Interview of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Rossiya 24 TV Channel, St Petersburg, 20 June 2013

Question: Sergey Viktorovich, we meet “on the fields” of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Therefore, my first question is: what meetings will you have here, whom will you talk to, what do you plan to discuss?

Sergey Lavrov: Beside participation in the meetings of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, I have planned my own contacts with a whole range of participants (of the Forum), including Incumbent Prime Minister of Lebanon Najib Mikati, President of the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly Vuk Jeremić. I have just had a conversation with the Administrator of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Helen Clark. We discussed prospects of our interaction in building up Russia’s contribution into international contribution to development. I will have a talk with President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani, some other meetings. Never a dull moment.

Question: The news currently discussed by everybody is the speech of the US President Barack Obama in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate and his proposition to cut one-third in American and Russian nuclear arsenals. What is your assessment of this initiative?

Sergey Lavrov: During the meeting of Russian and American presidents “on the fields” of the summit of the Group of Eight in Lough Erne (Northern Ireland) Mr Obama told in his speech in Berlin that he was planning to announce that Americans had analysed the factors that needed to be taken into account to support deterrence postures. They have come to a conclusion that they may cut one-third in their arsenal without detriment to deterrence tasks. Only in case Russia does the same, of course.

We have explained to the Americans many times – and the  President of Russia Vladimir Putin confirmed it to Mr Obama – that the main thing for us now is to implement the New START that has been signed, ratified and is being implemented well. It should be implemented for another several years before we reach the limits coordinated in it.

We also draw the attention that nuclear weapons, strategic offensive arms are not the only factor affecting global parity and strategic stability. At least in the nearest future, they are and will be affected by defensive strategic missile-defence systems, and the plans (actively implemented by Americans) to create non-nuclear strategic arms, which are probably more humane compared to nuclear bombs as regards the lack of radiation effect, and much more effective than current nuclear arms from the military point of view. Americans also have plans to bring their weapons to space, while Russia is against it (we proposed a draft agreement on that at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva together with China). Let us not forget that the United States significantly leave us behind as regards the number of usual armaments.

We calmly state evident things and propose to have a talk on strategic stability in general taking into account all the factors affecting it. Against this background (if we observe all conditions, of course), we can talk about further cuts, however, not in the bilateral format, but involving other countries having nuclear weapons. This is because further steps mentioned by US President Barack Obama will bring us to a level correlating with the one other nuclear states have.

Question: How does Russia assess the situation with AMD? European AMD plans are not recalled, just slightly corrected. Currently, projects for Alaska have emerged as a response DPRK having missiles.

Sergey Lavrov: The correction several months ago actually means that at this stage Americans refuse from the fourth phase of deployment of the AMD system in Europe and compensate it by deploying additional interceptors in Alaska, as well as are planning to create another positioning area at their Eastern coast. We have analysed everything as a package and have come to a conclusion that we remain concerned – the system remains global, and the deployment of its components is being planned and is taking place, generally speaking, around the perimeter of our borders. Objectively, it is indeed so.

Therefore, as President Vladimir Putin said at the press-conference in Lough Erne summarising the results of the summit of the Group of Eight and his meeting with Barack Obama, in general, we certainly perceive the proposition of US President about higher and even full transparency of these plans in a positive way. We have to think over, how to do it and how this may take shape of practical agreements. We intend to work out these ideas.

I repeat, we remain concerned, and, in any way, we need to envisage measures to respond which would help to prevent the disruption of the strategic balance. President of Russia has sincerely told his American colleague about it. However, we are not against having more clarity in the development of this system.

Question: The situation in Syria was certainly the top topic now. A summit of the Group of Eight was held this week, and it has already been called “icy”, meaning that its tone was icy. In your opinion, will you be able to attain any progress on the Syrian peace process in the negotiations among Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom?

Sergey Lavrov: There always are (and certainly will be) personalities seeking quarrels only in any development of events and expressing prophecies and hand-wringing as regards any forthcoming contacts of leaders of states or any other mechanism.

Our position, indeed, differs considerably, but not as to its final goals, but rather means of attaining them, because neither Russia, the United States or Europe nor any other normal states, including Arab region states and Muslim states in general wish Syria to repeat the path of Iraq, where the American intervention and subsequent occupation of this country was followed by actual expulsion of Sunnites from all even slightly significant structures and hand over of all the powers to Shiites. We need to correct this process in some way now. We need to correct this process in some way now. We need to search for ways to let Shiites, Sunnites, Curds and Christians, who live there as well, though their numbers reduced threefold than before the intervention (their numbers dropped from 1.5 million to 500 thousand people), live in their country and the political system enforces their equality.

About Syria, we all understand and are convinced that we need to keep this country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, multi-ethnicity and multi-religious nature, where rights of religious and ethnic rights of all minorities are enforced and where they feel safe and comfortable. But how do we attain this goal? We are convinced that this is possible by political means only. The President of Russia has confirmed it again at the summit of the Group of Eight.

It seems that they agree to us. Because this is the purpose of the Russian-American initiative to hold an international conference, and everybody supported it. However, on practice, we see actions the purpose of which in fact is to disrupt this initiative. For example, immediately after its proposition, they started to force the UNGA resolution describing the situation in an absolutely unilateral way blaming only the Syrian government in everything happening in the country, turning a blind eye to outrages of militants and the fact that terrorist organisations like Djebhat an-Nusra are gaining more influence at the opposition side. This resolution has been literally “force in”, even though the majority of countries did not want to support it and abstained (about 80 countries). Because of that, the resolution had more pro voices than contra voices.

And even this was not enough for them. Several anti-Syrian resolutions were brought to the UN Human Rights Council, where all the sins were “thrown” on the Government, but the opposition was, in fact, “whitened”. An interesting thing (which is grievous for me), that the United States played the leading role in all these cases along with Persian Gulf countries. I asked Secretary of State John Kerry how it could be explained and whether Washington had changed its attitude to the need to convene a conference. He told me those who worked in New York and Geneva to promote these resolutions, allegedly did not report him their actions. I do not know what the way they work is, but we are facing an objective reality. This does not help us create atmosphere for convening the conference.

The same concerns the statements, that there is “convincing” proof of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, we keep hearing. US experts visited Russia recently, before that our British and French colleagues showed us their findings. In all these cases, we have found nothing, which would hold water, in the papers they presented to us. Moreover, you know statements of former Chief Prosecutor of Hague Tribunal, member of the independent international commission to monitor and investigate reported human rights abuses in Syria Carla Del Ponte, who said and has confirmed recently that she still insists that there are convincing facts of use of chemical poisonous agents by militants of the opposition on March 19 of this year. She interrogated witnesses, she at least has data received from them and from victims. It was this episode that the Syrian government asked UN experts to investigate. In response, Syrian authorities received a request that they were ready to send experts only in case they will be provided unlimited access to any location, any site, any citizen in SAR – irrespective of the position he or she occupies (i.e. it is a request to “lie down under a mandate” prepared for Iraq at some point). By the way, Carla Del Ponte claims that no other uses of chemical weapons are known.

Moreover, a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has access to all regions of Syria and is working actively in solving humanitarian problems with assistance of the Syrian government, made a statement that despite the fact that the Committee is present in all the territory of the country, he has no information about any uses of chemical weapons by Syrian authorities. Then the question is: why do they need to advance this topic, at the same time refusing to investigate a specific episode at the request of the Syrian Government? It seems that somebody wants to get as much as possible leads in the form of resolutions of the General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, as well as precarious statements about chemical weapons constantly charged by mass media, to be able to say at some stage: that’s it, the “red line” has been crossed, and if the UNSC does not want to solve anything, we will do it ourselves. I simply cannot make any other conclusions, when I assess all these peripeteia.

Question: The statement that the “red line” was crossed has already been voiced. The allegedly convincing proof of use of chemical weapons was followed by appeals to establish a “no-fly zone” above Syria. Americans sent F-16, Patriot air defence missile systems, sea soldiers to Jordan, to the border of this country with Syria, and told that they would stay there after trainings, if the decision to establish a “no-fly zone” was made.

Sergey Lavrov: We asked our US friends what this all was about. US mass media mentioned that Washington was developing a plan of a “no-fly zone” irrespective of whether the UNSC approved it. We asked US colleagues this question “on the fields” of the summit of the Group of Eight. They did not reply to it, and this also raises hackles. Moreover, it was announced that the United States were considering the issue of supplying the opposition with weapons in practice. The EU made the same decision, though has postponed the possibility of such supplies until August 1 of this year.

There are many different things in press now. May be, not everything is authoritative. I do not remember, which Syrian newspaper recently published information that large numbers of heavy weapons, including subartillery, artillery and portable surface-to-air missile systems are supplied to militants through the territory of Turkey by the United States and Saudi Arabia – as you know, these are very dangerous weapons for civil aviation.

Most probably, “where there is smoke, must be fire”. And it is a fact that the Syrian army does not fight people armed with guns. Otherwise, the outcome would be different. While we see fierce fighting for each city. It means that the opponent of the Syrian army is well-armed and trained force.

Question: We know that the Americans and the British admit that allies of Al-Qaeda, terrorists, Djebhat an-Nusra, you have just mentioned, are really fighting among the opposition. At the same time, the United States and the United Kingdom have expressed their readiness to arm the opposition by cancelling the embargo. So, where is fighting international terrorism the Americans are actively advocating for in these years?

Sergey Lavrov: That is the worst of it. We need to give credit to our partners, because they understand the danger of the line they are about to step into.

According to all estimates, Djebhat an-Nusra is a rather effectively functioning unit of the armed opposition. The overwhelming majority of armaments that are already supplied or are going to be supplied to Syria, will be distributed through this unit – I have no doubts about it. It is the most coordinated and disciplined unit. Our colleagues understand this. Moreover, hardly anybody has paid attention to one passage in the communique adopted by the leaders of the Group of Eight. The part related to Syria contains proper words about the need to solve the crisis only in a political way, to convene an international conference for complete implementation of the Geneva agreement of 30 June 2012, including the establishment of a transitional governing body on the basis of mutual consent of the government and the opposition. The document contains strict warnings in respect of any attempts to use chemical weapons, and, by the way, a passage regarding the need to report to the UN Security Council about all the facts of its use that do rounds in mass media. I think that the evaluations provided, in particular by Carla Del Ponte, would be very valuable to UNSC.

Beside that, the Syrian section of the communique contains very strong statements appealing to the government and the opposition to unite to remove terrorists from Syria. This is one of the key issues we have to solve. An interesting fact is that they talk little about it. This is a strong, bright text decisively targeted to combating terrorism, which was signed by leaders of member states of the Group of Eight.

By the way, Syrian authorities have already informed that they support the conclusions of the Group of Eight and confirm their readiness to participate in the conference. We still do not know, what is needed to make the opposition act in the same way.

Question: David Cameron, Barack Obama tells that there are people among the opposition who are ready to promote democracy in Syria, deal with civil liberties and start negotiations. Do you know anything about them?

Sergey Lavrov: No, we know nothing about them. We know almost all figures of the opposition both within the National Coalition and other units, including the National Coordination Committee, the Syria’s Kurdish Supreme Council. Figures of the “coalition”, on whom the Americans, the Europeans and the countries of the Persian Gulf stake, refuse to participate in the conference unless the Government fully hands over its powers to this “coalition” at it. This is a direct affront to Russia and the United States, because our proposition about the conference implies the need to fulfil the agreements reached last year in the Geneva Communiqué, which states clearly that the transitional governing body is formed by the government and the opposition on the basis of mutual consent. The conference must be convened for this particular purpose rather than for the purposes of requesting capitulation of the government.

Question: When can this conference be held? President of France Francois Hollande states that he would gladly meet the newly elected President of Iran there. What is your attitude to this? Don’t we have to wait until he accedes to this office.

Sergey Lavrov: Iran must be invited like all other neighbours of Syria directly affected by this crisis – there are many refugees in their territories and their generally suffer from instability.

France is one of the countries, which was totally against the participation of Iran in the conference. We can only welcome that our French colleagues have changed their opinion.

As to deadlines, we discussed this question at the summit. We proposed to set these deadlines, even in two or three months – it does not matter. The main thing is to have some specific goal on which we have to work. Western partners asked not to do this. Eventually, it was written that the conference should be convened “as soon as possible”. You know the cost of these definitions, but we will certainly try. The main thing now – and probably this is the main reason why our Western partners did not mention a specific date – is that they are not at all convinced that they will be able to “sell on” the opposition.

Question: What do you know about the deadlines for the implementation of the contract on supplies of C-300 military systems to Syria?

Sergey Lavrov: We respect our contracts and perform our obligations under them. The contract have not been performed to the end yet.

Question: When can we expect and whether we can expect a positive decision in respect of Russian peacemakers appearing on Golan Heights?

Sergey Lavrov: As you know, it depends on readiness of Syrian and Israeli governments to agree to such proposition. Because the initial mandate of this peace-making operation of 1974 states that the document is approved as agreed between Syria and Israel. This agreement stated that the parties agreed to exclude permanent UNSC members from the contingencies which will form the UN (disengagement) Mission. But it was long ago, at the height of a “cold war”, a year after the next “hot war” in the region. I do not see any reasons now, why Russian peacemakers could be unacceptable for Syria and Israel.

By the way, the Syrian government has already supported our participation in this peace-making operation. Israel has not announced its decision yet. Fiji contingency is expected to fill in the hole created because of removal of Austrian contingencies. However, our proposition is still valid. It seems to me that this would not be bad. Russia has good relations with Syria and Israel, we are interested that these two countries, where many our nationals live, feel safe. Our peacemakers would almost perfectly fit for this particular operation.

Question: The authorities in Iran are changing. What is your assessment of the elections that have taken place? Western countries were inspired by the personality of the elected President of Iran Hassan Rouhani – he was the only candidate telling that he wished to normalise relations with the West. Can we expect for a turn in the Nuclear Program of Iran?

Sergey Lavrov: We worked with all the presidents of Iran – predecessors of the elected Hassan Rouhani. By the way, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to participate in the Gas Exporting Countries Forum at summit level, which will be held (in Moscow) at the beginning of July. This will probably be the last contact with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran.

Hassan Rouhani enters upon his office at the beginning of August. He is actually talking about the need to search for a solution for the Nuclear Program of Iran more actively and creatively. We welcome this. At the current stage, during times of the current President of Iran, we felt readiness of Iran to discuss the concerns we all know well for a long time seriously and substantively. In particular, during last meetings (P5+1) a readiness to solve the problem of uranium enrichment at 20-percent degree was stated, certainly taking into account that if they stop to enrich by this level, P5+1 and the international community will make steps to weaken unilateral and multilateral sanctions. I hope that we will keep these rates. We are for holding a full-format round of negotiations of P5+1 international mediators with Iranian representatives as soon as possible after the new President of Iran accedes to his office. In general, we expect to continue many centuries old traditions of neighbourly relations with our Iranian colleagues.