June 9, 2022

Sergey Lavrov, answering media questions in Istanbul on June 8, blames grain shipment blockade on Ukraine

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.

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