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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Sputnik Kyrgyzstan radio station, Bishkek, September 16, 2016

16 September 201615:49

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Sputnik Kyrgyzstan radio station, Bishkek, September 16, 2016

1628-16-09-2016
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    Question: Mr Lavrov, I’m pleased to welcome you here. You have been to our Levitan studio in Moscow, and to Rossiya Segodnya Multimedia Press Centre on Zubovsky Boulevard. And now we are here, in Bishkek. I can’t help asking you, how do you like our studio?
    Sergey Lavrov:  The rooms are not as spacious as on Zubovsky Boulevard, but otherwise everything looks modern and high-tech. I’m sure working here is fun and interesting.
    Question: Yes, we hope that our colleagues in Kyrgyzstan feel the same about their workplace. At the moment, Bishkek is a more pleasant place to be than Moscow, if only because of the weather.
    Sergey Lavrov: I think you’re right. The weather is terrible in Moscow today. There was a storm.

    Question: Yes, we’ve heard reports to that effect. We should take a piece of summer from here back to Moscow. Back to business now. I want to ask you about international security. The entire world is discussing Syria. As far as I know, coordinating the 2017–2019 cooperation programme to combat terrorism was a central theme during a meeting of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council. We are aware of the terrorist attack on the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek in late August. The anti-terrorism military exercises of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on Lake Issyk-Kul are underway now. What is the CIS doing to curb international terrorism?
    Sergey Lavrov: An anti-terrorist centre operates in the CIS. You have aptly pointed out that it is necessary to address this issue in a comprehensive manner. On the one hand, efforts should be made to improve the effectiveness of specific anti-terrorist operations. And on the other hand, it is imperative to consolidate, expand and universalise the legal framework. This will bind all countries to respond to specific threats, and to do so in accordance with international law and the UN Charter, rather than trying to use fighting terrorism as a pretext to suppress dissent, or topple governments, as was the case in Iraq and Libya, and as is now being attempted in Syria.
    Today, at the CIS ministerial meeting, we drafted a programme to combat terrorism and violent extremism, and developed a powerful statement by the heads of state, which, we hope, they will approve tonight. You mentioned the activities of the friendly organisations, such as the SCO, which is conducting counterterrorism exercises. This is our key focus given the activities of the so-called Islamic State, which has seized large territories in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and has already spread its tentacles to Afghanistan. They are building their bases in northern Afghanistan, which is next to the borders of the CIS and the CSTO countries, which are our allies in Central Asia.
    Having gained some negative experience in these regions, they (ISIS militants) return to Europe (there are great numbers of EU and former Soviet Union citizens among them), and make plans for more mayhem. It is very important to coordinate our efforts in this area. The CIS, the SCO and the CSTO cannot cope with this challenge on their own, although they are all doing a lot of work in their respective areas of responsibility and are addressing important problems, as they neutralise and prevent the ever increasing terrorist attacks.
    Everything is globalised now, including the economy and trade. Terrorism has become a global Internationale. That is why speaking at the UN General Assembly in September 2015, President Vladimir Putin proposed creating a global anti-terrorist front. To do so, we need to overcome numerous conventionalities and barriers that persist in the minds of our Western partners. At least until recently, they believed it was important not to let Russia straighten its shoulders, to contain it and to bring it to reason. They believed that at some point they can even go easy on fighting terrorism and form opportunistic blocs with extremist groups, if they help weaken Russia's allies, such as Iran or Syria. Everyone can clearly see now that this road leads nowhere. This road leads to a place where you shoot yourself not only in the foot, but also in the head.
    Our American colleagues should have already learned a lesson from the events that took place 30 years ago, when the Soviet Union was in Afghanistan. To hurt the Soviet Union, the United States created the Mujahideen, who later formed Al-Qaeda. On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda dealt a severe blow to the United States. As you may recall, President Putin was the first to offer a helping hand to the Americans back then, when we could have formed a united front against terrorism. Unfortunately, not much was learned from that tragedy.
    Now that we are observing the Syria crisis that you mentioned, most of our Western partners and their allies in the Middle East and North Africa seem to be unable to identify their priorities. Their number one priority is to topple the “dictator” Bashar al-Assad, as they call him, only because in 2011, when civil unrest began in Syria, they decided that he would quickly follow the path of Gaddafi, who was killed, in gross violation of the UN Security Council resolution, and that the Syrian president's days would be numbered. And here he is, hanging in for the sixth straight year, and becoming even more popular with the people, who see him as a guarantor keeping terrorists away from Syria and preventing Syria from collapsing. Our partners have opted for this priority, the repetition of mistakes made in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein’s fate was decided by removing him from power, and in Libya, where they suggested removing Gaddafi from office so that democracy could triumph. Unfortunately, our Western partners are now making the same mistake, but they are becoming increasingly aware that things have gone too far.
    Question: And too many mistakes have been made.
    Sergey Lavrov: Absolutely. Priorities should be identified based on genuine national interests, which is fighting terrorism, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.
    We are in the process of getting our relations with Turkey back to normal. Turkey is well aware that the terrorist threat is becoming a determining factor in national security and, like many other countries, it is becoming more flexible with regard to their ultimatums, such as “Bashar al-Assad should go, and only then will we start talking about the future of Syria.” However, based on the resolution proposed by Russia and the United States, the UN Security Council demanded that all Syrians, without any conditions or exceptions, sit at one table and agree on their future in their country. There are no demands for Assad to leave office, nor any other claims to exclude a particular person from intra-Syrian dialogues. We expect the UN, which was entrusted with this work, will finally start working on this resolution, which was adopted back in December 2015. It must be fulfilled.
    Today, during the CIS ministerial meeting, we informed our partners about our joint work with the United States as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group, which was set up on our initiative a year ago. As you may be aware, a week ago in Geneva, Secretary Kerry and I completed a major effort started by our military, intelligence officers and diplomats. We formed an initiative, which will allow us to fight terrorists in Syria more effectively and in a coordinated manner, to remove obstacles to humanitarian access to people in need, primarily, in besieged or remote towns, and to help maintain the ceasefire. We are now working to have these agreements published. We do not want to follow the path of secret diplomacy. Our US partners are still hesitant, which is unusual for them, as they advocate democratic approaches to problem solving, and democracy is all about transparency and openness.
    Question: Are they hesitant because there are scattered reports coming from the US State Department that Washington and Moscow will fight together only against Jabhat al-Nusra, but not ISIS? Perhaps, they are trying to secure some room for manoeuvring for themselves?
    Sergey Lavrov: I hope that this is a misunderstanding and not an intentional attempt to mislead our listeners, because the documents that John Kerry and I approved state in black and white that we will coordinate our actions against Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. In a telephone conversation that Secretary Kerry and I had the day before yesterday, I drew his attention to the fact that the State Department spokesman publicly says things that are not entirely true, to put it mildly. He agreed that ISIS has been included in our documents. This was another opportunity for me to call on him to stop “dragging it out” (pardon me for this not very diplomatic phrase) and make these documents public, so that no one is tempted to engage in speculation or to distort our agreements.
    By the way, the official representatives of the White House and the State Department are trying to present matters as though these documents are still not a guarantee that we will fight terrorism, and do not want to comment on their key aspect, which states that priority number one is to fulfil the long-standing US commitment to separate physically and geographically, “on the ground,” the opposition, which cooperates with them, from Jabhat al-Nusra and the like. Unless, of course, the delay in honouring the obligation to draw a line between the opposition and the terrorists is not connected with the fact that someone in Washington wants to take these terrorists to a safe haven before they are destroyed. At least, with regard to Jabhat al-Nusra, such suspicions are fairly strong.
    I won’t be letting out any great secret if I say that recently, the Americans finally gave us a list of organisations which they believe are parties to the cessation of hostilities arrangement, and should, accordingly, not be targets of air strikes. Ahrar al-Sham is at the top of this list. Its leaders, after Russia and the United States reached the deal, said that it would not fulfill it, because the United States and Russia agreed to fight Jabhat al-Nusra, whereas Ahrar al-Sham, which the Americans consider a partner, is an ally of Jabhat al-Nusra and will fight the Syrian regime to the last bullet alongside it. It turns out that the United States included on the list of organisations that are loyal to it a group that is an integral part of the terrorist organisation recognised as such by the United Nations.

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