Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Nur-Sultan, October 9, 2019
Mr Mukhtar Tleuberdi,
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank our Kazakhstani hosts and personally the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Mr Tleuberdi, for the talks, for the hospitality and for the continued truly friendly atmosphere between Russia and Kazakhstan as strategic partners and allies. This is our first meeting after Mr Tleuberdi’s appointment to this high post.
We agreed on the need to ensure continuity in our foreign policy cooperation. In this context, we reviewed the approaches of Russia and Kazakhstan to international and regional issues. These approaches are close or coincide in the vast majority of cases.
We are focused on implementing the decisions adopted by the presidents of the two countries, including the Joint Action Plan for 2019-2021 signed on November 9, 2018, on the sidelines of the 15th Russia-Kazakhstan Interregional Cooperation Forum in Petropavlovsk. Today we discussed the preparations for the 16th forum, which will be held in Omsk in November. Shortly before this forum, a new event will be held – the first forum of young leaders of Russia and Kazakhstan. Young employees of the foreign ministries will be represented on both sides. We consider interaction between young diplomats at this level very promising.
Today we examined in detail objectives related to the Action Plan I mentioned, in the trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres, and also energy, transport, space exploration, educational and scientific exchanges.
We highly appreciate the cooperation between the ministries of foreign affairs. As I mentioned, we exchanged views on the pressing issues on the global and regional agendas. We agreed to strengthen coordination at key multilateral platforms, including the CSTO, EAEU, CIS, SCO, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, as well as at the UN and OSCE.
We specifically highlighted foreign policy support for Eurasian integration processes. It is important to help open the full potential of the EAEU for the sake of making the participating economies more competitive and, of course, for improving the welfare of our citizens.
This work is an integral part of building what Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Great Eurasian Partnership on our vast continent.
We welcomed the positive dynamics in relations between the Central Asian countries. Tomorrow the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian states and Russia will meet in Ashgabat before the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers meeting. We believe the informal dialogue in this format should be beneficial.
We talked about the situation in Afghanistan, including in the context of the continuing threats of terrorism and drug trafficking emanating from that country. We reaffirmed our commitment to using the existing formats to create conditions for the Afghan people to agree on peace and stability in their country.
We praised the Astana talks as an effective platform for moving the Syrian settlement forward. It was in the Astana process that the guarantor countries managed to convince the government and the opposition to lay the foundation for the start of negotiations within the framework of the Constitutional Committee and agree on that body’s regulations and procedures. We will make every effort to ensure that these agreements lead to the consistent implementation of UN decisions.
We also reaffirmed the need to implement the Minsk agreements to achieve peace in eastern Ukraine. There is no alternative to this. We very much hope that the new government of Ukraine will accept this and ensure a sequence of actions that will fit into President Vladimir Zelensky’s declared logic of implementing this most important document.
Overall, we are both pleased with the outcome of the talks. We will continue to maintain close working contact. I have invited my colleague to visit the Russian Federation.
Question: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a decision to launch the operation in Syria could be made in the next few days. How dangerous is this step? How does it compare to Turkey’s obligations under the Astana format to preserve the integrity and sovereignty of Syria? Will we try to restrain the Turks on the ground in any way?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already spelled out our position on northeastern Syria today, including the events on the Turkish-Syrian border. Our position is unequivocally based on our commitment to resolving all problems there through a dialogue between the government in Damascus and representatives of the Kurdish communities traditionally living in the area. Following an exchange of statements between Ankara and Washington, we contacted representatives of both the Kurds and the government. We reaffirmed our encouragement for them to launch a dialogue to resolve the problems in that part of Syria, including the problem of ensuring security on the Turkish-Syrian border. We still believe this to be the only way to achieve sustainable stabilisation of the area. We heard statements yesterday by officials in Damascus and representatives of the Kurds that they are ready for such a dialogue. We will try as hard as possible to facilitate the beginning of a substantive exchange and expect that it will be supported by all major external players.
Yesterday I spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who firmly and unequivocally confirmed that the Turkish side respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and all its actions will envision the ultimate goal of restoring the full territorial integrity of the Syrian state. Naturally, the situation is changeable, and is developing. We are monitoring it in real time and will inform you.
Question: Recently, the media reported on the difficult situation for Muslims in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China. The reports claim there are secret political camps for the re-education of Muslims and mosques are being blown up. I would like to know your position on this issue.
Sergey Lavrov: Our position is well known. We express it at meetings of the UN Human Rights Council, which includes a mechanism for Universal Periodic Reviews of the human rights situation on the ground of each of the member states. China has repeatedly given explanations concerning the accusations that you have mentioned probably citing our Western colleagues. We have no reason to take any steps other than the procedures that exist at the UN that I mentioned, such as at the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Reviews.
Question: What is your opinion of the latest UN General Assembly session? Do you agree that the UN has become a platform for making loud statements that are not followed by any action?
Sergey Lavrov: With whom should I agree on that? With you? Whose opinion is that? As a journalist, you should provide facts before asking me to comment on a claim.
If you are referring to foreign media, I can tell you that I do not agree with this description. The UN is a very complicated mechanism, if only because it has 193 member states. Its mission is to formulate approaches to global problems that are acceptable to all these states. It is sometimes difficult to find an agreement between even the ministries and agencies of the same government, let alone all the countries. I would like to caution you against creating any kind of panic with regard to the UN. Humankind has nothing more substantial than the UN Charter and the system of cooperation mechanisms based on it.
Question: I would like to know your opinion on what the Americans are saying and doing regarding the current developments on the Syrian-Turkish border. US President Donald Trump first said that the Americans should not be involved in unnecessary wars, and US troops seem to be leaving the area. But later it was reported that a small group of special forces would be redeployed from the border zone. The US State Department says one thing, and Trump offers a different interpretation of that. How can one develop interaction with the US on Syria given these contradictions? What is wrong with them?
Sergey Lavrov: I cannot say what’s wrong with US operations in Syria. It is a fact, as I see it, that they are full of contradictions and that our American colleagues are unable to honour their agreements. We have urged them more than once to end their illegal occupation of the Al-Tanf area, where they set up a military base. It is a vast 55-kilometre area where very bad people have found safe haven, including terrorists, extremists and those who are terrorising the refugees and internally displaced people in the Rukban camp. We have tried to resettle people from that camp more than once, working with the UN and the Syrian government, but the Americans have not honoured their promises regarding this, just as they broke their promise to reduce and subsequently shut down the Al-Tanf zone. President Trump said he would withdraw US troops from Syria and other countries after he assumed office. But later these promises were soft-pedalled by those who were to implement them. We could be seeing something like this again. The Americans must know that the processes that have been developing in northeast Syria with their participation over the past few years are in direct conflict with the provisions of the UN Security Council resolution regarding respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria.
The Americans organised and maintained pseudo-state structures there and highlighted the Kurdish problem in a manner that caused the wrath of the Arab tribes who have always lived there. This is a dangerous game. I saw this the other day when I was in Iraq and met with Iraqi Kurds, including the leaders of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. They are deeply concerned that this careless attitude towards an extremely delicate subject could set the whole region in turmoil, which must be avoided at all costs. We have informed the Americans about this point of view. I hope they have heard us. However, we have not yet seen any practical changes in their inconsistent and contradictory policy.