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892 days have passed since the Salisbury incident - no credible information or response from the British authorities                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     884 days have passed since the death of Nikolay Glushkov on British soil - no credible information or response from the British authorities



Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions during the Valdai International Discussion Club’s panel on Russia’s policy in the Middle East, Sochi, October 2, 2019

Mr Kortunov, colleagues,

Thank you for inviting me to the Valdai Forum and this discussion panel.

I am grateful to the hosts for choosing the situation in the Near and Middle East as a discussion topic. It is the cradle of many civilisations and world religions. Now that it has turned into a platform for, to put it bluntly, reckless experiments that lead to tragic consequences, this topic has become very acute. The root of what is happening there probably lies in a quote that I saw in the Valdai Club’s annual report: “Non-interference in internal affairs are just words, not a standard for behavior.” Another quote: "The sovereignty of states no longer limits others in their actions." This appears to be a straightforward and obvious statement, but, as they say, "it looks beneath the surface."

Reckless ventures with regime changes in Iraq and Libya have led to, in fact, the destruction of these countries’ statehood. Iraq has more or less succeeded in bringing its state back to normal. We are actively helping our Iraqi colleagues, including by increasing the combat effectiveness of their security forces and the army in fighting the remaining terrorist groups.

In Libya, the situation is much worse, although the international community is making efforts to establish some kind of an inclusive dialogue. But there are too many external players there, and it has so far been impossible to start a sustainable process.

Take a look at the history of this region from the late 1970s and early 1980s. When the Soviet Union was in Afghanistan, the Mujahideen organised resistance, and they were strongly supported by our US colleagues, who supplied them with weapons and everything they needed for an armed opposition. This gave rise to al-Qaeda which feels strong to this day, and which attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. It would seem that back then it was already necessary to conclude that it was criminal to count on the ability to control terrorists and to use them for geopolitical purposes, assuming that things could be arranged in a way that they would not harm us and would not get out of our control. This is an illusion.

Another example of falling into the same trap is the invasion of Iraq, which eventually led to the emergence of the Islamic State.

Invading Syria and stimulating unrest in that country in order to destabilise this Middle Eastern state as well, has led Al-Qaeda to take on new guises, the most known of which is the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, which has become Idlib’s main problem.

After what happened in Libya, when it was bombed in flagrant violation of a UN Security Council resolution, ISIS became closely intertwined with terrorist groups in Africa, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram and Al-Shabab. Now, this terrorist international is already terrorising, probably, half of Africa, especially in the Sahara-Sahel region. This is the reality that was created after the winners in the Cold War felt they could get away with anything and decided to act on the principle “I do as I please.”

In Syria, at the request of the legitimate Government, certain countries stood up for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a result, they managed to help prevent the Libyan scenario there, which, unfortunately, caused a nervous reaction from our Western partners. They were looking at what was happening not from the point of view of the need to suppress terrorists and extremists, but from the point of view of geopolitical struggle. Why does Russia allow itself to do the same that they and only they can do? What is permissible for Jove is not always permissible for the ox.

These were the reasons for the nervous, even hysterical, responses to what was happening in Aleppo and other Syrian regions, where the Syrian army, with our support, was liberating the corresponding areas from terrorists. Remember the lamentations about the atrocities in Aleppo, the fact that the people were starved and did not have access to necessary medicines? As soon as eastern Aleppo was liberated, a representative of the World Health Organisation in Syria, a sincere woman, went there and said that there were plenty of warehouses with medicines and all the necessary medical equipment which had been under the control of the militants. Nobody mentioned this. They wrote only that the Syrian regime and the Russians were "destroying the civilians."

In Aleppo, peaceful life was restored quickly, demining was completed in record time and local people were provided with the essentials and began to return to their homes. Nothing like this was happening in Raqqa, where the US-led coalition was fighting terrorism by carpet bombing. Even the bodies had not been buried 18-24 months later, not to mention mine clearance. Double standards are evident here. This is sad, because our common task, as I understand it, is not to allow this region to become a "reserve" for terrorists. The trend for this is on the surface in Libya, for example, as I mentioned earlier. This is a very serious situation.

Instead of joining forces in the fight against terrorism without dual standards and attempts to use criminals for their own geopolitical goals and instead of giving up the friend-or-foe approach, our colleagues try to accuse the Syrian authorities of all deadly sins in any way they can.

I will not dwell in detail on the situation that developed in the OPCW. This is simply a striking example of the attempts by the West to privatise the Secretariat of this universal international organisation. By twisting the arms of the countries that cannot voice their position it is trying to replace the current convention with something that will allow it to go rogue with the help of the secretariat’s obedient employees. Nevertheless, we are realists and want to work with all those who can realistically help resolve problems. There are glimpses of common sense in our contacts with our American and other Western colleagues. 

They welcomed, albeit through clenched teeth, the agreements that the Syrian government and the opposition reached with the help of the Astana format on forming the Constitutional Committee and coordinating its procedures. A small detail: it is common knowledge that this process became possible after the holding of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi in January 2018. It is common knowledge that at this forum the delegates from the government, parliament, the public and the opposition decided to establish the Constitutional Committee. It is common knowledge what efforts the Syrian Three made for this to take place. It could have taken place a year earlier if it had not been for our Western colleagues. In effect, they prohibited UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to give consent to Staffan de Mistura on the list of the members of the Constitutional Committee, which was approved by the government and the opposition with the assistance of the Astana Three. But we are not holding a grudge and are continuing to work at this. Characteristically, when an EU representative welcomed the establishment of the committee, he did not say a word about the Astana Three, as distinct from the United States that recognised the role of Russia, Iran and Turkey in a public statement.

So, we have very difficult work ahead, much more difficult than it has been. Representatives of the government and the opposition, with the participation of civil society delegations, will now sit at one negotiating table and come to terms on Constitutional reform. It is this reform that must become the foundation for future elections. This is the case when all the cards are on the table. I hope the UN will impartially facilitate this process. The Astana Three will not sit idle either. We will do everything we can to let the Syrians come to terms without external interference. There are signs of attempts to interfere in this process. We will counter them deftly but firmly.

Regarding other issues in the Middle East, I am very concerned about the revisionism that is now manifest in US policy on a settlement in the Middle East, the settlement between Palestine and Israel. The two-state solution is actually being brushed aside and the efforts of the Quartet of international mediators have actually been blocked. We are being told that the proverbial “deal of the century” that was promised to all of us two years ago is about to come into being. But there is still no deal up to this day. We can guess that now the issue of renouncing the two-state solution will be raised. At this point we, the entire Arab world, and all other UN members will firmly adhere to the resolutions that were adopted by the UN Security Council and that must be implemented. Of course, this region requires inclusive architecture. Regrettably, the United States is going all-out to demonise, and isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran and compel it to give up. I do not think this is a far-sighted policy. The accusations that are hurled at Iran under the most diverse pretexts are not based on convincing evidence.

Of course, the withdrawal of the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal, was a typical example of a total disregard for international law and UN Security Council decisions. Not only did the United States refuse to deliver on these decisions, it forbids other countries from observing the Iran nuclear deal and the relevant UN Security Council resolution, threatening to impose sanctions on them [should they fail to obey].    

Other initiatives by our American colleagues in this region, including the so-called Arab NATO and the international coalition to protect navigation in the Persian Gulf are about drawing delimitation lines against the Islamic Republic of Iran. No doubt, it is important to ensure security in the Persian Gulf but Iran also has proposals which differ from others in that they are not targeting anyone, or excluding everything else, rather, Iran suggests that all countries join forces and patrol the world’s major waterway, ensuring safe navigation there. We suggest starting talks about drafting a collective security concept for the Persian Gulf and the area around it. In mid-September, this idea was discussed by experts at the Institute of Oriental Studies, the Russian Academy of Sciences. It attendance were over 30 experts from Russia, the Arab countries, Britain, France, India and China. I believe this discussion is very useful.

The hard situation in Yemen, which, according to the UN, is facing a major humanitarian catastrophe, can only be resolved through all-inclusive talks. We have been encouraged by the proposal put forward recently by the Houthi movement for a ceasefire and the beginning of talks. Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman responded positively to it. I believe UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who is sincerely seeking to secure progress in the negotiating process, can rely on these latest moves, which are cause for cautious optimism.


To be continued...


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