US troops must immediately shut down their zone of control in Southern Syria in the area of Al-Tanf, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, speaking at Valdai Club conference on Middle East in Moscow.
The area on Syria’s border with Jordan, which Washington designated as a “de-confliction zone” under its protection, hosts the Rukban refugee camp, Lavrov said on Monday. Russia believes the camp to be a recruiting ground for militant groups and blames the US for restricting humanitarian access to it.
“This zone must be shut down immediately. And deliveries of humanitarian aid must be allowed into the camp,” the minister said.
Lavrov added that efforts aimed at reducing violence in south-western Syria, in an area that Russia designated as a “de-escalation zone,” now must focus on pushing out all non-Syrian troops from that region.
“We negotiated the creation of this zone with Jordan and the US and it’s not a secret that our Israeli colleagues were informed about what we discussed,” he said. Israel accuses Iran of using proxy forces to seize control of parts of southern Syria, and has threatened to use military force to reverse the situation.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has described reports that hundreds of Russians have been killed in Syria as speculation. “The stuff we read about hundreds and even thousands of killed Russian mercenaries are attempts to indulge in speculation on the war that, regrettably, is continuing in Syria,” Lavrov said on Monday. He was speaking on the sidelines of a conference of the international-discussion club, Valdai, which is entitled ‘Russia in the Middle East: Playing on All Fields.’ He added: “These attempts are not very appropriate, to say the least.” According to the foreign minister, “tensions are being fanned over fake news without specific facts being presented.” He said that an investigation is under way. President Bashar Assad’s adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, was quoted by RIA Novosti on Monday as saying that information on the killing of Russian citizens in Syria is propaganda by Western media.
Putin’s Syrian dilemma: Back Israel or Iran? https://t.co/SZ14dW3w1t— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) 2018年2月19日
EU’s demands for the Balkan states to choose between the West or Russia are counterproductive and only increase tensions on the European continent, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Serbia’s Beta news agency.
Ukraine was presented with same dilemma, Lavrov said, which “eventually led to a fracture in the Ukrainian society and state; caused an unconstitutional coup (in 2014) and the rise of radicals, including Neo-Nazis, in the internal political affairs of the country.”
“Now they want to drag the Balkans into this same game, making them choose whether they are with the West or with Russia,” he warned.
The EU’s Balkan expansion plan foresees the inclusion of both Serbia and Montenegro into the bloc by 2025 if the countries meet certain conditions. Among other things, Belgrade is required to normalize relations with Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and bring its foreign policy into line with those of the EU.
The European Union’s demands for Serbia to accept the anti-Russian component of the bloc’s foreign policy are “sad and upsetting,” Lavrov said ahead of his visit to Belgrade. This approach by Brussels “contradicts all our joint statements made after the Cold War ended… that one shouldn’t strengthen one’s own security at the expense of others. This is what they are trying to do, as I have said, by working to integrate the Balkans into the policy of dividing lines; the policy of surrounding Russia with the military infrastructure of NATO.”
“This is a manifestation of the same philosophy and mentality that contributes to the tensions in Europe; that guided those who were expanding NATO and made Ukraine and European countries choose whether they are with the West or with Russia. It is a wicked practice,” the FM said.
Countries like Russia, China and Turkey want to work in the region on an “open, constructive basis, but we see attempts by the US and the EU to introduce anti-Russian elements in its Balkan policy,” he said. According to the minister, Russian diplomats never tell their counterparts that they shouldn’t make friends with the West. “But Washington and some European capitals send their emissaries to the Balkans with a specific message: ‘Do not be friends with Russia; refuse cooperation with it in all possible areas.’”
At the same time, Lavrov pointed out that Russia does not “see any risks in the desire of the nations of the Balkan region and other countries on the European continent to develop relations with the EU, including joining it. They are presented with the terms of entry and they themselves must decide how satisfactory those conditions are and how they match their national interests.”
Serbian aspirations to join the EU have been discussed with the country’s President, Aleksandar Vucic, and “he never said that it would be done at the expense of Russia. On the contrary, he stressed that the Russian vector of the foreign policy and cooperation would remain very important for Serbia. I am sure that this is in the interest of the Serbian people,” Russia’s top diplomat said.
Lavrov went on to praise the “pragmatic approach” of the Serbian authorities, which is aimed at taking advantage of connections “both in the West and the East.”
“One shouldn’t think about creating closed alliances, be it in military, political or economic spheres. We need to look at things beyond the four-year horizon until the next election in this or that European country, and see perspective. That perspective, I think, is a very positive one, if we are all guided by interest in joint work, for the benefit of our own citizens in each individual country and on the European continent as a whole. It seems to me that this is what the Serbian leadership’s approach comes from,” he said.