Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi, March 6, 2019
Mr Minister, my dear friend,
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have had very productive talks.
We highly value the current level of Russia-UAE interaction, which is marked by intensive contacts at every level, including between our governments and parliaments. Of course, the tone for our cooperation has been set by our leaders, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
When the Crown Prince visited Russia in June last year, we signed a seminal document – the Declaration of Strategic Partnership between Russia and the United Arab Emirates, which provided a solid basis for the further development of our cooperation in all spheres without exception.
We held in-depth discussions on current trade, economic and investment issues and the possibility of implementing joint projects in the future, including in the fields of hydrocarbons, nuclear energy and the peaceful use of outer space.
We noted the efficient work of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the UAE Mubadala Investment Company, which have implemented some 40 projects worth $2 billion in total. We have agreed to increase investments in new projects.
Our trade is growing, as my colleague Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has said. The Russia-UAE Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic and Technical Cooperation, which is co-chaired by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov, is playing a major role in promoting our trade and economic ties.
Military ties and military-technical cooperation are developing dynamically. Last month, this country hosted the IDEX 2019 International Defence Exhibition and Conference, and a large Russian delegation took part in the event. During the talks, we discussed numerous applied and highly promising projects which, as I hope, will be implemented.
As has just been said, we are satisfied that tourist, cultural, humanitarian and education exchanges have received powerful support since the inter-governmental agreement on lifting visa requirements for the citizens of both countries came into effect on February 17, 2019. The rapid influx of tourists from Russia to the United Arab Emirates confirms the fact that the people of Russia have duly appreciated this decision of both governments. In turn, we hope that the citizens of the United Arab Emirates will visit the Russian Federation more frequently, all the more so as they had a very good impression of the country while attending the FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2018. We also had time to discuss this matter today.
We reaffirmed our invitation for our UAE partners to take part in the 5th ministerial meeting of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum, the 4th International Exhibition Arabia EXPO 2019, as well as a meeting of the Russian-Arab Business Council, which are scheduled to be held in April 2019 in Moscow.
With regard to the international agenda, we traditionally focus on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. We agree that it is necessary to continue an uncompromising struggle against terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, illegal arms sales and all forms of organised crime. We also voiced a common approach towards resolving numerous conflicts in this region. We are confident that it will be impossible to restore and strengthen security unless these conflicts and crises are overcome solely through political and diplomatic efforts and in line with international law. This is how our countries view the situation in Syria, Yemen and Libya. Regarding Libya, we noted the special positive role of the UAE in our common efforts to create optimal conditions for the people of Libya to overcome this protracted crisis.
Of course, I must also mention a serious concern in connection with the current impasse in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. We agree that it is necessary to continue efforts to overcome this impasse, with complete respect for the international legal framework that was coordinated for the purpose of conducting talks and resolving the oldest crisis in the region.
Russia is also interested in normalising the situation in the Gulf region. We have drafted our own initiative on this score, which we have offered to our partners and friends. This initiative stipulates confidence-building measures and aims to establish cooperation in this highly important region with the participation of all states.
We will continue to closely coordinate our foreign policy actions.
I am very grateful to our friends for their hospitality. Today, I have invited my colleague and friend to pay another visit to the Russian Federation.
Question: US rhetoric against Russia is becoming increasingly aggressive. The US European Command has recently proposed increasing the European contingent of forces, on the pretext of safeguarding against the “Russian threat.” Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said that in such circumstances, Russia would position its missiles to cover the entire territory of Europe. Will Russia really do this, considering Moscow’s statements on preventing a new arms race?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think you have quoted Ambassador Antonov correctly. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly outlined how we will respond to the threats to our security, in which the US plays the leading role. He has said that we will not be involved in a new arms race. Over the past few years, we have been implementing the State Armament Programme to modernise all the arms and services of the national armed forces. We have created new types of weapons, as you and our Western partners know.
We have never refused to hold consultations and talks on strengthening strategic stability in the new conditions. We are not to blame that all our numerous initiatives, including those we submitted in writing, have been disregarded. President Putin has said that all these proposals remain on the table but we will not bother our Western partners any more. They know what we have proposed. We will wait until our partners are ready.
As for the missiles that, as you said, will cover the entire territory of Europe, I suggest that you pay more heed to what President Putin has said on this issue. When the United States announced its decision to suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty and launched the official procedure of withdrawal from it, Vladimir Putin said that we would respond in kind, that we would suspend our obligations under the INF Treaty as well. When the process of withdrawing from the INF Treaty is completed in six months, the treaty will disappear from the international legal framework. President Putin has pointed out that if the United States, breaking free from the treaty’s obligations, started deploying missiles that are currently prohibited by the treaty in this or that part of the world, we reserve the right to act likewise by deploying our missiles in the given part of the world.
It is not our choice. It is the choice of the United States, which probably feels uncomfortable about the objective trends of world development, such as the rise of a new non-colonial, non-imperial system of international relations where diktat and ultimatums are not acceptable instruments, where new economic growth centres are emerging and where all the main countries involved should seek for a balance of interests, without disregarding the other members of the international community.
This process will take a long time, but we must launch it anyway. We have started doing this within the framework of the SCO, BRICS and other formats that are based on mutual respect and consideration for one another’s interests, not on the diktat that currently constitutes the basis of Washington’s foreign policy.
Question: At your meeting yesterday with the Syrian opposition, did you discuss disengagement of armed groups in Idlib? If so, is there any progress?
Sergey Lavrov: We did not discuss disengagement between the armed opposition and Jabhat al-Nusra at the meeting with representatives of the High Negotiations Committee. We consider this issue solely within the framework of our interaction with the Syrian Government and the Republic of Turkey, which has pledged to organise this disengagement. Our military, jointly with colleagues from Syria and Turkey, are engaged in the practical steps that would make it possible to implement this decision.
Question: President of Syria Bashar al-Assad said that he regarded the sending of Turkish troops to Syria as an act of aggression. What is the Russian and Arab position on foreign armed presence, specifically Turkish presence, in Syria? What do you think about Turkey’s interference in Syrian affairs, given that Turkey is penetrating more deeply into certain Syrian provinces and consolidating its positions there?
Sergey Lavrov: We approach the presence of foreign troops in any state strictly from the standpoint of international law, which allows this solely with the consent of the government of the relevant country. In this case, we understand Turkey’s security concerns, given the historical and other circumstances. As pragmatists and stakeholders seeking to find concrete ways of exiting from the Syrian crisis with an eye to complete restoration of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, we have launched the Astana process jointly with Iran and Turkey. To date, this is the only process that has brought real results in terms of the cessation of hostilities, the expansion of humanitarian aid deliveries, to no small degree, confidence-building, exchange of prisoners, joint search for those missing in action, and last but not least, creating conditions for the start of a clear political process in full conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, under which the Syrians themselves would decide their country’s future.
The Syrian Government has supported the Astana process. SAR government representatives are actively involved in it, as is the armed opposition. For the first time, it became possible to bring to the negotiating table both the government and the opposition, who represent armed people opposing each other on the ground. The Syrian Government and Bashar al-Assad supported the outcome of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, which had also been organised at the initiative of the Astana Three and led to significant results by approving the UN’s 12 principles for the Syrian settlement and the idea of setting up a Constitutional Committee.
Together with Iran and Turkey, we are working with both the Syrian Government and the opposition, as well as with our UN colleagues, to finalise the formation of the Committee and allow the Syrians to launch this body’s activities in Geneva, as stipulated by the relevant agreements. The final goal – and the Turkish colleagues have repeatedly confirmed as much – is the full restoration of the Syrian Arab Republic’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Given the multiplicity of factors that affect the Syrian crisis and the great number of outside players that have some or other interests in this situation, the process will certainly take time. But we have no doubt that this is the direction we should be moving in. Our Turkish friends, too, share this approach. And the SAR leaders know this.
Question: Yesterday, the US declared that it was ready to use sanctions against any country supporting the Nicolas Maduro regime. What is Russia’s attitude to such threats?
Sergey Lavrov: To be honest, I have not heard about this. Even on a tour of the Gulf region, I do my best to follow what is going on in the world, but I lack both the time and the desire to monitor all of Washington’s arrogant and unlawful statements. If it was announced that all those supporting the legitimate president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, will face sanctions, it confirms yet again that US diplomacy is rapidly losing the taste for diplomatic methods and tools, losing its ability to use them and switching over to a language that was never typical of diplomacy.
I hope that this example will not be contagious.