Question: You will be visiting Cairo, as you did before, almost immediately after your trip to a number of Gulf countries. Is there any explanation for this sequence, especially considering that the Israeli Foreign Minister visited Moscow the day before? Has any progress been made during your talks with the Arabs in resolving crises in the region, in particular the conflict in Yemen?
Sergey Lavrov: Do not try to find any hidden agenda in my recent visits to several Arab states of the Persian Gulf. It is an integral part of our regular and trust-based foreign policy dialogue. Let me remind you that my colleagues, the foreign ministers of the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, visited Moscow in December 2020 and January 2021.
During our meetings and conversations, we discussed the prospects for the further development of bilateral relations. We certainly considered the situation in the Middle East and North Africa in detail, underscoring the need to overcome the crises and conflicts there exclusively by political means – through a wide-ranging dialogue with strict observance of international law and, above all, the principles of the UN Charter. This entails, in particular, non-interference in the internal affairs of the countries in the region, and respect for their sovereignty and territorial integrity. We agreed to continue to closely coordinate efforts, including at various multilateral platforms.
As for the situation in Yemen, this topic was also touched upon during my meetings with the leaders of the Arab monarchies. We are closely following the developments in that country where there has been a deep military-political crisis for six years. The bloody clashes that resumed at the beginning of February in the Marib Governorate between the Houthis and the forces loyal to the Yemeni President are of particular concern.
The agreement to create a new coalition government reached in December 2020 by the current head of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), with Saudi mediation, was an important step towards stabilising the southern part of the country. It was the first time representatives of the southern regions received a significant part of the ministerial portfolios.
Russia has publicly welcomed the aforementioned agreements. We have expressed the hope that their implementation will lead to an increase in the level of public safety, make it possible to focus on solving socioeconomic problems in that part of Yemen, and also create favourable conditions for the launch of negotiations between a joint delegation of the official Yemeni authorities and the STC with the leadership of the Houthi movement (Ansar Allah) on the future political development of the country.
We call on the parties to the Yemeni conflict to renounce violence and embark on the path of peaceful resolution of their differences. The recent Saudi initiative we welcomed is also aimed at promoting a political settlement.
At the same time, we believe a long-term peace is only possible on the basis of appropriate consideration of the interests of all the leading political forces in Yemen. This requires starting a broad national dialogue, a reopening of air, sea and land access to Yemen, and the other urgent practical steps in the socioeconomic and humanitarian spheres.
We intend to continue to support the relevant efforts by UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, as well as to vigorously encourage President of Yemen Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the leaders of the Ansar Allah Houthi movement to show a constructive approach and willingness to compromise when discussing their differences.
Question: What do you think about the developments in bilateral relations between both countries? Can we expect that the resumption of direct flights from Russia to Egyptian resorts, primarily Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, will be announced during your upcoming visit to Cairo?
Sergey Lavrov: Russian-Egyptian relations are developing steadily in many directions. We are maintaining an intensive political dialogue despite the coronavirus pandemic. In March 2021, Cairo was the venue of bilateral consultations between national foreign ministries at the level of deputy foreign ministers. The participants discussed European matters and Russian-Egyptian cooperation at the UN and also on human rights.
We also have good cooperation prospects in other fields, including tourism. For a long time now Egyptian resorts have been extremely popular with many Russian citizens. Egypt views the influx of foreign tourists as an important source of budgetary revenues.
In this connection, I would like to reaffirm our interest in resuming regular air flights between Russia and Egyptian resort cities. Over a period of the past few years, the professionals from both countries have completed substantial joint work in this direction. I hope that chartered flights will resume from Russia to Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada in the near future.
Question: What can you say about strategic partnership between Russia and Egypt? When will the 2+2 mechanism resume work?
Sergey Lavrov: The Agreement on Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation, signed by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Sochi in October 2018 and enacted in January 2021, determines the nature of our ties with Egypt. We therefore maintain strategic relations.
Egypt ranks among Russia’s key partners in the Middle East and the African continent. Regular meetings between foreign and defence ministers in the 2+2 format are an important part of bilateral political dialogue. At the same time, specific deadlines for holding another round of consultations are coordinated with the Egyptian party, as soon as their agenda is filled with substantive content.
Question: How would you describe relations between our countries? What can you say about the practical steps taken to implement Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s statement, made during his meetings with Russian officials in Moscow last October, regarding the purchase of the right to produce Sputnik V? How are we cooperating in the fight against terrorism?
Sergey Lavrov: In addition to a close political dialogue, we are also developing mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has had a negative effect on our trade, which decreased from $6.25 billion in 2019 to $4.54 billion in 2020.
However, we are continuing with the implementation of a number of large-scale joint projects, including the construction of the Russian-designed El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant in Egypt, the establishment of the Russian Industrial Zone in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, and the delivery of Russian-made railway carriages to Egypt. In 2021, Russia and Egypt will hold several major events within the framework of the Russian-Egyptian Cross Year of Humanitarian Cooperation.
The registration of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in Egypt in February 2021 has created conditions for stimulating contacts between our countries’ relevant agencies regarding the possible delivery of the vaccine to Egypt.
Moscow and Cairo have been consistently advocating the need for joint efforts to combat the global threat of international terrorism. They also maintain a close dialogue on this subject at the UN.
The Russian-Egyptian Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation Agreement formalised the functioning of the bilateral Working Group on Counterterrorism. Our joint efforts within the framework of this group are strengthening our cooperation against terrorism. We are planning to hold a regular meeting of the group in Cairo in the near future.
Question: What has Moscow done to develop interaction with Arab countries for a peace settlement in Syria? When can this goal be attained, in your opinion? What do you think about the possibility of Syria’s return to the League of Arab States in the context of the talks you have held in the Gulf capitals?
Sergey Lavrov: Syria is an Arab nation that stood at the inception of the League of Arab States and has traditionally played an important role in the Middle East.
The dramatic events, which began in Syria 10 years ago and have also affected Egypt, have seriously aggravated tensions in the Middle East and North Africa. We should not forget the conditions under which the decision to suspend Syria’s membership in the League was made in November 2011. Ten years later, many Arab countries are aware of the importance of resuming ties with Damascus. For our part, we wholeheartedly support this resolve.
In particular, during my recent talks in the UAE and Saudi Arabia we reaffirmed our commitment to the sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as the Syrians’ right to independently decide their future in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the outcome of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. In our opinion, these countries’ leaders feel disposed to return Syria to the Arab family, of which it has been and remains an integral part.
We firmly believe that this should be done, the sooner the better. Among other things, this will help create a favourable atmosphere for reaching an intra-Syrian agreement on a comprehensive settlement of the crisis, including its political components.
Question: Will the Russia-Africa Summit take place in 2022? What efforts is Russia making towards the success of the upcoming summit? Which integration projects does Moscow suggest for discussion with Africa?
Sergey Lavrov: During the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi in 2019, the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum was established: a new dialogue mechanism designed to coordinate the entire complex of Russian-African relations. Meetings at the highest level, like the one in Sochi, are supposed to be its executive body. They are scheduled to be held every three years.
The second summit is expected to take place in 2022 in an African country. The date and the venue will be determined soon via diplomatic channels.
In order to consolidate the success achieved in Sochi, in May 2020 the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum was established at the Foreign Ministry in line with President of Russia Vladimir Putin’s instructions. Its main function is to prepare Russian-African summits and coordinate the implementation of decisions taken there.
Today active work is underway to develop the concept and the roadmap for the upcoming summit. Of course, the substantive content will also reflect the priorities of our African partners. These and other issues are expected to be discussed during the upcoming consultation between the foreign ministers of Russia and the “African three” countries (previous, current and future chairs of the African Union), which are held annually.
Specific proposals to strengthen Russian-African cooperation are being developed by three councils (Coordination, Civic and Scientific councils) under the forum Secretariat. Ministries, agencies, business and public organisations taking part in developing relations with the African continent are represented there.
The Association of Economic Cooperation with African States, established last year, has begun its work with the active support of the Foreign Ministry. It includes several large Russian economic operators interested in implementing various projects and initiatives in the African region. In the coming months, the association plans to organise a series of business missions to African countries if the epidemiological situation permits it.
In order to answer the last part of your question, I would like to specify that we are not talking about integration with Africa, but about building strategic cooperation with the pan-African and regional integrational associations. Two essential documents were signed at the summit in Sochi: the Memorandum of Understanding between the Russian Government and the African Union on basic relations and cooperation as well as the Memorandum of Understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union on economic cooperation. A roadmap for cooperation between Russia and the Southern African Development Community is being finalised. The procedure to agree the draft profile memorandum with the Intergovernmental Development Organisation is almost complete.
We plan to continue inviting heads of the regional integration structures to take part in the Russian-African summit as part of a deepening of the interaction with them.