Official visits

Kazakhstan is Russia's ally, good neighbour and strategic partner

20 January, 2017

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kairat Abdrakhmanov (Moscow, January 20, 2017).

Ladies and gentlemen,

My counterpart from Kazakhstan Kairat Abdrakhmanov, who is visiting the Russian capital in this capacity for the first time, and I had very good and useful talks. We discussed a wide range of issues related to our bilateral relations and cooperation in the international arena, especially in view of the fact that Kazakhstan was elected member of the UN Security Council for the next two years. We looked at all areas of our interaction in the context of the agreements reached in the course of numerous meetings of our respective presidents last year.

Kazakhstan is Russia's ally, good neighbour and strategic partner. Our interaction has established itself as an important factor in the sustained socioeconomic development of Russia and Kazakhstan and the consolidation of stability in Central Asia.

This year, October 2017, marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. We agreed to host a variety of activities to celebrate this memorable date.

In the sphere of bilateral relations, we highly praised our legal framework, which comprises over 300 treaties and agreements. Most of them work efficiently. Today, we made a contribution to the legal framework and signed the 2017-2018 Action Plan on cooperation between our respective foreign ministries.

With regard to international and regional issues, the discussion focused on our cooperation within the Eurasian Economic Union. We agreed to continue to provide diplomatic support to promoting EAEU contacts with third countries and their associations. We agreed to continue to coordinate our positions and support each other in various international formats, including the UN, the OSCE, the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO. We exchanged views on current issues on the agenda of these international organisations and the tasks that they are addressing at this stage.

We analysed the regional security situation, especially in Central Asia, taking into account the geographical proximity of our countries to primary areas of terrorist activity in the Middle East and Afghanistan. We are united in the view that fighting terrorism can only be effective through the combined efforts of the entire international community based on international law and without double standards.

Of course, we raised a number of issues related to the meeting to be held between the representatives of the Syrian government and armed opposition groups in Astana soon, which is designed to facilitate the conditions for promoting a settlement in Syria.

We are satisfied with the outcome of the talks. I received an invitation to visit Astana, which I’m pleased to accept.

Question: Why did Russia propose Astana as the venue for negotiations? How is Kazakhstan contributing to resolving the Syrian crisis? How are the preparations going for this meeting and what results do you expect?

Sergey Lavrov: Kazakhstan has been involved in the efforts to settle the Syrian crisis from the very beginning. When we were working on the framework of the Syrian negotiations, the task was to ensure the inclusive character of the process so that the government delegation of the Syrian Arab Republic and the entire spectrum of the opposition would be represented at the negotiations. The opposition was split and its most active negotiators were émigrés based abroad. The idea was to bring them together to speak to the government. A series of countries were working towards this goal. Saudi Arabia made a huge effort to unite the opposition it cooperated with, giving rise to the Riyadh Group. Our Egyptian colleagues followed suit and established the Cairo Group, and we, likewise, formed the Moscow Group of the opposition. Our colleagues in Kazakhstan also contributed to these initiatives and gathered opposition members under their umbrella, setting up the Astana Group. All these groups took part in the first rounds of the intra-Syrian negotiations, which regretfully were not direct but were organised through contacts between UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and this or that group to seek out common approaches. Unfortunately, these negotiations were suspended in April. I have already mentioned the reasons.

Now the key goal is to resume the process, stop the pause and take another essential step – to bring the armed opposition and those controlling the territory “on the ground” into the negotiations. This fully corresponds to the goal set by the UN Security Council – to ensure that all Syrian opposition forces are represented at the talks. Until now, the armed opposition was not involved in the process.

After the UN-led negotiations stalled over the capricious actions of one opposition group, our Turkish colleagues and us, with the support of the Iranian side, tried to arrange negotiations between the Syrian government and the armed opposition groups. As you know, these talks resulted in a ceasefire agreement signed on December 29 and the sides’ readiness to begin negotiations on the political aspects of a settlement.

From the very start of these efforts, when discussing a possible venue for talks between the government and the armed opposition, all the participants mentioned the Kazakh capital of Astana as one of the most suitable places. The government and all the opposition groups agreed on the venue as the best option. We have every reason to believe that Astana’s ability to modestly and politely offer its services in this respect was appreciated.

As for the results we expect from the negotiations, I have already said that we primarily expect the talks to cement the armed opposition’s involvement in the intra-Syrian negotiations. I am not going to speculate now on what the government and the opposition are going to agree on – we are putting no pressure on them. What we are working on with our Turkish and Iranian colleagues and our friends from Kazakhstan along with UN representatives (we hope the Donald Trump Administration will also be able to delegate a Middle East expert, given that Russia and the US co-chair the International Syria Support Group) is to create conditions conducive to direct negotiations between the government and the armed opposition. And this itself would be a crucial achievement because, as I said, the government and the opposition have never held direct negotiations before.

Question: A recent report says ISIS has destroyed parts of a Roman amphitheatre in Palmyra. Could you comments on this? How could such terrorist attacks help the armed Syrian opposition and the Syrian army work together in the fight against terrorism, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra? How do you assess the fact that the UN delegation to talks will be led by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura?

Sergey Lavrov: I saw reports saying that the Roman amphitheatre was blown up. I don’t know how reliable they are. What can I say? Barbarians will be barbarians. Their ideology and practices are absolutely unacceptable to modern civilization. What conclusions should be drawn from this? There is a Russian proverb. Rephrased a little bit, it goes: The international community won't cross itself until the thunder claps loud. President Vladimir Putin, almost a year and a half ago, proposed finally abandoning double standards and everything else that prevents common efforts in the fight against terrorism, and creating a genuinely universal antiterrorist front. The awareness that this is necessary is growing, unfortunately, at the cost of new barbarous, ugly and heinous terrorist attacks.

As you know, in his campaign remarks and after he was elected, US president-elect Donald Trump has stated repeatedly that his priority in the international arena will be the fight against ISIS as the main terrorist threat to the whole of mankind. We completely share this approach and hope that under the new conditions, international cooperation and coordination of efforts by all the main players on this antiterrorist front will be far more effective.

I believe what is happening in different countries where ISIS is committing its outrageous terrorist attacks should of course have an appropriate impact on the parties to the Astana negotiations.

You’ve mentioned certain countries that expressed the wish to join this process. From the very outset, our Kazakh friends responded to the request to provide their venue for talks, saying they will rely on proposals from the guarantor countries. The guarantor countries (Russia, Turkey and Iran) explained their logic with regard to the circle of both Syrian and outside participants. Regarding Syrian participants, this includes those who on December 29 signed a package of agreements on a ceasefire and the start of political contacts. As for outside participants, this includes those who have been directing and coordinating these processes. Also the UN, because all of this is being done within the framework set by the UN Security Council, and also the United States, considering that together with Russia, it is a co-chair of the ISSG and two of its targeted subgroups: on the ceasefire and on humanitarian issues. It seemed to us that given the specific and limited objectives of the event in Astana, this circle will be the most effective and will prevent it from turning into a discussion club. To reiterate, the task of the guarantor countries is to get the Syrian government and a delegation of the armed opposition (until now the armed opposition was outside the UN scope) at the negotiating table, and with mediation by UN representatives, provide them an opportunity to agree that now they will be among the participants of broader talks, and also discuss the contribution that the Syrian government and the armed opposition can make to the efforts to resume the process under the auspices of the UN. Because, frankly, until now this process under UN auspices has been going nowhere.

As for who will lead the UN, I can say that a UN delegation has been invited. Who will lead it is being decided in New York. I believe this will become known in the near future.