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Sergey Lavrov speaks and takes questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Mali Abdoulaye Diop, Moscow, 9 September 2014


Ladies and gentlemen,

Foreign Minister of Mali Abdoulaye Diop and I had good talks. We agreed that the progressive development of Russia-Mali relations across all areas meets the interests of both countries and contributes to better security in this African region and on the African continent in general.

Both sides seek to expand trade, economic and investment cooperation. We have mentioned such promising areas as geological prospecting, mining, energy, including power equipment supplies, and infrastructure projects in addition to those that are already underway or have been completed with the participation of Russian companies.

We agreed to step up military and technical cooperation and expand cultural and humanitarian exchanges. A series of bilateral intergovernmental agreements covering these areas are being prepared.

Russia contributes to the stabilisation of the situation on the African continent in a variety of ways, including by helping to strengthen the peacekeeping capability of African countries, providing humanitarian aid and, of course, providing debt relief to African countries.

This approach is totally applicable to our relations with the Republic of Mali. We are actively participating in international efforts to stabilise the situation in that country and to support the roadmap that is being promoted by the leaders of Mali and, as my colleague Abdoulaye Diop told me, has received quite a positive assessment.

We will support efforts to establish lasting peace in this friendly country in order to resolve all existing problems in a final and comprehensive manner.

During our overview of international issues, we have confirmed the similarity of our approaches, primarily with regard to such prerequisites as respect for international law, the central role of the UN, the national identity of peoples and their right to determine their own fate. And, of course, we share the understanding for the need to pursue a collective search for solutions to global challenges and avoid unilateral actions in the process.

We noted the positive experience of our cooperation in the UN and other international forums, and agreed to continue to work closely in a variety of formats.

We have a consensus on African problems. Clearly, the current problems in the Sahel-Sahara Region and Libya, and, if we include the Middle East, Syria and Iraq, as well, share a common root – the threat posed by international terrorism and its various units, such as Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Islamic State, and Al-Qaeda. We share a firm position that is based on the inadmissibility of double standards in combating terrorism and the need to focus on bringing all of these countries together in order to uproot this evil. This is important for making sure that our efforts to resolve the situation in the Republic of Mali are a success.

I wish to express my appreciation to Foreign Minister of Mali Abdoulaye Diop for the substantive talks and invitation to visit Mali. I will by all means use it.

Question: What role is Russia prepared to play to promote combating terrorism not only in Mali, but also in the Middle East and North Africa?

Sergei Lavrov (answers after A. Diop): We consistently support the efforts of the Malian leadership to address this two-in-one problem. On the one hand, it’s an uncompromising fight against international terrorism; on the other hand, it’s promoting the road-map for national reconciliation with an eye towards cutting the ground out from under the feet of those who want to see various ethnic or religious scenarios unfold. That is why we welcomed and strongly encourage the Malian dialogue that was initiated in Ouagadougou in the summer of 2013 and is now continuing in Algeria, where another meeting took place in July, while the most recent meeting was held a few days ago. It was attended by Minister Diop who made positive remarks on its account. We will do our best to make sure that the international community ensures the sustainability of this process and, most importantly, its effectiveness in the form of a national consensus.

With regard to nonpolitical forms of supporting Mali in its fight against terrorism, we responded to the request of the Malian leaders and provided military and technical assistance, light weapons and ammunition. We’ve shipped several such batches over the past couple years. Responding to the requests from Bamako, we are prepared to supply military products needed by the Malian army, such as helicopters, aircraft, motor vehicles and certain weapons systems. We discussed this today. In addition, we are assisting Mali in training police officers and army officers for the Malian army in higher educational institutions operated by Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Interior.

A bilateral group on combating terrorism was created several years ago. The last meeting was held in Moscow in 2013. The fourth meeting will take place in Bamako before the end of the year. A bilateral agreement on cooperation to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism was created in 2013. This is an important practical tool for preventive work in this vital area. We are preparing an agreement on combating the drug threat, which will also strengthen the legal framework of our cooperation in this sphere.

With regard to a broader approach towards combating terrorism, we have said many times that in order to be successful we need to get rid of double standards and stop distinguishing between good and bad terrorists and supporting terrorists opportunistically when plans for a regime change in one country coincide with the interests of the terrorists, as was the case in Libya. We discussed this topic today with Minister Diop, and I mentioned it earlier.

Now in Mali, the armed forces, peacekeepers from Africa and other countries and French troops (as part of Serval Operation) primarily fight militants whom France and several other countries were arming in Libya to overthrow the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. This is the epitome of double standards that turns against those who engineered the regime change and made a bet on establishing a situational alliance with terrorist and extremist groups.

Therefore, we must be consistent and focus on the task at hand in any circumstances. As we mentioned today, combating terrorism is the primary goal for the Middle East and North Africa, the Sahel-Sahara Region and other parts of the African continent. The main issue is the fight against terrorism. If we fail to understand the importance of this common goal, if we don’t join forces and act collectively and begin instead to take advantage of a particular situation depending on whether the terrorists are fighting the leaders supported by the West, or those who the West wants to topple, then we’ll never achieve lasting, sustainable success.

Question: The NATO summit in Wales announced the creation of a coalition to fight the Islamic State. Russia, Iran and Syria, which have greatly contributed to strengthening the Iraqi army defence capability, have not been invited to join the coalition. Can this coalition successfully combat the terrorist threat? Maybe Russia has separate plans on this issue?

Sergey Lavrov: No country can have separate plans on such issues. Plans can only be common, as I have said. Only collective and absolutely unambiguous action can bring about a result.

We tried to draw the international attention to the danger of the Islamic State, which was called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant several years ago, and the threat coming from al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, the radical groups that were subsequently united in the Islamic Front. We repeatedly urged our Western partners, primarily the United States, the EU and the leading European countries, to open their eyes to that threat and encouraged the UN Security Council to firmly denounce the terrorist attacks staged by the extremists in Syria. In response we heard that terrorism is bad, of course, but in this case – in Syria – terrorism was the offspring of Bashar Assad’s policy, and so these terrorist attacks can only be denounced jointly with the demand that Assad step down. You understand that this is double standards and attempts to justify terrorism.

Until recently, Russia, the West and the emerging countries had a common stance on all related issues at the UN Security Council:÷ We believed that terrorism can never be justified, whatever the reason behind the terrorist attacks. As you see, our Western partners assumed a different stance on Syria, a stance that could be described as double dealing. The Western countries only decided to mount a fight when they faced the terrorist threat from Libya, nurtured by the absolutely unacceptable NATO actions that grossly misinterpreted a relevant UN Security Council resolution and actually destroyed the Libyan state, and when the terrorist threat moved from Syria to Lebanon and on to Iraq. Only when the Islamic State occupied huge areas in Iraq and Syria did the Western countries decide that they should fight it. They could no longer conceal the scale of the threat coming from these terrorist groups. But when our Western partners at long last admitted this, after wasting so much time, they decided, for some reason, that this threat should only be fought in Iraq and that the battle in Syria should be left at the discretion of those who would implement these operations.

There are rumours, presumably based on facts or suspicions, that the Iraqi government has been asked to approve US strikes in the areas controlled by the Islamic State, but that it is unnecessary to request such permission from Syria because the Assad government should be toppled. It is thought that strikes could be targeted in Syria not only at the areas controlled by the Islamic State militants but also, surreptitiously, at the government troops in order to weaken the positions of Bashar Assad’s army. This would be a step towards a large-scale escalation of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.

We strongly urge all parties involved to comply fully with international law so that such actions are only undertaken with the agreement of the legitimate government of the states in question. Moreover, there can be no differences of interpretation when common interests are at stake. It is in the common interests of the West, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and other regional countries, Russia and all other states that are operating in the region, in one way or another, via their diplomatic missions and economic interests, to liquidate the terrorist threat and terrorist groups. Attempts to ideologise this mission would jeopardise its implementation. I hope our Western partners will realise this truth, as well as the fact that the responsibility they have taken on requires a common approach to the fight against international terrorism, without any double standards.

As for NATO’s decision to create a coalition, I think you can see my stance from what I have said. An alliance that is only based on the interests of one group of countries and that is only interested in neutralising the threat in one part (of the region), and which is also largely based on ideological and pro-confrontation concepts, cannot succeed.

Let us not forget that, apart from announcing the creation of a coalition to fight the threat coming from the Islamic State, the NATO declaration adopted in Wales points to the Russian Federation as the biggest threat, and not international terrorism,. Those who analyse international developments and consider issues across the world objectively can see that this approach has nothing in common with a determination to resolve issues. We consider this ambiguity, which NATO has sealed in its documents, for what it is worth. We believe that it is unworthy of major states to try to replace real threats with some imaginary menace for the sole purpose of ensuring NATO’s unity through heavy-handed discipline in the spirit of the Cold War. This is their motive, as we see it.

It is essential that we act collectively in the war against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, and not use any pretexts to suspend partner relations. I can tell you that during conversations with US Secretary of State John Kerry for the past few months we discussed the need for a joint analysis of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, primarily the terrorist threat, and also the need to develop a common approach. The US Secretary of State told me more than once that he would soon propose a format that the United States, Russia, Europe and regional countries would be able to use to assess ongoing developments and to ensure a balance of interests needed to focus on removing the terrorist threat. I have consistently reaffirmed our readiness for these contacts, but so far the offer has only been verbal, unless you consider the strangely phrased expression of interest in the fight against terrorism in the NATO summit documents as a practical offer.

As I said, we are always ready for an honest partner-like dialogue not because we are faced with an ultimatum, but because we take a responsible approach to our obligations as a member of the UN Security Council and a serious member of the international community. We urge everyone to stop politicking and to start working to remove the existing threats.

Question: Can you comment on the truce in Ukraine, considering that both sides are accusing each other of ceasefire violations? What are the prospects of the proposed talks on the status of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions?

Sergey Lavrov: The ceasefire agreement is mostly observed, although you are right that there have been ceasefire violations and that the sides are blaming each other. For example, we know that the self-defence forces, as we in Russia, a country that witnessed the signing of the ceasefire agreement in Minsk on 5 September, are seriously concerned about yesterday’s reports regarding the concentration of the Ukrainian forces’ heavy weaponry near Debaltsevo. To all appearances, this could mean that a strike group is being created there.

We, as well as the Lugansk and Donetsk self-defence forces, have informed the Kiev government about this concern. Kiev assures us that it has no intention to disrupt the ceasefire. But assurances are tested by practice. We will monitor the situation most closely. We have no interest in preventing the implementation of the agreements reached in Minsk. Regarding the assessment of the sides’ compliance with the ceasefire conditions, we naturally rely on the opinion of the OSCE observers. They are not panicking, though they have admitted that there have been isolated incidents (of ceasefire violations) on both sides. But a senior observer has said in an interview the other day that, unfortunately, this is not unusual at the initial period of a ceasefire and implementation of a ceasefire agreement. We hope the ceasefire will take hold in the next few days.

As for talks on the status of the southeastern regions of Ukraine, the Minsk protocol sets out the necessary steps towards this. We hope the talks will begin very soon. Their format is obvious: the talks should be held between the Ukrainian government and the heads of the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics who signed the Minsk protocol on 5 September. We urge the sides to honour this document. By the way, these are mostly framework conditions, and the participants agreed to clarify them later (this work has already begun), in particular to determine the sequence of steps set out in the protocol signed in Minsk on 5 September.

Regarding the general format, the Contact Group that was established in Minsk is part of the plan for settling the crisis in Ukraine. Let us not forget about the format set out in the 17 April Geneva agreement, which formulated the goal – I’ve quoted that document more than once – of immediately launching a constitutional reform that must include a nationwide dialogue involving all regions and political forces in Ukraine. This must be an all-embracing, regulated and open process. Let us not forget that the constitutional reform has been put on the back burner, and it is unclear if Kiev ever intends to implement it, although it was one of their biggest promises, starting with the agreement of 21 February, which Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Oleh Tyahnybok and Vitali Klitschko signed with President Viktor Yanukovych.

So, while speaking about the importance of the format related to the implementation of the special status agreement reached in Minsk on 5 September, it is essential not to forget about the nationwide constitutional process in Ukraine, which the Kiev government promised to launch immediately months ago. We will continue to press for the implementation of this undertaking. It is unacceptable for the West to give Kiev the freedom to act at its own discretion for months, forgetting that compliance with agreements is one of the key conditions for a lasting settlement in any conflict.