Moscow– Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov underlined the importance of Saudi King Salman’s visit to Russia, which will kick off on Thursday, describing it as a “real turning point in the relations between the two countries” to achieve fruitful contribution to stability in the Middle East.
In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in Moscow, Lavrov said his country shared Riyadh’s conviction of the need to “further develop bilateral relations at various levels”, and to work towards the establishment of regional and global stability.
He noted that Riyadh and Moscow have maintained a high-level dialogue, which has translated into tangible results.
“We are intensifying efforts to strengthen trade ties and humanitarian relations with the Kingdom. Our common goal is to increase the volume of trade and expand the range of commodities, which both sides see as incompatible with the great potential of the two countries,” Lavrov said.
Touching on cooperation in the oil sector, the Russian foreign minister stated that: “Riyadh and Moscow are jointly working on the implementation of OPEC-Plus agreements to reduce global oil production. We consider it extremely important to continue to coordinate efforts with our partners in Saudi Arabia in this regard.”
Lavrov stressed that King Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin would discuss the need to find sustainable and permanent solutions to the ongoing crises in the region, adding that the visit would represent “a true turning point in our relations and would take cooperation between us to a new level, achieving a fruitful contribution to stability in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Asked whether a political solution to the Syrian crisis would be reached soon, Lavrov said: “Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Russia has insisted on a solution through peaceful means by holding an extensive dialogue between the various parties. We also called on the international community to extend a helping hand to the Syrian people to end the violence and bloodshed and to prevent the support of criminals and terrorists inside the country.”
The Russian official criticized the international community for exerting pressure to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The Arab League and many regional and international parties have taken a decision to strip Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of his legitimacy for a variety of reasons. In doing so, they have effectively attacked the right of the Syrian people to decide who will rule Syria and in what way. We strongly disagree with this approach,” he firmly stated.
Lavrov went on to say: “In various international forums, we have always supported the independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. We have reiterated that the fate and future of Syria must be in the hands of the Syrian people, in a fully legal manner and through national dialogue.”
He stressed that his country has responded to the demands of the Syrian government to help the country eradicate terrorism.
“At the same time, we continue to believe that the military campaign against extremists must be accompanied by the search for a political solution to the crisis. To this end, we continue to fight terrorist groups, while strengthening our efforts to stop the bloodshed, provide humanitarian assistance to the population and boost the political process as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” he noted.
Lavrov underlined the importance of the Astana meetings on Syria, during which he said the concerned parties have agreed that there was no alternative to a political and diplomatic settlement under the auspices of the United Nations and expressed their commitment to the ceasefire.
“Today, all actors must abandon their own geopolitical ambitions and contribute fully to the restoration of stability and security in Syria and throughout the Middle East and North Africa,” the Russian foreign minister said.
On the relations with Turkey and Iran, especially in the Syrian and Iraqi files, the senior politician said Russia “attaches great importance to cooperation with Turkey and Iran as part of the settlement of the Syrian crisis and to help Baghdad face ISIS terrorist threats.”
“We believe that the joint efforts between Russia, Turkey and Iran have succeeded in improving the situation in Syria, destroying the hubs of ISIS and Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups, and guaranteeing the conditions for a broad and constructive dialogue between the Syrian parties."
Asked about the reason behind the deterioration of the Russian-US relations, despite ongoing consultations between the two countries, Lavrov said: “The Russians are not to blame for the current deterioration in US-Russian relations, but this is a direct result of the policies of [former President Barack] Obama’s administration that destroyed the foundations of our cooperation.”
“In addition, before its departure, the administration planted time bombs to make things more difficult for the new government,” he added.
The Russian minister noted however that his country “stands ready to seek new ways, in cooperation with the new US administration, to improve bilateral relations based on the principles of mutual trust and respect to each other’s interests.”
He said that the fabricated anti-Russian campaign inside the US, which included claims of a suspected Russian interference in last year’s US presidential elections “clearly hampers any attempt to normalize dialogue between the two sides.”
“There is an unmistakable impression that some in Washington are not happy with the way the American people have expressed their will, trying to blame us for their failures, and they do not hesitate to use the Russian paper in all their political struggles,” he stated.
Lavrov added: “As for us, we have been careful to exercise restraint, especially considering the complex reality of the internal political scene in which the new US administration must work. However, we cannot remain silent towards the hostile actions, which were translated in the adoption of the law ‘fight America’s enemies’ by imposing sanctions.”
The Russian foreign minister said there was still considerable unexploited potential for Russian-American cooperation in international affairs on many levels.
“We have long urged our counterparts in the United States to build real coordination with us in the fight against terrorism, as well as to deal with other serious challenges, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the drug trade and cybercrime,” he noted.
On the other hand, he said, there are opportunities for mutually beneficial initiatives in trade and investment.
“It is remarkable that US companies attach great importance to their presence in the Russian market and wish to participate in projects that serve the interests of both sides,” according to Lavrov.
Asked to evaluate the US-led international coalition against ISIS and the extent of the Russian role in fighting the terrorist organization, Lavrov said: “I think one should start by saying that from perspective of the Syrians and international law, this alliance is prying on Syria. For its part, the Syrian government remains tolerant as long as the coalition activities are directed against terrorists inside the Syrian territory.”
“In reality, it was the air strikes by the Russian air force and the Syrian army that forced ISIS to retreat,” he stated.