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Question: Will you please comment on the latest talks held by President of Russia Vladimir Putin with Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
Sergey Lavrov: I can say, in addition to what has been said in detail at these leaders’ news conferences, that the talks were held in a constructive spirit. Nevertheless, the results slightly differed, because Germany and Turkey are two different states and our different partners. Our relations with Turkey are developing at a more positive pace than our ties with Germany. However, our trade with Germany is second largest after China, I believe. Also, both Germany and Turkey have shown great interest in the joint work of our business communities. German companies have not left Russia, which is additional proof of our conclusions regarding the abnormal situation when our European and other Western partners, place politically- and ideologically-charged approaches above the fundamental economic interests of their nations. I believe that the departure from this unusual trend is increasing. Not everyone in the European Union is prepared to accept this. The so-called aggressive minority is trying to maintain EU unity at any costs, whereas the principle of solidarity provides for looking for a compromise between two extremes. There are forces that are categorically against normalising relations with Russia and also those who call for breaking out of the sanctions dead-end already now. As I say, we don’t want to interfere in internal debates, but we are monitoring their development in the EU.
The visit by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel was highly indicative in this respect. It was her first visit to Russia over the past few years. The meeting passed off in a business-like atmosphere without any attempts to lecture one another: this is not our principle. We hope that Europe will see that the era of a master-pupil relationship is long over. We discussed energy, research and technological cooperation, where our relations are based on very serious mutual interests. Also, we talked about cultural ties, the Petersburg Dialogue Russian-German Public Forum and the cross-year of youth exchanges, which is coming to a close. In June, we will launch a new joint event, the cross-year of cooperation between our districts and municipalities. The opening ceremony will be held in Krasnodar in late June. I plan to attend it jointly with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
We discussed our foreign policy cooperation and Russia-EU relations. We pointed out to our German partners that a year ago in St Petersburg President Putin presented an unofficial document for President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, which offered practical ideas on taking inventory of Russia-EU ties and resuming normal cooperation in the interests of all of us. We have not received any answer to this, just as there is no answer to the Eurasian Economic Commission’s proposal for developing working contact with the European Commission in Brussels. Germany has indicated that it would welcome such unofficial technical contacts between the two integration organisations. This would be a pragmatic solution, and we are ready to go as far and as fast as our partners are willing.
Discussions of foreign policy issues included Russia’s operation in Syria. President Putin touched upon this issue several times in his speech. A regular meeting between the Syrian government, the armed opposition, the guarantor countries (Russia, Iran and Turkey) and observers from the UN, Jordan and the United States has recently ended in Astana. The participants approved a document on de-escalation zones, which many countries in the West and Middle East have supported. This issue was on the agenda of the talks with Chancellor Merkel (we updated her on the preparation and the nascent implementation of this initiative) and President Erdogan (regarding the international agenda). The parties have coordinated their approaches regarding the Astana meeting.
We are implementing major bilateral projects. The presidents discussed their implementation and additional measures to ensure high quality and compliance with the timeframe. I am referring to Turkish Stream, the Akkuyu nuclear power station and the overwhelming majority of other areas of bilateral trade and economic cooperation, which has been suspended by untoward events. The presidents have issued instructions to unfreeze these projects. We have agreed to continue working on other aspects of bilateral relations, including the need for more effective bilateral efforts to identify militants and terrorists moving between our countries, as well as security issues and prospects for the gradual resumption of visa-free travel.
Question: The main intrigue during the last few months is about a meeting between the presidents of Russia and the United States. It is more than 100 days since the US presidential elections, but there is no information concerning a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. What can you say about this and what does Moscow expect from such talks, if they do take place?
Sergey Lavrov: There is no doubt that any such meeting between the leaders is very important for the establishment primarily of personal relations.. Later on this always helps to iron out issues that the presidents discuss. However, I wouldn’t say that this is the main intrigue. Contacts – by telephone, if not face-to-face – have been established. There were three telephone conversations between President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation and President Donald Trump of the United States of America. They were highly charged, concrete, devoid of artificiality, and aimed at promoting our relations in the interests of both countries and the world community as a whole. In this connection, the focus was on the Syria crisis. Ahead of the Astana meeting, US President Donald Trump was informed by Russian President Vladimir Putin about how we saw further progress. This echoes the initiatives proposed by the United States earlier this year to create a safer environment for civilians and stop violence in areas plunged into fierce hostilities between the Syrian government and the armed opposition. It is not accidental that the United States welcomed the Astana meeting and the drafting of a document on the de-escalation zones.
The United States and we do not need the meeting to produce an external effect on someone or to talk about a sensation. Russia and the United States are convinced that meetings between leaders are important not only as an occasion to shake hands but also to understand what the parties think about relations with each other and international problems. Our countries have so much influence on international stability and security that this meeting will be expected to produce concrete results. With this in view, we have been actively preparing it.
Question: After the air attack on Shayrat Airbase, we discontinued all contacts with the US side, including military contacts. Can we say that we have reverted back to where we were before the strike took place?
Sergey Lavrov: Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu commented on this the other day. It would be highly unethical for me to intervene in this sphere. He said that in effect the contacts between our countries had never been broken off, and if they had, the initiative had not been ours.
Question: After US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow, his talks with President Putin and with you, Mr Tillerson said that no actual progress had been made in Moscow. Following 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, it was announced that the main goal was to isolate Russia within the UN and that the goal was supposedly achieved. What do you think that means? Is it true? Why are such statements being made?
Sergey Lavrov: It is very difficult to answer the question why such contradictory statements are being made by different representatives of the Trump administration. Perhaps, they haven’t got accustomed to working together yet? We should primarily consider what President Trump says. He expressed a high opinion of State Secretary Tillerson’s visit to Moscow and his own recent telephone conversation with President Vladimir Putin. Mr Trump expressed willingness to continue our efforts to progress in the issues of mutual interest. This is what we consider first and foremost.
Question: What is your opinion of the CSTO’s efforts against terrorism? This year, the organisation marks its 25th anniversary. How efficient is it?
Sergey Lavrov: The fight against terrorism can only be efficient when it is possible to bring together the efforts of all parties that can contribute to this fight. Eighteen months ago, when President Putin spoke at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, he proposed establishing an overarching and truly global framework for fighting terrorism. This initiative is still valid. A truly united coalition does not exist yet but specific action is being taken across regions, including the Middle East and North Africa, where we are doing what we can to prevent terrorists from taking over power in extended areas. In addition, we are paying great attention to eliminating the terrorist threat near our borders and in the neighbouring states of Central Asia. The CSTO considers the fight against terrorism its priority. It should be particularly noted that ISIS not only established itself in the Middle East and North Africa (and it will not give up yet although we will finish it off eventually) but, at this point, ISIS has intensified its activity in Afghanistan, especially its northern areas, which border on our neighbours and allies.
The CSTO approved respective doctrines and strategies aimed at developing clear and specific mechanisms for its anti-terrorist activity. There are also Collective Rapid Deployment Forces in Central Asia, Collective Rapid Reaction Forces and peacemaking missions. The majority of CSTO tasks (excluding peacemaking) target terrorism. Respective pisions allotted by CSTO members for the said forces are constantly combat-ready as are Russian military bases located in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. This is our priority confirmed by all the documents adopted at the summits over the recent years. Until this evil is destroyed, this priority will remain in force to the fullest extent.
Question: The CSTO is a military and political alliance often compared to NATO. Do you think the comparison is reasonable?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think it is completely reasonable. The CSTO Development Strategy does not say that any country, state or organisation is our enemy. NATO members, on the contrary, see Russia as an opponent and a threat. They try to make light of the status and significance of CSTO’s actions in every way. They are very reluctant and hesitant in their contacts with us. You can see it is difficult for them to understand that the CSTO is also an international organisation recognised by the UN, an observer in the UN General Assembly, an organisation recognised by the OSCE, and a participant of OSCE meetings. I think the arrogance typical of NATO is not helping anyone. We have repeatedly suggested uniting the efforts of our organisation and the North Atlantic Alliance in order to fight terrorism more successfully, including the escalating terrorism in Afghanistan. It is to a considerable degree fuelled by drug trafficking, the scale of which has expanded multiple times over the period of the NATO operation since the well-known events in 2001.
We had joint projects with NATO, including on counterterrorism methods, development of special devices for remote detection of explosives, which is crucial for ensuring public security during mass events and in the metro. There were extensive programmes to suppress drug trafficking from Afghanistan, to train personnel and provide maintenance to the helicopters which Russia supplied and continues to supply to Afghanistan, and much more. NATO rejected all those proposals. They struck an attitude after they supported the coup in Ukraine. We, on the other hand, provided support to the residents of southeastern Ukraine and Crimea who refused to accept the coup outcome. After they refused to accept the coup, the new officials, putschists, unleashed a war against their own people. When we condemned it and took the decisions we were forced to take, NATO members got very upset that their project to consume entire Ukraine and subject it to the Alliance’s influence went up in flames, as did their plan to include Crimea in their tactic of surrounding Russia with military facilities. Due to their distress over this objective historic fact, they suspended all initiatives that we had in common, including counterterrorism efforts. Now, as they are very reluctantly overcoming the resistance of the “aggressive minority” in the EU, there are attempts to resume dialogue with us. But we are only ready to speak with them on terms of equality, mutual respect for each other’s interests and a balance of these interests. We are ready to discuss the mutually acceptable agenda rather than the issues that NATO sees as more urgent than anyone else.
Question: My next question is about the Minsk format. Do you agree that the process has slowed down?
Sergey Lavrov: President Putin covered this issue at length during his news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. We are gravely concerned about what is happening with the Minsk Agreements – primarily because of what Kiev has done to sabotage them. There are multiple examples of that. I am talking about complete sabotage of the political dialogue and regular armed provocations at the contact line which gives Kiev an excuse not to fulfil the political part of the Package of Measures approved in Minsk. There is plenty of evidence confirming that, including from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reports. In the meantime, both President Putin and Chancellor Merkel stressed that, despite these circumstances, there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements at this point. We will not be able to develop anything more constructive. Therefore, our common line of argument is that we continue to work within the Normandy format at the top level, at the level of ministers and experts and within the Contact Group via representation of the Kiev officials, Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as representatives of the Russian Federation and the OSCE. We provide all the necessary support to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, which is playing a very important role. We will insist on its full security, especially after the tragic incident when its patrol car hit a landmine that killed one and injured several other mission members. This is a difficult situation as the Minsk Agreements should have been fulfilled long ago. But, once again, we will not give in to those who want to disrupt the process and blame it on us or the self-defence forces.
Building of the Russian Embassy in Kingston