Lavrov in Greece: Countries have a right to extend maritime territory to 12 nautical miles

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Russia's firm position on the right of each state to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles was expressed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who is visiting Greece today.

Lavrov, who is paying a working visit to our country today, Monday, gave an in-depth interview to the Athenian-Macedonian News Agency.

The head of the Russian diplomacy expresses his joy "to have this opportunity to return to Greece again. My previous working visit to Athens in 2016 took place during the implementation of an unprecedented joint project, a cross-cultural year between Russia and Greece, the main event of which was a visit by President of Russia Vladimir Putin."

"Since then, themed cross-years have become a good tradition. We held a Bilateral Year of Tourism in 2017 ̶ 2018 and a Year of Language and Literature in 2019 ̶ 2020. It is symbolic that a Russia-Greece Year of History planned for 2021 will coincide with the celebrations dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Greek War of Independence," Lavrov said.

"The upcoming events will be fresh proof of the historical connection between the Russian and Greek people. It is gratifying that your people remember Russia’s role in the Greek struggle for independence and its development as a sovereign state, and that they honour the memory of the first head of state of independent Greece, the Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire Ioannis Kapodistrias. At the same time, the self-sacrificing struggle of the freedom-loving Greek people was praised by our outstanding poets Alexander Pushkin, Wilhelm Kyukhelbeker, Kondraty Ryleyev, Vasily Kapnist and Fyodor Glinka, to name just a few," Lavrov continued.

Lavrov described as the "huge challenge" for the economies of countries because of COVID-19, which has significantly reduced the volume of trade.

"We will have to work hard together to at least restore it to its pre-crisis level. I hope to discuss this subject during my talks with our Greek colleagues.," he said and expressed his gratitude to the "Greek friends" for the help they have offered regarding the repatriation of Russian citizens.

12 nautical miles

Asked about Turkey's challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean region, as well as the signing of the Turkey-Libya memorandum, he insisted on Moscow's position on the need to respect the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"Specifically, its Article 3 says that every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles. But in a number of cases, countries, for some reason or another, establish a narrower territorial sea. In circumstances, where it is necessary to delimit the territorial sea between neighbouring states, the problem should be solved based on international law," Lavrov said.

Conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque

At the same time, he was asked to comment on the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, a move that was strongly condemned by the entire international scene.

Lavrov called it a "UNESCO World Heritage Site" with "exceptional cultural, historical and sacral importance for the Orthodox believers" which is a "common heritage of mankind." As he stressed, it is a holy place for Orthodox believers everywhere, a church that is of particular importance to Russians who visit Turkey every year "in order to relish the skill of masters and architects, and the beauty of the extant interior, mosaics and frescos."

Hagia Sophia serving as a mosque.

"We regularly communicate our position on this matter to our Turkish partners, including at the top and high levels. The Russian Orthodox Church has also made a number of statements regarding the status of this shrine," he added.

Lavrov insisted that the Russian side expects Turkey to pay attention to the feelings of the Orthodox faithful and to abide by the commitments made to implement all the rules and conditions regarding the status of the monument, will ensure its full preservation and accessibility for tourists and pilgrims.

Turkish involvement in Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria and Libya

Regarding Ankara 's involvement in a series of tensions, particularly Artsakh, Syria and Libya, the Russian Foreign Minister stressed that Russia and Turkey "working to settle the conflicts in the hotbeds of tension you have mentioned. There is no hiding the fact that we can seriously diverge in our approaches to a number of contentious regional matters."

"It is thanks to the agreements we reached in bilateral, as well as trilateral (with Iran) settings, that we have been able to create the Astana mechanism, which is the most effective settlement framework we currently have. The proactive interactions between our two countries brought about the cessation of hostilities in the Syrian Arab Republic, the creation of de-escalation zones, as well as the establishment of a Constitutional Committee. Joint Russian-Turkish patrols operate in Syria’s problem-plagued regions like Idlib or to the east of the Euphrates, making a meaningful contribution to ensuring order and security. By working together to neutralize terrorist groups we can lay the groundwork for carrying the political process forward and enabling Syrian refugees to return home."

Referring to the Libyan issue, Lavrov noted that experts appointed by both sides "contribute to the pacification of the warring parties", while, as he added, the joint efforts led to the resumption of work in the oil industry.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

"As we speak, Russian and Turkish experts are contributing to efforts to reconcile the conflicting parties in Libya. By combining our efforts we have been able to introduce a ceasefire, as well as to restart oil production, which is a key industry for the country’s economy. We continue working on bridging the gap in the negotiating positions of the warring parties with a view to launching political reform based on UN Security Council resolutions and the outcomes of the Berlin conference," he continued.

In regards to Artsakh, Lavrov said there are "certain nuances" regarding the involvement of Moscow and Ankara in the conflict.

"We have been vocal in our opposition to the idea that a military solution could provide a possible and acceptable option. There is no way we can subscribe to these aspirations, since we view both the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis as friendly and brotherly peoples. The presidents of Russia, the United States and France, as the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, made it abundantly clear in their statement that they would support only a political settlement. It is this troika of the co-chairs that is the universally recognized mediator facilitating efforts to settle this long-standing conflict," Lavrov said, adding "We call on all the external actors to do everything to prevent further military escalation, calm down and step up efforts to reset the peace process."

Opening of the beach of Varoshia

The last issue on the table in Lavrov's interview today was the opening, by Turkey, of the coastal zone in Varosia in Famagusta, Cyprus.

"The ones who took the decision to open the Varosha seafront should be the ones to comment on the purpose of this decision," Lavrov said, and spoke of a step that is a "matter of serious concern for Russia."

Explaining the reasons, Lavrov said: "First of all, it runs counter to a number of UN Security Council resolutions: 414 (1977), 482 (1980), 550 (1984), 789 (1992) and 2483 (2019). Second, any unilateral actions undermine a constructive atmosphere and create additional challenges for resuming the negotiating process on the final settlement to this long-standing issue."

Russia, Lavrov said, "reaffirms its commitment to the settlement parameters approved by the UN and is ready to facilitate their implementation. We hope that the parties return to the negotiating table to find mutually acceptable solutions once the electoral procedures in Northern Cyprus are completed and the sanitary and epidemiological situation on the island gets back to normal. We believe that this will help stabilize the situation, and promote peace and security in the region."