeting take place? Will you attend?
Sergey Lavrov: We hear many statements from Kiev about the Ukrainian side being ready for various meetings. We just have no way of knowing what position Ukraine will take at these meetings. We do not need meetings just for meetings’ sake. The other Normandy format participants, in particular, Germany and France, agree with this.
If the Normandy Format is to accomplish the work entrusted to it by the four states’ leaders, this means creating the necessary conditions for concrete implementation of the Minsk Agreements in their entirety and consistency.
While the Ukrainian side calls for a Normandy Format meeting – speaking through its minister who likes to declare these things – to meet as soon as possible at the foreign minister level and at the highest level, other members of the Ukrainian government, and sometimes even Minister Kuleba, say they will not fulfill these agreements. Laws are being passed that prohibit Ukrainian negotiators from implementing the Minsk agreements. Well, it is difficult to describe the law restricting the use of the Russian language as anything else. The same goes for the law the Verkhovna Rada is now discussing, which would thwart all the Minsk Agreements’ provisions concerning amnesties, the special status of Donbass and the special procedure for holding elections there.
This sounds like multiple personalities, actually a kind of foreign policy schizophrenia. If we convene a Normandy format meeting, the Ukrainian side will say they have laws that cannot be violated. I take it that the only purpose of this initiative is to once again bother Berlin and Paris to put pressure on Russia to begin to modify the Minsk Agreements.
A recent videoconference of advisers to the four heads of state showed neither Germany nor France can clearly explain why they cannot raise their voice against Ukraine's gross violation of all its obligations.
Our position is clear. It hardly makes any sense for us to meet until we have a clear and unequivocal understanding that the Normandy Format will continue to solely focus on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements – and not try to revise them or involve other countries in this format, as Kiev would like.E
Question: When will the Middle East Quartet meet again? Can it hold its next meeting during the UN General Assembly in September?
Sergey Lavrov: We think it is useful to use any opportunity to revive the process of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. At this point, our Israeli friends are giving priority to socio-economic problems on Palestinian territory. We are also contributing to these efforts. This is necessary to allow the residents of the Palestinian National Authority to feel more confident.
As for the political aspects of this settlement, they have been put on hold for now. There are many reasons for this. We are convinced of the need to resume specific conversations in different formats. I mentioned one of these formats – a direct dialogue between Israel and Palestine. Moscow is ready to provide its services for this and can host it if the sides are ready. Another format is also obvious. The international community has approved it. The Quartet of Middle East mediators (Russia, the US, the EU and the UN) is a legitimate mediator. We are interested in this meeting after such a long break.
At this point, we are talking about the possibility of a ministerial meeting. Our special representatives in the Quartet discussed this several months ago. Everyone agreed that it is possible to resume this. As distinct from its predecessors, the Joseph Biden administration is ready for this. When this will happen depends on all members of the Quartet. We can do it at any time. We consider it useful to exchange views on how the international community can create conditions for reaching an agreement between Israel and Palestine because only they alone can agree with each other on resolving all the continuing contradictions.
Question: Recently, the Syrian army managed to enter the centre of Deraa with Russia’s help and establish control over the situation there. That said, many groups in this area are refusing to lay down their arms under the pretext of the absence of security guarantees and a political settlement. Many weapons in Syria are outside the control of the Syrian government. What do you think about this?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the situation in Deraa and, on a broader plane, in the Syrian Arab Republic, no territories there should be controlled by armed units other than the Syrian army. Indeed, this agreement was reached in Deraa with the help of our military on returning these territories to Syrian armed forces’ control.
As for combat hardware, under the agreement, the militants will give all heavy weapons to the Syrian army. They will be left with light small arms that they will have to take along. Now, talks are underway to decide where they can go from this district. They can hardly stay there.
There is only one way of resolving the situation in Idlib in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Our Turkish colleagues need to fulfil the agreements reached by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan in September 2018. These agreements provide for the separation of the normal, reasonable opposition from the terrorists, primarily from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. This process was started but it is far from being completed. Much remains to be done in this respect. We are continuously talking with our Turkish colleagues about this, in part, between our militaries. We are suggesting practical ways that will allow us to help our Turkish partners in implementing the agreements of the two presidents. This work is underway but, unfortunately, it is far from complete.