28 Dec 2017

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: Russia has reclaimed its historical role as guarantor of global stability

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has given an interview to Interfax in which he sums up the foreign policy events of the outgoing year and tells of Russia‘s diplomatic priorities in 2018.

Question: Sergei Viktorovich, what were the key events for Russia‘s diplomacy in the outgoing year? What foreign political challenges will it face in 2018, and will peace come to Syria?

Answer: The year 2017 has been tense. The situation in international affairs became no simpler. The chief priorities of our diplomacy have been protecting Russia‘s national interests, security, and sovereignty, curbing threats, and ensuring an appropriate response to foreign challenges for sustainable domestic development. And there have been quite a few such challenges ranging fr om the fratricidal conflict in the neighboring Ukraine, which has a pronounced internal Russian dimension owing to special popular-historical ties between our countries to dangerously growing tensions close to our Far Eastern borders, namely on the Korean Peninsula. Irresponsible forces in the West are stirring up conflict trends in seeking to formalize systemic containment of Russia and other independent centers of global influence. The radicalization of policies pursued by a number of Western countries and their disengagement fr om the pragmatic foundation considerably increase the burden on international law and risk making inter-state relations more chaotic. In these challenging conditions, the Foreign Ministry has worked dynamically. Our diplomats have gotten accustomed to seeing difficulties as an incentive for creative work. And, surely, the nationwide consensus in support of the principled, honest, and independent foreign political course pursued by the president of Russia significantly helps us in our work. Particularly as a permanent UN Security Council member, we promote a positive, balanced, and future-oriented international agenda to efficiently overcome problems common for all of humankind. One of our key priorities has been to help peacefully overcome the long-standing internal Syrian conflict. Together with Iran and Turkey, we have launched the Astana format of negotiations, which has shown its efficiency: we‘ve managed to establish and consolidate the ceasefire between the government forces and the armed opposition, which has made it possible to concentrate on destroying ISIL [a terrorist organization banned in Russia]. Four de-escalation areas are functioning properly. The process of the return of refugees and restoration of destroyed infrastructure has begun. Hence, it is in large part owing to Russia‘s efforts that the necessary preconditions have been provided for a real political settlement based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254. As usual, we have attached special significance to stepping up integration processes within the EAEU framework, strengthening interaction in the CSTO, promoting cooperation on the CIS level, wh ere Russia has held the chairmanship. We‘ve continued to work intensively to implement Vladimir Putin‘s initiative on forming the Great Eurasian partnership, including through aligning the capabilities of Eurasian integration and China‘s One Belt One Road initiative. Our comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction with our great neighbor, China, has advanced significantly moved ahead and gained new substance. The development of especially privileged strategic partnership with India has remained among the most prioritized fields. Our relationship with Turkey has been normalized. The quality of our ties with an overwhelming majority of Asian-Pacific, Latin American, and African states has been consistently reinforced. We‘ve actively cooperated with our partners within such multilateral associations of a new type as the G20, the SCO, and BRICS, which do not have teachers and students and wh ere dialogue is maintained on an equitable basis. In the coming year, we will keep focusing closely on our uncompromising fight against international terrorism, in line with Vladimir Putin‘s well-known initiative to build a broad antiterrorist coalition under the UN‘s aegis. Just as we are doing now, we are determined to facilitate efforts to relieve tensions surrounding the Korean Peninsula and prevent armed confrontation there in every possible way. We will be doing as much as we can for the earliest possible restoration of peace and stability in Syria. At the same time, it‘s obvious that progress in the political settlement process in the SAR depends above all on the Syrians themselves. The duty of the external actors is to facilitate the achievement of intra-Syrian agreements. In this regard, we intend to continue to work actively with both the government and the opposition, call on them to find a common language, and cease confrontation. At the present time - in close contact with our Astana format partners - we are mulling aspects of the convention of a Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, which should become instrumental in promoting the intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva under the UN‘s aegis. We will continue to make a contribution to political-diplomatic efforts to overcome other crises and conflicts, which are now regrettably oversaturating the world. We will promote universal values of justice, honesty, broad equitable partnership and conflict-free creative development. We will help reinforce multilateral foundations in international affairs to ensure a more just and democratic world architecture resting on the UN Charter and reflecting and respecting the cultural-civilizational diversity of nations. Our responsible and balanced approaches enjoy extremely broad support. Therefore, we can say confidently that Russia has reclaimed its historically sought-after role as a guarantor of global stability.

Q.: The United States has said it is not thus far planning to leave Syria. Is Russia prepared to get along with the Americans in Syria and successfully interact with them to completely destroy the terrorists and maintain peace and security in this country in the post-conflict period?

A.: We‘ve reaffirmed repeatedly and at different levels that if the goal the Americans are pursuing in Syria is fighting terrorism, as they have declared themselves, then we objectively have opportunities for cooperation with them in this field. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump made a joint statement at the APEC summit in Da Nang on November 11, which indicates the two countries‘ common determination to continue working together on Syria. Furthermore, Russia, the U.S., and Jordan on November 8 signed a trilateral memorandum on principles of de-escalation in the south of Syria, which is intended to consolidate the success of the ceasefire initiative in this region. The de-escalation area that has in fact functioned there since summer has fully proven its efficiency. We presume that the Americans must leave Syrian soil as soon as the remnants of terrorist activities are fully eliminated there - which really shouldn‘t be long in coming. I‘d remind you that the UN Security Council has not authorized the activity of the U.S. or the coalition it leads in Syria, and the legitimate Syrian government also did not invite them. In this context, Pentagon chief James Mattis‘s statement on the intention of U.S. military units to remain in Syria until progress is made in the political settlement process looks surprising - as if Washington has claimed the right to determine the degree of such progress and wants to hold part of Syrian territory until it has achieved the result it needs. That‘s not the way it works. In keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the adoption of which the U.S. championed, only the Syrian people can make a decision on Syria‘s future arrangement. We will keep adhering to this understanding in our contacts with the Americans.

Q.: Has U.S. President Donald Trump met our expectations in terms of bilateral relations or has his presidency been disappointing? How would the Russian-U.S. relationship be affected by the enactment of new U.S. sanctions against Russia‘s energy sector and defense industry and the publication of some lists of members of the Russian elite, which is expected to happen in the start of 2018?

A.: As a rule, disappointment comes from excessive expectations, which we didn‘t have with respect to Russian-U.S. relations. In developing dialogue with Washington, no matter who is in power there, we rely on pragmatic approaches and realistic evaluations, and we harbor no illusions. We‘ve realized from the very start that it would be extremely difficult to overcome the Barack Obama Administration‘s most burdensome legacy in the realm of bilateral ties. We remain prepared to travel our part of the path to normalize our relations. We‘ve regularly pointed it out to our American counterparts that normal dialogue between our countries and productive cooperation in international affairs is only possible through a relying on the principles of consideration and respect for each other‘s national interests. No changes for the better have so far been accomplished because of the Russophobic hysteria that has engulfed the political establishment in Washington and, without exaggerating at all, assumed a paranoid nature. This is precisely what prevents the two countries from moving ahead along the tracks important to them and provokes more tension on the international arena. The U.S. is taking unfriendly steps with respect to our country. The implementation of the Countering America‘s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act would inevitably affect our relations. At the same time, Washington has obviously overestimated its capabilities: not only has the Russian economy adapted [to the sanctions], but it has also returned to a growth trajectory and is beginning to assume a new quality. We have responded and will respond to any hostile actions against Russia and our citizens in a way we deem the most optimal for ourselves. At the same time, we expect that, after all, Washington will realize one day that attempts to put pressure on our country have no prospects. In fact, the sooner some American politicians rid themselves of the illusions that Russia can be intimidated by restrictive measures or demonstration of military capability, the better for all, including themselves. Not only would this have a positive effect on the atmosphere of Russian-American relations, but this would also help more efficiently resolve urgent global and regional problems facing the entire international community.