Russia’s top diplomat said today that Moscow was looking forward to cooperating with the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump in the war on terrorism and bringing peace to Syria, and took a shot at the Obama administration for what he called “double standards.”
“If we hear that in the foreign policy of Donald Trump the main thing will be the fight against terrorism, then we, of course, can only welcome that, since that is exactly the thing that has been lacking with our American partners,” Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, told a nationally televised press conference.
Referring to Syria, where Russia has been backing the regime of Bashar Assad against rebels, including moderate groups supported by the United States, Lavror said Moscow hoped that Trump’s administration “will not apply double standards in order to use the war on terrorism to achieve goals that don’t have anything to do with this goal.”
Lavrov, echoing the caution expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his spokesman since Trump’s election victory, said it was too early to say exactly how much improvement to expect in U.S.-Russian ties, currently at a post-Cold War low over Washington’s conclusion that the Kremlin ordered a hacking campaign to interfere with the elections.
“Only when everyone takes their places in the new administration, when practical work begins, will it be clear how relations between the USA and the rest of the world will be,” he said. “If what Donald Trump and his team say about Russia, the readiness to search for joint approaches to the resolution of common problems and the deterrence of common threats together with Russia, if this is the stance of the next administration, we will reciprocate.”
Lavrov dismissed a question about hacking from a German reporter, and instead spoke at length about the need to cooperate about cybersecurity and again accused the West of double standards. German politicians have accused Russia of conducting a cyber campaign ahead of elections in that country similar to the one U.S. intelligence agencies announced.
He also said that Russia had “nothing to do” with allegations that Moscow had gathered compromising materials on Trump in an effort to gain political leverage over him.
Lavrov brushed aside an offer Trump raised in an interview published Sunday in the Times of London to lift sanctions against Russia in exchange for talks on reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Washington and the European Union imposed economic sanctions on Russia and travel bans for individuals after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its military interference in eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration extended the U.S. sanctions at the end of December.
Here, too, the Russian foreign minister faulted the Obama administration, saying Washington had “destroyed” all bilateral efforts. He said that U.S. plans to develop non-nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, anti-ballistic missile defenses and space-based weapons had hindered the discussion.
Lavrov also criticized U.S. spy agencies for what he described as numerous efforts to recruit Russian diplomats under pressure. Lavrov’s spokeswoman on Sunday made headlines in Russia when she said that U.S. officials had tried to recruit a Russian diplomat who was arrested while trying to procure medicine for a leading Russian politician.
“We haven’t published the full statistics about this, but over the past several years, especially during the second term of the administration of Barack Obama, and such unfriendly activity towards our diplomats has increased,” he said.
While he heaped scorn on the Obama administration, he said he had a friendly relationship with outgoing Secretary of State John F. Kerry and hoped it would continue.
Russia has invited the incoming Trump Administration to Syrian peace talks it is sponsoring later this month with Turkey and Iran, part of a process from which the Obama Administration pointedly has been excluded.
U.S. participation, especially if an agreement is reached, would be the first indication of the enhanced U.S.-Russia cooperation that President Vladimir Putin and Trump have been forecasting.
As to what message he would like to send to the American people, Lavrov said, “We wish prosperity to the American people and any other people and we understand Donald Trump’s aspiration for focusing his activity inside and outside the country on this objective.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Andrew Roth, David Filipov