Opening Remarks and Answers by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at Joint Press Conference Following Talks with Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov, Moscow, November 21, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am genuinely pleased to welcome my counterpart, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Yerzhan Kazykhanov to the Russian capital. This is his first official visit to Moscow. Earlier this year I visited Astana.

Today we continued the discussion on all areas of the Russian-Kazakh strategic partnership. The focus of our conversation was on the tasks set at the November 18, 2011 meeting of the presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. There the leaders of the three states signed a Declaration on Eurasian Economic Integration and an Agreement on the Eurasian Economic Commission – the documents forming the legal basis for transition of the Customs Union of our three countries to the next qualitatively new stage of integration, the Single Economic Space, and further – to the creation of a Eurasian Economic Union. We are convinced that the collaboration, open to accession by other states, has special significance for the entire post-Soviet space.

We, at length, discussed issues relating to the accomplishment of the tasks envisaged in the Russia-Kazakhstan Joint Action Plan for 2011-2012. This document aims to develop cooperation in the high tech sphere – space, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, close cooperation in the fuel and energy sector – as well as expand trade-and-economic ties.

We reviewed the implementation of the agreements reached on 15 September, 2011 in Astrakhan at the Eighth Forum on Inter Region Interaction and Cross Border Cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan with the participation of the Heads of State. We agreed on further steps to ensure close coordination of efforts by Russia and Kazakhstan in the CSTO and SCO to more effectively address the new challenges and to neutralize extremism and drug trafficking, which pose a real threat to the situation in the region.

We discussed our approaches to the developments in the situation in Central Asia, Afghanistan and the adjacent states. We care about this, because the processes occurring there directly affect the security interests of Russia and Kazakhstan.

Next year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan and the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. There is already agreement on how we will celebrate these momentous events.

We signed an Action Plan for Cooperation between the Russian and Kazakh foreign affairs agencies for 2012. The document broadly covers the topics of bilateral relations, and regional and international issues supervised by our Ministries. I am convinced that the implementation of this important document will further deepen the close cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan in the foreign policy sphere.

Question (to both ministers): Last week, the Russian Public Opinion Research Center released a survey ascertaining the favorable attitude of the residents of Russia and other CIS countries to Kazakhstan. Yet a more detailed analysis of the monitoring has shown that mostly middle-aged people possess information about the country. Young people, according to the survey, exhibited, in fact, zero knowledge about Kazakhstan. What efforts could be made to deepen the integration process in the region and maintain friendly relations between our nations?

Foreign Minister Lavrov (speaks first): With all due respect to the agencies that conduct public opinion polls, I doubt that the knowledge of young people in Russia about Kazakhstan can be characterized as “zero.” I am confident that these figures are much higher.

But you did the right thing by touching on this theme. In general, the entire post-Soviet space, in addition to common economic and infrastructure associations, has a significant advantage in terms of upholding the interests of each state in the modern highly competitive world – ties between people. They allow you to expand the opportunities in education and professional activities. The task of enhancing humanitarian ties is in our common interest. Russia and Kazakhstan are the engines of integration processes in this important geopolitical space and devote constant attention to ensuring that the younger generation avails itself of the advantages created by their predecessors.

Our leaders are dealing with the issue very seriously. By decision of the CIS Heads of State, a Council for Humanitarian Cooperation was established. There operates under its wing the Interstate Humanitarian Cooperation Fund of the CIS countries, in whose framework a large number of activities for young people and involving young people are being conducted. I will also note the bilateral Russian-Kazakh plans that presuppose facilitating contacts between universities, youth organizations and NGOs. It’s necessary to make more active use of the media. In this context, we count on the media of our countries, by employing the possibilities of information channels, to tell us more about each other and to get young people interested in new forms of communication.

Question (to both ministers): You mentioned the upcoming twentieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Kazakhstan and the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. How exactly are the two countries going to celebrate these events? What activities are planned? Will there be visit exchanges at the highest level?

Foreign Minister Lavrov (speaks after Kazykhanov): I would like to reiterate that we are planning to celebrate both anniversaries in a fitting manner – we will mark these events at the level of Heads of State and Government and under the auspices of the ministries of foreign affairs.

The presidents of our two countries meet ten times in a year. In 2010, there were eleven such meetings, and already seven this year. I am convinced that this important milestone in the Russian-Kazakh alliance will not pass unnoticed.

Question: According to Western media, UK, Germany and France have submitted to the UN Security Council a draft resolution on the protection of civilians in Syria. Sergey Viktorovich, please say if such a resolution is advisable and whether Russia will support it?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Our Western colleagues suggest that the UN Security Council consider the question of protecting civilians in Syria. For our part, we proceed from some simple theses.

We backed up the initiative of the Arab League, providing for an end to violence, from whatever quarter, for observers from Arab countries to be deployed in Syria and for the intensification of inter-Syrian dialogue on democratic reforms. To put the demand for the cessation of violence, from whatever quarter, into effect it is important not only to seek to get the Syrian leadership to renounce the disproportionate use of force, but also to insist that armed groups, which are increasingly trying to use peaceful demonstrators in Syria to provoke violence, should stop such actions.

You certainly follow the international media reports. In Syria there has appeared the so-called “free Syrian army,” which has created a “temporary military council” that has proclaimed itself the supreme military authority in the country, whose main aim is the overthrow of the present government of Syria. Some Western capitals, including those raising the issue in the UN Security Council, have publicly assessed the military actions of Syrian defectors as “the manifestation of democratic aspirations by the Syrian people.” If the democratic manifestations are firing rocket-propelled grenades at the premises of the Baath party, and the armed attacks on office buildings and headquarters of Syrian police, then this kind of “democracy” we cannot accept.

To stop the violence you must address the relevant demands to both the authorities and the armed groups that have wormed their way into the Syrian opposition. In the meantime, we are witnessing a situation where the Arab League issues a call to end violence and begin a dialogue, and from Western capitals and the capitals of some countries in the region are heard exhortations to the contrary, recommending the opposition not to have any dialogue with the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It’s very much like a political provocation on an international scale. If everyone is interested in letting the Syrians exercise their right to decide their own fate, then you need to approach this honestly and responsibly.

As to requests or demands to secure a decision of the international community to protect the civilian population, the events leading to the Libyan tragedy are still fresh in everybody’s memory. It was under the same slogan that those operated who later grossly abused the UN Security Council resolutions. Instead of protecting civilians, they engaged in bombardments, in which innocent civilians were killed.

The most important human right – the right to life – was thus grossly violated. We cannot allow such abuses and outrages upon international law and the authority of the UN Security Council.

Question (to Kazykhanov): What is the position of Kazakhstan, the chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in relation to the situation in the Middle East, particularly in Syria?

Foreign Minister Lavrov (in addition to the response of Kazykhanov): Given that Russia is an observer in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, I will add a few words. We support the activities of Kazakhstan as chair of the OIC. I agree that its chairmanship fell on a difficult period for the member states of this Organization. We look forward to their well-considered, responsible and wise approach to what is happening in the Middle East and North Africa.

In Libya, a difficult process of finding a common denominator between the various groups that defeated Gaddafi’s regime is under way. The way things went during the conflict still requires legal scrutiny. Together with our OIC partners we will promote early stabilization of the situation in Libya, where the crisis is not over.

At present, new bursts of tension are sweeping the region: clashes in Egypt, renewed unrest in Bahrain, an attack on a government building in Kuwait. I do not rule out that these processes are more or less connected with the creation of a certain atmosphere around Syria. Some foreign players keep calling on the Syrian opposition to reject dialogue with the authorities. This creates a temptation in some circles in neighboring Middle Eastern countries to exploit the situation to their advantage, and to create a tense situation at home, hoping for political gain.

We hope that the OIC states will take a responsible approach We expect that other countries, with their respective stances on the current events in the Middle East and North Africa, will also act with the utmost responsibility, in accordance with international law, including the right of peoples to self-determination.

Question (to both ministers): On November 19, the Afghan Grand National Assembly (Loya Jirga) approved the proposal by President Hamid Karzai to conclude a strategic military cooperation agreement with the USA which would extend the presence of US forces in Afghanistan after 2014. How can you comment on this development?

Foreign Minister Lavrov (speaks first): From a legal point of view, this question lies within the purview of bilateral relations between the USA and Afghanistan, and it should be decided based on the principles of international law, including the principle of respect for the sovereignty and political independence of each state.

In broader political terms it’s necessary to consider the interests of the states of this troubled region, which are directly influenced by the events in Afghanistan, including terrorist and drug threats. For this reason, it is necessary to understand what specific tasks the military bases to be created after the announced 2014 troop withdrawal will tackle. We openly discuss these issues with the leadership of Afghanistan and with the American partners. Everyone remembers the reason behind the US military presence in Afghanistan: to eliminate the terrorist threat. Now it’s important for us to see how the withdrawal of troops squares with the imminent creation of military bases. We’d like to get a clearer picture of this, taking into account Russia’s legitimate interests and those of our allies in the Central Asian region.