Translation (original)

Translation (original)

Speeches by Minister

8 December 201622:34

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at the end of the first day of the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Hamburg, December 8, 2016

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The first day of the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting is ending. In addition to plenary sessions and a working lunch, during which we discussed possible development paths for this common European organisation, we have held about a dozen bilateral meetings. I have had two meetings and one telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr Kerry flew back to Washington, but we still had some more issues to discuss [which explains the telephone conversation].

I can tell you that as a result we have agreed that our military experts and diplomats will meet in Geneva on Saturday to conclude the work, which went on and off these days, on a document outlining the ways and means to finally settle the problem of eastern Aleppo by urging all militants, and those civilians who wish, to leave it. This work continued sporadically in the past few days. The specific details of the plan will be discussed in Geneva the day after tomorrow, if all goes well. It is difficult to be confident about it, considering the developments of the past week, when our American partners first presented a document, which we were ready to accept as the basis for further discussions, and then withdrew it and sent us another documents instead. Working in close contact with the Russian Defence Ministry, we promptly responded to the American party’s actions. As I have said – touch wood that nothing adverse happens, as it did before – our military experts and diplomats will meet in Geneva on December 10.

Many of our partners in conversation, including French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and several other politicians with whom I have met today, and many delegations expressed serious concern over the humanitarian situation in Aleppo at the plenary session today. But when we provided details and told them what the Russian Federation and the Russian military are doing at the Reconciliation Centre at the Hmeymim airbase and asked what our partners did, they could not provide any substantive information. I can tell you that today the Syrian Army has suspended hostilities in eastern Aleppo for the duration of yet another and so far the largest operation to help civilians, everyone interested,  leave the city. Eight thousand people will have to walk five kilometres. It is a titanic operation. I am talking about this in Hamburg based on the information we are receiving from Syria. Your colleagues in Syria can probably tell us more about this. This is all I wanted to say about Syria.

Tomorrow we will sum up the results of our discussions concerning the OSCE. They show that nothing much has changed. Unfortunately, many delegations, though not a majority, view the OSCE, and especially its ministerial meetings, only as a platform for casting blame on all and sundry. This will not turn the OSCE into an effective structure. Once again, we reaffirmed our stand on the need for adopting an OSCE Charter and other documents to regulate all OSCE bodies, as it is done in any other normal organisation. We will provide more details about this tomorrow.

Question: Mr Lavrov, the media has reported an air strike on the town of Al-Qa'im in Iraq, with dozens of dead and wounded. It is so far unclear who is behind this air strike, but some sources claim that it was launched by the Western coalition. Densely populated areas, including marketplaces, were hit. Can you comment on these reports?

Sergey Lavrov: I don’t have any more detailed information either. But, of course, what I have heard and read raises questions. According to one source, the deliberate air strikes were motivated by the fact that ISIS militants had become entrenched in residential areas, and because they had seized a hospital and set up a headquarters there. We need to clarify this situation because this story seems authentic. In any event, Jabhat al Nusra and all other military groups and illegal paramilitary units subordinated to it act in a very similar manner in eastern Aleppo. They seize residential areas, deploy their headquarters and units there, and take hold of hospitals. This means only one thing: We don’t need double standards. Of course, everyone has to be guided by international humanitarian law and do everything possible to minimise possible unintended negative consequences for the civilian population and the infrastructure. We are doing exactly this. We are not gloating in connection with the occasional setbacks of the US-led coalition, including those during the siege of Mosul in Iraq.

We are convinced that it is inappropriate to score political points during the fight against terrorism. This is an extremely serious issue. I hope very much that our main partners will soon comprehend the need for de-ideologising the fight against terrorism.

Question: Those involved in today’s meetings of the OSCE Ministerial Council focused on Ukrainian developments, the main item of the agenda. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin once again noted the need for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to monitor the border with Russia as a pre-condition for fulfilling the political provisions of the Minsk agreements. Is this monitoring possible in principle today? When will the road map, coordinated by the Normandy Four in Berlin, be finalised?

Sergey Lavrov: The road map is a separate issue, and I will speak more about it a bit later. It is necessary to coordinate everything else mentioned by Mr Klimkin and many European Union members supporting him with the Minsk agreements. There can be no disagreements here. There is a provision that the final reinstatement of Ukrainian control over the border with Russia is the final step in an entire series of measures that should begin with understandable and easy things, including personal security guarantees and the implementation of political reforms. At the same time, it is necessary to resolve economic and humanitarian issues, including the termination of the blockade imposed on Donbass by Kiev and the resolution of issues regarding prisoners, hostages and forcibly detained persons. All this is stipulated by the Minsk agreements.

Considering the fact that issues of security and political reforms are key aspects under the Minsk agreements, and that these are the most detailed provisions, Germany and France, members of the Normandy Four format, suggested drafting a road map that would guarantee parallel and synchronised efforts to strengthen security and to implement political reforms. The aides of the Normandy Four leaders are now working on this. The foreign ministers should approve this road map, after it has been coordinated, in line with their ceremonial role. We have met in Minsk, and no common approach is yet in sight, although we are making headway at a snail’s pace. I will not even comment on who is hampering the process. I hope this process will be completed, no matter what.

Question: And what about the police mission?

Sergey Lavrov: None of our serious partners is saying anything about the police mission. The OSCE has no police functions. It is necessary to reliably ensure security during elections in Donbass. For this purpose, it is necessary pass a law on holding elections, and a law on the special status of Donbass must be passed, so that elections could take place. People should know all about the authority of their prospective candidates. The Constitution should formalise this status on a permanent basis. Of course, an amnesty should take place before the elections. This is clear, and there is nothing to explain here. Security during elections will be maintained in line with measures due to be coordinated with representatives of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. The OSCE can help here, but this will be a supplementary aspect.

Question: I am from German television. Today you have met with several foreign ministers. What exactly is missing, from Russia’s point of view, to reach an agreement on a ceasefire in Syria? What is your strategy in Aleppo? Have you managed to explain it to your Western colleagues?

Sergey Lavrov: Our strategy is very simple and is based completely on the UN Security Council resolution, which stipulates a merciless struggle against terrorists in Syria until their eradication, simultaneously with addressing the humanitarian plight of civilians and launching the political process. These actions along these three tracks are to be taken without any preconditions. This is exactly what Russia is doing. We are actively fighting terrorists.

While we are talking about this, I have learned that US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said at a briefing yesterday that “Russia and the United States are in agreement that Nusrah (…) needs to be dismantled and destroyed”, but that Russia’s focus has not been on Nusrah and that we are allegedly “helping the regime go after the moderate opposition in Aleppo.” Mr Toner, who attended many of my meetings with Secretary Kerry and should have all the necessary information, has never raised the issue.

As for what is really happening there, the US-led coalition against ISIS was only created after American citizens were killed in the region. Before that tragedy, our American partners and their allies did not take any dynamic actions against ISIS.

Now, about Jabhat al-Nusra: far from attacking it, the United States has been using our talks to formulate agreements so as to protect this organisation from our strikes. We do not accept this position. Jabhat al-Nusra is a terrorist organisation and has been recognised as such by the UN, the US, Russia and other countries. By the way, when we coordinated a decision on combatting terrorism at this OSCE ministerial meeting, it was unclear until the last moment whether al-Nusra would be condemned on a par with ISIS, because some delegations, including US experts, suggested that this terrorist organisation should be omitted from our decision. This makes us wonder. However, I hope that justice will be served, and terrorists will be condemned as terrorists.

We are delivering humanitarian aid [to Syria], whereas all other parties, including, to our deep regret, the UN agencies, are trying to burden the simple issue of humanitarian aid with political and ideological elements. We are not trying to condition the delivery of humanitarian aid by assistance to settling problems of concern to the illegal armed groups, including al-Nusra, as our partners have been doing, including UN officials responsible for humanitarian matters. We are simply doing our job. Not everyone seems to like it, as evidenced by the deliberate strike on our hospital the other day. I am convinced that all the necessary measures will be taken to punish the culprits and prevent other such tragedies.

The third aspect is the political process. I’ve lost my voice urging the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to stop sabotaging political talks. They are his responsibility; in fact, political talks are his only responsibility. I am saying this openly here, because I have told him this many times, including at our recent meeting in Rome. He has been telling us since May that the next round of intra-Syrian talks would be held soon. But nothing has happened to this day. Our American and European partners, who are not sorry that the political process has been suspended, tell us off record that the Riyadh group does not want to talk. For some reason, they regard it as the only opposition group that should be represented at the talks, although the UN Security Council listed it among several others, including the Moscow and Cairo groups. They say the Riyadh group wants guarantees that President Bashar al-Assad will step down. If the group is so fretful, we suggest that a deadline be set for the talks, which should be held with whoever comes, and those who do not come will have to accept the consequences.

I can say in response to the question from German television that we have a clear conscience on all the three aspects set out in the UN Security Council resolution. It is no compliment that other countries do not comply with it, that not everyone is ready to honestly implement the decisions of the world’s top agency responsible for peace and security.

Question: Did you discuss the air strike at the Russian hospital in Aleppo with US Secretary of State John Kerry? Did he comment on it in any way or express his condolences?

Sergey Lavrov: Our American partners expressed condolences before my meeting with Mr Kerry. However, the State Department spokesperson was tongue tied about it, saying that they have been unable to confirm that it was a terrorist attack. In cases of other incidents when suspicion can be thrown at the Syrian authorities, the United States does not take time to check information, but demands immediately that the culprits be punished and nailed to the wall.

As I said, the biggest problem of the Syrian and many other crises is that politicians try to adjust their positions to the ideological considerations of their parties. And when this happens in an election year, it has a highly destructive effect on the steps that normal people should take in this situation.


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