Press-Conference by Chargé d'Affaires of the Russian Federation Dmitry Polyanskiy "Russia’s Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf Region"
A.: Good afternoon everybody. Thanks for your patience. I planned to start a little bit earlier but there were circumstances that I could not foresee. I would like to divide the press-conference which I hope will not be too long in two sections.
The first section will be about our security concept for the Gulf area which is the bulk of what I was going to say and then at the end I will also make a couple of points on today’s consultations on Georgia. If you have any questions I would also be very pleased to answer them.
We decided to make the special presentation of our security concept for the Gulf area because we think it is really important for ensuring security in this strategically important area of the world. You know how difficult the situation is now, so this concept was distributed as an official document of Security Council. Now my colleague has also shared a printed version with you. If you need to have it on your email, do not hesitate to tell us. We will send you the electronic version.
I will not read out the whole of the concept, though it is quite concise. I will just highlight the main points of it. We really believe that the idea of establishing a security system in the Gulf area might be essential for consolidating political and diplomatic efforts in the region. In this concept we formulated several principles of how to ensure security in the Gulf area, so we think that all stakeholders that are interested in eliminating the hotbed of extremism and terrorism in the Middle East should be consolidated in a single counter-terrorism coalition. There is a need for mobilizing public opinion across the Islamic world and other countries. The cornerstone is our common adherence to the international law, the UN Charter and UN Security Council resolutions.
We insist that security system in the Gulf Area should be universal and comprehensive, should be based on respect for the interests of all regional and other parties in the world. Confidence-building measures are of paramount importance.
As for practical work for the launch of security system we see it through bilateral and multilateral consultations among stakeholders including regional and extra-regional states, UN Security Council, the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Gulf Cooperation Council. We would see to establish a kind of an Action Group to prepare an International Conference on security and cooperation in the Gulf area. We also formulate certain measures that would be necessary for confidence-building and further discussion and development.
The international law is the key principle that we all need to respect. I will not dwell in detail upon this – you will find this in the concept. The sense of a long-term objective of our proposal is the creation of a security and cooperation organization in the Persian Gulf that would include in addition to the Gulf countries Russia, China, the United States, the EU, India and other stakeholders as observers or associated members.
That was what we really wanted to point out in a nutshell. Again, everything is there, everything is clear, everything is transparent. We hope that our move will contribute to pacifying spirits and tensions in this very important section of our globe. We are ready to work with everybody who would like to contribute to it. It is a starting point for our discussions. We have already received some feedback from certain actors and we hope that this process will continue and lead all of us to something positive and tangible. I will stop at this point. I am ready for your questions.
Q.: On behalf of UNCA, let me thank you, Ambassador, for this press conference. On the Strait of Hormuz: do you think that international patrolling led by the U.S. and UK can be a solution and can you elaborate on that? Thank you.
A.: I envisaged that this would be the question. It is our belief that only measures that are sanctioned by the UN Security Council and that enjoy uniform support from all the key stakeholders have a chance to bring peace and stability to this region and solve all the divergences. We also noted that before the U.S. decided to withdraw from JCPOA there were no problems with oil transportation in this region. That is why the solution to this issue may not lie in physical field but in some confidence-building measures, negotiations, and dialogue between all the concerned parties.
Q.: Thank you very much for the briefing, Ambassador. The GCC has been a principle security body in the area since 1980s. On your single counter-terrorism coalition, do you think there is room for another security body in the region? And will Russia try to expend its military bases in the Middle East to try to support this initiative? Thank you.
A.: I do not have any information that would lead me to believe that the last part of your question is justified. As for security guaranties and a security organization, I think we should judge efficiency of any security measure by decrease of tensions and solution to the outstanding issues.
Q.: Saudi Arabia is one of the countries you contacted on this initiative. Do you think they could support it?
A.: We contacted everyone. This is an inclusive rather than exclusive Strategy. We do not exclude any actors that may be interested in making a contribution.
Q.: Will they support it?
A.: Well, it is only the initial stage. Very much will depend on you and how you present our Strategy as well.
Q.: Thank you, Ambassador. This paper says you are ready to work closely with all stakeholders both in official settings, and socio-political and expert circles. What about military? Is Russia in principle ready to participate militarily if this proposal went forward? My second question is about the proposal: other than Iran, is there any other country willing to accept any discussion about your proposal?
A.: Well, again, this is the initial stage. We started discussion from the attitude of potential stakeholders. So far it is quite positive, but of course, they wait for details and we would also expect some more practical feedback from them. As for the military, you know, I am a diplomat, not a military man. I think that when we, diplomats, do our job well, there is no room for the military to intervene. And we are really keen to fulfill our job well.
Q.: About the recent agreement between Turkey and the U.S. to create what they call safe or peaceful zone. What is Russia’s position in regard to this agreement? Has Turkey been coordinating with you with regard to the details of this agreement and implementation in future?
A.: Turkey is our key partner, a good, friendly neighbor. We have dialogue on many issues, but it does not mean we have absolutely universal approaches on them. For us, the key principle of any solution around and within Syria proceeds from the respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country, so we need to look into further details, at how all these things will be implemented. I really highlighted to you the key principle that defines how we judge initiatives and developments.
Q.: I have not had a chance to really look through the concept statement, but to what extent would you be emphasizing complete freedom of navigation through the international waters? There should be a multilateral effort to guarantee it, because the Iranian regime said that it sees itself as having called security responsibility in the Gulf. And secondly, since the concept is focused on countering terrorism: as you know, Iran does not consider Hezbollah or Hamas as terrorist organizations. Do you think there is going to be any realistic hope that there would be consensus on what groups are considered terrorist organizations?
A.: I will start with your second part. There is only one criterion for considering this or that organization terrorist or not terrorist – Security Council decisions and the United Nations framework. Countries can have their own opinion on whether to consider this or that organization terrorist or not and it is not a secret that we have some divergences in classifying some organizations as part of this “terrorist family”. I would appeal to you to be very cautious about such things and to proceed from internationally recognized definitions and lists. As for security of navigation, it is absolutely clear for us that one of the consequences of implementation of our Strategy would be freedom of navigation and secure navigation in this region. I want to reiterate that it is not a coincidence that all these problems have started quite recently and the decision that triggered all these problems was American withdrawal from JCPOA. You cannot deny it. It cannot be a mere coincidence. It means that the problem is much more complex than some politicians and countries try to present it. It is only through dialogue that you can address the preoccupations of different stakeholders and find longstanding solutions to very important issues. That is what we are trying to do.
Q.: How do you see a confidence-building measure between Saudi Arabia and Iran?
A.: Neighbors always have problems – that is a common thing. People living together at the same floor can also have divergences on daily-life issues. Any security arrangements, any trust-building efforts should comprise all the players. We think this is a task that we can realize: to bring together all the stakeholders, all the countries of the region no matter how important and deep their divergences can be. We remain patient and positive, so we appeal to everybody to be open-minded and to look beyond the horizon on many issues. We feel that this task can be implemented.
Q.: Thank you, Ambassador Polyanskiy. While you are trying to promote this Concept on the security arrangements for the Gulf, your colleagues just called on Russia to abide by its obligations according to the six-point agreement of August 12, 2008, including establishing an international security mechanism in that part of the world. Has Russia done anything there?
A.: You refer to Georgia now?
Q.: I am just saying that while you are trying to promote new security system or arrangements in the Gulf region, your colleagues from the Western countries are obviously so far away from what you are talking about. They are talking about your own region.
A.: Maybe they are far away, but they will inevitably come to this point to understand that the dialogue and promotion of collective effort is the only solution. I can come back to your question when I make a short reference to Georgia, but let’s now continue with the Persian Gulf.
Q.: Thank you very much, Ambassador Polyanskiy, for this press-conference. The U.S. have declared in the Security Council that all the resolutions regarding the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict are null and void and should be ignored totally, as it was said during the recent meeting. That given, how would you try to push any consensus among the United Nations and use the United Nations as a point of reference with regard to any possible solution in the Middle East and when there is a major state that negates all past resolutions at all and even the Charter of the United Nations? I am talking here about the U.S. in particular. Why are you optimistic that this can go through?
A.: First of all, I can tell you that the U.S’s position, as far as I know, is much more nuanced than the one that you presented, but in any case, with all due respect, the U.S. is not the only Member State of the United Nations. There are 192 other States. The United Nations is for multilateral diplomacy, for dialogue, for convincing people with peaceful means, for winning the support for your point of view. That is what all of us are trying to do.
Of course, our security concept for Gulf area is closely linked to the overall security in the Middle East, to the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli problem. We do not deny it. We think that these efforts can be proceeding in parallel. We know the position of the U.S. I have already mentioned that they are nor very helpful in the international efforts about Iran, e.g. in bringing Iran on board. Well, countries live through different times. Maybe at some point the United States will kind of open its eyes and see that most part of the world is thinking otherwise and then it helps find a solution to certain issues. One should really stick to what was decided before and what was discussed on many occasions and confirmed by many politicians and many events.
Q.: We will just follow up on the issue of declaring or making the Middle East an area free of weapons of mass destruction. Here you are separating the Gulf region from the Middle East as a whole, because this will necessitate the cooperation of Israel, for example, which is not a party to the NPT or any other form of security. So, how can this be compromised or reconciled as Israel remains outside the NPT, whereas you can make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone or a zone free of weapons of mass destruction?
A.: Nobody is saying this is an easy task. We are not trying to sell you a vacuum-cleaner, you know, it’s a Strategy. I can only cite two passages from our Strategy: “taking into account a close interrelation of regional problems, the establishment of a security system in the Gulf area is considered as part of the solution aimed at insuring security in the Middle East as a whole.” So we do not view them separately from one another. Among the measures that we propose in our Strategy there are a lot of measures related to arms control and NPT. We propose signing agreements on arms control, which could include e.g. establishment of demilitarized zones, prohibition of destabilizing accumulation of conventional weapons, including missile-defense systems, balanced reduction of armed forces by all parties, so please, bother to read this document and you will see a reference to all these issues. We propose a kind of a roadmap, a kind of vector for how to solve them.
Q.: Thank you for the briefing, Ambassador. I have two questions. The problem in the Gulf is that the U.S. has put a massive cost on Iran through sanctions. Iran is retaliating by putting a cost on shipping through the straits. How does your plan tackle that very specific problem? And another question: UN Chief Antonio Guterres has launched a Board of Inquiry into Russian-Syrian attacks on hospitals in northwestern Syria. Will you cooperate with that investigation?
A.: As for Iran and the U.S, of course their approaches are very much different. A lot has been said or done. It is the task for us, diplomats from all countries, to sit down and clear this mess. We need to give it a try. By presenting this Strategy, we are trying to create a platform for discussion and cooperation. We hope our American colleagues and friends will also grasp these opportunities. We hope in the middle and in the long term it will bring stability to the region and help all the major stakeholders resolve their problems and establish mutually beneficial and respectful relations.
As for the second issue you raised, there is a press release by the Russian Foreign Ministry about our attitude to this Board of Inquiry. I myself had a discussion on that matter with the Secretary-General. Information about this is available at our website. We do not conceal that we are disappointed by this decision. Our disappointment has two aspects. First is the legal basis for such action by the Secretary-General. We believe there are no provisions in the UN Charter that would entitle the Secretary-General to establish bodies like this without prior discussion of these issues in the Security Council.
Speaking about cooperation and non-cooperation, if we were sure that this Board would really try to establish the truth, then I would not exclude that cooperation. But there are a lot of doubts about this. The countries that have pushed the establishment of this Board and exercised pressure on the Secretary-General, they are not seeking to find out the truth about what really happened. They seek another tool that would help them have pressure on Russia and on Syria, distort action that we take there. However, we made our position quite clear. There were numerous examples of previous attempts by the international community in one form or another to inquire about what was happening in Syria. In any case, our data, arguments, and documents were ignored, though they provided clear evidence that the events in question had been absolutely different. Now that we have all this unfortunate experience, we cannot be certain that the Board of Inquiry will behave in another way.
We respect the Secretary-General. He charged himself with a very challenging task. We have some reservations about this, but, well, let’s see. The Secretary-General is on a vacation now. I do not want to spoil it by my criticism. As soon as he is back in New York, we will hopefully learn his further thoughts on that matter.
Q.: Thank you, I also have two questions. The first one is about your concept for the Gulf region. The concept has already been circulated in the Security Council, and it has also been sent to the Office of the Secretary-General. I wonder if you have received any feedback.
A.: We are now at the very initial stage. So far the feedback has been positive, but Devil is in the details. It is August now. We presented the concept at the end of July. I think we need to give our partners some time in order to have an in-depth consideration and analysis of our proposals.
So far I have not heard any criticism. It is very difficult to criticize what we propose. What stands at the core of our proposal is dialogue, confidence-building measures, desire to bring all the stakeholders together, have them negotiate and find solutions to their problems. Basically, this is what we, diplomats, are here for. This is the central task of the United Nations. Therefore it is quite difficult to criticize it.
We do not expect criticism, but rather some proposals and some concretizing that should come from the stakeholders and interested actors. They are the ones who can say how we can do it in a better way, what additional steps we should include. We are open to any criticism, constructive suggestions, analysis of our Strategy.
Q.: The Russian Presidency in the Security Council is coming in the month of September. Can we expect the Security Council to have particular meetings to discuss your Strategy?
A.: It is yet too early to disclose our plans regarding the Presidency. Of course, we have something in mind. I can reassure you that this issue will not be forgotten.
Q.: Part of the sanctions that the U.S. imposed after withdrawal from the JCPOA includes a ban or restrictions for third countries buying oil from Iran. This week they did the same for Venezuela. Russia is one of the countries that buys oil from Venezuela and Iran. What is your response to that? How will Russia react?
A.: We never made it a secret that we oppose any extraterritorial implementation of bilateral sanctions. I do not think we are the only ones who do so. I think this morning I saw a similar statement made by a part of the EU countries that also reject such implementation of bilateral sanctions regime.
We are an independent country. We have relations with Iran. Iran is also an independent country. Why should we be asking anyone to regulate our relations with this or that particular country? We are not trying to interfere when the U.S. do or does not develop relations with this or that country. We expect the same attitude from any member of the global community. That would be in line with the UN Charter. It is not something extraordinary that we expect in this situation.
Q.: Thank you, Ambassador. I have a quick follow-up to the previous question. You said you circulated the concept in the Security Council. Have you had any specific discussions on this with the Americans or the Brits?
A.: First and foremost, why it is the Americans and the Brits that you mention?
Q.: Because they are the ones who are creating their own sort of Gulf maritime security coalition. Is that something that Russia would look to do?
A.: There are certain signs by which I can tell you that they are studying our concept very thoroughly.
Q.: Thank you, then another question. At the start you mentioned measures needing to be sanctioned by the Security Council. Would you envisage the Russian concept needing a Security Council resolution to sanction it? Do you think the proposal by the Americans and the Brits needs a Security Council resolution?
A.: Do you mean the proposal on maritime security?
A.: It is difficult for me to judge about their proposal, because I have not seen anything concrete. As of now, it seems to be only about bilateral arrangements and appeals to some likeminded countries. As far as I understand, a priopi it is not meant to become either a Security Council resolution or a UN initiative.
I might be wrong, but once again, I have not heard anything complete regarding their proposal. It gives me no reason to be more alert about prospects of this proposal being discussed at the United Nations. Have I covered your question?
Q.: Yes, thank you. There is one small bit left. Do you think the Russian proposal would need some kind of the Security Council mandate?
A.: We would love to receive a blessing from a Security Council resolution at some point, but this will be at the end of the road. For the time being, we are not speaking about formalities. This can become an intermediary or an end result. First and foremost, we abide by the Security Council and by the international law. It may become a tool that would promote this concept, which is quite logical. However, we are at the beginning of this road now. Maybe we can come back to this issue later, when we have feedback from the major stakeholders. Then we will definitely promote discussions of this topic at the Security Council and at the United Nations at large, because it is about the United Nations. It is something that falls within the UN framework in which we act and by which we abide when we propose such steps.
Thank you for this part. If you do not object, we will just briefly tell you that today we had closed consultations that had been asked by a number of Western countries regarding the 11th anniversary of Georgia’s attack against South Ossetia. As far as I understand, there was a stakeout by Western countries after these consultations. I was not there but I can easily guess what they were speaking about.
Unfortunately, their position has not changed very much despite all the arguments that we have had and all the things that we have said. We see this tragic event as a part of history. We took note of Tagliavini’s report of 2009 that was mandated by the EU which quite clearly defined who was the aggressor and who was the victim in this unfortunate situation.
Georgia paid a very high price for this tragic mistake commited by former president Mikhail Saakashvili. We see that the only way to make relations in the Caucasus prosper, and to ease all tensions is through dialogue between Georgia and the two independent states that we acknowledge – Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We also can be a part of these discussions.
Unfortunately, the position taken by the Western countries is not very much helpful, but I can assure you that we, together with the Georgian people, try as much as we can to develop people-to-people contacts, bilateral, including commercial ties, which have achieved very considerable heights. There are a lot of Russian tourists coming to Georgia despite the political turbulence. We have established very good relations on a people-to-people basis. Georgian goods are now entering the Russian market without any problems. They are very popular in Russia. Georgia receives a lot of money from this, and we are happy with this situation. We are very much ready to develop our relations with our southern neighbor as well as with the two independent republics that appeared on the world map as a result of the unfortunate Georgian adventure.
Q.: The authorities of South Ossetia claimed that they were going to request the UN to recognize the conflict of 2008 as a genocide of Ossetia’s nation. Is the Russian side going to somehow discuss this issue in the Security Council?
A.: They have this right, of course, they are an independent country. But, frankly speaking, I have not heard about any practical steps in that direction. You are the first person who tells me about such an initiative. So we need to learn the details. We will look into it.