In his annual press conference, the Russian foreign minister has invited the Trump administration to attend Syrian peace talks. But Lavrov also claimed US diplomats engaged in espionage against Russia.
On Tuesday morning in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled willingness to work with the incoming Trump administration on a variety of issues from Syria peace talks to international terrorism. Over the course of two and a half hours, Lavrov took stock of the past year and indicated the country's foreign policy direction for 2017.
Astana Syria talks
Lavrov issued an invitation to Trump to join the upcoming Syria peace talks in Astana. The negotiations on 23 Janaury in the Kazakh capital were organized by Russia and Turkey, who lie on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict. The talks, which will include rebel leaders fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are intended to "consolidate" the current ceasefire, Lavrov said. Washington's original non-participation in the talks had been seen as a humiliation.
In the past year, Russia positioned itself as the primary international negotiator in the Syrian civil war, repeatedly brokering tenous ceasefires between the militants opposing al-Assad and the forces loyal to the Syrian leader. However, the international community has accused Moscow of war crimes for its military air support in the city of Aleppo.
Over the course of the ongoing six-year conflict, more than 300,000 people have been killed and around 11 million others displaced.
The beginning of a new friendship?
In addition to inviting Trump to the Astana talks, Lavrov said he is ready to meet with the incoming administration after it takes office. The Russian minister signaled his willingness to discuss strategic stability issues including hypersonic weapons, the US missile shield in Europe and nuclear testing.
Lavrov also highlighted the "systemic" problem of international terrorism, including the failure by the international community to form a united front against organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorist violence. He welcomed US President-elect Trump's expressed wish to focus on combating international terrorism.
"We can only welcome Trump's statement that the fight against terrorism is a priority for him," Lavrov said.
As for the recent media reports that Russia possesses "compromising" information on Trump, Lavrov called the cited source of the information - a British M16 agent - a "charlatan" (Reuters).
Dismissal of Russian intervention
Lavrov dismissed the allegations that the Russian government ordered a series of cyber attacks targeting high-ranking Democratic campaign officials. He argued Russia in fact appealed to international bodies to criminalize hacking but received a negative response.
Moreover, the American intelligence agencies responsible for proving ties between Russia and the American president-elect have failed to do so, he said, and consequently should be fired.
When asked to address German worries about potential Russian hacker attacks on the upcoming German parliamentary elections, Lavrov argued that such fears were unjust.
"I believe that the presumption of innocence applies in Germany, as in many other countries," he said.
European Russian relations
Lavrov's statements suggested a tense Russian-European relationship, and he repeatedly painted Europe as self-interested. He claimed to have information that some European countries are considering sabotaging a Syrian peace deal because they feel excluded.
He also stated that any deployment of NATO troops to the Baltic countries would be a bad idea, implying that Russia would consider such placement to be an aggresive move. US troops arrived in Poland this past Saturday, beginning the first continuous deployment of Western troops in NATO's Eastern region.
At the same time, Lavrov called for the European Union to work on de-escalating rising tensions in the Balkan region.
In his opening statements, Lavrov called European values such as social secularism "post-Christian" and set up a sharp contrast to Russian values. He blamed Europe's desire to "export" its values as having caused the Ukraine crisis and the Arab Spring. Unlike a "messianic" Europe, Russia is guided by pragmatism and the search for common ground, he said.
Relations in the Pacific
With respect to Russo-Chinese relations, Lavrov stated they are at their best ever, in particular highlighting the two countries' joint efforts to restart North Korea talks.
He also accused the outgoing Obama administration of hindering improved relations between Russia and Japan.
cmb/rt (Reuters, dpa)