Excerpts from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Interfax news agency
Question: Washington has said that it is not going to pull out of Syria. Is Russia ready to work together with its American partners in Syria in order to rout terrorism and maintain peace and security there in the post-conflict period?
Sergey Lavrov: We have said many times, at various levels, that if the Americans’ goal in Syria is indeed to fight terrorism, as they say, there are objective opportunities for cooperating with them in this sphere.
The joint statement, which President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump adopted on the sidelines of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Danang on November 11, seals their resolve to continue to work together in Syria. In addition, on November 8, Russia, the United States and Jordan signed a trilateral memorandum on de-escalation principles in southern Syria, which is designed to reinforce the ceasefire initiative in this region. The de-escalation zone, which has been functioning there since last summer, has proved effective.
We believe that Americans should pull out of Syria as soon as terrorist activity is totally eradicated there, which will happen very soon. I would like to point out that the United States and the US-led coalition do not have the UN Security Council’s mandate for their operations in Syria. The legitimate Syrian Government has not invited them either.
We are surprised, therefore, at the statement made by US Defence Secretary James Mattis, who has said that US forces will remain in Syria until progress in a political settlement is reached there. Washington is acting as if it has the right to judge progress towards a political settlement and wants to control a part of Syrian territory until it achieves the result it wants. This is not how it is done. Under UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the adoption of which the United States advocated, the Syrians themselves must decide the future of their country. We will be guided by this understanding in our relations with our American partners.
Question: Did President Trump live up to our expectations in terms of bilateral relations? Or are you disappointed? How will Russia-US relations be affected by the coming into force of new US sanctions on the Russian energy sector and defence industry, and the planned publication of lists of the Russian elite early next year?
Sergey Lavrov: Disappointment comes from inflated expectations, which we didn’t have with regard to Russia-US relations.
In our efforts to build a dialogue with Washington – no matter who is sitting in the White House – we rely on pragmatic approaches and realistic assessments. We do not entertain any illusions. From the outset, we realised that overcoming the burdensome legacy of the Obama administration in the sphere of bilateral relations would be an extremely difficult process.
We are still willing to do our part in order to get them back on track. We regularly remind our US colleagues that building a normal dialogue between our countries and establishing productive cooperation in international affairs is only possible if the national interests of both countries are taken in account and respected.
So far, we have been unable to achieve any changes for the better because of the Russophobic hysteria that has swept the political circles in Washington and has taken on, without exaggeration, a paranoid character. This is what prevents us from moving forward in areas that are important for both our states, and provokes additional tensions in the international arena. The United States is taking unfriendly actions with regard to our country. The implementation of Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act will inevitably affect our relationship. That said, Washington is clearly off the mark – the Russian economy has not only adapted [to sanctions], but has regained an economic growth trajectory, and is about to break new ground.
We will respond to any hostile actions against Russia and our citizens in the way that is best for us. However, we expect that Washington will at some point realise the futility of exerting pressure on our country. In fact, the sooner certain American politicians get rid of the illusions that Russia can be cowed by restrictive measures or a show of force, the better it will be for everyone, including themselves. This will not only improve the atmosphere of Russian-American relations, but will also allow us to more effectively address pressing global and regional problems plaguing the entire international community.