Question: Is the liberation of Aleppo the biggest step towards a settlement and the turning point in the fight against terrorism in Syria? Will Russia support Damascus in its efforts to liberate the rest of Syria from terrorists?
Sergey Lavrov: The liberation of Aleppo is certainly a major step in the liberation of Syria from terrorists. It is important not just from the military but also from the political viewpoint, because Aleppo, apart from being a large city, is considered the economic capital of Syria.
We worked jointly with Turkey and Iran to prepare the voluntary evacuation of civilians and organised the withdrawal of armed opposition from eastern Aleppo, which has saved many innocent lives. Unfortunately, our previous agreements with the United States have been derailed by our American partners. Washington has failed or did not want to do the main thing – separate the so-called moderate opposition from the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists, and other extremist groups.
We will continue to strengthen our cooperation with Turkey, Iran and other regional countries on Syria. It is heartening that the world is coming to see that there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic settlement in Syria through a national dialogue based on the 2012 Geneva Communique, UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and International Syria Support Group’s decisions.
We have been acting on the assumption that the eradication of the seat of terrorism in Syria is a common cause for the international community. President of Russia Vladimir Putin has more than once proposed creating a broad counterterrorist front based on international law and supported by the UN. We are ready for constructive cooperation towards this end with all those who care for the future of Syria and their own countries. As the latest developments have shown, including the heinous murder of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov, the bloody terrorist attacks in Europe and, before that, the explosion of the Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula, terrorism has become a global threat.
Question: Is there hope that Syria will not repeat the fate of Iraq and Libya and that it will survive as a unitary state, or is its federalisation inevitable under the current conditions?
Sergey Lavrov: To begin with, the problems of Iraq and Libya have no connection to their government systems. Regardless of whether they were unitary or federative states, they fell victim, just like Syria, to geopolitical engineering schemes, to near-sighted and often mercantile actions aimed at changing undesirable governments and imposing alien development models and values that do not take national traditions and specifics into account. As a result, these states were seriously weakened or destroyed and became breeding grounds for many terrorist and extremist groups.
Russia has consistently upheld the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria. We stand firmly for Syria to remain a united, multi-ethnic, multi-confessional, democratic and secular state.
As for specific forms of government, the Syrians alone can decide this and a number of other issues through an inclusive national dialogue. During a recent meeting with my Iranian and Turkish colleagues in Moscow, we approved a joint statement reaffirming our countries’ willingness to contribute to the development of and to guarantee the implementation of the negotiated agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition.
Question: The outlines of President-elect Donald Trump’s team are becoming clear. Are there grounds to believe, including based on contact with Donald Trump’s representatives, that the new US administration will implement part of the election promises regarding Russia and that differences on Syria, Ukraine and bilateral issues will be smoothed over?
Sergey Lavrov: We welcome President-elect Donald Trump’s stated willingness to resume a normal dialogue with Russia. As President Putin has repeatedly said, Russia is “prepared to go down our part of that road” to return bilateral relations to a stable trajectory. I would like to say that we are not to blame for the recent deterioration of our relations, which happened because of Washington’s deliberate actions. Russia has always been open to predictable cooperation with the United States based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and due consideration for each other’s priorities.
At the same time, we understand that it will take hard work to remedy the damage done to our relations under the Obama administration. It would be premature to talk about the kind of relations on specific issues we may have with the Republican administration. Anyway, we must wait until Donald Trump is inaugurated on January 20, and until his candidates for the heads of departments responsible for national security and foreign affairs assume office. We will be able to make forecasts after we establish official contact with the new US administration and assess its first actions.
We hope to be able to develop a pragmatic dialogue. We should begin by resuming interdepartmental ties, which have been curtailed almost completely. We had a Bilateral Presidential Commission, which showed good results and included 21 working groups on a broad range of cooperation issues, but Washington suspended it in March 2014.
If the United States shows a willingness to resume constructive cooperation, we will definitely not just surge ahead on bilateral issues but will also make a weighty joint contribution to settling acute global and regional problems, including the Syrian and Ukrainian crises. The conditions for this exist. Our concerted efforts are especially necessary in the fight against international terrorism and extremism.
We could also implement joint mutually beneficial trade, investment, innovation and technology initiatives. It is indicative that American companies have not left the Russian market despite the White House’s sanctions and pressure. They regard the Russian market as profitable and attractive. There is great cooperation potential in our cultural and humanitarian exchanges and citizen contacts.
As I have said, effective cooperation between Russia and the United States is possible, but only after Washington stops using deterrence tools and blackmail and ceases its attempts to force its will on us. The ball is in the US court now.