Saturday, December 3, 2016

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Moscow, December 1, 2016

1 December 201609:03
Question: In your opinion, will Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States turn a new page in the dialogue between Moscow and Washington? What kind of relations does Russia want to build with the US? Did Moscow help Donald Trump become president, as representatives of the Democratic Party allege?
Sergey Lavrov: If you allow me, I would like to begin with the last part of your question. Those who “helped” Donald Trump become president were the US citizens who voted for him on November 8. As President Vladimir Putin has said on a number of occasions, Russia has never sought to influence the election campaign, believing it to be an internal affair for the US. If anybody tried to interfere with the elections, it was the allies of the US. Just read what many European leaders said and wrote about Donald Trump during the campaign.
As for far-fetched stories about “Russian hackers” and other accusations against us related to the election, I am sick and tired of them. It is quite revealing that those who made insinuations of this kind and contributed to whipping up anti-Russian hysteria in the US in the run-up to the election have now sewed up their mouths. No evidence of interference in the electoral process was ever produced in the US or to the international community. This proves, yet again, that this whole story is more of a myth designed to serve momentary political objectives, rather than something real.
Russia hopes that the next US administration will refrain from repeating the mistakes of its predecessors who intentionally caused Russia-US relations to collapse. Of course, we view positively Donald Trump’s willingness stated in the course of the election campaign to promote cooperation between our countries. Russia, in turn, is always open to building an honest pragmatic dialogue with Washington on all matters of the bilateral and global agenda based on the principles of mutual trust, equality, taking into account each other’s interests and non-interference in internal affairs.

On November 14, 2016, President Vladimir Putin and US President-elect Donald Trump had their first telephone conversation, during which they confirmed their readiness to work together in order to overcome the current crisis in bilateral relations and resolve urgent international issues, including combatting international terrorism. The President-elect is about to appoint a new foreign policy team, and we hope that this team will make practical steps in this direction so that we will be able to establish constructive ties.
Of course, we are aware of the fact that fully restoring Russia-US cooperation is a challenging thing to do. Overcoming the destructive consequences of the anti-Russia policy implemented by Barack Obama’s administration will require serious efforts on both sides. However, as President Vladimir Putin has said, we are ready to do our part of the job in order to put Russia-US relations back on track.
We believe our two countries have a role to play on many issues in today’s world, including maintaining strategic stability and security and finding efficient solutions to the key challenges.
There are also opportunities for promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in trade, investment, innovation and technology. We are interested in expanding cultural and educational exchanges and facilitating people-to-people contacts. Overall, there are many things we can do, but only if there is a shared desire to move in this direction.
Question: What are Russia’s objectives in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: Since the outbreak of the Syria crisis, Russia has always advocated for its political and diplomatic resolution  –  by launching an inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue. All of our actions are strictly in line with international law.
In the course of the operation by the Russian Aerospace Forces in Syria, which is being conducted at the official request of the UN member state’s legitimate authorities, we have inflicted serious damage on terrorists who have struck deep root in the country, among other things, due to massive support from the outside. At the same time, we have always believed that military methods alone cannot untie the Syrian knot. Our main objective is to give the Syrians a sense of perspective, hope for a better future in a free secular state where all ethnic and religious groups live in peace and accord.
The attempts to impose an alien agenda on the Syrians have already led to hundreds of thousands of dead and injured and millions of refugees and internally displaced people, have thrown the country years back, destroyed socio-economic infrastructure and introduced elements of ethnic-confessional divide into Syrian society. To resolve all these problems, the Syrians themselves, without any outside interference, should agree on what their state should be like, including its political and administrative organisation, and then determine who will run the country in a democratic way.
However, first of all, it is necessary to ensure peace and security and eliminate the terrorist hotbed in Syria. Meanwhile, entire districts remain in the hands of terrorist groups, such as ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. In this connection, there is a pressing need for a broad antiterrorist front on a generally recognised international-legal basis. A corresponding initiative was put forward by President Putin back in September 2015.
At the same time, an inclusive intra-Syrian negotiating process should be launched, based on the provisions of the June 30, 2012 Geneva Communique, UN Security Council Resolution 2254, and decisions of the International Syria Support Group. The resolution of this task should be more actively facilitated by Staffan de Mistura, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, who has a clear-cut UN Security Council mandate.
We are helping create favourable conditions for that, supporting the process of “local ceasefires” and working closely with the armed opposition through the Reconciliation Centre in Hmeimim.
To reiterate, the Syria conflict can only be settled by the Syrians themselves. In this connection, we again urge our Western and regional partners to abandon attempts at geopolitical engineering in the region, respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and work together to achieve the main objective: restoring peace in this state.
Question: President Putin has repeatedly claimed that Moscow harbours no aggressive plans with regard to the countries on the eastern flank of NATO. Why then has Russia reinforced its troops near the border?
Sergey Lavrov: Today, we are witnessing an unprecedented, since the end of the Cold War, military build-up and increased presence of NATO forces and infrastructure on the so-called “eastern flank” of the alliance in order to exert military and political pressure on our country.
NATO military exercises, often openly provocative in nature, are carried out next to Russia’s borders. Under the guise of a mythical “threat from the East,” US troops and heavy military equipment are being deployed in countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and new NATO command and staff structural elements are being created.
All these actions of the alliance were “approved” at a NATO summit held in Warsaw in July, which resulted in essentially establishing a long-term policy for further strengthening of the alliance’s military component. This creates a lasting impression that the United States and NATO continue to deliberately ratchet up tensions.
These steps fit into NATO long-term destructive policy aimed at achieving military and political dominance in European and world affairs, and Russia’s deterrence. Even during “better times,” NATO never ceased to move its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders, including during the “three waves” of expansion, and maintained a high level of activity in Eastern Europe, joining the US missile defence programme, the true target of which was obvious even before the Iranian nuclear issue was resolved. Not to mention the attempts by the alliance and its individual member states, in violation of international law, to achieve their own self-serving geopolitical goals. Suffice it to recall the bombing of former Yugoslavia, the invasion of Iraq, and the aggression against Libya.
Under these circumstances and facing the need to adapt to a changing situation in Europe in the wake of destructive NATO actions, Russia has been forced to take an appropriate set of measures to strengthen its defensive capabilities and national security. Let me note that we take these steps on our own territory, unlike the United States and other countries, which move their troops to the states that border on Russia and conduct provocative shows of force near our borders.
We are willing to establish a dialogue and cooperation with NATO, but solely on an equal footing, as it is written in the founding documents of the Russia- NATO Council.
Question: The Minsk agreements were not implemented in Ukraine. Whose fault is it? Why doesn’t Russia withdraw its heavy weapons from southeastern Ukraine? How does Russia see Ukraine's future?
Sergey Lavrov: Unfortunately, we must admit that the situation in southeastern Ukraine remains complicated. There is no large-scale war there, but there is no peace, either. Clearly, no one is interested in perpetuating such a situation.
We believe there’s no alternative to the Minsk Package of Measures dated February 2015. This is the main outcome of the Normandy Quartet meeting in Berlin on October 19. All the participants, including President Poroshenko, expressed their commitment to existing agreements, confirmed the need for strict compliance with the provisions of the Minsk Package of Measures in their totality and in sequential order.
Recently, we had a number of contacts with our Normandy four partners, including a ministerial meeting in Minsk on November 29, as well as with our US colleagues. We discussed further steps to find a viable solution to the Ukraine crisis. To do so, first of all, Kiev must show political will, which it is clearly lacking. The Ukrainian side is in no hurry to act on the existing agreements, and distorts the outcome of the Normandy meetings as it pleases, including at the highest level. Such practices undermine common efforts towards a final settlement.
The sooner Kiev understands the need to fulfill its Minsk-2 obligations, primarily, its political part – that is, granting special status to Donbass, holding local elections in the region, amnesty and constitutional reform – the sooner we will be able to see the Package of Measures completely fulfilled. As you may recall, the issue is about “classical” European values, such as the right of citizens to local self-government, speaking and receiving education in their own language, and their way of life.
More than anyone else, Russia is interested in resolving the conflict that is close to its borders. I would like us to have a predictable and reliable neighbour with whom we would be able to develop pragmatic and equal interaction in all areas.
Statements regarding the presence of Russian heavy weapons in southeastern Ukraine, which must be withdrawn, is clearly science fiction. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and the OSCE group at checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk on the Russian-Ukrainian border have not mentioned in any of their reports the presence of Russian troops, the presence or supplies of Russian weapons, including heavy ones, to the Donetsk or Lugansk regions. The parties to the conflict are fighting with the weapons that remained in Ukraine after the Soviet Union collapsed. Kiev, though, is trying to compensate for its loss with arms supplies, including lethal, from NATO countries.
Clearly, the question about weapons in Donbass will solve itself if the Minsk Package of Measures is fully implemented, including reliable constitutional guarantees of security to the people of southeastern Ukraine in the form of special status for the region.
Question: Italy wants to preserve channels of dialogue with Russia, but at the same time it is one of the countries supporting the anti-Russian sanctions. Is this position negatively affecting bilateral relations?
Sergey Lavrov: The anti-Russian sanctions introduced by the EU and joined by Italyas well as the reciprocal steps by Russia, had a negative effect on bilateral trade and economic cooperation. Today the situation in this area remains complicated and is a source of serious concern for both sides. The substantial reduction in trade is a graphic indicator. Last year it went down by 36.2 per cent to $30.6 billion, and in the nine months of this this year it dropped by 41.2 per cent to $14.2 billion.
According to Italian sources, for instance the Italian export credit agency SACE, Italy’s direct losses from the EU anti-Russian sanctions amount to $2.5-$3 billion. Naturally, Russian companies are also sustaining certain losses. At the same time our policy of import substitution is producing tangible results. On the whole, the Russian economy is firmly standing on its feet. It has adapted itself both to the restrictions and the low oil prices.
Italy is Russia’s sixth largest economic partner although it was fourth before, for a long time. Indicatively, the United States has risen to the fifth position. So, Washington, which initiated many of the anti-Russian measures, is not sustaining losses. Probably, this should give food for thought to our Italian and other EU partners.
We can see that Italy’s political, business and public circles are increasingly expressing discontent with the policy of sanctions and advocating that bilateral ties resume expanding. We know that the desire to unblock trade and economic ties with Russia is strong in Italian regions, many of which have adopted resolutions demanding the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions.
We hope Rome will build its relations with Moscow primarily proceeding from its own interests. The rich history of Russian-Italian ties, rooted in long-standing experience of fruitful cooperation, shows that we are able to achieve meaningful results by working together.
Top-level dialogue plays a special role in maintaining trust and mutual understanding between our states. During their talks on the sidelines of the 20th St Petersburg International Economic Forum last June, President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi discussed the prospects of stepping up Russian-Italian cooperation in key areas.

Participants in the October 5 meeting of the Russian-Italian Council on Economic, Industrial, Monetary and Financial Cooperation drafted a roadmap for overcoming the current situation, laying emphasis on the need to diversify economic ties, look for new promising areas, step up the role of regions in bilateral ties and carry out joint projects, including those in third countries. I hope the talks with my Italian colleague Paolo Gentiloni on December 2 will contribute to the joint efforts to dynamically develop Russian-Italian ties.
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