MOSCOW

Russia on Monday urged international mediators to refocus from trying to solve the Libyan crisis to working to get warring sides into direct talks.

Approaches to conflict settlement must be worked out by rival Libyan groups, while outside players should try to bring them to the negotiating table and find common ground, said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking to the students of the Moscow Institute of International Relations via video link.

“We have always called for the principle that decisions must be approved directly by the parties to this conflict, and we will only help them to sit down at the negotiating table,” he said, adding that Russia will continue to help Libya emerge from its crisis.

As for the problem of illegal immigration, which became particularly acute after Libya’s collapse, it could be alleviated if the European Union cut customs duties for agricultural products from Africa to zero, he said.

Doing so, said Lavrov, would have “a deterrent effect on the flow of migrants seeking a better fate, better conditions for employment. If agricultural products go to Europe from Africa duty-free, then employment in the countries will rise, they will improve their living standards, and there will be less temptation to seek happiness abroad.”

Libya’s internationally recognized government have been under attack by warlord Khalifa Haftar’s forces since last April, and international efforts to enforce a cease-fire have proven unsuccessful.

Since the ouster of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, two seats of power have emerged in Libya: Haftar in eastern Libya supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which enjoys the UN and international recognition.

Normandy Four summit lacks political agenda

Turning to the Ukrain issue, Lavrov said next week’s meeting of the Normandy Four – Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine – foreign ministers is focusing on security matters instead of political issues, but said this emphasis is misplaced.

Lavrov said his German counterpart Heiko Maas suggested discussing exchanging detainees, de-mining, ensuring security for an OSCE special monitoring mission, and providing it access to the territory of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics in Donbass, an area of Ukraine with Russian-backed separatists.

“There is not a single word about political agreements that relate to political reform, which relate to the so-called Steinmeier formula, which links the granting of special status to Donbass with the holding of elections there, and there is not a word about how the special status should be included in Ukrainian legislation on a permanent basis. These are all decisions of the meeting in Paris,” he said.

Lavrov said the dealing with political issues would take care of the security ones.

At the December presidential summit of the Normandy Four in Paris, the four countries’ leaders approved several steps to promote the peace process in Ukraine.

Parties to the conflict agreed to a full exchange of prisoners, which was later done, but the other actions, supposed to be finished by the end of March, were not carried out. They include the withdrawal of troops from three disengagement points, and defining the conditions that will allow the holding of local elections in eastern Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine has blamed the Kremlin for separatist violence in Donbass, in the country’s east, near its border with Russia, which has claimed some 13,000 lives.

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