Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Burkina Faso’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Alpha Barry, Moscow, February 20, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held very fruitful talks with my Burkinabe colleague, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Burkinabe Abroad Alpha Barry.
We noted the importance of this visit, which was timed for the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. We marked it on February 18. We have agreed to use the experience of the past decades to strengthen our cooperation in the political, trade, economic, cultural, humanitarian and other areas.
We stressed the great economic potential of our bilateral cooperation, which is far from exhausted, and the need to encourage direct ties between our business communities. A Burkinabe business delegation visited several regions in Russia last year. We would like this positive practice to continue. We hope that events such as the Innoprom International Industrial Trade Fair in Yekaterinburg will provide solid platforms for discussing prospects for our practical cooperation. A Russian mining company is working in Burkina Faso. As we strengthen and deepen our ties, we will prepare an agreement on the mutual protection of investment, as Mr Barry has proposed.
We discussed a very interesting and promising issue – the resumption of active cooperation in professional training. Russian universities have graduated some 3,500 professionals for Burkina Faso. We also agreed to promote cooperation between our diplomatic academies.
We are ready to continue to cooperate in the defence sphere. The 2006 intergovernmental agreement on defence cooperation provides a firm basis for boosting our relations in this sphere.
We discussed Africa’s problems and agreed that the numerous conflicts, which have not been settled yet, are hindering the socioeconomic development of African countries. In this connection, we exchanged opinions on the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. We highlighted the importance of rallying the efforts of all countries in the fight against terrorism without double standards or any hidden agenda. In this context, we noted the importance of the initiative advanced by President of Russia Vladimir Putin on creating a broad anti-terrorist front, which provides for coordinating efforts to root out terrorism in Africa.
We expressed satisfaction with our cooperation at multilateral platforms, primarily the UN, and in the framework of Russia’s cooperation with the African Union and numerous subregional organisations in Africa.
We spoke about Russia’s assistance to African countries, such as considerable efforts to ease their debts, promote the debt for development tool and also provide assistance through the IMF, the World Bank, the WHO and the World Food Programme. Taken together, these are considerable funds. We see how important it is for African countries to receive this assistance from the international community.
A relevant example of our significant assistance to Africa is the development of an Ebola virus vaccine and the establishment of a laboratory in Guinea that will be responsible for disease prevention programmes that are so important for the region, including Burkina Faso.
We will continue to contribute to the settlement of conflicts in Africa and to creating a solid foundation for a more effective fight against terrorism, including by training African peacekeepers and counterterrorism and drug enforcement personnel at our universities.
Overall, we are convinced that our cooperation will be boosted by the Memorandum on Political Consultations between our foreign ministries, which we have just signed.
I am sincerely grateful to my colleague, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Burkinabe Abroad Alpha Barry for the productive talks we had today. I hope that we will carry on our contacts in the interests of close relations between our nations.
Question: Could you please comment on British media publications and the subsequent statement by Montenegro’s Chief Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic that Russian state agencies were allegedly involved in a coup attempt during Montenegrin elections in October 2016? According to Mr Katnic, Russian citizen Eduard Shirokov (real surname Shishmakov), an alleged member of the Russian secret services, headed a group planning the coup.
Sergey Lavrov: You know, I don’t want to comment on this. I understand that the British media want to have a say in everything. They have already made a showing of themselves, including in such absolutely far-fetched situations as the Litvinenko case and its interpretation by them.
Speaking of the “news report” you mentioned, it ranks together with other groundless accusations against us and Russia, including the alleged hacking attacks against virtually the entire West, meddling in election campaigns of most Western countries, alleged connections between the Donald Trump administration and Russian secret services and many more. They did not present us with a single fact confirming these groundless accusations. But there are enough facts proving that the Obama administration had actively meddled in the election processes in France in 2012 and spied on the leaders of Germany and other European countries. To my mind, it would be better not to shift the blame but to search for the truth. And you can get to the truth through a calm and to the point conversation, rather than from newspapers which are after attention grabbing headlines. If there are any questions, let’s discuss them and join forces in fighting various threats, including cybercrime.
We also read some interesting things, including those linked with a scandal that has flared up around General Mike Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Trump, who resigned several weeks after his appointment. Members of US secret services told journalists absolutely officially, although on condition of anonymity, that the communications of Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak are routinely bugged, including his reports to Moscow about the fulfilment of his official duties in Washington DC. Therefore it would be better to pay attention to the actions of those who proved long ago that they are trying to monitor all processes around the world, including by methods that have long ago been recognised as not fully legitimate, to put it mildly.
Question: What is your opinion of the situation around the Syrian settlement? What are the main results of the Astana meeting on Syria? What can we expect from the Geneva meeting after the Astana meeting considering the sides’ irreconcilable stands, as can be seen from the statements made in Kazakhstan’s capital? Some opposition members, for example [leader of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation] Qadri Jamil, said they would not participate in the Geneva format.
Can you comment on the latest statement by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, about the lack of a clear US position on Syria? He said in Munich that the one thing that is missing at the moment is a clear US strategy.
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t know about this statement.
As for the results of the Astana talks, we discussed them in much detail. The main result of the recent Astana meeting is the establishment of a joint group of Russian, Turkish and Iranian experts to monitor compliance with the ceasefire and the coordination of a response to possible ceasefire violations. A document adopted in Astana sets out the procedure for doing this, including getting support from UN experts, using the [Russia-US] centre for prompt response to ceasefire violations established at the UN, inviting the conflicting parties (the Syrian government and the armed opposition) to discuss concrete ceasefire violations and involving the support of experts not only from Russia, Turkey and Iran. I believe that it is a sufficiently flexible structure that will be certainly useful in our future work, including at the UN.
The Astana meeting also reaffirmed the coordinated goal of involving representatives of the armed groups and the opposition who signed the ceasefire agreements and were represented in Astana also in the UN-led talks on a political settlement. We discussed the possibility of launching serious discussions on the political aspects of the Syrian settlement that were set out in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. As you know, the Russian party drafted a tentative constitution, which we would like to use to encourage the Syrians to start talking with each other about their countries’ future. Further procrastination is not in the interests of any party. We are happy that the Astana initiative has helped end the endless period of our UN colleagues waiting for the moment when certain members of the political opposition and emigrants would agree to attend the talks.
Unfortunately, you are right that some irreconcilable statements were made in Astana. But the parties usually try to up the stakes before serious talks, so that they are able to move down towards the best result possible. We are not concerned about this. After all, our goal is to hammer out compromises. We will urge all parties at the talks to show good will and discuss possible agreements pragmatically.
The next round of the Geneva talks must not be conducted in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, under which our UN colleagues must invite the delegations of the Syrian government and all opposition groups, including the Moscow, Cairo and Riyadh groups, as well as the Astana group. It is regrettable that representatives of the Moscow group, in particular Qadri Jamil, have not been invited to the talks in Geneva. We have indicated to Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura that this selective approach to forming delegations for the Geneva talks is unacceptable. Qadri Jamil did not say he would not go to Geneva; he only said he had not received an invitation to the talks. Polite people do not attend events to which they are not invited. In this particular case, sending out invitations is not a gesture of goodwill but a duty of our UN colleagues. I am convinced that they can and must change this situation in the remaining few days before the talks.
As for the United States’ role, I have not heard the statement you mentioned. I met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Bonn several days ago. Of course, we discussed the situation in Syria, especially in the context of fighting international terrorism, which is the declared priority of the Trump administration. As I concluded from that conversation, the creation of a US team on Syria is an important goal for the administration. The senior officials at the US Department of State and the White House are actively working on this. I hope that this team, as soon as it is formed, will join the common efforts and will work in the interests of the international community and the United States more actively than their predecessors from the Obama administration’s Syrian team, who did much to prevent the arrangements made with the participation of John Kerry from taking the form of practical coordination.
In this context, I was surprised by what Brett McGurk, the US envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition from the previous administration, who still keeps this position, said at the Munich conference two days ago. He spoke favourably about the efforts taken at the Astana meetings and then said that very serious coordination between the US and Russia is highly unlikely in Syria. This is the position of the previous US administration, or more precisely, of the Pentagon under the previous US administration. I hope very much that this is a case of inertia, because Mr McGurk represents the previous Obama administration.
Question: Could you please comment on another publication in the western media? Today, The New York Times published a large article saying that Ukrainian deputy Andrey Artemenko allegedly offered the Donald Trump administration a plan to solve the Ukrainian crisis, which, in part, suggests the withdrawal of the Russian troops from eastern Ukraine in exchange for leasing Crimea to Russia. What can you say on this? Why, in your opinion, did they come up with such a plan?
Sergey Lavrov: It is difficult to comment on this. You cannot lease anything from yourself. There is nothing more to say.
As for various plans, there are probably many of those willing to deflect attention away from the total inability of the Petr Poroshenko administration to fulfil its obligations under the Minsk Agreements, and at the same time from the failed attempts of our German and French colleagues to influence the Ukrainian President in any way and make him keep his word.
Such a plan is both daydreaming and shows that there will be more attempts to rewrite the rules of the game. It only detracts attention from the need to realise the Package of Measures outlined in Minsk in February 2015 in full and in an agreed order. There is no other option.