Sergey Lavrov and all-all-all – Mir – Kommersant

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will give a big press conference in New York on Saturday, and will also speak from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly. This will conclude his visit, during which the minister, despite all the problems and limitations associated with the coronavirus pandemic, held many meetings in both bilateral and multilateral formats. On Friday, a key event with his participation was negotiations with ministers from member countries of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). In recent years, Moscow has been actively promoting its Concept of Collective Security in the Persian Gulf zone. And now, it seems, the best conditions have emerged for this concept to start being implemented in practice.

In coronavirus conditions

Sergey Lavrov’s diplomatic marathon at the General Assembly this year turned out to be no less intense than usual. And it certainly could not be compared with last year, when the General Assembly was held online. This time, dozens of world leaders and ministers gathered in New York, albeit taking for granted a number of tough restrictions. So, the number of participants was strictly limited: the delegation included only the most necessary people. All of them were allowed into the UN only if they felt well (and still they were not without infections: COVID-19 was found on the Brazilian Health Minister Marcela Keirogi, who was accompanying President Jair Bolsonara). But the work of journalists became even more difficult: everyone who did not have permanent accreditation at the UN headquarters was not allowed into its territory. For them, a “small enclosure” was allocated in front of the entrance, but the expediency of staying there tended to zero – except that TV journalists could report on the background of the famous headquarters building.

Due to restrictions, many delegations decided to hold a number of meetings outside the headquarters, in their permanent missions.

Russian diplomats did the same. The permanent mission, for example, held talks between Sergei Lavrov and the head of the Foreign Ministry Belizeas well as multilateral meetings – with the foreign ministers of Central America and Grenada, the leadership of American Jewish organizations.

In the schedule of Sergei Lavrov, there was a place for both old friends and those with whom relations cannot be called close and trusting. The former include, for example, foreign ministers Cuba and Syria Bruno Rodriguez (he expressed gratitude for the humanitarian aid provided by Moscow) and Faisal al-Mikdad (on the Russian side, as noted in the Foreign Ministry, “a principled position was confirmed in support of unconditional respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria”). The second category includes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, with a meeting with which on Wednesday began the work program of the Russian minister.

«In a firm form, attention was once again drawn to our proposals to de-escalate and reduce tensions along the contact line, ”the Russian Foreign Ministry said following the talks (Jens Stoltenberg did not comment on the meeting with the Russian minister).

Sergey Lavrov met with Elizabeth Truss, who has just taken office of the head of the foreign policy department Great Britain… Following the talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry made it clear that “the lack of progress in solving problems that impede the resumption of a full-fledged political dialogue” is entirely London’s fault. Recall that the meeting took place shortly after the British authorities announced the presence of a third suspect in the poisoning in Salisbury of ex-GRU employee Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia – this is a certain Denis Sergeev, who allegedly arrived in the UK under the assumed name Sergei Fedotov. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova noted earlier: by putting forward such accusations, the British may thus be preparing a meeting between their minister and his Russian counterpart.

On Thursday, attention was focused on Sergei Lavrov’s meeting with the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell. It was clear from the final statements that this meeting did not bring any breakthroughs either. As stated in the EU’s foreign policy service, “the high representative touched upon a number of challenges in relations between the EU and Russia in order to build more stable and predictable relations.” Whether Sergey Lavrov agreed with what was said may become clear only on Saturday, when he will speak from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly and answer journalists’ questions at a press conference.

Collectively and safely

Multilateral negotiations on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly were much less contentious than some bilateral meetings. Thus, on Friday, perhaps, the key event for Sergei Lavrov was the ministerial meeting between Russia and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. Moscow and the Gulf countries have many topics for discussion. The hottest of them all is Afghanistan. It was the seizure of power by the Taliban in this country that caused the recent unplanned visit of the head of the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, Mohammad bin Abderrahman Al Thani, to the Russian capital. Doha is the most active Arab player in the Afghan scene. The political office of the Taliban movement is located in Qatar (prohibited in the Russian Federation), and this country has assumed the burden of an intermediary between the new masters in Kabul and the rest of the world. Doha’s neighbors are more cautious, but also watch the situation closely, and their role is by no means passive. For example, the UAE, like Qatar, actively helped in organizing the evacuation of foreigners from Kabul. And if a movie is ever made about these days, the first ever joint humanitarian operation of the UAE and Israel deserves a separate scenario, thanks to which more than 40 women were secretly taken out of Afghanistan.

The normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries, begun with the assistance of the Donald Trump administration, is a new reality in the Middle East.

Moscow did not immediately respond favorably to this process, primarily because of the obvious attempts by the United States to build an anti-Iranian alliance in the region and their desire to actually put an end to the solution of the Palestinian problem. But on the whole, the idea of ​​normalization between regional players is close to Moscow. Each time Russian diplomats speak more and more warmly about Arab-Israeli contacts. And it is quite symbolic that in New York, Sergei Lavrov’s negotiations with his Arab colleagues took place the day after his meeting with representatives of American Jewish organizations.

The rapprochement of regional players is in line with the Russian Concept of Collective Security in the Persian Gulf. It was presented in the summer of 2019 and was positioned as a development of ideas put forward by Moscow since the 1990s. Then the emphasis was on unblocking the situation around Iraq. Russia tried to prevent a US military invasion of this country, but in the end it did not succeed. The concept was formulated against the backdrop of the confrontation between Tehran and Washington, when the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA), signed in 2015, and Tehran, in response, abandoned some of its obligations regarding the development of its nuclear program. A military scenario for the development of events in the region was very likely. The Middle East was increasingly divided into those who were with Tehran and those who were against. In its concept, Moscow proposed to develop a set of measures to build confidence between regional players, a kind of OSCE analogue for the Middle East. However, the Russian idea was hardly feasible, including because of the tense relations between Moscow and Washington and the multitude of regional conflicts. But in two years the situation has changed. A new team has come to the White House. The US is now showing interest in dialogue with Iran and is negotiating a mutual return to the JCPOA, although the situation is still fragile. In addition, in January, an end was put to a three-year conflict between Qatar and the four Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt). And cooperation between the United States and Russia, including on Middle East issues, has intensified. Mutual understanding has returned on the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the dialogue on Syria has resumed.

So now is the time to build multilateral cooperation, which is the stake in the Russian concept.

It is about “the formation of a security system in the Persian Gulf zone” as a result of consultations “between interested parties with the participation of regional and non-regional states.” Moscow proposes to create an initiative group that will agree on “the geographic parameters of the future security system, the circle of participants in the discussion, the agenda and other issues.” At the same time, Moscow has a pragmatic approach – it is noted that “the Russian proposals are not final and are a kind of invitation to a constructive dialogue.”

“We do not impose anything on anyone and are open to proposals from various parties,” Andrei Baklanov, deputy chairman of the Association of Russian Diplomats, who took part in the negotiations related to the elaboration of the concept, told Kommersant. In his opinion, the idea of ​​multilateral discussions on key regional problems, as was the case in the early 1990s, when the question of ending the Middle East conflict was raised for the first time on an open international platform, is still relevant. Mr. Baklanov recalled that at that time Russia and the United States made a significant contribution to the peace process. “It was a very effective format,” he said.

The answer to the question whether the United States is ready for substantive cooperation this time, Sergei Lavrov did not have the opportunity to find out on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly: a meeting with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was not on the program.

Pavel Tarasenko, New York; Marianna Belenkaya

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