Posts Tagged ‘Sergei Lavrov’

After Military Push in Syria, Russia Plays Both Sides in Libya

June 7, 2018

Kremlin-backed businessman befriends Tripoli government while Moscow shows support for its powerful opponent


Forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, who has received Russian backing and dominates much of Libya’s east, prepare for military operations in April. ABDULLAH DOMA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—When Russia welcomed a Libyan warlord aboard its aircraft carrier last year, it looked like the Kremlin was throwing its weight behind a rival to the United Nations-backed government in the North African country.

But by that time a Russian businessman was already one year along on a quieter Kremlin-backed mission to court the official administration in Tripoli.

The envoy’s pursuits have confuted expectations that Moscow could give Khalifa Haftar, armed forces chief of the second of Libya’s two rival governments, the kind of decisive military clout that turned the tide in Syria in favor of leader Bashar al-Assad.

Instead, Russia has staked a foothold in Libya’s future by cultivating allies on opposing sides of the conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shows the way to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, center, during a meeting in Moscow in August.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shows the way to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, center, during a meeting in Moscow in August. PHOTO: SERGEI KARPUKHIN/REUTERS

“We haven’t placed a bet on one player,” said Lev Dengov, the 34-year-old businessman who has spearheaded the Kremlin’s strategy in Libya. Leaders of the Tripoli government are now regular visitors to Russia, and Russian companies are exploring businesses opportunities in Libya.

Moscow’s efforts have extended its reach from the Middle East to North Africa and made it a central player in the resource-rich country.

While the U.S. is rival to Russia for influence in Syria, President Donald Trump said in April 2017 that he saw no role for the U.S. in Libya beyond combating Islamic State. Since then the U.S. has supported U.N. peace efforts and focused on counterterrorism, including airstrikes against militant groups.

Leaders of Libya’s warring political factions, including Fayez Sarraj, prime minister of the Tripoli government, and Mr. Haftar, who controls much of eastern Libya, set a path to elections later this year at a meeting in Paris on May 29. Moscow said it supports international mediation efforts.

Libya remains the main route for waves of undocumented migrants bound for Europe via the Mediterranean. Islamic State and other extremist groups that target Europe are ensconced in lawless areas throughout Libya.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala said in an interview that the Tripoli government wanted Russia to take on a bigger role. “We want a balance between the external players,” he said.

Mr. Dengov’s role in Libya highlights how businessmen sometimes work to further the Kremlin’s power while advancing their own interests, goals that are often intertwined.

The Soviet Union had close ties to longtime Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi, which Russian leader Vladimir Putin sought to rekindle on a visit in 2008 that brought billions of dollars in arms, oil and rail contracts.

Mr. Dengov said he began visiting Libya that year. Through various business projects he built relations with officials in Gadhafi’s administration, some of whom are now serving in rival governments, he said.

Lev Dengov, who has built ties for Moscow with the Libyan government in Tripoli, speaks at a May conference in St. Petersburg, where he encouraged Russian countries to invest in Libya.
Lev Dengov, who has built ties for Moscow with the Libyan government in Tripoli, speaks at a May conference in St. Petersburg, where he encouraged Russian countries to invest in Libya. PHOTO: DMITRI BELIAKOV FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

During the uprising in 2011 that took down the regime, Russia initially didn’t object to airstrikes by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization against Gadhafi’s forces. But after Gadhafi was captured and killed, Mr. Putin accused the U.S. and its allies of overstepping their mandate.

Mr. Haftar, a Soviet-trained former commander in Gadhafi’s military, had turned against the Libyan ruler and lived for two decades in exile in the U.S. before joining the uprising.

In 2014, he led a military campaign that he said was aimed at ridding the country of terrorists, bringing together disparate militias to take control of a swath of eastern Libya, including most of the country’s main oil-exporting ports.

At the end of that year, Mr. Dengov was made head of a diplomatic outreach to Libya under the supervision of the Russian Foreign Ministry and Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of the predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya in southern Russia.

Mr. Kadyrov, an ally of Mr. Putin, is a central figure in Russia’s efforts in the Middle East, where he has myriad contacts and significant sway, Mr. Dengov said.

After Mr. Dengov arranged for a delegation led by Mr. Haftar’s son to visit Russia in 2015, Moscow started providing support. Ignoring protests from Tripoli, Russia printed Libyan currency in 2016 for the government allied with Mr. Haftar. As well as his trip on the warship, Mr. Haftar visited Moscow in 2016 and 2017.

A U.S. official said Russia had furnished Mr. Haftar’s forces with weapons and military advisers. Russia has denied this, saying it abides by a U.N. arms embargo. A spokesman for Mr. Haftar didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Russian government sought to build international support for Mr. Haftar, including in the Trump administration. He has gained backing from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates—though both endorsed the plan to hold national elections.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dengov was working in Tripoli with a lower profile. One of his first tasks was to wrangle the release of 11 Russian sailors held over alleged oil smuggling. He succeeded, bringing them out in three groups in 2015 and 2016.

Libya’s opposing parties agreed at a meeting in Paris on May 29 to hold national elections in December. Participants included, from left: Khalifa Haftar and his ally Aguila Saleh from the leadership in eastern Libya, Fayez Sarraj, prime minister in the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, and Khaled Mishri, the recently elected head of the High State Council, an advisory body based in Tripoli.
Libya’s opposing parties agreed at a meeting in Paris on May 29 to hold national elections in December. Participants included, from left: Khalifa Haftar and his ally Aguila Saleh from the leadership in eastern Libya, Fayez Sarraj, prime minister in the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, and Khaled Mishri, the recently elected head of the High State Council, an advisory body based in Tripoli. PHOTO: ETIENNE LAURENT/PRESS POOL

To build trust, Mr. Dengov said, he also worked to dispel the image of Russia as siding with Mr. Haftar. “When we came to Tripoli, they said: ‘You are with Haftar,’” he said. “We offered them friendship.”

“The Russians realized they have to diversify their contacts,” said Frederic Wehrey, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They sense an opportunity to play the role of a power broker.”

Russia’s reputation in Tripoli has been burnished, Mr. Dengov said, by the success of Mr. Putin’s military backing for Mr. Assad in Syria, which Moscow portrays as support for a legitimate government.

“People see that Russia is confident in the steps it takes. In Libya, they saw that our leader was a person who could take autonomous decisions,” said Mr. Dengov.

Mr. Dengov heads the Russian-Libyan Trade House, formed in 2017 by businessmen from the two countries to increase economic links. Russia is interested in reviving old deals made under Mr. Gadhafi, including in oil exploration and the construction of a railway line, and exploring new areas, such as agriculture and information technology, he said.

Mr. Dengov uses his contacts to help Russian companies establish connections in Libya and arranging security for visiting executives.

“We can use business to build up relations,” he said.

Russian state oil giant PAO Rosneft began purchasing crude from Libya’s state oil firm last year.

A delegation of Libyan security-service officials came to Moscow to meet Russian counterparts in April, Mr. Dengov said. Mr. Siala, the foreign minister, visited Russia twice in May, most recently for an economic forum in St. Petersburg where he appeared on a panel with Mr. Dengov and encouraged Russian companies to invest.

Mr. Siala didn’t indicate concern about Russia’s relations with Mr. Haftar. “Anyhow we are happy now that Russia is giving the same footing of importance for all the Libyans and all the political players,” he said in the interview.

Mr. Dengov is also making efforts to extend Tripoli’s influence in Libya’s oil-rich south by brokering peace at a local level. In November, he said, he met with tribes in the town of Ubari in the lawless region and persuaded them to align with Mr. Sarraj’s government in return for recognition of their municipal government.

On the panel in St. Petersburg, Mr. Dengov described efforts to convince disparate local groups of the value of having a Russian company invest in an oilfield, without giving further details.

“Political and economic links are inseparable,” he said.

Write to James Marson at


Russia Says Only Syrian Army Should Be on Country’s Southern Border With Israel

May 28, 2018

Russia gives some military direction to Iran — Get off the Syria-Israel border…

Israel believes Russia may agree to withdrawing Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from Israel-Syria border

.Russian President Vladimir Putin with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, May 17, 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, May 17, 2018Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that only Syrian government troops should have a presence on the country’s southern border which is close to Jordan and Israel, the RIA news agency reported.

Lavrov was cited as making the comments at a joint news conference in Moscow with Jose Condungua Pacheco, his counterpart from Mozambique.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the Knesset Monday, saying that “there is no room for any Iranian military presence in any part of Syria.”

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that “these things, of course, reflect not only our position, I can safely say that they reflect the positions of others in the Middle East and beyond the Middle East.”

On Sunday, Haaretz reported that Israeli political and military officials believe Russia is willing to discuss a significant distancing of Iranian forces and allied Shi’ite militias from the Israel-Syria border, according to Israeli officials.

Russia recently renewed efforts to try to get the United States involved in agreements that would stabilize Syria. The Russians might be willing to remove the Iranians from the Israeli border, though not necessarily remove the forces linked to them from the whole country.

Last November, Russia and the United States, in coordination with Jordan, forged an agreement to decrease the possibility of friction in southern Syria, after the Assad regime defeated rebel groups in the center of the country. Israel sought to keep the Iranians and Shi’ite militias at least 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights, east of the Damascus-Daraa road (or, according to another version, east of the Damascus-Suwayda road, about 70 kilometers from the border).

According to Israeli intelligence, in Syria there are now around 2,000 Iranian officers and advisers, members of the Revolutionary Guards, around 9,000 Shi’ite militiamen from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and around 7,000 Hezbollah fighters. Israel believes that the Americans are now in a good position to reach a more effective arrangement in Syria in coordination with the Russians under the slogan “Without Iran and without ISIS.”

FILE – Iran's Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, in Aleppo, Syria, in photo provided October 20, 2017
FILE – Iran’s Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, left, in Aleppo, Syria, in photo provided October 20, 2017/AP

The United States warned Syria on Friday it would take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to ceasefire violations, saying it was concerned about reports of an impending military operation in a de-escalation zone in the country’s southwest.

Washington also cautioned Assad against broadening the conflict.

“As a guarantor of this de-escalation area with Russia and Jordan, the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Assad regime violations,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement late on Friday.

A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported on Wednesday that Syrian government forces fresh from their victory this week against an Islamic State pocket in south Damascus were moving into the southern province of Deraa.

Syrian state-run media have reported that government aircraft have dropped leaflets on rebel-held areas in Deraa urging fighters to disarm.

The U.S. warning comes weeks after a similar attack on a de-escalation zone in northeastern Syria held by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. U.S. ground and air forces repelled the more than four-hour attack, killing perhaps as many as 300 pro-Assad militia members, many of them Russian mercenaries.

Backed by Russian warplanes, ground forces from Iran and allied militia, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have helped Assad drive rebels from Syria’s biggest cities, putting him in an unassailable military position.

Iran FM heads to Brussels on final leg of nuclear deal saving tour

May 15, 2018

Iran’s foreign minister is due to land in Brussels later Tuesday on the final leg of a global tour rallying diplomatic support for the country’s nuclear deal after the Trump administration’s abrupt withdrawal.

Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany — the three European nations involved in the landmark deal who are incensed by Washington’s abandonment of the pact.

© POOL/AFP | Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is headed to Brussels after meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov


After long negotiations, Iran agreed in July 2015 to freeze its nuclear programme in return for the repeal of punishing international sanctions.

But last week US President Donald Trump announced he was leaving the deal and reimposing sanctions.

Zarif’s has since embarked on a whirlwind global tour, visiting both Russia and China, the two other signatory nations, in a bid to bolster support.

Washington’s decision to go against its European allies’ advice and abandon the deal has pushed them closer to Beijing and Moscow as diplomats scramble to keep the pact alive.

“The agreement with Iran is working, we must do our utmost to preserve it,” Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini, told AFP ahead of Zarif’s arrival.

Iran has said it is preparing to resume “industrial-scale” uranium enrichment “without any restrictions” unless Europe can provide solid guarantees that it can maintain trade ties despite renewed US sanctions.

On Monday Zarif met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, a day after visiting leaders in Beijing.

“The final aim of these negotiations is to seek assurances that the interests of the Iranian nation will be defended,” Zarif said at the start of a meeting.

After the talks, Zarif praised the “excellent cooperation” between Moscow and Tehran and said Lavrov had promised him to “defend and keep the agreement”.

Lavrov, for his part, said Russia and Europe had a duty to “jointly defend their legal interests” in terms of the deal.

– ‘Malign behaviour’ –

On Monday Zarif also sent a letter to the United Nations in which he accused the US of showing a “complete disregard for international law” in pulling out of the deal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about efforts to save the accord, after voicing his “deep concern” over Trump’s decision.

And on Monday Putin met Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, telling him that Russia was “ready to continue to uphold the Iran nuclear deal despite the withdrawal of the United States”.

Analyst say Trump’s move to ditch the nuclear deal has brought Europe, Moscow and Beijing together.

“(European) cooperation with Russia, which until recently seemed impossible because of the Skripal (spy poisoning) case, with the expulsion of diplomats and the reduction of contact, is now receiving a fresh boost,” said Andrei Baklitsky of the Moscow-based PIR Center nuclear safety NGO.

“The Europeans, after the withdrawal of the US from the deal, have found themselves forced to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action themselves,” he told AFP, referring to the official name of the nuclear deal.

Moscow would have to play a key role in ensuring Tehran does not resume its nuclear programme, he added.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington still wants to work with Europe to counter Iran’s “malign behaviour” and was working hard to thrash out a more wide-ranging deal with its European partners.

But while he talked up the prospect of renewed coordination with America’s allies, another top aide reminded Europe its companies could face sanctions if they continue to do business with the Middle Eastern power.

Russian efforts to save the accord will boost its role as a power player in the Middle East, after its intervention on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

This, along with its diplomatic moves to orchestrate an end to the Syrian conflict, has put Moscow at loggerheads with the US and Europe, which have intervened against the regime.

Merkel is set to visit Russia and meet Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, while French President Emmanuel Macron will be in Saint Petersburg later this month for an economic forum.


Russian companies to benefit from US Iran withdrawal — “Russia can now go ahead at full speed.”

May 12, 2018

While Russia has condemned Washington for its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Moscow remains less exposed to the economic consequences of US sanctions than Europe and its companies could even benefit from the move.

Russia and Iran -- whose foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov and Mohammad Javad Zarif met in Moscow in April -- had sought to strengthen business ties long before the 2015 nuclear agreement, despite international sanctions
Russia and Iran — whose foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov and Mohammad Javad Zarif met in Moscow in April — had sought to strengthen business ties long before the 2015 nuclear agreement, despite international sanctions (AFP Photo/Alexander NEMENOV)

“The deal and the lifting of sanctions in 2015 marked the return of European business to Iran. But it’s unlikely they can keep doing business today, giving room to Russia,” said independent political scientist Vladimir Sotnikov.

“Russia can now go ahead at full speed,” he added.

Russia and Iran once had difficult relations, but have seen ties improve since the end of the Cold War.

While Tehran was shunned by the international community in the 1990s, Moscow agreed to resume the construction of the Bushehr Iranian nuclear plant that Germany had abandoned.

Russia and Iran sought to strengthen their business ties long before the 2015 agreement, despite international sanctions in place.

“European companies are more exposed to the US market, they must comply not to get into trouble. The Russians are less (exposed) and have less to lose,” said Igor Delanoe, an analyst at the Franco-Russian Observatory group.

He added that Russian companies continued to work in Iran “without any fuss” even when the sanctions were in place.

“They are used to working within legal and economic constraints. The US has systematically forced Iran to turn more towards Russia and China.”

The situation could revitalise Russian-Iranian economic ties that have been losing ground in recent years despite the involvement of Russian nuclear and oil giants in the Middle Eastern country.

According to Delanoe, bilateral trade amounted to $1.7 billion in 2017, down 20 percent from the previous year and well below the more than $3 billion in the late 2000s.

– Moscow ‘is not scared’ –

On a visit to Tehran on Thursday, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said the two countries intended to continue “all round economic cooperation.”

“We are not scared of sanctions,” Ryabkov said.

This echoes statements from China, which has also said it wanted to continue normal business ties with Iran and is currently financing multi billion dollar infrastructure and electricity projects in the country.

“Russia wants to sell steel, transport infrastructure and other manufactured goods to Iran. The less competition from the US and the EU, the better,” said Charlie Robertson, an analyst at Renaissance Capital.

Igor Delanoe said that Russia had a “real role to play” in Iran’s energy and electricity sectors.

Another positive sign for the Russian economy is the rise in oil prices, which rose to their highest level since 2014 after the US withdrawal from the Iran deal.

Analysts at Russia’s Alfa Bank said the current tensions should maintain oil prices at a high level, which they called a “great relief for the Russian market.”

For the Russian state, whose finances remain highly dependent on natural resources, this is a significant source of income at a time when President Vladimir Putin is beginning his fourth Kremlin term with promises of developing Russia’s economy and reducing poverty.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev assessed the cost of Putin’s long term goals at more than 100 billion euros.


Iran’s biggest trading partner is China:

See also:

Russia seeks to mediate between Iran, Israel

Iran turns to diplomacy amid high regional tensions

May 11, 2018

Iran’s foreign minister will embark on a diplomatic tour to try to salvage the nuclear deal amid high tensions following the US withdrawal and global fears over reports of unprecedented clashes with Israel in Syria.

© AFP / by Eric Randolph | Map of Syria locating the main Israeli strikes on Thursday, the Iranian presence and the rocket attacks attributed to Iran by Israel.


Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will leave late Saturday for visits to Beijing, Moscow and Brussels, a spokesman said Friday, holding meetings with all five of the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Image result for Javad Zarif, photos

Iran appeared determined not to be drawn into a wider regional conflict with Israel during the sensitive negotiations.

That is despite Israel’s claims that it struck dozens of Iranian targets inside Syria early on Thursday as part of “Operation House of Cards”.

Israeli Defence Minister Minister Avigdor Lieberman urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “throw the Iranians out” from his country.

Israel said the strikes were in response to a missile volley fired from southern Syria by Iran’s Al-Quds force, that struck the occupied Golan Heights without causing casualties.

But Iran flatly denied the Israeli version of events on Friday, saying Israel’s attacks were carried out on false “pretexts”.

“The repeated attacks by the Zionist regime on Syrian territory were carried out under pretexts that were invented by themselves and are without foundation,” said foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, without offering further details.

Iran must tread a delicate line as it seeks to show resolve against Trump and the Israeli strikes without alienating the European partners it needs to salvage something from the nuclear deal.

Zarif will hold high-pressure talks with the other parties to the deal, first in Beijing and Moscow, and then with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany in Brussels on Tuesday.

All five have condemned Trump’s move to walk out of the deal and reimpose crippling sanctions, but European companies in particular will be highly vulnerable to economic pressure from Washington.

France still hopes for a wider settlement that will cover Iran’s activities across the Middle East, and warned Tehran on Thursday “against any temptation for regional dominance”.

President Hassan Rouhani told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone call late Thursday that he did not want “new tensions” in the Middle East.

– Fog of war –

Southern Syria was quiet but tense early Friday, with monitors saying that Syrian, Iranian and allied Lebanese forces from Hezbollah were still on high alert.

The Israeli raids had prompted concern that Iran could activate its powerful ally Hezbollah to retaliate from its positions in southern Lebanon, opening up a deadly new front in the conflict.

It remained unclear exactly what had happened between Syria and Israel in the early hours of Thursday.

A conflict monitor said Israel’s strikes had killed 23 fighters.

Iranian analysts said Israel had struck first, and that any retaliation was the work of the Syrian military, not Iran.

“The Israelis want to make this into an Iran-Israel thing, but it isn’t. Whatever happens in Syria happens under the command of the Syrians,” said analyst Mohammad Marandi, who was part of Iran’s negotiation team leading up to the nuclear deal.

Analysts say Israel feels it has a green light from Washington to move more aggressively against Iran’s presence in Syria, particularly after Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

Iran has said it will stay in the deal only if the remaining members — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — can provide solid guarantees that its trade benefits will continue in spite of renewed US sanctions.

Russia — which is alone in having close relations with both Iran and Israel — has sought to position itself as a mediator to prevent all-out war.

Its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said “all issues should be solved through dialogue” and that it had warned Israel to avoid “all actions that could be seen as provocative”.

However, one analyst at London’s Chatham House, Yossi Mekelberg, told AFP the strikes on Iranian targets “were likely undertaken with tacit Russian approval”.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, suit

“Russia is not happy with Iran gaining too much power, too much influence there,” he said.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that intelligence officials briefed ministers on Thursday and told them another clash with Iran in Syria was unlikely after the intensity of the strikes the night before.

But the paper also warned in an editorial: “It would be better not to get caught up now in the self-assured arrogant spiral evident in the reactions in some television studios, at the Knesset and on social media… Tehran could nevertheless roll out its heavier weapon, Hezbollah, in which case the conflict could take on an entirely different scope.”


China is Iran’s biggest trading partner.


See also:

Russia seeks to mediate between Iran, Israel

China and Russia will block any attempts to “sabotage” the Iran nuclear agreement

April 23, 2018
“There are attempts to interfere with the international order upon which the United Nations depends,” Lavrov said after talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.
© POOL/AFP | Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) speaks during his press conference with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

BEIJING (AFP) – China and Russia will block any attempts to “sabotage” the Iran nuclear agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday, as US President Donald Trump mulls whether to scrap the deal.Trump has set a May 12 deadline to “fix” the 2015 accord, which curbs Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief and was the fruit of intense diplomacy involving the US, European powers, Russia and China.

“There are attempts to interfere with the international order upon which the United Nations depends,” Lavrov said after talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.

“We said clearly with China that we will stop attempts to sabotage these agreements that were passed in a UN Security Council resolution,” Lavrov said.

He was speaking on the eve of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional security bloc spearheaded by Moscow and Beijing.

Calling the Iran agreement “one of the biggest achievements in international diplomacy in recent times”, Lavrov said that “revising this document is unacceptable”.

Trump has threatened to abandon the accord unless European capitals agree to supplement it with tougher controls on Iran’s missile programme and its future ability to enrich nuclear fuel.

His partners maintain that implementation of the agreement under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best way to prevent Tehran from seeking an atomic bomb.

Iran warned Saturday it was ready to “vigorously” resume nuclear enrichment if the United States ditches the deal.

Turkey declares once and for all: Assad regime must go

April 12, 2018

Daily Sabah

A Syrian child receives treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, April 4, 2017.

A Syrian child receives treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, April 4, 2017.

Ankara has insisted that Assad’s removal from Syria and the elimination of all terror groups are necessary for peace to be established in the war-torn country

The time has come for the Bashar Assad regime in Syria to go, Turkish officials said yesterday after the deadly chemical attacks by the regime in the Eastern Ghouta and Douma districts, and the U.S. vowing to strike regime targets in Syria. “The Assad regime must leave Syria. This is not the first time the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. It has killed nearly 1 million people with airstrikes and barrel bombs,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said at an event organized by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Ankara.

On April 8, the White Helmets organization in Eastern Ghouta alleged that Syrian regime forces carried out a chemical attack on targets in the Damascus suburb’s Douma district that left dozens of civilians dead. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted a resolution on Feb. 24, calling for a month-long cease-fire in Syria, especially in Eastern Ghouta, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid. Despite the resolution, the regime and its allies early this month launched a major ground offensive backed by Russian air power to capture opposition-held parts of Eastern Ghouta. “[Assad] must leave the county and a transition to political process must began,” Çavuşoğlu added.

He added that the attempts to establish a permanent solution, “such as the Astana and Sochi processes,” must be put to work effectively, and the country must prepare for transparent elections in a very short time. “It is important to hold a transparent election under the U.N.’s roof. We do not want to see blood and tears in Syria anymore,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Since the breakout of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the Turkish government has maintained that the ultimate solution to finding the peace in the war-torn country is to replace Bashar Assad and establish a new political environment that will be mediated by the United Nations and be an inclusive entity.

Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli also said that Assad’s removal and clearing Syria of terror groups are two conditions that must be established for peace in Syria to prevail. “Clearing Syria of all terror groups and withdrawal of the regime. If these two parameters had been established by now, peace would have been established by now, and none of these [chemical attacks] would have happened,” Canikli said in a televised interview yesterday.

Canikli said both Russia and the U.S. are on the wrong side in Syria. “One supports terror elements, supporting the PKK/PYD/YPG, and they act with them in Syria. And the other one supports the Assad regime, which is the reason behind the murders of hundreds of thousands of Syrians,” he added.

Assad’s removal was a non-negotiable condition for Turkey in planning Syria’s future from the beginning of the conflict. However, U.S. support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), made Turkish governments focus on elimination of the group from northern Syria. The growing influence of the YPG in northern Syria triggered the Turkish military to launch Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 in Syria’s northwestern Afrin province. The Afrin operation, which was conducted by Turkish armed and air forces, as well as the Free Syrian Army, was also coordinated with Russia, the main backer of the Assad regime. While Russia provided heavy military support to Assad, his presence in leading the regime has been a matter of disagreement between Ankara and Moscow. Yet, Turkey and Russia, as well as Moscow, have been able to find a common ground in establishing ceasefire and de-escalation zones in parts of Syria, through several meetings the leaders held in what has been known as the Astana agreement and Sochi talks.

‘Turkey to remain in Afrin as long as threats exist’

Defense Minister Canikli also responded to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments, suggesting to return Afrin to regime control, saying that Turkey is in Afrin to eliminate terror threats posed to its national security. “As long as the risk and threats continue, we have to remain in Afrin. We must do this for the security of our country,” Canikli said.

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey was coordinating with Russia during the Olive Branch operation’s first phase, which was clearing the terrorists. “The second phase of operation is to ensure the safe returns of locals and bringing stability. We have no interest in Syrian soil,” Çavuşoğlu added.

The foreign minister underlined that due to the ambiguous relations between the regime and the YPG, returning Afrin to the Assad regime is not an option.

“One day the regime fights with the YPG, the next day they get along. There are many strange things happening on the field in Syria. Groups fighting each other today, can be selling weapons to each other tomorrow,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Turkey sees the presence of the YPG in northern Syria as a terror threat to its national security, as the YPG is organically linked to the PKK, a group that has been listed as a terror organization by the U.S., the EU and Turkey. Ankara has also vowed to eliminate the YPG from northern Syria’s Manbij and eastern parts of the Euphrates River, currently under the control of the U.S.-backed group.

Turkish, French FMs to meet about PKK-linked SDF

Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu also said that he would hold a meeting with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian over President Emmanuel Macron’s offer to mediate talks with the SDF, on request of the French side.

He said the two ministers had originally planned to meet earlier but couldn’t because of their busy schedules.

The meeting comes after a diplomatic crisis erupted over France’s offer to mediate between Turkey and the U.S.-backed SDF, which is dominated by the YPG.

President Macron’s meeting offer with the SDF was branded as “unacceptable” by Turkey with Çavuşoğlu saying it showed France’s “double standard” on terrorist groups and calling on Paris to take a clear stance against all of forms of terror.

Era of preposterous lies: Russian FM threatens to ‘hit back’ at Britain over spy poisoning — Russia has “chosen to be a strategic competitor.” — “Use of chemical weapons shows disdain for international law and norms.”

March 21, 2018

Image result for photos, lavrov and zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. REUTERS – Sergei Karpukhin FILE PHOTO

TOKYO (AFP) – Russia’s foreign minister threatened Wednesday to retaliate against Britain for “anti-Russian measures”, with the two countries at loggerheads over the poisoning of a spy in southern England.

Speaking after a meeting with Japanese counterpart Taro Kono, Lavrov said: “If the British government continues taking some anti-Russian measures, we will hit back under the principle of reciprocity.”

Lavrov urged the British government to “respond calmly” over the March 4 attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who remain in critical condition.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has long been part of Putin’s inner circle.  — AFP File PHOTO

Britain says only Russia had the capability, motive and intent to be behind the attack, which used the nerve agent Novichok reportedly developed by the former Soviet Union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed this as “nonsense”.

Britain reacted by expelling 23 Russian diplomats and their families — around 80 people in total — and has also cut off high-level contacts.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said London was “actively considering” other measures.

On Tuesday, the head of the OPCW chemical watchdog said it would take two to three weeks to complete laboratory analysis of samples taken from the poisoning.

The affair has poisoned Russia’s already shaky relations with many Western countries.

The EU has expressed its solidarity with Britain and leaders at a summit later this week will agree to “coordinate on the consequences” for Russia, according to a draft statement seen by AFP.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis suggested on Tuesday that Moscow’s suspected involvement shows Russia has “chosen to be a strategic competitor.”

However, President Donald Trump skipped the issue when congratulating Putin on his re-election and proposed a summit in the “not-too-distant future.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced “outrage” over the attack in a call to May, according to her office.

Skripal, 66, a former Russian officer who sold secrets to Britain and moved there in a 2010 spy swap, remains in a coma along with his 33-year-old daughter after they were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury.


A police cordon outside the Mill pub in Salisbury, Wiltshire, Britain, 19 March 2018, where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, had a drink. EPA-EFE

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the OPCW chemical watchdog said Tuesday that it will take two to three weeks to complete laboratory analysis of samples taken from the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

A team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has arrived in Britain to collect samples of what London says was the Soviet-made nerve agent Novichok.

Russia has denied any involvement in the March 4 attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who remain in critical condition in the English city of Salisbury.

OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu said the samples will be sent to the organization’s main laboratory in The Hague and then to designated labs for analysis.

It will take “another two to three weeks to finalize the analysis,” Uzumcu told reporters.

Asked whether the analysis would be able to determine whether the agent was Novichok, Uzumcu said he did not want to prejudge the outcome of the scientific work.

The OPCW chief was in New York to brief the United Nations Security Council on chemical weapons use in Syria, but he also touched on the Salisbury attack during the closed-door meeting. –AFP

Russia to expel British diplomats soon, foreign minister says

March 15, 2018

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said British allegations of Russian’s involvement in the attack were unacceptable. (Reuters)
MOSCOW/LONDON: Russia will soon expel British diplomats in retaliation for Britain’s decision to kick out 23 Russian envoys over a chemical attack on a former Russian double agent, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.
In London, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson ratcheted up the rhetoric against Russia, accusing it of glorying in the attack on Sergei Skripal, which he described as a way of scaring anyone who stood up to President Vladimir Putin.
Britain says Russia is responsible for the poisoning with a Soviet-era ‘Novichok’ nerve agent of Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33. They were found unconscious on March 4 in the city of Salisbury in southern England and remain critically ill in hospital.
Moscow denies any involvement. The Kremlin said the British position was irresponsible and not backed up by evidence. It said Britain would not have to wait long for Russia’s response.
Lavrov was quoted by the official news agency RIA as saying the accusations were unacceptable and that British diplomats would be expelled.
But in a series of British media interviews early on Thursday, Johnson said the evidence of Russian guilt was “overwhelming” because only Moscow had access to the poison used and a motive for harming Sergei Skripal.
“There is something in the kind of smug, sarcastic response that we’re heard from the Russians that to me betokens their fundamental guilt,” he told the BBC.
“They want to simultaneously deny it and yet at the same time to glory in it.”
Johnson said the attack was a way for Putin to send a message to anyone considering taking a stand against it that ‘You do that, you are going to die’.
A former agent of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to Britain before being arrested in Moscow and jailed in 2006. He was freed as part of a spy swap deal in 2010 and took refuge in Britain.
At home, the British government has been under pressure from lawmakers and media to show it is getting tough on Russia, with some experts saying that despite the rhetoric the response did not go far enough to bother Putin.
Johnson defended the measures announced on Wednesday and suggested that there could be further consequences for wealthy Russians with assets in Britain.
“We will go after the money and actually we are going after the money,” he said, adding that the National Crime Agency and Economic Crimes Unit were investigating a wide range of individuals. He declined to give details, citing legal reasons.
“What people want to see is some of the very rich people … whose wealth can be attributed to their relationship with Vladimir Putin, it may be that the law agencies, that the police will be able to put unexplained wealth orders on them, to bring them to justice for their acts of gross corruption,” he said.
Johnson also said he had been heartened by strong expressions of support from the United States and other allies — although it remains unclear whether there will be a coordinated international response to the Novichok attack.
France, which on Wednesday had said it wanted proof of Russian involvement before deciding whether to take action against Russia, appeared to change its position on Thursday, saying it agreed with the assessment of its NATO ally Britain.
“France agrees with the United Kingdom that there is no other plausible explanation (than Russian involvement) and reiterates its solidarity with its ally,” President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.
Macron added that he would announce unspecified “measures” in the coming days over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal.
“I will announce the measures that we are going to take in the coming days,” Macron told reporters during a visit to central France on Thursday. He added that he condemned the attack in the “strongest possible terms.”
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Wednesday that Washington believed Moscow was responsible for the attack, adding it was a crime worthy of UN Security Council action.
Any effective Security Council action seems highly unlikely, however, given that Russia, like Britain and the United States, is a permanent, veto-wielding member of the body.
Russia has repeatedly said Britain was refusing to provide a sample of the nerve agent used in Salisbury.
Johnson said Britain would send a sample of the nerve agent to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons for them to independently assess it.

UK expulsions after Russia spy poisoning ‘soft’ first step: experts

March 15, 2018


© AFP | The British government has found Russia “culpable” of the nerve agent poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the cathedral city of Salisbury

LONDON (AFP) – British Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to expel 23 diplomats and suspend high-level contacts with Russia is a “soft” response unlikely to worry Moscow, but allows for further retaliation, according to analysts.May announced the moves on Wednesday after her government found Russia “culpable” of the nerve agent poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain.

The pair were found in a serious condition in the cathedral city of Salisbury southwest of London on March 4.

Jonathan Eyal, international director at London’s RUSI military think tank, said the reaction “appears to have been much less than initially expected”.

He noted the response should be seen as a “first step” in Britain confronting Moscow, given May chose not to expel the Russian ambassador to London, nor initiate a complete cut-off in relations.

“So in many respects the prime minister was keeping some ammunition dry for a future confrontation,” Eyal added.

He added that the limited measures announced suggested May’s eagerness “to have some level of cooperation with the Russians in the future”.

– ‘Weak’ response –

May said she did not want to break off relations entirely as she announced that the 23 Russian diplomats, believed to be intelligence officers, must leave Britain within a week.

Britain also suspended all planned-high level contacts, including an invitation for Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit.

May vowed to clamp down on Russians suspected of “hostile state activity”, freezing assets for those in Britain and detaining those arriving at the border.

In addition, neither members of the royal family nor ministers will attend the football World Cup in Russia later this year.

Sam Greene, head of the Russian Institute at King’s College London, noted expelling diplomats was a “calculable” response that Moscow would likely mirror.

“It’s a large number of diplomats, but in this case it’s not so much the size that matters,” he told AFP.

“We haven’t yet seen anything that, in my analysis, will lead to a change in policy stance of the Kremlin.”

Greene said May’s response would buy time for Britain’s investigation to proceed and for Moscow, which is wrapped up in domestic politics ahead of this Sunday’s presidential election, to respond more fully.

But he cautioned: “If anybody is hoping that this might provide some concessions or cooperation from Moscow then that’s not going to happen before the Russian presidential election.

“I’m sceptical that it would happen even after.”

Mathieu Boulegue, a research fellow in the Russia and Eurasia programme at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs think tank, agreed the response was “weak”.

“There is a very clear disconnect between the announcement that Russia is an aggressor state against (Britain)… and the level (of) response which is particularly weak,” he told AFP.

Boulegue added measures such as withdrawing the England football team from this summer’s World Cup in Russia or the immediate implementation of economic sanctions against Russian oligarchs would have been more robust.