Current dynamics of Russian-Turkish relations

Transcript of Remarks and Response to Media Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Joint Press Conference with Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali Babajan, Istanbul, September 2, 2008

Foreign Minister Lavrov: At the outset, I would like to sincerely thank my Turkish colleague and friend, Mr. Ali Babajan, for the traditional hospitality and the welcome that was accorded to the Russian delegation.

Our talks, as Babajan has already said about this, were as always friendly and trustful. We have stated that the political dialogue between our countries has been developing at a high pace, and my present visit to Turkey, a second one in three months, is further testimony to this. We expect that the upcoming official visit to the Russian Federation at the end of the year of the President of Turkey, Mr. Abdullah Gül, the preparations for which we also discussed today, will impart additional impulse to our relations.

As my friend Babajan has already said, our trade is developing at a record pace. We will certainly surpass this year the target set by the heads of our states of bringing up its volume to 25 billion dollars. Investment cooperation is progressing day after day, and the flow of Russian tourists is continuously growing. Last years record of 2.5 million people will undoubtedly be beaten this year. Russia is becoming Turkeys number one trading partner and the number one supplier of tourists to magnificent Turkish resorts. We state on the whole that the task set to achieve in our relations the level of an advanced many-sided partnership is being successfully carried out.

Today for understandable reasons one of the important places in the course of our talks was allotted to the development of events in the Caucasus. We exchanged our assessments of the current situation and agreed on the chief thing the necessity of preserving calm, peace and security in the region.

To our huge regret, in the opinion of the Russian Federation, far from all proceed in their actions from these fundamental principles. An example of this: the unprecedented, barbaric violation of the Charter of the United Nations and of their international obligations and commitments, the aggression of the Georgian authorities against South Ossetia that entailed numerous human casualties. Dozens of Russian peacekeepers died and hundreds of civilians, most of whom had Russian citizenship. So the decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, taken by President Dmitry Medvedev in response to the unanimous appeal from both chambers of the Russian parliament, in response to the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the Russian citizens, was the only correct and the only possible decision in these conditions in order to ensure not just the security of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but also the survival of their peoples.

We have reaffirmed the mutual interest in building up bilateral and multilateral dialogue on all aspects of the Caucasus problem. We appreciate the desire of Turkey to promote this process, and precisely in this context discussed the proposal of Ankara for the creation of a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform. We regard this idea positively, and support the striving to work out mechanisms for limiting the conflict potential of the region and for raising the level of its stability. Of course, at this stage it is necessary to create the appropriate conditions for that, including elimination of the consequences of the aggression against South Ossetia. But we absolutely agree with our Turkish partners that the groundwork for that interaction can and must be laid already now. We agreed to continue consultation at the level of the ministers and at the level of our deputies and of experts in order to flesh out this initiative.

We also examined other issues of the regional and international agenda, including interaction in the Black Sea region. Russia and Turkey are unanimous in the view about the necessity of using more actively the already available mechanisms in this regard the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization and Blackseafor and developing the Turkish idea of Black Sea harmony, which is increasingly acquiring a multilateral and practical character. Essentially from the same positions we also champion what needs to be undertaken for a definitive resolution of the situation in Iraq on the basis of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that state. Also similar are our approaches to the necessity of a political peaceful settlement to the situation surrounding Irans nuclear program. So that we count on the closest further cooperation with Turkey not only in the political, economic, commercial, investment areas, but also in the cultural field. The Years of Russia in Turkey and of Turkey in Russia have undoubtedly deepened the traditional friendly ties between our peoples further still.

Thanks once more to my colleague and friend for the opportunity to continue our close interaction.

Question: You have said that you discussed with Ali Babajan the problems of Iran and Iraq. Reports have been coming in lately that a secret missile supply agreement was concluded between Russia and Iran in 2005. Are these reports well-founded? Turkey is encountering problems with the export of its goods. We also see that the same problems exist in respect of American goods. Does this spell any economic isolation of the Russian Federation?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: You have so confused all this information which you try to formulate in your questions, that there can be no single-phrase answer. I could merely say that all of this is untruth and wrap it up, but out of respect for you I will explain each of the themes touched on by you. As to secret Russian arms supplies to Iran or anywhere else, we do not engage in that. Our arms exports are absolutely transparent in terms of the observance of international law and Russian export legislation, which is one of the strictest in the world. The violations in this region involved deliveries of offensive arms to Georgia precisely. This took place despite the fact that there were the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in that country, and despite the fact that OSCE and EU documents are adopted that call for nonsupply of arms to regions of conflicts. So that the violations have indeed occurred, but the perpetrator isnt the Russian side, but practically all who armed the Saakashvili regime and actually prepared it for the aggression: member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance.

As to trade relations between Russia and Turkey, their volume, as Ive already said, keeps growing at a record pace, and to be sure, problems of a practical nature arise in them from time to time. In the case my friend Babajan has mentioned the talk is about the fact that a number of countries had for quite a long period not observed Russian legislation in full measure. The Federal Customs Service of Russia had to introduce stricter control measures in respect of the cargoes that come in from those countries. These are not anti-Turkish measures. They are not discriminatory in nature. We are interested in the expansion of trade with Turkey, and Turkey is likewise interested in this. Therefore in the framework of contacts between our customs services concrete approaches are being agreed towards overcoming this situation. Our Customs have suggested concluding a document on a simplified clearance procedure, and proposed right now, without waiting for elaboration of that document, to carry out a pilot project with respect to airborne cargoes. All these proposals remain valid. And, as we agreed with Mr. Minister, we will presume that our customs services will soon hold consultations to close this matter.

Now, with regard to your concern about Russian-US trade. There are no politics here at all, just as there can be none in trade relations between countries. At least, Russia, unlike some others, adheres to that approach exactly. Periodically in recent years problems arose with the quality of products, primarily the meat and various farm products that Russia was receiving from different countries, including the United States. There was a problem with Polish meat, which actually wasnt Polish but contraband. There was also a problem with Brazil and a number of other Latin American countries when the meat being supplied to us did not conform to the quality required by Russian legislation and the agreements with the appropriate country. We had a protocol concluded with the EU, which prohibits delivery to Russia of meat from animals in whose feed there were antibiotics. These are documentary accords, and we follow them strictly.

As to the 19 US enterprises supplying meat to Russia, they were warned a year ago by our inspectors that not everything was okay with their product quality. Specific recommendations were put forward and agreed on with the American side as to what needed to be done to bring that quality into conformity with the existing agreements and obligations. Nothing was done over the year. Therefore we simply have had before the relevant enterprises remedy this situation not to purchase meat from them so far. Of course, export earnings for the US producers are a serious matter, but we do try to look after the health of our citizens as well.

Question (for Ali Babajan): You not so long ago met with your Georgian counterpart, who came to you to Turkey. Was the theme of the Caucasus Platform discussed with him, what is the attitude of Georgia to this idea, and was the possibility discussed with the Russian and Georgian sides of participation by Turkish peacekeepers in the settlement of the conflict around South Ossetia?

Foreign Minister Lavrov (speaks after Babajan): I would like to add that Russia has come up with an initiative in favor of increasing the international presences in the security zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Our peacekeepers now monitoring this zone after the aggression was stopped are not going to stay there for ever. We have submitted the relevant proposal to the OSCE, and backed up the increase of the number of observers from this organization by 100; also stand ready for an additional increase of their numbers according to concrete requirements. We have also proposed deploying an international police in the security zone under the aegis of the OSCE most likely, since the functions of the peacekeepers do not include the maintenance of law and order. We expect that decisions on that score will be adopted and the EU, showing interest in sending its representatives to the region, will assign representatives of EU member countries to the OSCE mission and, perhaps, the international police. We are also prepared to examine other international measures which will make it possible to efficiently guarantee that the security zone is truly safe, demilitarized and that no illegal movements and preparations are noted in it. Of course, it is necessary to make certain that the same long-suffering agreement on the nonuse of force that we had sought all this past year but had not found understanding on it either in Tbilisi or among its western backers is signed after all. Only then will it be possible to leave the regime of the security zone under international control. Naturally, we will welcome the participation in all these processes of our Turkish colleagues. We consider that this will be a part of overall efforts.

Question: You have said that you are undertaking more thorough checks at customs. Did Turkey really violate your customs legislation? What is envisaged within the simplified regime? In this standoff Turkish firms are incurring enormous losses.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I sincerely like it that real problems interest the Turkish public; problems of competition with other producers in the Russian market. This is really important far more important than the attempts by some of our colleagues with Mr. Minister from other countries to concentrate on a virtual problem that they had themselves created to a large extent and which had taken such a tragic expression in the Caucasus. Responding to your question specifically, I would like to emphasize that I am not a customs expert. Our customs are the instance that together with their Turkish colleagues examines these questions professionally. Meddling by the ministers of foreign affairs in this process, in its essence or in its concrete aspects first will be unprofessional, and second, will lead to a politicization of this problem. We have agreed to perform the function which is intrinsic to foreign affairs agencies, namely to alert our relevant structures and our governments of the need to settle this problem as soon as possible.

Question: Are there any new moments linked to the Russian offer to buy Azerbaijani gas? What is the motivation behind such a deal? As far as I understand, the deal with Turkmenistan will help ensure supply of gas to the South Stream pipeline system. I ask this question because there is speculation that following the conflict in Georgia the deals with Turkmenistan and, possibly, Azerbaijan may lead to a delay if not the total cancellation of the Nabucco project.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The zeal with which you read out your question, even not a question, but I would say an analysis of the situation, puts me in an unequal position with you. Youve obviously managed to present the hugely complicated themes in their intertwining. I will not go into the details which you have noted, because this is not the subject of our present talks at all. I can only say that, like Turkey, we champion greater energy security, particularly by diversification of hydrocarbon supply routes to different regions. The chief thing is that, in this case, everyone ought to be guided by commercial and economic, not political and even less so geopolitical considerations. The chief thing is that all those planning a specific route be clear about what to fill the pipe with. Thats the whole answer. Whereas your question is rather geopolitical in nature; in it different plans, facts and negotiations are somewhat artificially fitted to the Nabucco project. If the Nabucco project has something to fill it with, who objects to it, then? Nobody.

Question: The theme of the customs restrictions is now being actively discussed in the Turkish media. Are there any initiatives regarding ways to settle this problem? Did Russia think of terminating gas supplies to Turkey?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Not of course. What on Earth for? You understand when somebody prompts you to ask such questions so that your readers are not bored, it seems to me that this only misleads them. In response to this I will put one question to you. I do not expect to receive an answer to it but will ask it all the same: please give me at least one example of a breach by Russia of its obligations under an agreement or contract for the supply of oil and gas; at least one example. There are no such examples. But as to the commercial issues, I already answered this twice and, I hope, everything is understandable.

Question: Journalists have got used to the phrase that the talks passed in a warm, friendly atmosphere

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I didnt lie when I was saying that, honestly.

Question: I would like to learn about the atmosphere that was there. Communicating with western partners, you and your colleagues very often note that bloc thinking has to be overcome. Turkey is a NATO member. In this case was the conversation so arranged as to talk more with it not as a NATO member country, but as a major trade and economic partner.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I will say at once that we feel no restraining factors due to Turkeys NATO membership within the framework of our bilateral dialogue, which is truly sincere, truly trustful and truly mutually respectful. In our bilateral relations Turkey has never tried to use its NATO membership to the detriment of these principles on which our dialogue is based. Moreover, we, naturally, presume that Turkey fulfills the obligations and commitments which it has to fulfill as a member of the North Atlantic Alliance. This is completely understandable. But meanwhile Turkey does not forget about its other international commitments and obligations. In the first place, obligations under international law as a whole, in the framework of the UN, OSCE and in the framework of the international treaties that govern the regime on the Black Sea, for example. Turkey never places its commitments to NATO above its other international obligations, but always strictly follows all those obligations that it has in the totality. This is a very important trait not characteristic for all countries. We appreciate this, and endeavor to approach our relations likewise.

(after remarks by Babajan): I will add just a few of words in support of what Mr. Babajan has now said. We see the chief value in the Turkish initiative for the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform in that it rests on common sense and assumes that countries of any region and, first of all, countries belonging to this region should themselves decide how to conduct affairs there. And others should help, but not dictate their recipes. Of course, this will be an open scheme, but the initiative role here will belong to the countries of the region. This is about the same thing as ASEAN in Southeast Asia, which has a lot of partners, but the ASEAN members define the work agenda for the region, and the regions life.

Question: From the outset, Turkey has stood for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. Russia has recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Can this somehow adversely affect relations between Russia and Turkey?

Foreign Minister Lavrov (speaks after Babajan): Russia, like Turkey, is firmly committed to the principles of territorial integrity and all other principles of international law. Undoubtedly, each state has a right to its territorial integrity while having to fulfill certain obligations, including those connected with ensuring the rights of the peoples living on the territory of that state. The 1970 UN Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations among States indicates straightforwardly that each state has a duty to ensure the rights of the peoples residing on its territory, including the right to self-determination. And all are duty-bound to respect the territorial integrity of a state which ensures these rights and has a government really controlling the whole territory. After the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the Georgian leadership, beginning with Georgias first president, Mr. Gamsakhurdia, put forward the slogan Georgia for Georgians, abolished autonomy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and threw its forces into assault on these republics. And how did you think the Ossetians and Abkhaz ought to have responded to this? Of course, they rose against the aggressor. And now when this conflagration had just only been put out at the start of the 90s, when the negotiation mechanisms and peacekeeping forces had been created, when all the parties, including Tbilisi, had signed the commitments not to use force and when the process had begun to develop along negotiation lines, with the coming of Mr. Saakashvili all of this was broken. He repeatedly used force against the same South Ossetia. Such an attempt was made four years ago, in August 2004. He tore up all the peaceful settlement agreements that offered the hope for progress. Therefore the blame for the undermining of the territorial integrity of Georgia rests squarely on Mr. Saakashvili. We treat with respect the position which Turkey holds on this issue. I am sure that time will put everything in its place. I will open a little secret. Mr. Babajan, as we were walking to a press conference, recalled that he had been on a visit to Moscow two days after Turkey had recognized Kosovo. We were asked about this at the press conference: why Turkey had recognized it and Russia considered that unacceptable. We explained that we had respect for each other, and this would not affect the character of our bilateral relations or our cooperation on regional and international affairs. But there was a question on which we differed. What matters most is how we treat these differences of opinion, unlike how some others perceive that: in our relations, in relations between Russia and Turkey, such differences cause no hysteria, no reciprocal threats and are simply taken as a fact of life which, I repeat, is far from finished and I think that time will yet show how normal countries will treat what has happened.