Ambassador Aleksei Erkhov’s interview for “Daily Sabah” newspaper
Question: Turkey and Russia, recently announced their determination to de-escalate the situation on the ground and pave the way for a political process in Libya, how do think will be the path for permanent peace and a solution to the ongoing civil war in Libya as you know that the political process and talks have reached a stalemate? What kinds of cooperation are to be expected fr om Ankara and Moscow in the upcoming period for Libya? The creation of a Joint Working Group on Libya is considered, what will be the scope and primary goals of this group?
I cannot fully agree that “the political process and talks have reached a stalemate”. When politicians talk – canons are silent. Meanwhile, contacts between heads of state and ministers of foreign affairs continue. Russian and Turkish officials stay in regular contact on this issue. Libya is always on the agenda of telephone conversations of our leaders - President Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A Russian delegation visited Ankara and our experts held substantial talks with their Turkish colleagues.
That’s true, we are discussing with our Turkish partners the creation of a Joint Working Group. What is it all about? We are trying to transfer the positive experience we accumulated during our work in the framework of the Astana process to the Libyan realities. Of course, the parties on the ground are not always ready to talk to each other, to make concessions. However, it’s impossible to settle a conflict without compromises from all the sides. Therefore, we need a kind of external assistance to bring all Libyans together at a negotiating table and help them work out compromises based on a balance of interests for all Libyan people and a revival of the Libyan state.
The Libyan province of Sirte has been on the top agenda between internationally recognized GNA and Hafter forces. The GNA has been mobilizing to retake the key province to turn the tide in the war, what do you think will the current picture of the Libyan civil war look like in that case?
That is exactly what I was talking about. The developments in Libya remind me a pendulum. When one side is in the offensive being confident of its prompt victory it is reluctant to negotiate. However, one should acknowledge that the Libyan conflict cannot be resolved by military means. Of course, I am not a military expert but as far as I can judge if the Government of National Accord decides to assault the city of Sirte I doubt very much it has chances to succeed. Another surge of violence will only cause more victims, first of all – among civilians, and more destruction of socio-economic infrastructure. We must avoid it. What is really needed now is a Lybian-owned and Lybian-led peace process under the auspices of the UN. You will say that’s only a cliché but I will respond that it is a formula tested and verified by time, and not only in Astana, but in many other places.
So, in the current critical situation all parties that have influence on the conflicting Libyan sides should do their utmost in order to ensure a fast cessation of hostilities and launch meaningful negotiations. We will continue our contacts with countries that are interested in the stabilization in Libya as well as we will strive to consistently convince the Libyan protagonists to stop hoping for a military solution and engage in a political process instead. This is the approach that we always advocate during our contacts with representatives of the Libyan West and East. We see no alternative to political settlement under UN “umbrella”.
Question: Some foreign interveners, such as Egypt, have described Sirte and Jufra as their “red line”, how do you evaluate the level of foreign intervention in support of a warlord in Libya? Especially the UAE and Egypt have been strong defenders of Haftar.
But why speaking of “foreign interveners” you mention only those who support one side of the conflict? Another side also receives international support and the volumes of this aid, increasing from day to day, are really impressing. Some countries back Haftar, some countries stand by Sarraj and everyone strongly contest the legitimacy of the opposing side. I am far from the idea that such an attitude can bring peace and stability in the region. Just the opposite. The only way to a peaceful solution is an inclusive dialogue led and owned by the Libyans.
Question: The U.S. military command for Africa, Africom, recently claimed that Russia sent fighter jets to Libya to support Russian mercenaries fighting for putschist Haftar, what can you say about these statements of the U.S.?
When it comes to such local conflicts, you always face all kinds of speculations. Some actors lament over alleged “Russian fighter jets” in Libya, others express discontent with Turkish-made drones operating there. Let’s leave these statements on the conscience of those who wage such propaganda campaigns.
Question: Turkey on Friday opened the Hagia Sophia’s first prayers in 86 years, the decision was hailed by many countries while it was criticized mostly by western countries including Greece and the U.S. on the other side, what is Russia’s view in this regard?
We consider this matter to be a domestic affair of the Republic of Turkey. Meanwhile, taking into consideration the significant historical and spiritual importance of Hagia Sophia for Russian people our major concern is that our tourists are able to visit this monument, adore its grandeur and touch upon history contemplating its unique ages-old mosaics. History of our state is inseparably linked with Hagia Sophia. It was in this shrine as chronicles put it that Saint Olga, Princess of Russia, was baptized in the 10th century. The cathedral was always visited by pilgrims from Russia and they were always received here with hospitality. So, we hope that this unique monument will be preserved in accordance with international norms of world cultural heritage and access to it for our citizens will be ensured.
Question: Most recently, Turkey celebrated the 4th anniversary of thwarting a coup attempt by FETÖ trying to topple Ankara’s democratically elected government, this historic day has been commemorated throughout Turkey, yet the international community has largely remained silent in the face of this terror and international crime network’s threat, what is Russia’s stance regarding the July 15 failed coup attempt and FETÖ’s worldwide crime network as a terrorist organization?
Our stance was clearly set forth during the telephone conversation between our two leaders in the aftermath of these events. Vladimir Putin underscored Russia’s principal position that anti-constitutional actions and violence are categorically unacceptable in any country.
Question: Syria, which has been in deep economic problems, recently held elections that cannot be described as democratic, what can you say about this and how is the current level of relations between Moscow and the Bashar Assad in Damascus.
I agree with you, Syria is experiencing serious economic problems. But why do they happen? Wh ere they come from? The country, devastated by long-lasting civil war, in need of economic help for the post-conflict reconstruction, is now living under inhuman sanctions imposed by the so-called “democratic world” denying lifesaving aid to Syrians. These coercive measures seriously undermine not only the socio-economic situation in Syria, but also impede activities of many humanitarian NGOs that are ready to help the population in territories controlled by Syrian official authorities. So-called “humanitarian exemptions” from a sanctions regime simply do not work. This is confirmed by humanitarian workers themselves. Sanctions have a “paralyzing effect”, as NGOs and third countries are scared of being sanctioned if they join efforts with authorities in Damascus.
Such sanction policy being far from reaching its aim as the cases of Iran, Russia and Turkey show, may only exacerbate the situation and trigger a new influx of migrants coming to Europe. Therefore, we repeatedly call the international community to get rid of phobias, rise above one-sided political views and combine efforts to reconstruct the country.
As far as parliamentary elections are concerned, they were held in accordance with the acting laws, be them good or bad. Dura lex, sed lex. We firmly believe that stable functioning of state institutes on the basis of legislation in force is in the interest of all the Syrians. Some countries do not hold elections at all and nobody criticizes them for the lack of democracy.
Concerning our bilateral relations with Syria Russia keeps on delivering humanitarian aid to Syrians. The bilateral Intergovernmental Commission continues functioning, various agreements that enable Russian investments to come into the energy, transport and other spheres finally aiminig at reconstruction of infrastructure in this worn-torn country were signed.
Question: Russia recently voted for the closure of the remaining border crossings to enable humanitarian aid to Syrians in need, which the international community as well as humanitarian groups heavily criticized, what was the main reason and motivation for Moscow’s decision in this manner?
Our voting reflects Russia’s principle position on the Cross-Border Aid Delivery (CBM). The mechanism was established in 2014, when the aid to certain parts of Syria could not be delivered from within the country. Since then the situation has changed. The Government of Syria has restored its control over the most part of the country’s territory. It means that humanitarian assistance can and must be delivered in accordance with the principles of the resolution 46/182 and international humanitarian law.
Meanwhile, it is not correct to say that all border crossings are now closed. The resolution excluded only the crossing-point “Bab As-Salam” covering only 14% of all CBM deliveries from outside Syria. At the same time, the Security Council extended the work of the CBM through “Bab Al-Hawa” crossing-point for another 12 months. As a result, regular provision of humanitarian aid to this area of Syria will be continued.
We repeatedly underscored that the existing mechanism of the CBM in Syria does not reflect the requirements of the international humanitarian law. The UN still has no presence in Idlib de-escalation zone which is largely controlled by international terrorists and fighters. Therefore it’s impossible to control how humanitarian assistance is delivered and who are its final beneficiaries. It’s not a secret that the terrorist groups, listed as such by the UN Security Council, control certain areas of the de-escalation zone and use the UN humanitarian aid as a tool to exert pressure on civil population and openly make profit from such deliveries. Direct as well as indirect proofs of these acts are becoming more and more numerous.
Moreover, the cross-border mechanism was used by some external players as a tool to freeze dividing lines in Syria thus jeopardizing the territorial integrity of Syria breaking apart its regions. It contradicts the principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial unity of the Syrian Arab Republic, which has been repeatedly confirmed in the Security Council resolutions. We remember how vehemently a number of our colleagues tried to oppose the closure of the “Al Yarubiyah” border crossing last January, which provided humanitarian deliveries to the north-east of Syria in the framework of the CBM. They consistently misled the international community claiming that there were no other ways to help civilian population in that area. As it turned out, this was just a political game. After the closure of “Al Yarubiyah” the Syrian government expressed its readiness to promptly coordinate the deliveries of UN humanitarian aid from Damascus and it turned out that in total, since the beginning of 2020 when “Al Yarubiyah” was closed, more humanitarian aid has been delivered to the north-east of Syria than in previous years, including through the aforementioned border crossing.The Syrian Government has confirmed its readiness to provide cross-line humanitarian supplies to the Idlib de-escalation zone. However, these efforts are hindered. We urgently call the UN to arrange and increase the deliveries to all parts of Syria from within the country, including to Idlib.