Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu following talks between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sochi, October 22, 2019 (source):
Sergey Lavrov: Good evening, colleagues.
You have listened to the texts in Russian and Turkish, which cover the essence of the agreement reached between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding.
This is our response to one of the most difficult current problems in the northeast of Syria, which is a matter of serious concern around the world. I believe that the main thing here is, first, to confirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. Second, we need strict compliance with the commitment to combat any separatist trends in the country. Third, our decision to act together with the Syrian Government, which Russia will be actively implementing, is based on the provisions of the Syrian-Turkish Adana Agreement, which was signed in 1998 for the express purpose of ensuring security on the joint Syrian-Turkish border.
The actions that will be undertaken and the commitments that have been assumed under this Memorandum will put an end to bloodshed and to the operation that has provoked a highly controversial international reaction, as well as will ensure that the Syrian border guards arrive at the border, which is very important. This is something we have been advocating for a long time now, pointing out that the solution to the problem, which concerns the Kurds and their expectations and aspirations, is impossible without the legitimate Syrian Government restoring its control over the entire length of the border.
A very important and qualitative step has been made towards this end. The Russian Federation represented by its military police will patrol this area together with Turkish units a week after the Memorandum comes into force at noon tomorrow. The armed units of the so-called Kurdish self-defence forces will be withdrawn from this territory to a distance of 30 kilometres, and 10 kilometres of this zone is where joint Russian and Turkish patrols will operate.
The need to solve the problem of the refugees and cut short terrorist infiltration, which has been emphasised in the Memorandum, relates to the entire territory of Syria. And the final point, as you have probably heard, is the firm commitment to the Astana format and the political settlement. With this aim in mind, we will actively support the Constitutional Committee, which will start its activities next week and which could have been created thanks to the active joint efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran as the guarantors of the Astana Process.
Question: What specific measures will be taken to ensure the security of the prisons where ISIS militants are held so that they do not escape?
Sergey Lavrov: This territory is not in the zone covered by the Memorandum. But this problem does exist, and we talked about this more than once. We urge those who established and operate these prisons, including the external patrons of these people, to realise their responsibility for ensuring that this “pest” does not spread throughout the region. There is such a risk.
Question: Has Russia received confirmation of the Kurdish forces’ pullout from the security zone in northeast Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: The Memorandum becomes effective tomorrow at noon.
Question: Has Russia agreed to the return of refugees to Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: How can we disagree, given that the return of refugees has been one of the cornerstones of our position from the very beginning of the conflict? We encouraged everyone, including through our military and the Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Syria, we sought a more vigorous intervention by international organisations, the UN Office for Refugees, and other UN bodies so that they get down to organising places of residence for refugees and thus enable them to return. Yet, this activity has been artificially hampered to this day, largely “thanks” to our Western colleagues. The Russian military on the ground, together with the Syrian leadership, are taking steps to create conditions for the return of refugees. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have already returned to these populated localities.
The situation on the eastern bank of the Euphrates raises some flags. It is in that area beyond the control of the Government that the United States and the US-led coalition have been actively creating comfortable accommodations, complete with electricity and water supplies and social and health services. Moreover, they were not even hiding that they wanted to create a quasi-state there. Today’s Memorandum is also important in this context because all separatist games in Syria were rejected out of hand. I am sure that the implementation of this Memorandum will strongly interfere with these plans. In the final analysis, we will work to nullify them.
Question: What about the further development of the Turkish military operation in Syria? Is it being suspended?
Sergey Lavrov: It is being wound up, and everything now will depend on how well the agreements are implemented, including those on the pullout of the weapons, forces and assets of the Kurdish units in question, the so-called YPG militia.
Question: What reaction do you expect from the American side? Is it possible to say that now, after the adoption of the Memorandum, the US essentially ceased being a party to the settlement process?
Sergey Lavrov: Today, like all these years, we worked to restore sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic We worked very closely with Turkey and Iran in the Astana format, where crucial decisions were taken to end hostilities, create de-escalation zones, address humanitarian problems and create conditions for the political process. We are doing this in full conformity with the request of Syria’s legitimate Government, international law and the UN Charter. That is probably all I can say.
We are not acting with regard to the United States or its position. Firstly, its position is changeable and controversial. Secondly, the US-led coalition is in Syria illegally and this is common knowledge. I hope this understanding will finally dawn on some members of this coalition; I am referring to the need to change their policies and to interact with the Syrian Government.