Russian FM Sergei Lavrov Holds Annual Press Conference (VIDEO)

© Sputnik / Grigoriy Sisoev / Go to the mediabankMoscow, Russia. News conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov evaluating the 2016 performance of Russian diplomacy.
Moscow, Russia. News conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov evaluating the 2016 performance of Russian diplomacy. - Sputnik International
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held his annual press conference to review the results of Russian diplomacy in 2016.

On international terror threat

Sergei Lavrov started his presser by commenting on the issue of the threat of international terrorism, which became the main threat in 2016, according to Russian Foreign Minister.

Moscow regrets the fact that international community "still cannot create a united front against terrorism," Lavrov said.

"Of course this causes serious concern and regret. Why is this happening? There may be many reasons. We see that the problem of forming common ranks to fight terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, many other threats, this problem is becoming systematic," Lavrov said at a press briefing.

Lavrov further said that Russia welcomes cooperation on the anti-terrorism effort from any country. He pointed out that Russia is ready to cooperate with the US, EU and NATO on the basis of mutual respect. He stressed that such cooperation must be achieved without imposing foreign values on partners and allies.

"We are looking for closer ties with those who are ready to work with us on the basis of mutually beneficial cooperation, respect of one another’s interests and balance of interests," Lavrov told reporters.

"This is our position in relations with partners and allies around the world. We are ready to follow the same guidelines of equality and mutual respect when building ties with the US, EU and NATO – without importing values," he continued, adding some of those values had been tainted.

On issues concerning Russian, US diplomats

In the last few years, the US secret services stepped up their efforts to recruit Russian diplomats, Lavrov said.

"We have not made public the full statistics on this matter. But recently, in the past few years and especially during Obama's second stint, the number of such unfriendly actions directed at our diplomats have grown," Lavrov said at a press conference wrapping up last year.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova at a briefing - Sputnik International
US Intelligence Made 'Attempt to Recruit' Russian Diplomat
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov revealed that in April 2016, the US secret services made an effort to recruit a minister-counselor working at the Russian embassy in Washington. The Russian minister counselor was approached, Lavrov said, while another senior diplomat found $10,000 in cash and a note offering cooperation in his car.

Lavrov then slammed the claims that Moscow allegedly put pressure or organized surveillance on US diplomats in Moscow.

"In the period of the Obama administration, we received complaints that the US embassy here is working in intolerable conditions, there is surveillance, the ambassador has been pulled the plug on, he is not accepted in any Russian institutions. We have specifically dealt with this situation, it turned out to be exactly the opposite," Lavrov said.

Lavrov pointed out that diplomats working in the US embassy in Moscow took part in protests organized by Russian opposition on numerous occasions.

"They have been traveling back and forth. Apart from espionage, US Embassy diplomats have been spotted many times at demonstrations organized by our opposition, at anti-government rallies, at unauthorized rallies, including in disguise," Lavrov said.

On US-Russia relations under Trump administration

When asked what his expectations are concerning the relations between Moscow and Washington after the inauguration of the next US President, Lavrov said that he would refrain from rushing from extremes.

"We are realists, we follow, of course, the new US administration's preparation for assuming office. I would not go to extremes: at the moment there are a lot of forecasts, speculations in the media and in the political science community, some are delighted, and some say that nothing will change. There is absolutely no point in talking about this now," Lavrov told a press conference.

He stressed that Moscow welcomes Trump's assertions that counterterrorism will be one of his priorities. Lavrov assessed that previous statements made by Trump and his team show that they will not use double standards in the war on terror.

Russian Foreign Minister further said that Moscow shares Trump's view that each country should be responsible for their own development.

Smoke rises after strikes on Aleppo, Syria December 5, 2016. - Sputnik International
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Moving to the issue of anti-terror effort in Syria, Lavrov said that Russia hopes the cooperation on the Syrian crisis and other issues will be more efficient with Trump's team than with Obama administration.

"Considering that Donald Trump called the fight against terrorism his top foreign policy priority, as I have heard, of course, I hope that our cooperation on the Syrian crisis, as well as on other issues related to the fight against terrorism will be more effective than with the Obama administration," Lavrov told reporters.

Lavrov pointed out that Moscow considers it appropriate to invite representatives of the new US administration and UN to Syria talks in Astana. Moscow hopes that the Trump administration will accept this invitation, Lavrov said pointing out that Syria talks in Astana could serve as first official contacts between Russia and Trump administration.

"This would be the first official contact that could pave the way for talks on how to make the fight against terrorism in Syria more efficient," Lavrov said, adding Moscow and Washington had the experience of co-chairing the International Syria Support Group (ISSG).

On the Syrian issue

When asked about Russia's take on how the Syrian crisis could be resolved, Lavrov replied that "only the Syrians themselves can decide on federalizing the Arab Republic."

Military engineers of the Russian Army's international counter-mine center continue the demining operation in eastern Aleppo, Syria - Sputnik International
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Moscow believes that the Syrian crisis settlement mechanisms can still be revitalized, Lavrov said.

"It is quite possible to breathe new life into these mechanisms, considering that the new US administration claims it aims to combat terrorism for real," Lavrov told reporters. "We are now preparing the meeting in Astana. We think it would be the right move to invite representatives of the UN and representatives of the new US administration to this meeting, given that it will take place on January 23, as it is currently planned. We hope that the new administration will be able to accept this invitation, it will be represented by the experts, at any level, which it will consider possible. It will be the first official contact, where it will be possible to begin discussions on enhancing the efficiency of the fight against terrorism in Syria," Lavrov said.

Commenting further on the upcoming Astana talks, Russian Foreign Minister said that the aim of the talks will be to consolidate Syria ceasefire and involve the opposition field commanders. He stressed that more opposition militants have the right to join the ceasefire and many more militants have asked to do so.

"We believe that field commanders should become full-fledged members of this process, I think, it should not be limited only by those specific groups that signed a ceasefire agreement on December 29, any other armed groups wishing to join these agreements, should have such an opportunity," Lavrov said at a press conference.

"These talks lack the participation of those who actually define the situation on the ground," Lavrov said. "Call them 'armed militants,' 'armed opposition groups'."

On anti-Russia sanctions

Moscow does not believe that the US President-elect Trump is trying to tie the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions with nuclear arms cut deal.

"I do not want <…> and have no right to interpret what Donald Trump said in an interview but I heard in this phrase… a slightly different meaning than most observers and commentators. He said the following <…> as I heard it: that he will think about what to do with the sanctions, it was one part of the sentence," Lavrov told reporters. "The second part reads something like that: if one can work on universally useful matters with Russia, one then must find a way out of this situation. And the third part reads that, well, among the useful things, of course, I, Donald Trump, see further steps in nuclear disarmament. I do not see here offers to disarm in exchange for the lifting of sanctions."

Lavrov said that the Obama administration had made efforts to offer Moscow a dialog about strategic stability. Russian Foreign Minister further said that Moscow will be ready to meet with the new administration to discuss these issues after Trump's inauguration. Such talks could cover hypersonic weapons, US missile shield in Europe, space weapons and nuclear testing, Lavrov concluded.

"We will be ready as soon as the US administration takes office and prepares itself to meet, to talk business, feeling the responsibility before the people of our countries and the people of the rest of the world," Lavrov told a press conference.

On alleged Russian hacking threat

When a German reporter asked Lavrov how he would defend Russia from allegations that Russian hackers are engaged in worldwide operations, Lavrov said that these claims need to be proven first, and there is still no credible proof of these allegations.

"All attempts to present any proof have been made out of thin air," Lavrov said.

US President-elect Donald Trump gives a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York - Sputnik International
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He further pointed out that Russia had applied to international bodies to criminalize hacking earlier, but got "negative response."

Lavrov also said that the former MI-6 spy who penned the dossier on Trump's alleged links to Russia is a "fugitive charlatan." Russian Foreign Minister went on to suggest that the US intelligence agencies who have tried to prove that Trump has links to Russia "should be fired".

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Christopher Steele, a former UK intelligence officer, has been identified as the author of the alleged Russian dossier on Trump. Steele currently heads the private security and investigations firm Orbis Business Intelligence.

On EU-Belarus scheme to build migrant detention centers

Russia is concerned by Belarus’s plan to build detention centers for undocumented migrants with EU money, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

"We [Russia] don’t have a distinct land border with Belarus, which raises concerns about possible abuse. We are set to hold talks about this with our Belarusian colleagues," Lavrov told reporters.

"We have been in talks on a common migration policy for a long time now. I think these plans will speed up negotiations and lead to some results," he added.

Belarus's Interior Ministry said Tuesday it had formed a working group for the project of building detention facilities for immigrants coming to the country illegally. Centers would be built with EU money through the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), which administers EU funds for external actions. This is not part of EU’s relocation scheme and Syrian refugees will not be involved, Belarusian authorities said.

On Russia's military campaign in Syria

Russian Foreign Minister said that Russia "did the right thing" by starting its anti-terrorism campaign in Syria.

"We are sure that we took the right decision when we responded positively to a request of the legitimate government of Syria, a UN member state, the country whose capital was two-three weeks away from being taken over by terrorists. And I think it is very important that we managed to repel terrorists from Damascus and help the Syrian army liberate Aleppo," Lavrov told a press conference.

On Russia-Japan relations

Asked by a Japanese journalist about the relations between Moscow and Tokyo following Putin's visit to Japan at the end of 2016, Lavrov said that the Obama administration made attempts to undermine the prospects of normal relations between the two countries. He stressed that such attempts are "undignified" and pointed out that the normalization of Russia-Japan relations is possible only if other countries seize their attempts to undermine the process.

On Minsk agreements

Russia has no intentions whatsoever to rewrite Minsk agreements on East Ukraine conflict settlement, Lavrov told reporters.

"I have no intentions to rewrite them [the Minsk agreements]. They are formalized by a unanimously adopted resolution of the UN Security Council," Lavrov told reporters.

He added that he had not heard the Donald Trump administration stating the need to bury the Minsk agreements and resolve the crisis in Ukraine in a different way.

On the solution to the Syrian issue

War in Syria and in other regional countries can be stopped primarily by force, Lavrov said.

"The war may be stopped, and the rights of Christians, Muslims and other people who have lived all their life in Syria, in other regional countries, may be ensured first of all through the use of force, because it is necessary to beat terrorism ruthlessly and beat it completely," Lavrov told reporters. "That is what we are doing, helping the Syrian army and the militia, who jointly with the Syrian army are involved in the fight against terrorism."

He pointed out that the US wanted to use Daesh and al-Nusra Front terrorist organization to topple Syria's President Assad.

"There are numerous examples of the US and their allies trying to quietly use both al-Nusra and Daesh to weaken and, in the end, topple Assad," Lavrov told reporters.

On expectations from Astana talks

A man walks past damaged buildings in the rebel held besieged city of Douma, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria January 8, 2017 - Sputnik International
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Answering the question about what Russia realistically expects to achieve during Astana talks, Lavrov started by pointing out that these talks will be different from any previous efforts because those parties that define the situation on the ground, not just political opposition, will be present.

Moscow hopes that Western countries will not try to undermine ceasefire agreements in Syria, Lavrov stressed.

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