Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held very good talks with the delegation of Benin led by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Aurélien Agbénonci. The delegation also includes Minister of Economy and Finance of the Republic of Benin Romuald Wadagni. We have taken advantage of this opportunity to discuss a wide range of bilateral and international issues.
Our relations are traditionally friendly. We have come to terms on concrete steps designed to expand our political dialogue as well as trade, economic and humanitarian ties. We have also agreed to consolidate the contractual and legal framework.
We have noted in particular that there is much potential for development in such promising areas as transport infrastructure, modern methods for the exploration, production and processing of mineral resources, and the creation of power generating capacities. Our colleagues are also interested in studying the possibilities for concrete projects in the fields of agriculture and tourism.
Later today, the delegation will have meetings with representatives of the Russian business community at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, during which these issues will be discussed in more detail. We have agreed that the Russian Foreign Ministry will provide all kinds of support to these direct contacts between government agencies and the private sector of Russia and Benin.
We have agreed to continue cooperation in training Beninese personnel at Russian higher education institutions. We are happy that the scholarships we grant to that country enjoy popularity. We will be prepared to increase the number of these scholarships.
We have also confirmed our readiness to step up military and military-technical cooperation with Benin. We have a relevant intergovernmental agreement.
We talked a lot about regional and global problems, including in the context of the emerging multipolar and polycentric system of international relations. We have coinciding or similar approaches to international affairs. Russia and Benin advocate respect for international law, the central coordinating role of the UN, and respect for the right of nations to shape their future on their own. We advocate the settlement of all crises and disputes solely by political and diplomatic means. This is also true in relation to all conflicts that, regrettably, persist on the African continent: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Mr Agbénonci has much experience in working in African countries on UN missions. It was very useful for us to hear his assessments of developments in Africa.
We have discussed the situation in the Middle East and Northern Africa, in Syria and Libya, and other consequences of the so-called Arab Spring. We have confirmed our position to the effect that all conflicts should be settled primarily through dialogue between the parties involved and national reconciliation processes, in view of the approaches practised by countries in this or that region. Russia’s position is fully applicable to situations where the UN Security Council considers African issues. We invariably work for its decisions to fully take into account the position of the African Union and various sub-regional organisations of the African continent.
We have focused on prospects for building up our cooperation at the UN and other venues to mobilise the international community’s efforts in the fight against international terrorism and extremism.
I think that our talks were very useful and helped to outline a number of concrete areas for joint efforts. We have agreed to continue our dialogue. I am confident that many plans we have mapped out today will be implemented in the foreseeable future.
Question (addressed to both ministers): What do you think about the US presidential election, including from a legal viewpoint?
Sergey Lavrov: Our views on the US election were provided yesterday in President Vladimir Putin’s remarks after he received letters of credence from foreign ambassadors in the Kremlin.
We respect the choice of the American people, and we are ready to work with the new US President. This would have been the case whatever the election outcome. Of course, we hope that relations between Russia and the United States, which are currently going through a rough patch, will improve and will be ultimately normalised, which meets the interests of our nations and the international community as a whole.
Regarding the legal viewpoint, I can see an international legal aspect, because the United States has certain obligations before the OSCE in terms of international observers monitoring the election. The observers’ work had been organised and they have already published a preliminary report, which admits, despite a degree of criticism, that the election fully met all the accepted international standards. This is one part of the legal dimension.
There is also the domestic aspect of the legal dimension, that is, US legislation and the highly specific electoral system, under which the head of state is not elected directly by the people but indirectly through the Electoral College. It has happened before that the candidate who won the majority of the popular vote did not get the majority of the electoral vote. When Condoleezza Rice was Secretary of State, we held philosophical discussions on democracy, models of government and the organisation of the political process in different countries. She said they were aware that the US system was imperfect and may even be called unjust to some extent because a majority vote does not guarantee you victory. But this is their system, they are used to it, so we should take it easy. And so we are taking it easy.
Question: Washington acknowledged the death of 63 civilians as a result of the US-led coalition’s bombing of Iraq and Syria, but nobody is accusing it of committing war crimes, as distinct from Russia. Washington often admits civilian deaths and promises to investigate them, but continues acting in line with its plan as if nothing happened. Shouldn’t Russia use the same tactics?
Sergey Lavrov: I consider it immoral and counterproductive to use any humanitarian tragedy for scoring political points. Regrettably, we are witnessing such attempts as regards developments in the Middle East and North Africa, be it Syria or Iraq. The use of double standards is obvious.
As for collateral damage, a term invented by the Americans to describe civilian casualties during war campaigns, both we and the Defence Ministry, when describing how the Russian Aerospace Forces are helping the lawful Syrian Government to fight terrorists, invariably emphasise that in dealing blows against terrorists they are taking all the necessary precautions to minimise and, ideally, to prevent damage to civilian facilities, not to mention civilians.
When we are accused of strikes by the Russian Aerospace Forces at civilian facilities, we always insist on the presentation of facts. There were many cases when different states or international NGOs claimed that our airstrikes destroyed some facility – a school or a kindergarten. The Defence Ministry repeatedly presented documentary evidence that these accusations were unfounded. We are ready to investigate any cases, but nobody has presented us with any specific facts.
One could talk for a long time about the coverage of similar processes in Syria and Iraq. Here’s one example. Recently the UN Security Council denounced ISIS for using civilians as a live shield in Iraq’s Mosul and demanded an end to this practice. We drew the attention of our colleagues to the fact that the same was done in eastern Aleppo where Jabhat al-Nusra rather than ISIS is running the whole show. All armed formations of the opposition in this part of the city are subordinated to it. In exactly the same way, Jabhat al-Nusra is preventing civilians from leaving the city via humanitarian corridors created by the Syrian Government with Russia’s support and is using civilians as a live shield. Our Western partners do not rush to criticise this absolutely inhumane practicе, which again suggests the idea that the West is ready to fight against ISIS at least in some way but continues to shelter Jabhat al-Nusra, as apparently it continues to have some plans as regards this illegal armed group.
I’d like to emphasise once again that we are interested in sincere and honest efforts of the world community to overcome the crises in Syria, Iraq or any other hot spot. These efforts should not be accompanied by attempts to score geopolitical points, conduct overt propaganda of one’s own successes and blacken the actions of Russia and its partners in these processes, in which our colleagues are not interested.
Distributed by APO on behalf of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.