Dhaka July 30 2022 :
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs (SCO MFA) on July 28-29 in Tashkent.
The agenda of the meeting focused on preparations for the meeting of the SCO Heads of States Council to be held in Samarkand in September. The summit is to consider the state of multilateral cooperation and prospects for its further development, and identify priorities and practical measures to step up SCO’s activities at the current stage. Particular attention will be paid to the enhancement of the organisation’s role in world affairs in the light of the current geopolitical realities.
The ministers reviewed the progress in drafting the documents of the SCO HSC, which, when adopted and further implemented will give a qualitatively new impetus to interaction in politics, security, the economy and humanitarian relations. The common positions of member states will be set out in the Samarkand Declaration. They are planning to sign memorandums of understanding on Iran’s pledges to become a member state and on granting dialogue partner status to Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. They also plan to adopt decisions on commencing the procedure of admitting Belarus to the SCO and granting Bahrain (and the Maldives) dialogue partner status.
The heads of foreign ministries discussed key regional and global issues, and on Russia’s initiative, adopted a Joint Statement on Strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in the format of parties concerned.
Sergey Lavrov also held a number of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the event.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions following a meeting of the SCO Foreign Ministers Council, Tashkent, July 29, 2022.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an intergovernmental organization founded in Shanghai on 15 June 2001.Besides Pakistan, SCO member states include China, India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
I have a few words to say as a follow-up to the meeting we just had.
The SCO foreign ministers focused on preparations for the summit to be held in Samarkand in mid-September. We reviewed draft documents, primarily, the Samarkand Declaration, which is almost finished. Our experts will complete this work and report to the ministers ahead of the upcoming September meeting. We will submit the final draft and a number of other documents, of which more than a dozen have been prepared, for consideration by the heads of state. The most important of them concern the further deepening of integration processes.
In this regard, I would like to highlight two documents. The first one is the Concept of cooperation for promoting interconnectedness and creating effective transport corridors, which has practical importance. The second document is important for our future work as well. We are talking about a Roadmap for gradually increasing the share of national currencies in mutual settlements.
Economic projects have been prepared in energy, digitalisation, transport, communications, innovation, disruptive technologies and healthcare, as well as a major package of humanitarian initiatives in culture and sports. Plans are in place to hold SCO sports games. A decision was made to establish a new institution of SCO Goodwill Ambassadors in 2022, which will popularise the SCO in respective countries. It was also decided to designate a SCO culture and tourism capital. An Indian city will be designated as such in 2023.
We focused on the actions taken by our countries in international organisations. The adoption of the Joint Statement by Foreign Ministers on Strengthening the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons was a result of the coordination agreements.
These are the main outcomes of the meeting. I think we have made a good contribution to preparations for the summit. During the months remaining before the event, we will oversee further work on the documents so that the package submitted to the Samarkand summit is truly comprehensive and covers all areas of the SCO’s activities.
Question: You arrived here following your visit to Africa. What was the African countries’ reaction to your warning that the United States and the European Union could seize the foreign exchange reserves of any country should it start irritating them? If this happens, what can Russia do to help them?
Sergey Lavrov: The African countries – and they are not alone because our other interlocutors, for example, our colleagues in the SCO, with whom we met yesterday and today – understand well that any member of the international community who behaves in a way that does not suit Americans or who meets with their disapproval could face sanctions. Everyone has a deep understanding of this. What can be done? Today, we have agreed to submit proposals for the consideration of the leaders of our countries on taking concrete steps towards switching to payments in national currencies. I believe everyone will be contemplating this option. Africa has related experience, as some subregional institutions have common currencies, which, nonetheless, are pegged to Western currencies. A continental free trade zone will be up and running in Africa from 2023. It would make sense to bolster it with currency agreements. I believe this process must go forward.
Question: Would you please comment on the criticism that French President Emmanuel Macron, who also visited Africa, leveled at Russia, RT and Sputnik, and on his warning to the peoples of Africa against placing their bets on cooperation with Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, one might expect more responsible words from the French. President Emmanuel Macron aired his concerns over Russia’s military and diplomatic activities in Africa. If I got him right, the French President said that he would call this not cooperation but rather support for “failed and illegitimate regimes and juntas”. If this was Mr Macron’s response to the trips we took to several African countries, it was insulting to African countries, who continue to consistently develop relations with the Russian Federation no matter what.
Question: Some time ago, Belarus applied for the status of full SCO member. How realistic are expectations for the admission procedure to be launched at the upcoming September summit?
Sergey Lavrov: With regard to SCO expansion, Iran received official candidate status in 2021. The process for its full accession has been initiated. Additional documents will be adopted in Samarkand.
With regard to Belarus as candidate, there’s a broad consensus to launch the SCO admission process in Samarkand as well. I had this sense today. There are a number of contenders for observer and dialogue partner status. Some Arab countries are showing interest, as are Armenia, Azerbaijan and a number of Asian countries. Consultations at the level of foreign ministries will continue up to the summit. I’m confident that we will be able to come up with appropriate recommendations for the SCO heads of state.
To reiterate, there is a consensus on initiating the process for Belarus joining the SCO as a full member.
Question: The US State Department said it had sent a request for a telephone conversation between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and you. Reportedly, the American side plans to discuss the prisoner exchange, grain exports from Ukraine and Russia’s plans regarding Ukrainian territories. Do you have plans for this kind of conversation? Is there a chance that you will talk with Antony Blinken in person on the sidelines of ASEAN events in Cambodia?
Sergey Lavrov: We first learned about this while in Africa. Antony Blinken spoke on television and said he was going to contact me by phone. We received an official request 24 hours later. We are coordinating the time of the call, which will take place when I’m back to my office. It is unlikely to happen today. We will come up with a convenient date for our US colleagues in the days ahead.
We asked the American side to specify the issues that they want to discuss. So far, we have not heard from them, but it appears they have said something about it in the media again.
If we are talking about prisoner exchange, the persons held in custody in Russia and the United States, then we have already commented on this issue on behalf of the Foreign Ministry. This matter was reviewed more than a year ago at the Geneva summit between President Vladimir Putin and President Joseph Biden in June 2021. The leaders then agreed to authorise relevant officials to deal with these matters. The Foreign Ministry is not part of it. Nevertheless, I will listen to what Secretary Blinken has to say.
With regard to Ukrainian grain, it would also be interesting to hear about their plans to fulfill the obligations undertaken in the context of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ initiative. Indeed, with regard to the issue of Russian grain, the US sanctions prevented us from implementing the signed contracts in full, because Russian ships cannot use a number of ports, there’s a ban on foreign ships using Russian ports in order to pick up export cargo, and Russian shipping insurance rates have skyrocketed, in effect, quadrupled due to the restrictions. Financial chains have been severed by the illegitimate US and EU sanctions. In particular, Rosselkhozbank, which is the main bank for food export payments, was one of the first to be placed on the sanctions list. UN Secretary-General Guterres has pledged to remove these barriers to overcoming the global food crisis challenges. We’ll see.
With regard to Ukraine and related developments, I heard Antony Blinken say he would not discuss Ukraine with me, because Ukraine must be the one to represent its own interests and the Americans cannot do the work for them. In this regard, you may remember that in one of my statements a week ago, when taking a question, I said that we have no prejudice against talks with Ukraine. Immediately thereafter State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the United States believes there is no need for Ukraine to negotiate with the Russian Federation at this point. It’s a Freudian slip of sorts, making it clear who is leading whom and how the Americans “are not forcing” Ukraine to do anything in particular.
Question: In recent weeks, tensions have flared over US military and political assistance to Taiwan, especially the intention of Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to visit the island. Have you discussed this situation with your Chinese counterpart? Does Moscow have any fears that the current escalation could lead to hostilities? What position will Moscow take if China decides to conduct a military operation in Taiwan?
Sergey Lavrov: We are not discussing this with my Chinese counterpart. Russia’s position on the existence of only one China remains unchanged. The US periodically says it confirms the same policy, but in practice, US actions do not always match their words. We have no problem upholding the principle of China’s sovereignty. We believe there will be no provocations capable of aggravating this situation.
Question: Should the SCO countries abandon the US currency?
Sergey Lavrov: Each SCO country should decide for itself how comfortable it feels relying on the US dollar, taking into account the absolute unreliability of this currency for possible abuse. The US has taken advantage of this more than once in relation to a number of states. I am convinced that the SCO countries have their own think tanks that, when assessing the situation, will draw conclusions and take practical steps based on an understanding of their own interests. The fact that we have now agreed on a roadmap for the heads of state to gradually increase the share of national currencies in mutual settlements is indicative of the direction in which our thought process is headed.
Question: This year marks 20 years since the signing of the SCO Charter and 15 years since the signing of the Treaty of Long-term Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. What role is the SCO playing at such a challenging time?
Sergey Lavrov: There are many things that can be said here. The SCO is one of those organisations that push back against attempts to impose a unipolar world and for an approach rooted in multipolarity, multilateralism, and the principles of the UN Charter, including respect for the equal rights of sovereign states.
The SCO is not divided into leaders and followers. It is not like NATO where the US and its closest allies simply impose a decision on the other alliance members. Nor is it like the EU where we are witnessing sovereign nations being forced either to stop buying Russian gas or stop using it, in complete disregard of national plans or interests.
The SCO values consensus and its Charter, which includes a commitment to respecting the interests of other member states, avoiding unfriendly steps, and acting with the aim of finding common ground. It is a completely different organisation.
Other blocs in Eurasia, for instance, BRICS and the EAEU, are governed by the same principles. I believe they are two good examples of addressing international issues and building regional associations and interaction on an important continent like Eurasia.
The SCO is expanding cooperation with the CSTO and the CIS. The secretariats of these structures have signed memoranda on cooperation. Just today we discussed how the harmonisation of the efforts of the SCO, CIS and CSTO is sorely needed in order to mobilise joint forces in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime. The SCO is also looking to work more closely with such an important organisation as ASEAN. Together, all this work is helping build the Greater Eurasian Partnership that President Putin has repeatedly spoken about. We believe that it will benefit the entire population of the Eurasian continent.
Question: Russia is working to increase the share of payments in roubles in an attempt to replace the dollar in the region. Has this topic been on the agenda for the SCO ministerial meeting? Which SCO member countries are supporting Russia in this?
Sergey Lavrov: I already mentioned that one of the decisions we approved today was to endorse a draft roadmap to move towards using more national currencies in mutual trade. I think that it is a very specific and very practical step.
Question: What do you think about the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine and when will it end?
My second question is about Afghanistan: Do you think it is time for Russia to recognise Afghanistan’s government because of the siege organised by the United States for the Taliban government? What is your opinion?
Sergey Lavrov: You are from Al Jazeera. On Ukraine, I am sure Al Jazeera was present in Cairo when I addressed the Arab League issue. If you ask your Cairo correspondent, he or she will give you the full picture. It would take some time for me to recite what I have repeatedly stated during all my recent news conferences.
The main thing is that we are resolving the issue which is directly related to the security of the Russian Federation. Threats to our security have been consistently created during the last ten years. All our proposals to remove those threats on the basis of mutual respect for security interests were categorically ignored by the United States, by the European Union and by NATO, which expanded five times towards the Russian Federation, in spite of the promises that this would not be done.
Regarding the situation in Ukraine, they banned everything Russian: language, education, culture and media. Had Al Jazeera been broadcasting in Russian, you would have been banned, you know. Imagine that, for example, in Belgium the French language being prohibited – it is absolutely unthinkable; or English in Ireland or Swedish in Finland, but when Russian was prohibited in Ukraine and when the Ukrainian government started promoting neo-Nazi theory and practices, not only did the West not try to discourage this behaviour, they encouraged it and applauded Ukraine as a beacon of democracy and pumped the country full of weapons, planning to build naval bases in Ukraine – they did this bluntly and openly to contain the Russian Federation. We have been warning for 10 years as I told you that this was absolutely unacceptable. The West ignored this completely.
I believe you also covered the events in Iraq, Libya and Syria when the United States, without explaining anything to anybody, announced that 10,000 kilometres from America’s coast was a threat to basic American interests and started bombing and shelling Mosul and Raqqa, leveling them to the ground and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, and there was no outcry, not at all, which, in my view, is a manifestation of racism.
If the situation in Afghanistan, where wedding ceremonies were bombed from the air, and the situation in Iraq and Libya where the statehood was broken, with a lot of human lives lost – if this was taken easily by the same group of countries, which are now raising noise over Ukraine, then I can only conclude that, for the West, the lives of Afghans or Arabs do not mean anything. This is unfortunate. Those double standards and those racist instincts – colonial instincts – should be stopped forever.
As regards Afghanistan, we are working with the government of Afghanistan and we recognise it as a reality on the ground. We have our embassy, which never left Kabul. But the government of Afghanistan, for legal recognition, needs to deliver on what it proclaimed when it was taking power, namely, that they would create an inclusive government – not only from the ethnic point of view but also from the political point of view, that they would step up their efforts to fight terrorism and drug-trafficking and, of course, they should ensure the basic rights of all the citizens of Afghanistan.
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