Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the UN Security Council meeting on the subject of “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Settlement of Conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and Countering the Terrorist Threat in the Region”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Exactly a year ago the Russian Federation raised the issue of holding under the aegis of the Security Council a comprehensive review of the problems connected with the dramatic upsurge of terrorism and extremism in the Middle East and North Africa region. Since then the situation there has further deteriorated. The accumulation of crisis potential has reached the line beyond which one can speak of the destruction of the region’s political map as it was shaped in its time by the colonial powers.
Today it can safely be said that attempts to deal with individual conflicts outside the overall regional and historical context have no future. This was how in their time Iraq and later Libya, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria were “dealt with”, each time persuading each other that once this particular problem was solved everything would click into place. In most cases the solution was a change of an unwanted regime at all costs without giving much thought to the consequences and without having as much as a short-term vision, at least two or three steps ahead, not to speak of a comprehensive strategy.
As a result, the euphoria that many felt in connection with the Arab Spring was replaced with horror in the face of the rapidly spreading chaos, escalation of violence and the spectre of religious wars looming over the region. And of course, an unprecedented threat of terrorism.
The atrocities of Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb countries, the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda, Al Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram and other groups paled in comparison with the expansion of the Islamic State. In the vast territory of Iraq and Syria, ISIS has created what is in fact an extremist quasi-state with an efficient repressive apparatus, stable sources of funding, a well-equipped army and elements of weapons of mass destruction. ISIS is digging in in Libya, Afghanistan and other countries and declaring plans to capture Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem and spread their sinister activities to Europe, Central and Southeast Asia and Russia.
The terrorists stage mass and public executions, threatening the very existence of ethnic and confessional groups, including Christians, Kurds and Alawites. A professional propaganda machine in a dozen languages is working for the Islamic State.
Now that the ruthless terrorist expansion has created an uncontrollable wave of mass flight from the region to Europe, the sense of a shared tragedy must prompt agreed actions. We have taken note of the fact that the recent informal European Union summit in Luxemburg and the Prague summit of the Visegrad Group have unequivocally recognised that the migration crisis cannot be coped with without eliminating its prime causes. That is, without creating a solid barrier in the way of the Islamic State’s drive to put the region under medieval diktat. It is not the refugees that need to be stopped, but the terrorists and the wars and conflicts that create them.
The Russian assessments of the situation were spelled out in President Putin’s speech to the UN General Assembly summit on September 28. It is not our aim to sidetrack the discussion into a futile blame game. But we will not succeed without drawing lessons from the mistakes and recklessness of the past 10−12 years that have brought tragedy to the region.
The main lesson is that any unilateral action is disastrous. What is needed are agreed collective approaches sealed by UN Security Council resolutions.
We believe that any action must begin with a clear and unambiguous statement of priorities. And here, as we see it, there is a clear sense that the main danger is terrorist aggression embodied in the actions of ISIS.
From this, in our opinion, should follow practical steps in three key interconnected areas.
First, it is essential to unite and coordinate the efforts of those who can make a real contribution to the fight against terror: the armed forces of Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish militias, the armed units of the patriotic Syrian opposition, in short, all those who oppose ISIS on the ground as well as the outside players, who in one way or another support efforts to fight terrorism in the region.
It is critical that such coordination should take place on the basis of Security Council resolutions in accordance with the UN Charter. In planning joint actions against ISIS the potential of the UN Military Staff Committee acting under the UN Charter could be tapped. This is precisely the situation when the military expertise of the permanent SC members could be used most efficiently to organise counter-terrorism efforts together with the region’s countries.
Second, it is necessary to speed up the internal Syrian dialogue on the basis of the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012. We support the corresponding efforts of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura and seek to launch a political process that would bring together the entire spectrum of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian Government.
Third, it is necessary to ensure an inclusive and balanced external support of the political process with the participation of Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, the UAE, Jordan and Qatar. The European Union, we believe, could also play a useful role. The inclusion of China would improve the chances of success. We believe that such a lineup of external sponsors, acting in unison, could help the Syrians to reach an agreement proceeding from the common goals of preventing the creation of an extremist caliphate and to strengthen the Syrian state on the basis of national reconciliation and concord.
Speaking from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly, President Vladimir Putin proposed exploring opportunities for adopting a resolution that would serve to coordinate the efforts of all parties that oppose Islamic State and other terrorist groups.
Today we will submit the draft resolution to the Security Council members. It is based on earlier Council documents with emphasis on organising concerted efforts to counter terrorism in line with the norms and principles of international law. We expect a substantive and constructive discussion of this issue next month.
However, considering the rapid growth of the threat from ISIS, it is vital to start practical coordination of all the forces opposing terrorists immediately. On September 30, in response to the request of the Syrian leadership, President Putin asked for and obtained the consent of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to use the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in Syria. It would consist exclusively in the operation of the Russian Air Force to strike at ISIS positions in Syria. We have notified of this the United States and other members of the US-led coalition and are ready to establish permanent communication channels to make the fight against terrorist groups as effective as possible.
Counteracting the financing of terrorism is an important practical objective. The terrorists’ ingenuity in seeking to diversify the sources of income cannot but give cause for alarm. Among the main sources are illegal trade in oil and other mineral resources, trafficking in narcotics, weapons and cultural artefacts, as well as donations from sympathisers. In this connection we urge more scrupulous compliance with the provisions of the SC Resolution 2199 on drawing up a sanctions list of individuals and legal entities involved in trade with the Islamic State. The expert group of the Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee must work more efficiently and the potential of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) and related regional structures must be used systemically. We propose to put the reports of the states on their compliance with Resolution 2199 on a regular and system-wide basis.
We believe that the Islamic State should be included as a separate entity in the UN Security Council anti-terrorist sanctions list. Any delay in resolving this obvious question is becoming counter-productive in terms of the efficiency of UN’s efforts to fight terrorism.
We call for a more committed and concrete counteraction to the threats posed by foreign terrorist militants. There is a pressing need to form a single database on these militants, to develop additional mechanisms of exchanging information on their movement and simplify the procedures for their extradition.
Of particular importance is the preventative work, above all the fight against incitement to terrorism in keeping with SC Resolution 1624 passed ten years ago. Since then the urgency of counteracting terrorist ideology has increased many times over. As a multinational and multi-confessional nation, Russia has truly unique experience of successful coexistence of various ethnic and religious communities. We are ready to share this experience and to take on board the experience of our partners.
We link the tasks of preventing terrorism, including in partnership with civil society institutions, with the issues of counteracting violent extremism. We believe it is critical that the initiatives being put forward in this sphere be based on the solid foundation of international law, respect for the sovereignty and equality of states, and non-interference in their internal affairs. One should not go over the heads of legitimate governments while promoting the slogans of the fight against extremism in specific countries. As you know, such attempts have been made and they have led to no good.
The fight against the terrorist threat must go hand in hand with vigorous efforts to settle various conflict situations in the region, be it in Syria, Libya or Yemen. However, this applies above all to the many years of doldrums in the Palestine-Israeli affairs, which fuels extreme sentiments in the Arab street. The Quartet of international mediators, together with Arab states and with the support of other UN members, must become conscious of its responsibility for resuming direct talks between Israel and Palestine on the basis of the two-state concept. Progress on that track would mark a major contribution to ensuring regional stability and security of the nations in the region.
We expect a frank discussion during the course of this session and later. It is important that in setting forth our positions we hear one another and look for ways to interact on the basis of the UN Charter in order to stem the terrorist threat and ensure security in the Middle East and North Africa.