ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference following a number of bilateral meetings and multilateral events on the sidelines of ASEAN, EAS and ARF, Vientiane, July 26, 2016
These days, the capital of Laos, Vientiane, is hosting events related to ASEAN’s partnership with foreign countries, including Russia, the US, Japan, Korea, China, and a number of European countries. These events concern primarily issues of security in this region, integration processes in Asia and the Pacific, and practical cooperation in many different areas, including the fight against terrorism and security on the seas and on the borders of the region’s states.
A meeting between Russia and the ASEAN countries was held yesterday. Partnership dialogues of this kind are held with each of the invited states.
We noted that a very important and powerful impetus was given to our 20-year cooperation after the Sochi Summit of May 19-20. Events were held as provided for by the Sochi Summit. Preparations are in progress for a series of other events, including the first meeting of transport ministers, which will consider cooperation in the area of logistics and transport infrastructure and the use of Russian capabilities to develop these sectors in the Southeast Asian countries.
We are also making progress in cooperation between the ASEAN countries and the Eurasian Economic Union after Vietnam signed a Free Trade Area Agreement. Singapore, Cambodia and a number of other Southeast Asian countries have shown an interest in it also. Prospectively we will be able to talk about holding negotiations between the Eurasian Economic Union and ASEAN as an organisation.
Our law enforcement agencies have also cooperated well. Several weeks from now, Nizhni Novgorod will host the Russian Interior Ministry’s regular training sessions for representatives of law enforcement organisations in the ASEAN countries.
The Russia-ASEAN University Forum will be held in September.
A very significant event – performances by the Russian-ASEAN joint symphony orchestra – will take place as part of the East Asian Summit in Laos in September. It may not be the most well-known event but it is indicative of our cooperation, which is based on a growing interest in people-to-people contacts, creative groups and NGOs.
The parliamentary dimension is very important as well. A number of contacts have been planned between the heads of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation and the ASEAN parliaments.
These are the Russian-ASEAN related events and meetings.
An East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting has also been held here, bringing together ASEAN countries and six of its leading partners, including, as I mentioned, Russia, the US, India, China, Japan and Korea.
We primarily focused on security problems at this event. In our address, we highlighted the fact that in addition to many closed and semi-closed mechanisms for security and stability, the region lacked an umbrella organisation for all APR states without exception providing uniform rules of conduct on a non-bloc basis and based on equal and indivisible security.
As you know, we have promoted the same initiative in Europe. So far it has been coldly received by the NATO countries. The situation is better here because an expert dialogue was started within the EAS three years ago on the opportunities to create a new security architecture that will be equal for all and indivisible. This dialogue began on our proposal and received strong support from our Chinese partners. Five rounds of this dialogue have been held. The last round took place in June of this year. The sixth round is scheduled for next year. Our colleagues from Thailand volunteered to host it. Naturally, we have supported their initiative.
In addition to the EAS Foreign Ministers Meeting, there was also a session of the ASEAN Regional Forum. It involves a wider range of countries based on the 10 ASEAN member states but more states than EAS members were invited to this security forum. The ASEAN Regional Forum addressed issues primarily concerning security, including the aspect that I mentioned earlier: the need to develop a regional process to ensure stability. However, in addition to these issues, other security implications were considered, including ICT security. This issue at the forum is the responsibility of Russia, Malaysia and Australia. We oversee this area and draft corresponding documents.
Terrorism was discussed as an evil that is increasingly making itself felt in the region. This includes the negative consequences of the activity of the so-called Islamic State.
We addressed specific issues and adopted a statement on promoting cooperation in the cross-border prosecution of criminals. It is a very practical document. A document on ensuring law and order at sea and on curbing the illegal use of bio-resources was also adopted. I believe this approach toward specific issues that affect the daily lives of our countries’ citizens will become increasingly relevant within the ASEAN Regional Forum.
In the course of discussions, as I said earlier, integration processes were addressed. We spoke in detail about President Vladimir Putin’s initiatives regarding interaction between the Eurasian Economic Union and the ASEAN countries and our vision of the further development of integration processes in the Asia-Pacific Region, including the initiative that President Putin put forward at the ASEAN-Russia summit in Sochi on ways to create a broad Eurasian Economic partnership with the participation of the EAEU, the SCO and the ASEAN countries while leaving the doors open for other interested parties. I believe this takes care of my opening remarks. Now let’s proceed with the questions.
Question: What was the outcome of your talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry? Have you reached an agreement on coordinating Russian-US actions in Syria? What are you expectations for today’s meeting in the Russia-US-UN format in Geneva?
Sergey Lavrov: Secretary of State John Kerry and I discussed primarily the situation in Syria, following up on the agreements that were reached and recorded in the course of Mr Kerry’s visit to Moscow on July 15. They concern the practical steps that need to be taken to effectively fight terrorists and prevent a situation where so-called moderate opposition forces remain in terrorist-controlled areas, who want to participate in the ceasefire and at the same time enforce the ceasefire without any detriment to ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra. So far we’ve been faced with a situation where, since the beginning of the year, our US partners have assured us that they would be able to separate the opposition they cooperate with from terrorist groups, but they have yet to do it. The agreements that we coordinated in Moscow were developed in the course of follow-up contacts between our experts. If they are put into practice, as we hope will be the case, then it will be possible to reliably separate “normal” oppositionists from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nursa terrorists. Today, we discussed what needs to be done to make this agreement work in practice in the form of actions by Russian Aerospace Forces, the USAF and the US-led coalition.
Regarding today’s meeting in Geneva between Russian, US and UN representatives, it will focus on the pressing need to start working on a political package to resolve the Syrian crisis in keeping with the documents that were adopted recently. There is also an urgent need to hold, not even the next, but the first round (previous attempts can hardly be called rounds) of talks that are based on principles approved in the UN Security Council: the full participation of the government and all opposition forces without exception. So far, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who has a clear mandate, has been unable to get all those who should decide Syria’s fate together at one table, namely the inclusive circle of opposition and government representatives. The government and opposition delegations that were once formed at meetings in Moscow, Cairo and Astana are prepared for this and have put forward a number of ideas that they have committed to paper and transferred to UN representatives. Nevertheless, the so-called High Negotiations Committee that was formed in Riyadh so far maintains its unconstructive position, is not making any new proposals, and only issues its well-known ultimatums about the need for Bashar al-Assad’s withdrawal, which will not lead to anything good, and then they say they will see what should be done about the political process. This is an absolutely dead-end approach.
We hope that in the course of meetings between Russian and US representatives as ISSG co-chairs and UN representatives in Geneva today, an approach will be coordinated that will be translated into practice without delay, based on UN Security Council resolutions, without any preconditions let alone ultimatums.
Question: Was the detention of Russian national Dmitry Ukrainsky at the FBI’s request in Thailand raised at the ASEAN-Russia ministerial meeting and the talks with Mr Kerry on the sidelines of the meeting?
Sergey Lavrov: This is not a subject of ASEAN-Russia relations. It is a subject of our relations with Thailand. We have raised the issue with our Thai colleagues.