The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Ioannis Kasoulides, met today, in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with his counterpart, Mr Sergey Lavrov, in the framework of his visit to Russia.
The two Ministers, inter alia, discussed the bilateral relations, the developments on the Cyprus problem and the situation in Syria. Following their meeting, Ministers Kasoulides and Lavrov made statements to the Press.
In his opening remarks, Minister Lavrov, speaking in Russian through interpretation in English, said: “We have had traditionally friendly talks with my counterpart, Ioannis Kasoulides. We have discussed a wide range of issues of interest to both our countries. Cyprus is an important partner of the Russian Federation; our nations are joined by friendship and mutual sympathy, which of course helps with developing our bilateral ties in various areas.
Minister Kasoulides is in Russia, as part of the preparations of Nicosia’s Presidency in the Council of Europe. So naturally we discussed Cyprus’ priorities in these organizations and our plans for the next six months presided by our Cypriot friends. We consider the Council of Europe (CoE) as an important organization, as an important humanitarian pillar of the European architecture. We believe it is important to keep the Council of Europe from using double standards, as suggested by some of our western colleagues. We believe that the CoE should play an important role today in protecting human rights, supporting minorities, countering extremism, racial and religious strive. Of course, we think it is very important to develop cultural dialogue within the CoE as a priority.
The current difficult situation between Russia and the European Union affected our bilateral ties as well, especially trade. Still we are happy to know that our relations are marked by high degree of trust, mutual respect. So we expressed our gratitude to our Cypriot friends for their willingness to help with enhancing the situation in Europe.
We reaffirmed Russia’s position in supporting a fair solution to the Cyprus dispute, the principle of equal rights for all ethnic groups in Cyprus. It is up to the people of Cyprus to work out a settlement and we believe that any kind of interference from the outside would be counter-productive and will only set back the process of finding a solution to the Cyprus problem.
We have discussed regional issues, paying more attention to the Middle East and Northern Africa, especially Syria. We emphasized the need to counter international terrorism, which is a challenge for the entire international community. We told our friends about Russia’s efforts to stop the conflict in Syrian, including the launching of a pan-Syrian political dialogue without any preconditions, based on UN Security Council’s resolutions.
We discussed the situation in Ukraine as well, given that we just had a meeting in Berlin. We share the same position with Cyprus: We believe there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreement approved by the UN Security Council. We also discussed the Council of Europe’s position on Ukraine. Certain decisions were made in the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE and we believe that those decisions absolutely must be implemented”.
On his part, Minister Kasoulides, speaking in English, said: “Let me first express my satisfaction for my meetings here in Moscow. The high level meetings between the members of Governments of Cyprus and Russia attest to the excellent level of the bilateral relations, which, in my view, are considered to be historic and traditional and have survived over the years. Last year we celebrated the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
Cyprus has its own exestuation problem with the invasion and the occupation of 37% of the island by Turkey, and we have never ceased to express our gratitude to a consistent policy of principled played by Russia, as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. Efforts are now taking place for a possible settlement of this issue. A lot will depend on the issue of security, whereas our position is that no community should feel less secure than the other, and the treaties of the guarantees that existed on the past, no longer apply in the present world, neither is the presence of foreign troops. So we anticipate that Cyprus will become a totally independent and sovereign state like any other member of the United Nations. On this, we count very much on the support of the Security Council, in particular in not just endorsing any agreement that may be reached by the two sides, but undertaking to monitor its implementation, and for this we are looking forward to the Russian support.
We discussed our upcoming Presidency of the Council of Europe. It is an important forum, as Minister Lavrov has described. Our theme is democratic security in Europe, particularly the role in the case of the application of human rights in democracy and of the rule of law, in the protection of all sorts of minorities, and also to discuss matters of interest for the members of the CoE. We will preside over in a neutral and professional way, but we believe that all members of the CoE should work, in order for this organization remains to certain standard, in order to play its role to the European continent.
We discussed the relations between the EU and Russia. We are amongst those who believe that peace and stability in the European continent are necessary if the EU and Russia maintain strategic relations and that the dialogue should be always open, so that any problems that may arise can be resolved through diplomatic and political ways.
We have discussed the issues of our present world, very turbulent present world at the moment, I hope that this temporary.
We discussed the first enemy of everybody, of every human being of every democracy, which is terrorism and the other forms of asymmetrical threats, on which we have to work together and close ranks.
We discussed Syria, our next-door neighbor. It is natural that for us is of particular concern. We support the territorial integrity and unity of Syria. We want, first of all, to pay attention to the humanitarian issue, and following this, a subsequent political process that will lead to a political transition according to the will of the Syrian people.
On Ukraine, for us, the only game in town is the Minsk Agreement, which has to be respected by all signators and those who have undertaken to be guarantors of the Minsk Agreement. We want this to be implemented as soon, in order to improve the situation further for the sake of peace and cooperation between Russia and the EU”.
Then, the two Ministers replied to a number of questions as follows:
Question: Mr Kasoulides, Cyprus, as the presiding country of the CoE, is going to develop relations with Russia. Have you discussed in your meeting the previous parliamentary participation of Russia and the further prospects for the participation of Russia in the upcoming sessions?
Answer: Yes, we discussed the relations and the issues of Russia with the CoE. We have to distinguish, and I remind you, that we are taking over the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE and what is happening to the Parliamentary Committee of the Council is not our competence. Our position is that all member states, Russia inclusive, have their role to play in the Parliamentary Assembly, it needs to be there like any other parliamentary delegation of the CoE. Our role in the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers will be a neutral role, but let us not forget that what we want is to contribute to the unity and the consistency of the CoE and manage a Presidency that will bring resolutions into a conclusion that is the general consensus and satisfaction, because the decisions of the CoE are taken by consensus in the Committee of Ministers.
Question: Quite a time, there was a discussion in the Media on the creation of a Russian airbase in Cyprus. Have you discussed it? And in what ways Cyprus is ready to facilitate the Russian work in combating terrorism, taking into account the geographical position of Cyprus and its proximity to the territories taken by the extremists groups? And as for yesterday’s statements made by Staffan de Mistura when he refuted the attacks of a positional group to civil population, is it the first signal of the West that they are ready to support the attack?
Minister Kasoulides: You say that the issue of the Russian base is discussed quite often in the media. But I am afraid that it is only discussed in the Media. I do not think that it has ever been discussed between the Governments; it certainly was not discussed today. The facts have proven that Russia can go to Syria without needing Cyprus.
Mr De Mistura, who is the UN Representative in the talks for a political solution to the Syrian problem, when he talks, he talks on behalf of the whole community, if he is a good observer of what is going on. And, of course, the actions of what they say rebels, and this gives me the opportunity not to mix Al-Qaida terrorist organization with others, which unfortunately is taking the important hand. I am not surprised that they have acted in a way Mr De Mistura is denounced. But let’s don’t mix Mr De Mistura with the West. He is a UN.
Minister Lavrov: On your first question, concerning military bases in Cyprus, we did not discuss anything like that today. Our naval forces, our warships, use the ports in Cyprus from time to time, without special services provided to them, based on international law as is customary. Basically, I cannot remember this subject ever coming up between us and the Republic of Cyprus.
Now, you have mentioned the geographic location of Cyprus, the geographic location of our bases in Hmeymim and Tartus are good enough for us to conduct counter-terrorism operations in Syria.
Regarding the situation in Aleppo and the reaction by the international community, first of all, our western partners have been doing their best to justify the militants hiding in Eastern Aleppo, saying that they only had 200 or 300 fighters and all the others were moderate opposition. Even though we often made our estimates known, listing all the groups of militants in eastern Aleppo, according to the data available to us, they all respond to al-Nusra. The fact that now they say openly not just Staffan de Mistura, but the western media that the al-Nusra, which attack governmental forces in South-Western Aleppo for example, this fact probably indicates that it is no longer possible to turn a blind-eye to what those militants do. And the fact that western Media acknowledge that it is al-Nusra calling the shots there, if it was just 200 or 300 fighters, they would not have been able to carry out so many bombings, so many shillings of civilian targets. And this tells you that all the other militants in Eastern Aleppo are complicit in al-Nusra crimes. Even if they are not directly associated with those crimes, they associate themselves in al-Nusra. So once again, we encourage our western partners and our partners in the region, who have direct eyes and direct influence on various opposition groups, to demand that those opposition groups leave immediately and separate themselves from al-Nusra, so that we can focus on fighting terrorism. If they do not do that, essentially they make themselves complicit in al-Nusra crime and their fair-game. They are legitimate target, based on the decision we made in the UN Security Council.
I really hope that after almost two weeks, during which our air forces did not carry any air strikes, as well as the Syrian air force had not to respond, I think this time was enough for such separation. If that separation has not taken place, we will have to adjust our earlier estimates. We used to say that probably the United States and other allies are either unable or unwilling to separate the moderate opposition from al-Nusra. But now we have to say that they really are unwilling to do that. Still we continue the dialogue between our militaries and we still hope that self-preservation instinct will prevail, because playing games with terrorists, using terrorists to achieve your objectives never has done anybody any good. And eventually, terrorists always turn their weapon against people who are trying to use them and the American should know this better than anybody else.
Question: Mr Lavrov, I would like to ask you a question about the guarantees. We often hear that the guarantees shall be brought out, but have you got any ideas on that, maybe to present something on the Security Council?
Mr Kasoulides, have you asked officially Russia for help for the issues of guarantees and security?
Minister Lavrov: We are committed by the decisions made by the UN Security Council supporting a Cyprus settlement based on the principle of agreements between the two communities and we remain committed to this principle. As to the question on how the integrity of the Cyprus state, we will respect any decision made by the people of Cyprus. At this point, we are aware of the position of the Republic of Cyprus and we think that this position should be taken into account and there should be no attempts to impose any solution on the people of Cyprus by external forces. We believe that the UN and the UN Special Envoy working on the Cyprus settlement should not artificially pose any deadlines or any recommendations rejected by one of the parties in the Cyprus dispute.
Minister Kasoulides: Yes, of course, I have today expressed the idea that the role of the Security Council will not be just to endorse any agreement reached, but to send the message to the Cypriot people that when it will be implemented, it will be implemented according to the content of the agreement, and therefore, the Security Council will remain ceased to oversee this case. And from what Mr Lavrov has said just now and other previous announcement of the Russian Foreign Ministry, you understand that it was not difficult for me to convince on this issue./IBNA