Statements and speeches by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answer to a media question at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan Sirojiddin Muhriddin, Moscow, February 24, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
Talks with our Tajikistani colleagues were quite fruitful and, as always, took place in a trustful and friendly atmosphere and were very substantive.
Our relations amount to those between allies and strategic partners. We discussed key aspects of our relations in all spheres from precisely this angle and in the context of agreements reached during the April 2019 visit to Russia by President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon.
Russia is a leading trade and economic partner of Tajikistan and one of the main foreign investors in the economy of this country. We were satisfied to note the positive development of mutual trade, the total volume of which reached almost $1 billion in late 2019. We praised the role of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation in achieving such positive results. Today, we reviewed preparations for its next meeting, which is scheduled to be held in Moscow. At the same time, there are plans to prioritise efforts to improve the operational environment for Russian companies on the Tajik market and Tajik companies on the Russian market.
We are completing the introduction of a simplified customs clearance system, the so-called “green corridor,” that will facilitate the delivery of agricultural produce from Tajikistan. We agreed to implement additional measures in order to establish an appropriate wholesale trade and distribution centre in Tajikistan.
We noted that agreements on military and military-technical collaboration, including the subsequent modernisation of the Tajikistani Armed Forces, will continue to be fully implemented. Of course, we also talked about migrant workers. For example, we analysed the implementation of the intergovernmental agreement on organised recruitment of Tajikistani citizens to work temporarily in Russia. Apart from this agreement, there is also a memorandum for cooperation between the Mir centre for assisting migrants and the Migration Service of the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Employment of Tajikistan, signed last year.
Cultural, humanitarian and educational contacts continue to expand. We noted some successful projects, including one for sending Russian teachers to schools in Tajikistan. By the way, other Central Asian countries got interested in this venture. Russia has ratified another document, the Intergovernmental Agreement on Building and Equipping Five Russian-Language General Schools in Tajikistan, that is, in Dushanbe, Kulyab, Khujand, Bokhtar and Tursunzade. We agree that the consistent implementation of this Agreement will help ensure an effective response to the increasingly greater demand for Russian language education among Tajikistani citizens. Dialogue between foreign ministries continues to develop dynamically. We have just signed another Cooperation Programme between national foreign ministries. We were satisfied to note the complete implementation of the earlier two-year programme.
Today, we discussed our collaboration within the framework of the CSTO, the CIS and the SCO. Russia will continue to provide all necessary assistance to Central Asian countries in fighting terrorism, extremism and illegal drug trafficking. We agree that the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan remains a serious factor of stability and security in the Central Asian region.
We devoted much attention to the developments in neighbouring Afghanistan. We expressed concern over the presence of militants from international terrorist organisations in northern Afghan provinces, that is, virtually on the border with Tajikistan and our other Central Asian partners. We confirmed our readiness to facilitate the peace process in this long-suffering country, including the use of the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan, the capabilities of the CSTO and the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group.
Russia reaffirmed its intention to continue all-round efforts to facilitate a trend that highlights more active collaboration between all five Central Asian states.
We coordinated our positions on the UN agenda. We have many joint initiatives, including on such topical matters as the unacceptability of glorifying Nazism, the need to prevent the deployment of weapons in outer space, strengthening trust in peaceful space exploration and many others.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The nations of the Soviet Union made a decisive contribution to Victory in World War II. Today, we discussed the relevant events within the framework of the CIS, the CSTO and via bilateral channels. Of course, we are expecting President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon to attend the May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.
Question: Turkey has been supplying armed groups in the Idlib de-escalation zone with dangerous weapons, including American man-portable air defence systems. Don’t you think such actions deviate from the spirit of the Sochi accords and Turkey’s own commitments? Shouldn’t these agreements be reviewed based on the new realities of the Syrian army’s advancement, including control on international motorways? What can be expected from the upcoming quadripartite meetings?
Sergey Lavrov: The agreements on Idlib involved the creation of a de-escalation zone where the moderate opposition ready to negotiate with Turkey would be separated from terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or any groups listed as terrorist organisations by decision of the UN Security Council. This was the first task. The second was to move any heavy weapons away from the outer perimeter so that they cannot attack the Syrian army’s positions, civilian targets and Russia’s Khmeimim air base. The third was to ensure the smooth operation of two motorways, the M4 and M5. Immediately after the agreements were reached in September 2018 and reaffirmed in October 2019, it became clear that the de-escalation zone was turning into an escalation zone. The militants, who did not want to be separated, attacked targets from outside that zone from there. The agreements reached between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan never stated that terrorists would not be hit back if they attacked, which is precisely the way they are acting. This was not unexpected by anyone. I am sure that the Turkish military on the ground can see and understand the situation perfectly well. Moreover, terrorists have more than once attacked our positions, the Syrian troops, and Syrian civilian infrastructure from the locality of Turkey’s observation posts.
The issues now arising in connection with Idlib definitely need to be addressed. They were considered during the two rounds of consultations in Ankara and in Moscow attended by diplomats, and members of the military and security services of our countries and a recent regular telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The next consultations are being prepared, which we hope will lead us to an agreement on how to make that area a true de-escalation zone, so that terrorists would not feel so much at home there.
As regards Jabhat al-Nusra and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, we are concerned about some Western states’ attitude to these terrorist organisations, in particular the US. Both groups are officially included on the lists of terrorist organisations by the UN Security Council; they are also included on the national list of terrorist organisations in the United States. Nevertheless, it is not the first time that Washington officials, including US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey, have made statements suggesting they do not see Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as such a terrorist organisation, but envisage the establishment of a dialogue with it as a possibility in a certain situation. This is not the first time we hear such transparent hints, and we consider them completely out of the question.
Allow me to remind you that in 2016, the Presidents of Russia and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama agreed and instructed me and former US Secretary of State John Kerry to coordinate with the military and reach agreements that could effectively resolve the Syrian crisis at that stage, in autumn 2016. The arrangements were serious and far-reaching; the only precondition was the US commitment to separate the armed opposition that collaborated with Washington and the US military from terrorists. It was Jabhat al-Nusra then, before it assumed a new guise. The agreement failed to be implemented, because the Americans could not – and many say they did not want to – to separate those who collaborated with them, but continued to help Jabhat al-Nusra hoping it was strong enough to oppose the legitimate Syrian government and preferring to keep it in case they would need it to reinforce the military action against the legitimate president and government of Syria.
If we consider all these facts as one chain of events, we get a rather serious picture. I emphasise once again that we will categorically oppose any attempts to justify the terrorists identified as such by the UN Security Council. I hope that the ongoing contacts between the Russian and Turkish military with the participation of diplomats and security services will lead to positive results, ensuring that the terrorists are not running the show in that part of Syria, or in any other area, for that matter.