Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement at the 16th Meeting of Heads of Special Services, Security Agencies and Law Enforcement Agencies that are Foreign Partners of Russia's Federal Security Service
Joint well-coordinated work is acquiring a special importance today. The situation in the world is tense and is not becoming any easier. The old conflicts are smoldering, there are new threats and challenges.
No doubt, international terrorism is posing the main threat. We have repeatedly spoken about the causes of its unprecedented upsurge. We have warned against any attempts to redraw by force or otherwise the internal political arrangement of other states in line with foreign patterns, impose alien values on them, break their traditions and a system of moral values. Such geopolitical engineering has already undermined statehood, created the vacuum of power as well as wreaked chaos in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa, which extremists plus terrorists have immediately used.
It is hardly necessary to convince such an authoritative audience that the terrorist activities have acquired a global character. Nobody will manage to hide or adopt the position of a passive onlooker. It is necessary to pool efforts, without any hidden agendas, in order to effectively counter this universal evil. It is essential to give up once and for all a desire to use terrorist groups as an instrument for reaching geopolitical goals. We remember well how such actions invariably turned against their initiators. A stake on mujahideen in Afghanistan gave rise to al-Qaeda that struck out at America on September 11, 2001. The aggression in Iraq, aimed at overthrowing Saddam Hussein, led to the birth of ISIS, while illegal interference in Libya and Syria facilitated the formation of yet another powerful terrorist group – Jabhat al-Nusra that is al-Qaeda’s reincarnation.
Let us not forget that those, who in gross violation of the UN Security Council resolutions were arming the radicals in Libya and using them to eliminate the Gaddafi regime, virtually just several months later faced the need to oppose the same bandits that invaded Mali with the help of weapons they had received fr om Europe and destabilised the entire Sahara-Sahel region.
It is high time they learned the lessons of recent history. We hope that those who incited the extremists realise the pernicious consequences of their geopolitical adventures and will renounce double standards, at least in the antiterrorist sphere.
President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to form a broad counter-terrorist front with the central and coordinating role of the United Nations remains entirely relevant. Making it a reality would involve compliance with the norms of international law, including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, whose territory is a scene of the fight against terror.
Recently, including due to our country’s efforts, heavy losses have been inflicted on the terrorists in the Syrian Arab Republic. Russia continues to step up its efforts in this area while helping the Syrians to address humanitarian problems and launch the process of national reconciliation. The Astana process we have initiated with the participation of Turkey and Iran has made it possible to achieve agreements that resulted in the creation of four de-escalation zones in Syria. In these zones, the level of violence has been reduced dramatically and conditions have been created for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for socioeconomic recovery, and in time they will facilitate the establishment of peace throughout the country. The main thing now is to encourage the government forces and the armed opposition groups to take advantage of the results of the Astana process to work together to finally eliminate the terrorist hotbed in their homeland. This will be of great help to the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, whose resumption should not be delayed.
Let me recall that we are working with US, Jordanian and, of course, UN observers in the framework of the Astana process. We would like the United States and the coalition it leads not to hesitate to coordinate their actions with the Syrian Army and the Russian Aerospace Forces. Moreover, the coalition should fight not only against ISIS but also against Jabhat al-Nusra that was not to be touched during the Barack Obama administration for some reason
Inclusive national dialogue and bringing together all ethnic, religious and political forces to counter the terrorist threat are imperative not only in Syria but also in Iraq, Yemen and Libya. This is the kind of influence that responsible members of the international community must exert on all sides in any conflict, encouraging them to come together rather than exploiting their dissension.
To make the efforts of the international community more effective, we have supported the reform of UN counterterrorist bodies initiated by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. We see the appointment of Russia’s representative Vladimir Voronkov as the head of the newly created United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office as recognition of Russia’s role and the correctness of our assessment of terrorist threats and how to eliminate them. We are grateful to everyone for supporting this appointment.
We have consistently supported a comprehensive approach to the tasks of combatting terrorism, supplementing efforts of government agencies with the power of parliamentary diplomacy, civil society, religious communities, the media and business circles. Obviously, the leading role in this work should be played by the state and its special services, primarily those that you head.
Weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists is an urgent issue. There is abundant evidence of the production and use of chemical weapons by ISIS in Syria. We are calling for an end to attempts to block honest investigations of all reports of the use of chemical weapons. Regrettably, the inquiry into the notorious incident in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 is already causing serious damage to the OPCW, which is being compelled to avoid directly carrying out its duties.
Counter-terrorism efforts would never succeed without cutting off financing and material and technical support for terrorist organisations, primarily ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, whatever it is now called, and their affiliated groups. The international community must prevent terrorists from being able to sell oil, petroleum products, precious metals, other commodities as well as artefacts.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts that are being undertaken, there are estimates that only last year ISIS earned between $200−$250 million from selling crude oil and petroleum products. Of course, this figure dropped four or five times compared to the previous year. Still, ISIS is able to finance its criminal activities. The terrorists adapt to new circumstances by generating additional revenue from human smuggling, expanding trafficking in antiquities, human organs, and engaging in legitimate business activities as well as trading on the stock market. One year ago at the FATF Plenary Meeting in Paris, there was a presentation on attempts by ISIS to invest in Germany’s construction sector, as well as in real estate in Europe, US and Turkey. They use the proceeds to buy weapons, ammunition, medication, plus to recruit new supporters. In France, an investigation is currently underway into allegations that the French owners of a cement plant in Syria paid terrorists, and the officials from the administration of former President Francois Hollande were aware of it, according to the French media. We expect the outcomes of the investigations into all these allegations to be presented to the relevant UNSC committee.
And of course we need to redouble our efforts in order to end the close links between drug traffickers and terrorists. Over the last 15 years, the steadily growing terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan was accompanied by rapidly expanding drug production in this country. All that happened despite the deployment in Afghanistan of NATO forces. During all these years, they consistently turned a deaf ear to our calls to add to their mandate the task of combating drug trafficking as a source of terrorism financing. This task remains on the agenda, and cooperation of security services in this area has special importance.
Russia submitted a proposal to the Security Council to impose a comprehensive trade and economic embargo under Chapter VII of the UN Charter against all territories under ISIS control. So far, our initiative has been facing resistance from the Western colleagues, for reasons that are hard to understand. We strongly believe that it is a matter of urgency to take additional steps, primarily by security services, in order to deprive terrorists of all sources of financing. We propose stepping up cooperation between agencies you represent with a view to identifying individuals as well as entities engaged in economic relations with ISIS, and ending their criminal activities. Multilateral mechanisms should be used to facilitate these efforts, primarily the UN counter-terrorism structures and FATF.
As FSB Director Alexander Bortnikov has said, the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) gives the most serious cause for concern. Citizens of dozens of states, including economically prosperous ones, go to conflict zones, mainly to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other regions. There, they get an “injection” of radical ideology and acquire combat skills. Upon returning home or going to third countries they become a constant threat to the stability and security of those states concerned.
We urge all our foreign partners to join the International Counterterrorism Database set up by the FSB of Russia back in 2008. It contains a considerable amount of information and analytical material on persons and organisations involved in terrorist activities, which makes it possible to exchange in real time information on the movements of foreign terrorist fighters and create conditions for their capture.
There is an obvious need for more resolute measures to fight extremist ideology and propaganda, especially when it comes to the information space. Various internet-based formats are used to actively recruit members of extremist groups in various places on the planet, and to prepare terrorist acts. The Convention on Countering Extremism signed at the SCO Summit in Astana in June 2017 made an important contribution to stopping and preventing such activities. We invite all our colleagues to make a careful study of this document which – unlike the highly dubious concept of counteracting violent extremism – does not undermine the central role of states and does not call for instigating the civil society against legitimate governments of the UN member states. We have all seen the Arab Spring and I don’t think normal people would like to see it re-enacted in their home countries.
The internet and other information and telecommunication technology are increasingly used to propagate the ideas of extremism, to recruit citizens into the ranks of terrorists. I think the UN should show leadership in working out the rules of responsible behaviour in the digital sphere that meet the security interests of all states. Russia has prepared a draft of the universal convention on fighting cybercrime, including that of hacking. We expect to start its discussion in a universal format at the UN General Assembly session.
Unfortunately, many of our Western colleagues take (or took) a lukewarm view of the ideas of collective work, they would like to preserve their monopoly in the information space, and the right to “the ultimate truth.” On the other hand, when, say, Russia, China or somebody else introduce national measures to prevent the use of the internet for terrorist and extremist propaganda Western capitals have often accused them of undermining freedom of expression. And just recently Britain and France announced their initiatives in controlling and regulating the social networks which look even tougher than the rules we introduce. We wouldn’t like things to go according to George Orwell: all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. A great English writer who knew his native country well.
We would like to work against terror together in the universal framework of the UN. However, the Western colleagues are doing everything to avoid it, preferring narrow, if not “pocket,” formats wh ere there would be no alternative viewpoints and everybody would agree with them. For example, this September, on the eve of the “high-level week” the UN General Assembly was told about the creation of a so-called Global Internet Forum involving major Western companies while the leading operators of the Russian and Chinese segments of the global network were not on the list of invitees. In other words, it is all right to accuse Moscow and Beijing of undermining American democracy and indeed all the other democracies by hacking, without a single fact produced over the course of a year-long investigation, but for some reason they are afraid to sit down at the table and discuss things honestly.
We urge everyone to renounce “block thinking” and “dividing lines” in ensuring information security. Cooperation in this important area of counterterrorism should proceed on the basis of international law in accordance with the existing anti-terror international legal framework, notably the Global UN Counter-Terrorism Strategy (2006) and UNSC Resolutions 1624 (2005) and 2354 (2017).
The main thing is to become aware of the absolute priority of joint equal anti-terror work setting aside ambitions, intrigues as well as all secondary matters.
We have at our disposal many useful instruments of interaction which could strengthen the security of our countries and citizens. I am sure that this conference will make a useful contribution to the coordination of efforts in this area.
Incidentally, the other day it was announced that the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres is planning next year to hold the first meeting ever of the heads of counter-terrorist agencies of UN member states under the aegis of the World Organisation. This means that the experience of the conferences held by the FSB of Russia (this is the 16th such conference) has proved to be useful at the level of the UN. I hope that all those present will contribute to effective multilateral counter-terrorist interaction.
Thank you and I wish you every success in your work.