Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions during the joint news conference following the talks with Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu at the 8th Meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group, Sochi, December 29, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held the 8th Meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group (JSPG) with my Turkish colleague and friend Mevlut Cavusoglu. We had substantive talks on a broad range of issues, reaffirming the importance of political dialogue, primarily at the highest level. Regular trust-based contacts between our presidents determine strategic areas for Russian-Turkish relations in all spheres and the specific tasks in every area. All this has a direct bearing on the development of economic, humanitarian, military-technical and other forms of cooperation.
We discussed in detail our bilateral ties. With regard to economic issues we noted that due to coronavirus restrictions trade has dropped. We need to map out specific measures to reverse this trend and put our bilateral trade back on track. The Mixed Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation is playing a key role in delivering on this objective. The commission is expected to conduct a full-scale meeting in 2021. We also noted such major investment projects as the TurkStream pipeline and the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, among others. Unfortunately, these processes have slowed due to the pandemic, but now they are regaining momentum. We are convinced that they will be carried out on schedule.
We also reaffirmed our mutual desire to develop military-technical cooperation. As President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin has said on several occasions, we appreciate the consistent determination of our Turkish colleagues in developing this further despite the continued illegitimate pressure from Washington that openly lobbies for the interests of US producers with non-market measures.
We emphasised that humanitarian cooperation remains one of the key areas in our relations. The Russian-Turkish Public Forum is designed to play a coordinating role in this respect. It has already held five meetings and will convene its sixth session next year.
Turkey is very popular with Russian tourists. Today, we discussed efforts to ensure safe recreation at Turkish resorts. We appreciate the steps that our Turkish colleagues are taking in this regard.
We are interested in continuing our cooperation in countering the coronavirus. We reaffirmed our gratitude for cooperation during the repatriation of Russian citizens from Turkey in April 2020 and the efforts of the Turkish authorities to create the most comfortable conditions for the functioning of the Russian diplomatic institutions in Turkey.
We discussed the issues of spiritual care for Russian citizens living in Turkey or visiting as tourists. We noted the willingness of our Turkish colleagues to maintain the Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, which are world cultural heritage sites, and ensure access for people of all religions to these landmark shrines.
We talked about steps on signing additional agreements to strengthen the legal framework of our relations.
With regard to international issues, we focused primarily on the Nagorno-Karabakh situation. We welcome Ankara’s striving to facilitate the implementation of commitments by the parties to the conflict that are in line with the statement signed by the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia on November 9, 2020, and as part of the activities of the joint Russia-Turkey centre on ceasefire and combat monitoring in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. The centre was established under an agreement between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan; it is now being established. We both agree that the Nagorno-Karabakh situation must not be used for any attempts (no matter by what party) to bring foreign mercenaries into this region. We have a common position on this issue with our Turkish colleagues.
We discussed the developments in the Middle East and North Africa. Regarding Syria, we reaffirmed our commitment to the Astana format that has proved to be effective in resolving the most urgent problems there. We spoke about ways of implementing the agreements of our presidents on the Idlib de-escalation zone. These tasks are being addressed but we would like inject fresh momentum into this process .
We are paying special attention to the political track. We will continue to promote the work of the Constitutional Committee, including in the context of the upcoming fifth session of the Small Body, which is to start working on the Syrian Constitution in January.
It is no less important to resolve humanitarian issues. We told our friends about the recent Russia-supported conference in Damascus with the participation of over 20 countries. It was devoted to ways of creating conditions for the return of Syrian refugees.
We agreed to continue facilitating the normalisation of the situation in Libya through a nationwide dialogue with the participation of all key political forces of the country and representatives from its three historical regions.
We spoke about our cooperation in the Balkans, the Black Sea region and the Eastern Mediterranean. We are willing and interested in facilitating a Cypriot settlement.
We will continue our cooperation in various multilateral venues.
We discussed the Ukrainian crisis. Our common position consists of the need for all sides to fulfil their commitments under the Minsk agreements. We consider any encouragement of Ukraine’s aggressive actions unacceptable. In this context, we expressed concern over the recent bellicose statements by Ukraine’s leaders.
We signed a plan of consultations between our ministries in 2021-2022. It is our shared belief that the current session of the JSPG has allowed us to outline the issues that will have to be resolved in the near future for the proper preparations for the High Level Cooperation Council that is headed by our presidents. The date of the summit will be fixed later.
We will continue our intensive dialogue next year. Happy New Year holidays to all of you! And we wish you excellent health!
Question (addressed to both ministers): In the outgoing year, both Russia and Turkey have become targets for US and EU sanctions. They were introduced for various reasons. Is the pressure of the sanctions by the Western countries on Russia and Turkey a factor in the development of the dialogue between Moscow and Ankara?
Sergey Lavrov: Concerning the Western sanctions, relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey are self-sufficient and self-reliant, and do not depend on anyone's aggressive, unfriendly actions or whims. They are based on the national interests of our respective countries and a determination to cooperate for our mutual benefit through a search for a balance of interests. This is the most healthy foundation on which long-term, stable and trusting relations are built for the benefit of the peoples of both countries.
If the Western sanctions have anything to do with Russian-Turkish dialogue and cooperation, it is only in the sense that Russia and Turkey are independent states, which are pursuing an independent policy, promoting their national interests in coordination and through the search for a balance. So, they cause dissatisfaction from our Western partners who want to use methods of dishonest, unfair competition in all areas (whether it is the economy, the energy sector, the military and technical cooperation, and other areas).
Our relations gained strategic importance long before the West began to threaten and impose its illegitimate, unilateral sanctions.
Question: Recently, against the background of talk about an imminent political settlement in Libya, influential parties have called on the Libyan National Army to find a "guarantor" and "deterrent force" to consolidate a ceasefire and its observance. How does Russia assess these calls? Do Moscow and Ankara have an idea of a mechanism for coordination and cooperation to establish a ceasefire and strengthen the peace track in Libya?
Sergey Lavrov: You used the phrase "the need to find an external guarantor" for the Libyan National Army. But in the Libyan conflict, each side has so many guarantors that it is time to talk about reducing the number.
The situation is quite serious. A short while ago, there were some incidents in the south in violation of the ceasefire. Since then, the situation has generally stabilised. Overall, the summer ceasefire conditions are being observed. We must contribute to this and do everything possible to consolidate the agreements, including through the support of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission.
A fundamental commitment to the issue of oil export revenues is also useful; this must be implemented in such a way that all Libyan parties feel that they are part of the revenues from the export of the national wealth.
It is important to advance the political process. After NATO’s illegal aggression destroyed Libyan statehood in 2011, many attempts were made to promote one or another settlement option. As a result, all the significant external players agreed on the need to ensure a coordinating role by the UN. We are actively promoting this approach.
Since the beginning of the crisis, Russia has maintained contact with all Libyan parties without exception. We are convinced that only by bringing them together at the negotiating table, the search for a balance of interests of each of the players, including the Government of National Accord, the Parliament in Tobruk, representatives of the Gaddafi regime and the Libyan National Army, can a truly inclusive process be achieved, which should end with a fair settlement.
As my colleague and friend Mevlut Cavusoglu said, Russia and Turkey will contribute to this in any way we can. On more than one occasion, our countries have played a constructive and positive role on this difficult path, including in January of this year, when several important meetings with the participation of the conflicting Libyan parties were held on the joint initiative of our countries. As a result, it was possible to create conditions for such an important event as the Berlin Conference with the participation of representatives of Tripoli, Tobruk and Benghazi. The results of the conference became the basis for the adoption of the relevant resolution by the UN Security Council.
Russia and Turkey are committed to moving along this path. In order to move forward in this process, it is essential that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres brake the long pause, due to the fact that the post of the special envoy for Libya being vacant since March of last year, as soon as possible. This is an unacceptable situation. We appealed to the Secretary-General directly, and I repeat this call now: it is necessary to appoint a UN Special Envoy for the Libyan settlement as a matter of urgency. We will be waiting for proposals from Antonio Guterres.