Minister, friend, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to once again thank our Turkish friends and hosts for their hospitality and a productive meeting. This is the third ministerial meeting this year. Before that, we met in Antalya, then in Moscow and now in Ankara.
The relationship between our countries is a mature partnership based on pragmatism, respect and consideration for each other’s interests and the principle of neighbourliness. The presidents set the tone of our relations. They communicate regularly. Due to pandemic-related restrictions, communication has been limited to telephone conversations. This year alone, they have talked nine times and discussed a variety of pressing bilateral and international political issues.
Today, we discussed the schedule of upcoming contacts at various levels between the governments of our countries and in other formats. We talked about preparations for the next highest-level meeting within the 9th meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council. We discussed developments in trade, the economy and investment. Trade doubled to almost $14 billion in the first quarter. We have good prospects for transitioning to national currencies for mutual settlements. This process is at an advanced stage. We are also discussing the use of the Russian Mir payment card in Turkey, which will help rebuild tourist flows to pre-pandemic levels. The record high was almost 7 million tourists. That figure went down to 4 million in 2021. It continues to grow.
As is customary, we prioritise cooperation in the energy sector. The construction of the first Turkish nuclear power plant Akkuyu is on schedule, and our Turkish Stream gas pipeline-related cooperation is going strong. These actions are being implemented as agreed by the presidents and are on schedule.
As for international issues, we discussed Ukraine. We again emphasised the problems that emerged right on our borders every year, as well as threats to our security created by outside players that are located far from this region. We discussed the progress of our special military operation that is being carried out according to plan and is achieving its goals. We explained that in the process we are trying to minimise any harm to civilians and members of the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
We devoted considerable attention to the problem of shipping out Ukrainian grain. Our Western colleagues and Ukrainians themselves are trying to present the problem as a global disaster. The share of Ukrainian grain that is at stake is less than one percent of the global production of wheat and other cereals. The current situation with Ukrainian grain has nothing to do with a food crisis. President Vladimir Putin spoke about this in detail in a special interview on June 3, 2022. All the facts were laid out for all to hear (of course, for those who wanted to listen). We appreciate the efforts of our Turkish friends that are looking for ways out of the deadlock, shipping out grain from Ukrainian ports and allowing foreign ships to leave these ports (there are dozens of them there). They are basically being held hostage right now. We fully understand this interest. We recalled today that for over a month, our Navy, the Black Sea Fleet has been opening humanitarian corridors from Ukraine’s territorial waters to the Bosporus. All ships wishing to leave these waters can use these corridors and head for their homeports or transshipment points. Until recently, the Ukrainian authorities, including President Vladimir Zelensky, publicly stated their unwillingness to demine these territorial waters in order to start this process. Literally, a couple of days ago I heard Vladimir Zelensky ask for anti-ship weapons. We will resolve everything ourselves, he said. It is clear how unhinged this statement is. Now our Turkish friends are telling us that the Ukrainians are ready either to demine ports or ensure the passage of ships through the minefields. Let’s hope this problem will be resolved. Our military officials are discussing the details of these efforts with our Turkish friends. We have never created any obstacles to resolving this problem that is not a big one. If the Kiev authorities are ready, we will only be happy to cooperate. I would like to thank our Turkish friends once again for their attention to this problem that our Western colleagues are obviously trying to preserve as a constant irritant. The sooner we resolve it, the better for all.
We discussed other international issues, including the Syrian settlement process, where, alongside Turkey and Iran, we are working within the Astana format and preparing the next international meeting on Syria within the Troika, the Syrian parties, and the observers. It is scheduled to be held in Nur-Sultan in July. We exchanged views on the outcomes of the latest meeting of the Constitutional Committee’s Small Body which ended in Geneva a week ago.
We coordinated our future work in the South Caucasus. Turkey initiated the 3+3 format to include three South Caucasus countries and neighbouring Turkey, Russia and Iran. We have already held the first meeting in Moscow. Our Georgian colleagues were unable to attend. I want to make a point that we will always be happy to have them. The next meeting is being prepared. I hope we will be able to announce it soon.
We discussed the Middle East settlement process. This is the longest standing unresolved item on the international community’s agenda. We are united in our understanding of the need to step up international efforts in order to create conditions for resuming direct talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. To do so, we need to overcome artificial barriers on this path intended to “perpetuate” the status quo. It won’t do any good for the region.
We are cooperating closely on the Libyan settlement process. As Minister Cavusoglu said, our positions on many issues are not overlapping 100 percent, sometimes even less so. But we have a confidential and comradely dialogue, a mutually respectful discussion and an exchange of views on each one of these issues. Even in matters on which we don’t see eye to eye, we invariably treat each other’s positions with full respect. This, I believe, is the key to our achievements in bilateral ties that we are seeing today and that benefit our peoples.
In closing, I would like to point out that we noted the need to continue our common responsible approach to ensuring security in the Black Sea in line with the 1936 Montreux Convention, which helps maintain a stable situation here. We appreciate Turkey’s contribution to achieving this result. We also covered the activities of the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation which turns 30 this year. We have a common interest in seeing it operate productively without artificial politicisation.
Thank you again for your hospitality and cooperation.
Question (retranslated from Turkish): You just mentioned grain exports. How much progress was made in the talks? What kind of coordination will be there? Has a four-way meeting been scheduled? Will Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Zelensky meet with the mediation of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in order to stop the “war?”
Sergey Lavrov: I have already commented on this. We are announcing our end of the deal. We are ready to ensure the vessels’ safety in the port of unloading. Until recently, the Ukrainian authorities have been publicly stating they are unwilling to clear mines and to secure safe passage of the ships that leave Ukrainian ports for the straits. We are ready to do this in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues. Check Zelensky’s latest speeches where he vehemently refuses to address the issue of mined ports. In case they have changed their mind, there will be no difficulties on our part. Let’s see how the preliminary agreements that we discussed yesterday and today will be put in practice.
With regard to additional meetings in Istanbul, we are ready for them. We appreciate the UN’s interest in stepping up and making its presence known. Frankly, though, this is not going to add much other than a dash of symbolism. The only thing needed to resolve this problem is for the Ukrainians to let the ships leave their ports either by clearing mines or by designating safe corridors. That is all. With regard to a meeting between Vladimir Zelensky and President Vladimir Putin, we have made it clear many times. Zelensky wants to hold a meeting for the sake of holding a meeting. He is as fickle as the wind. He has repeatedly stated that they will resume the talks only if the Russians withdraw their troops to the line as of February 24. This is an absolutely frivolous approach that, on top of it, is absolutely at odds with the initiatives put forward by the Ukrainian delegation in Istanbul on March 29. We are witnessing this kind of dithering several times every day. We believe that, first, the negotiating teams should resume their work. The ball has been in the court of the Ukrainians since mid-April, for almost two months now. Before that, they altered their own approaches outlined in Istanbul, which we were ready to build on. They abandoned them a day or two later. Nevertheless, the contacts continued. We sent them a revised version of the draft agreements in mid-April. Since then, we have not heard from them. That’s all.
Everyone is aware of the ongoing military operation’s goals. They have been announced and will be fulfilled.
Question: It seems that recently Kiev’s rhetoric has started irritating some of its partners. In some situations, Ukrainian officials demand the impossible from other countries. If they are not met halfway, they become rude and even start insulting their colleagues. What kind of diplomacy is this if it can be called diplomacy at all? Talking to your colleagues, do you sense their disappointment or weariness from this conduct?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already commented on such statements and conduct. I am also sometimes reproached for not choosing my words too carefully. But there is strong language, and then there is the content of what was said. The content of what many Ukrainian ambassadors are saying is obnoxious. This applies to the character references that they dare give to the heads of state and government in the countries where they are working. I consider this unacceptable. We briefly touched on this issue. We have a common understanding that it is better to talk in a decent manner.
Question (retranslated from Turkish): You mentioned last week the completion of the eighth round of the Constitutional Committee’s meetings on Syrian issues. The meeting will continue in Nur-Sultan next week as part of the Astana process. Attacks on our country have become more frequent recently in the north of Syria. Can you update us on the recent developments?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mevlut Cavusoglu): Indeed, we are closely cooperating with our Turkish friends on the Syria settlement process. Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin signed specific agreements during their meetings more than once. One of them is the 2019 memorandum that was just mentioned by Mr Cavusoglu. There was another memorandum on the need to resolve the problem of terrorists in the Idlib de-escalation zone. The agreements contained in these important documents are being implemented slowly. We share their goals.
We understand fully the concerns of our friends over the threats created on their borders by outside forces that are fuelling separatist sentiment on the territories controlled by American units that are staying there illegally. We spoke honestly about this today.
We share this concern because outside forces were creating threats right on our borders for many years, as you know well. We will continue our cooperation on Syrian affairs. We are not dramatising the slow progress in the work of the Constitutional Committee. Probably, the delegation described as pro-government and the opposition could adopt a more constructive approach. We are encouraging them to do this. As for the general background against which these talks are being held, don’t forget that our American colleagues and some Europeans made many public statements to the effect that normal relations and alleviation of the sanction burden will not happen under the Bashar al-Assad regime as they call it. At present, Syria’s problems are mostly socio-economic rather than military-political. The Western community has neglected the need to resolve these problems for many years, which has created bad conditions for reaching agreements on preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic, as the relevant UN Security Resolution puts it. No attention is paid even to the resolutions adopted a year ago, in which the Security Council demanded the start of the rebuilding even the most elementary infrastructure – healthcare, education, energy and water supplies. The United Nations whose Security Council adopted this resolution should step up its cooperation with traditional donors of the agencies that are in charge of this area in the UN. We will continue our efforts.
I will emphasise once again: these stifling sanctions like the American Caesar Act are simply blocking even basic projects that are strictly humanitarian.
Question: When Ukraine is told about the need to demine the approaches to Nikolayev and Odessa, they usually say that they fear the Russian army will use them to attack Ukraine. Can Russia give them some guarantees that we won’t do this? If so, what guarantees could we give? If the answer is “no”, please explain why.
Sergey Lavrov: President Vladimir Putin has already spoken about this. He said in public that we will guarantee the security of these routes. When and if Ukraine decides to demine its ports, we will not use this situation in the interests of our special military operation. These are guarantees of the President of Russia. We are ready to make them official in any way.
Question: What has Russia managed to sell from what it has stolen in Ukraine apart from grain?
Sergey Lavrov: You are always focused on what you can steal and where. Do you think that everyone is doing this? We are implementing the goals that we announced on the record – to rid the east of Ukraine from the pressure of the neo-Nazi regime. Today we explained that grain may be freely shipped to their destinations. Russia is not creating any obstacles in this respect. To do this, Vladimir Zelensky must give a command (if he still commands anything there) to allow foreign and Ukrainian ships out to the Black Sea.