Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with the Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Congolese Nationals Abroad Jean-Claude Gakosso, Moscow, March 14, 2017
Question: Russia Today has shot a lot of footage in Iraq showing that the international coalition that aims to weaken the positions of ISIS in Iraq has often killed civilians. Meanwhile, the US has been hailing the operation as the most precise in history. International media stay silent. This silence differs drastically from accusations of war crimes that were levelled during the liberation of Aleppo in December 2016. Why are the civilians in Mosul less of a news story for the international media and the international community?
Sergey Lavrov: I think the answer is quite simple and it lies in the fact that those, who pose as the world community in this case, are egregiously biased. They are after regime change, not a settlement of the Syrian crisis through diplomacy. It was the same in Libya where a real opportunity for dialogue between Muammar Gaddafi and the opposition that my friend Jean-Claude has just mentioned was rejected because Gaddafi’s head was what they needed. Nothing good has ever come out of this obsession with personal vendettas, be it Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein or Bashar Assad.
Just as the media created an overblown portrayal of the events in Aleppo, and particularly in its eastern part, the city’s liberation from terrorists revealed a large number of facts that proved the efficiency of the Syrian army’s operation that was aided by Russian aerospace forces and military advisors. Moreover, there were facts that disproved the unfounded accusations of violating international humanitarian law. I can give you two such examples. First, we used to hear never ending wailings about the need to provide immediate access to terrorist-controlled eastern Aleppo to supply medicines and medical equipment for civilians, because, as it was announced to the whole world, not one pill had been left there.
After the city was freed huge storages of medicines and medical equipment of nearly all kinds and quality were discovered. Those had been kept at warehouses by terrorists who prevented them from being given to or used by civilians. We made sure that a representative of the World Health Organisation in Syria was made aware of these facts, and that she communicated this knowledge to Geneva where the WHO is headquartered. At the UN Security Council we demanded an explanation as to why we had had to witness such a hysterical reaction even though the WHO was fully aware that such huge amounts of medicines were stored in eastern Aleppo. Those who had cried the loudest remained silent because they were ashamed.
Here’s the other example. The operation to liberate eastern Aleppo was met with accusations of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law. There were demands that we cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross – pushing at an already open door, really, because we had been cooperating with the ICRC and with the Syrian Society of the Red Crescent from the very beginning. Just a few days ago, a representative from the ICRC commended our joint work with them and their colleagues in eastern Aleppo.
As for the coverage of the situation in Mosul and in other parts of the region where members of what is called an anti-terrorist coalition are conducting operations, your journalist colleagues should feel certain responsibility for the discharge of their professional duties. Russia Today is quite objective, and at the very least, the picture of this or that conflict shown to the international community would not be complete without your reporting.
The Mosul footage, which is available to any unbiased observer, proves, I believe, that there are reasons for very serious concern. It is certain that more people have fled Mosul than eastern Aleppo during that city’s liberation.
I would call on our UN partners responsible for humanitarian issues all over the world as well as on journalists working in conflict zones across the globe to be first of all more objective, and secondly, shall I say, more pro-active in showing what they see in this or that crisis-hit area. Just a couple of days ago now, a briefing took place at the UN Security Council chaired by the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brian. The facts shared at the briefing are worrying, and Syria was not characterized as the worst case among the ongoing crises in the region. Statistics for Iraq and Yemen were presented. We count on those who are concerned by the observance of international humanitarian law to take Mr O’Brian’s information into account when considering what to do and especially what to say.
Question: What do you expect from the intra-Syrian talks in Astana? Does the armed opposition’s refusal to participate in these talks diminish the value of this format? How will this affect Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria, considering that Turkey, as a guarantor country, is in contact with the armed opposition?
Sergey Lavrov: Right now, together with our colleagues from the Defence Ministry, we are looking into the recent developments. Our position is that the reasons that were mentioned as impediments to the armed opposition’s participation in the next round of Astana talks, at least in some media outlets, are not convincing enough. They cite violations of the ceasefire, but there have always been violations, as in any other situation. This is a perfectly natural process. What’s important is that the number of these violations has declined significantly compared to the period before the agreements were signed in late December.
In addition, a special mechanism with the participation of the Russian and Turkish militaries was set up to monitor these violations. They share information about possible violations every day. Now a mechanism is being established to respond to such cases and impact on the party that fails to observe its obligations. By the way, this is an issue that has been put on the agenda of the Astana meeting. It will also consider the practical parameters of demining operations. Here, Syria, the UN, UNESCO and any normal state that wants to restore normal life in areas where a ceasefire has been declared has a direct interest. So establishing a demining mechanism is another important subject.
The third subject is an agreement on the exchange of prisoners of war. Our military colleagues have prepared concrete proposals on all these issues. Our military agencies should also finally delimit on the map the areas that are still under terrorist control and those that were freed from this threat.
Needless to say, it is always crucial not to freeze the situation, even with confidence building measures and a cessation of hostilities, but to utilise this progress to strengthen security and step up efforts toward a political settlement, which involves moving forward with drafting a new constitution, among other things. We also have some considerations on this score. However, to reiterate, we are looking into what has suddenly happened to the position of the armed opposition. Yesterday, I spoke with my Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. Defence Ministry officials, via their channels, are also getting in touch with the commanders of armed opposition groups. We have reason to believe that there is some misunderstanding, but in any case, the Astana meeting will help move things forward along the path outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.