Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, Moscow, February 26, 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

We had good and substantive talks. Portugal is our long-time partner in Europe. We reviewed in detail key bilateral matters and spoke in favour of expanding cooperation in various spheres, including political dialogue and inter-parliamentary exchanges, as well as cooperation between our ministries.

We stated that joint steps to enhance trade and investment cooperation are yielding results. Our trade, which, according to previous year’s results approached $ 1.5 billion, has been increasing for the second straight year. We positively assessed the outcome of the 6th session of the Russian-Portuguese Mixed Commission on Economic, Industrial and Technical Cooperation, which took place in Kazan in September 2017.

A new basic intergovernmental agreement on economic and technical cooperation entered into force, the implementation of which is designed to help build practical bilateral cooperation. We will continue to improve the legal framework of our relations. Soon we expect to begin to harmonise a draft bilateral intergovernmental social security agreement which covers pensions, among other things.

Region-to-region cooperation continues to be successful, with a very productive trip to Portugal by a delegation from Tatarstan led by President Rustam Minnikhanov.

We pay great attention to our cultural ties which continue to expand successfully. Yesterday, the closing ceremony of a unique exhibition, Masters of the Ocean: Treasures of the Portuguese Empire of the 16th-18thCenturies, was held at the Moscow Kremlin with the participation of Minister Augusto Santos Silva. The exhibition was popular with our capital’s museum-goers. Speaking about our ties in the sphere of scientific research, education and healthcare, of course, we look forward to the Portuguese fans coming to the World Cup to be held in Russia in June-July.

We agreed to expand the topics of regular consultations between our ministries and to continue to support each other’s candidates in international organisations, including the UN.

We exchanged opinions about relations between Russia and the EU. Both parties expressed the will to improve them, as this would meet the interests of the European continent and the whole of Eurasia. We drew our partners’ attention to the steps NATO is taking to increase military activity near Russian borders.  We believe that these actions are unfriendly and are seriously undermining strategic stability and trust in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic region.

We updated our partners on Russia’s efforts to ensure a full and consistent implementation of the Minsk Agreements on the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis. We pointed out that Kiev’s actions, in particular the adoption of the laws on the so-called reintegration of Donbass and on education contradict the letter and the spirit of the Minsk Agreements and hinder the possibility of a peaceful settlement.

We exchanged views and opinions on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, including in Syria and Libya. We told our Portuguese colleagues about the main results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi and our efforts to assist the UN in launching a constitutional reform based on the agreements reached in Sochi. Naturally, we wanted to hear our Portuguese colleagues’ views on the situation in Africa and in some Latin American countries.

We are satisfied with the results of these talks, which have confirmed our mutual readiness to build up our cooperation. I believe that these talks have contributed to the deepening of our partnership. 

Question (via interpreter): Is there a comprehension among the political elites of both Russia and the European Union that politics are going against the will of the business community? How far can these trade wars between Russia and the EU go, as you see it?

Sergey Lavrov: I believe that Russia has shown enough good will regarding our readiness to reopen the channels of dialogue, cooperation and mutually beneficial projects, which were frozen after the spring events of 2014, without any preconditions. I would like to say once again that nothing of what is happening in Ukraine would have happened if our European partners, primarily those who attended the signing of the agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition on February 21, 2014, honoured their pledge to guarantee this agreement and did not back off after the unconstitutional coup, following which radical forces seized power in Ukraine, and have since then been staging torch marches with Nazi symbols in Ukrainian cities and glorifying Nazi collaborators. Therefore, we regard the EU’s reaction as unjustified but accept it as a given.

We appreciate the fact that many in the EU have become aware of the pernicious nature of this situation and call for change, as my colleague, the Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said. We are ready for this. As I have said, we are not asking the EU and the other countries that have joined the sanctions to lift them. We will not hold any talks on the conditions for lifting the sanctions. But we are ready to begin steering away from the policy of isolationism in this situation, both regarding the attempts to isolate Russia and the self-imposed isolation of the European Union. We are ready to comply with the coordinated principles of our cooperation and to give a positive response to the aspirations of the business community, which has been calling increasingly often and loudly for overcoming this unhealthy situation. A recent example is the meeting between German business leaders and President Vladimir Putin. Later, our President met with French business people. I recently had a meeting with members of the Association of European Businesses in Russia. All of them have a common stance. As I said, we are ready to cooperate with our European partners and with the governments so as to take this objective interest of our business communities into account.

Question: How do you assess the various interpretations, recently voiced in a number of Western countries, regarding the UNSC Resolution on ceasefire in Syria? Is this an attempt to use the ceasefire to achieve some other goals, despite Moscow's statements that the resolution does not apply to terrorist groups such as ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra?

What are the chances of reconciliation in Syria today, given that Damascus is still being bombarded by certain groups, and officials warn they will respond to the terrorist aggression by military actions, while Turkey continues an operation in northern Syria? In your opinion how realistic are the goals of the Syria resolution objectives taking into account the present situation?

Sergey Lavrov: First of all, the freshly adopted Resolution 2401 very clearly states how the proposed ceasefire can be implemented for the delivery of humanitarian aid. The truce will begin when all the parties on the ground agree on how to introduce it so that the ceasefire is complete and comprehensive throughout Syria. This is stipulated clearly in black and white so that multiple interpretations are hardly possible here, even less so with respect to whom the proposed ceasefire regime affects. It does not in any way concern the Syrian Government’s actions carried out with Russia’s support against all terrorist groups you mentioned – ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and whoever cooperates with them.

Incidentally, in this regard, there are a number of groups in Eastern Ghouta and to a large extent in the province of Idlib that their Western partners and patrons qualify as moderate, such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, that cooperate with the group included in the UN Security Council relevant terrorist list - Jabhat al-Nusra. This circumstance makes the partners of Jabhat al-Nusra also unprotected by the ceasefire regime that should be established. They are also subject to the legitimate actions of the Syrian armed forces and all those who support the Syrian army.

Incidentally, we have repeatedly called attention to the fact that mortar shelling continues. Most recently it was mentioned by representatives of the Defence Ministry and our Ministry. There were attempts to send jihadists to the central areas of Damascus in mined cars. They also apply new tactics: they dig tunnels into the part of the city controlled by the Government to carry out terrorist attacks through them. They seem to be quite imaginative.

Everyone needs to be on the alert here. We will never support any actions that would help terrorists get away.

You asked if someone might try to use this resolution, this ceasefire to achieve their own goals? Well, they are already trying. Reports have been planted in the media about the use of chlorine in Eastern Ghouta yesterday or this morning as a poisonous substance, with reference to some anonymous character who lives in the US. Allow me to remind you that Russian officials warned yesterday that such provocations were being prepared. Most certainly more fake news is going to be planted. We even know where it comes from – from social networks, primarily the so-called White Helmets, an absolutely provocative organisation created by Americans and British mentioned in a huge number of fake stories, mostly about the alleged use of chemical weapons without showing any single piece of evidence. There is also the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London, where one person is registered, renting an apartment in one of the districts of the British capital. Those stories will certainly continue from such sources, with the sole purpose of tarnishing, defaming the government forces, demonising them, accusing them of war crimes so as to consistently implement the scheme we are already witnessing in the eastern regions of Syria where the United States is implementing the scenario of creating a quasi-state, I am convinced, leading to a split of Syria.

We will continue discussing this with the Americans and their allies that are part of the US-led coalition. They still have to explain why these steps are being taken despite the fact that the resolution we are talking about has unambiguously confirmed the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. Many questions arise in this connection.

Is there a chance for this resolution to be observed? I have already cited examples of actions that create obstacles in its way. But in principle, it is possible if all the Syrian parties on the ground, and those who support them, including from outside Syria, who patronise them, are guided by the UN Security Council's requirement to agree on specific parameters for cessation of hostilities in order to ensure a 30-day long pause for humanitarian and medical access to the population of the affected Syrian areas.