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Opening remarks by S.V. Lavrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, at the press-conference devoted to the results of activities of Russian diplomacy during 2012, held in Moscow, 23 January

111-23-01-2013

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

I welcome you to this traditional meeting, devoted to finalising our results of 2012.

Last year was a not an easy one.

We recorded the irregularity in global development, increased instability, and unsettlement in the Middle East. The major concern is the development of the situation in Syria and in its neighbours. Terrorist attacks, out of control weapon proliferation and infiltration of militants, including in the Sahel and Sahara areas, have become an almost daily occurrence in the region. Events in Libya have affected the situation in Mali. The taking of hostages in Algeria has also been extremely alarming. We have not succeeded in solving the problem of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction during the period under review. I refer to the situation with Iran’s nuclear programme, the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula, and the situation on calling a conference on the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East.

A tendency to rely on the use of force to solve problems at others’ expense has become apparent. The situation in the world economy, especially in the Eurozone, is also very difficult. The search for solutions to the consequences of the global economic crisis has continued.

It is evident that the world is going through an unprecedented period of transition, accompanied by changes to the geopolitical landscape and establishment of the new balances of power.

Under these conditions Russia has striven to carry out its responsible foreign policies, establishing common bonds in the international arena with the aim of reinforcing security and stability, finding solutions to conflicts by searching for reasonable compromises and the instigation of rigorous dialogue and cooperation with relevant parties. Russian priorities have been set out again and again in the statements of the President of the Russian Federation, in his article “Russia and the changing world”, in a decree by President V. V. Putin dated 7 May 2012 and later in the message of the President to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, dated 12 December 2012. The tried and true principles of pragmatism, openness, multi-vector, predictability, insistence on promoting national interests, all the while without confrontation, underlie our activities.

The task set out by President Putin to facilitate the establishment of a rich, welfare state of Russia, to provide favourable external conditions for long term sustainable development of the State based on its unique resources and enormous human potential, strengthening its position as an equal partner in the world market and in international affairs generally, is considered vital. We consistently tried to create the conditions for the most effective use of economic, scientific and technological cooperation with foreign partners in order to address national tasks.

Russia has continued to strengthen her position as one of the leading centres of power and influence of the emerging polycentric system in order to meet the realities and challenges of the 21st century. Active promotion of the integration processes in the CIS was the major focus in 2012. It is our natural priority. We have tried to secure a decent place for the members of the CIS in an increasingly complicated and highly competitive world.

The practical implementation of this course was achieved with the approval of the Declaration on the further development of the comprehensive cooperation and signing of the Agreement on the organization of an integrated currency market at the meeting of the CIS leaders held on 5 December last year in Ashgabat. There is no need to stress once again the importance of the Treaty for the free trade zone in the framework of the CIS: this is a very important step. We have continued to deepen integration in such formats as the Customs Union, the Common Economic Space and the Eurasian Economic Community. As you know, it was decided that the Eurasian Economic Commission would start working in February 2012 (the mechanism is already actively functioning), and the Eurasian Economic Union would start working from 1 January 2015.

These processes have not been developed in isolation. We presume that the integration "troika" (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan) confirmed the openness of its union to the other CIS countries, particularly members of the Eurasian Economic Community. In general, the integration is based on the principles that underlie similar processes in the European Union, and on the principles of the World Trade Organization. It gives us a reason to believe that the goal put forward by President Vladimir Putin, that is the creation of a united economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, is quite feasible. Speaking about the integration processes, I emphasise that the CSTO had been strengthened in 2012 as a multifunctional structure to respond to challenges and threats.

We continued work on the development of bilateral cooperation with the CIS countries, including of course, our colleagues in the Customs Union (Kazakhstan, Belarus), Ukraine, Central Asian and the Caucasus countries.

In general, all our initiatives aimed at the promotion of a positive, meaningful agenda, targeted at bringing together all the participants in international relations. In this way we had acted in the framework of the UN, Group of twenty, Group of eight, SCO and BRIC. During our upcoming presidency in 2013-2015 of the Group of Twenty, Group of Eight, SCO and BRIC we expect to use all our functions to further promote unifying, constructive approaches to various problems.

The results of December’s EU-Russia summit held in Brussels confirmed the great potential of an existing strategic partnership. The work in the energy sector has been continued. As known, the second stage of the gas pipeline "Nord Stream" is fully operational; the practical implementation of the "South Stream" has been started. A key point in our relations with the EU is the rapid transition to a visa-free regime for short trips. All the technical and legal issues have been resolved; the only thing we need is the political will. We strongly believe in it, and we have said so to our partners.

Relations between Russia and the U.S. are still central for addressing issues of Euro-Atlantic security and generally maintaining global stability. We are interested in a constructive dialogue, the development of stable and mutually beneficial cooperation, especially in the field of investment, trade and economic relations and contacts between people. In 2012 the Agreement on the simplification of visa formalities for tourists and business between our two countries came into force. Now we set a goal, which I hope our American colleagues will consider: the promotion of a visa-free regime.

In our relationship, there are difficult issues. I will not dwell on the subject of missile defence, you know it well. You also know the negative consequences that resulted from the adoption of the offensive sanctions set out in the "Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012", which, in effect, replaced the anti-Soviet Jackson-Vanik amendment with an anti-Russian one. Nevertheless, we will continue to respond to unfriendly acts. However, our position, based on our eagerness for development of Russian-American relations in all areas, and interest in coordination of actions in the international arena, was as a result of the fundamental principles of equality, mutual respect of interests and non-interference in the internal affairs of each other.

This was the basis for promoting our relations with NATO. At the December 2012 ministerial meeting of the Russia-NATO Council it was noted that cooperation is generally successful in a number of areas. But the pledge to putting partnership forward to a new level would be a solution to the problem of establishment of the architecture of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic region, which is based on a strong, legally binding agreement. Our proposals in this regard are known and are for further negotiations.

Overall, last year, all of our actions were built on the principles of respect for the rule of law, democratic standards and common approaches in international relations, no alternative to the central role of the UN and its Security Council, and the inadmissibility of the use of the UN Security Council to legitimize outside intervention in internal conflicts. This line governs our approach to the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Syrian crisis.

We will further contribute to the international efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement in Syria based on the Geneva accords, without attempting to re-write or interpret them. This document does not require any interpretation, it is written in a simple and clear way: the parties shall stop the violence and mandate the negotiators to agree on the structure and purpose of the transition of the governing authority.

We have worked to ensure that the problem of the Middle East settlement would not pass into oblivion. Our efforts were primarily focused on the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. Unfortunately, there is no progress in this area. But we are convinced that efforts to facilitate the return of the parties to the negotiating table shall not only continue, but be seriously intensified.

An important element in strengthening the international position of Russia is to increase our presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The September 2012 APEC summit in Vladivostok demonstrated the seriousness of the Russian plans and intentions. We are grateful to the partners for their support of the agenda proposed by us. About 60 specific initiatives had already been taken for elaboration by various specialized groups working in the framework of APEC.

We pay special attention to the strengthening of the strategic partnership with China, India, and Vietnam. We have developed multidimensional ties with Japan, South Korea, ASEAN countries, and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. We have actively participated in the activities of multilateral mechanisms in the Asia Pacific region, including the East Asia Summits. We believe that the role of the forum in ensuring a common approach to security and cooperation in the region will increase.

We are satisfied with our collaboration with partners in Latin America and Africa. We have promoted specific projects with countries in those regions, and collaborated with the existing multilateral organizations there, particularly the African Union and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States).

The greater involvement of the opportunities of "soft power” should promote a radical improvement in the efficiency of our foreign policy. RSGOV has a more energetic, proactive role in this direction. During 2012 we actively interacted with the civil society, had regular meetings with expert communities within the framework of the business and scientific councils under the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, interacted with the Russian Council on International Affairs, the A.M. Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund, and the Foundation for support and protection of rights of compatriots living abroad; we continue to work on these and other issues. Within these short opening remarks, I could not, of course, emphasize everything. We will pursue a consistent foreign policy; we will be open to deepening cooperation with all those who are ready for that, on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.

Thank you.

Question: Mr. Lavrov, in March two years will have passed since the start of the Syrian crisis. Numerous attempts to bring the parties to dialogue have failed. In your opinion, can there still be a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Syria?

Russia announced naval manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean, are they connected to preparation for other developments in the region?

S.V. Lavrov: The manoeuvres are held regularly. Our fleet until recently could not execute long voyages, but now the situation has changed. In order to keep the Russian Army and Navy in a proper state of readiness, they are required to exercise. Therefore, the manoeuvres of our Army, Air Force and Navy have become regular. This is not unusual, since our sailors are actively involved in the fight against piracy. Certainly, we are not interested in the fact that the Mediterranean region would become destabilized even more. The presence of the Russian fleet is certainly a factor for the stabilization of the situation.

As for the thesis about the failure of attempts to unite the conflicting parties in Syria at the negotiating table, to my great regret, there have been no such attempts on the part of all the external participants. We tried to achieve this, we met and continue to meet with all of the Syrian sides, holding the same line in contact with the government and all the opposition to convince them of the need to fulfil the Geneva communiqué, which was signed by all of the key external players: the five permanent Security Council members of the UN, the Arab League, Turkey, the EU and the UN. But, unfortunately, the other parties of the "Action group" formed in Geneva are sending the wrong signals in their contacts with the opposition, and they have virtually almost no contacts with the government. The opposition enjoys their support in its intransigent position, namely, that they are not going to negotiate with the regime. "The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces" established in Doha in November 2012 in its policy paper declared that its goal is the overthrow of the regime and the dismantling of its institutions - which is directly contrary to the Geneva accords, which particularly emphasize the need to maintain the institutions of the state and not to repeat the errors made by other countries in the region.

The above-mentioned opposition coalition in its policy paper flatly refused to negotiate with B. Assad. Our Western partners and some Middle East countries welcomed its creation. When we asked why they had welcomed the approach of the refusal of dialogue, we were told that the most important thing was to unite the opposition, and then the Western countries and other participants of the Syrian settlement would convince it to take a more constructive approach. But as we see there is nothing of the sort. Tragically, the opposition continues to categorically refuse dialogue with the government, and continues the armed struggle. Our partners from the "Action group", as sad as it sounds, encourage them to do so and provide them with everything necessary for fighting.

Thus, there was no attempt to unite the parties together. Efforts were made by Russia, China, the special envoy of the UN and the Arab League on Syria K. Annan and his successor in office, Lakhdar Brahimi.

I repeat, everything is born of the opposition ​​obsession with the idea of overthrowing B. Assad. As long as this intransigent position remains in force - nothing good will happen, hostilities will continue, and people will die. Our priority is not to achieve a geopolitical goal, which for many is clearly the idea of ​​overthrowing the Bashar al-Assad regime, but to stabilize the situation and to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible to save the lives of Syrians. But, apparently, our colleagues have other priorities. We talk to them honestly about it. In dialogue they seem to understand the threat posed by the prospect of the collapse of the Syrian state. But in public they propose different approaches, different from what we were told in private.

Question: Could you confirm or deny that Russia offered its assistance in transporting French troops to Mali? What is the current position of Russia in relation to the conflict in that country?

S.V. Lavrov: Yesterday we tried to dispel this misunderstanding. On January 18 this year I had a telephone conversation with my French colleague L. Fabius, who told me how the situation in Mali was assessed in Paris. He also expressed appreciation for the fact that the UN Security Council quickly and unanimously supported the French response to the appeal of the Mali government to send the French contingent there to stabilize the situation and prevent the capture of the state by separatists. L. Fabius also asked whether Russia had the opportunity to provide transportation services. And I replied that I had heard about the potential contracts of Russian private companies, such as the "Volga-Dnepr", "Air Bridge Cargo", "SKOL", with the various parties, including the French Defence Ministry, the Interior Ministries of a number of African countries, and the Procurement Division of the UN. And it is their decision as these are commercial projects. We had not discussed anything more on the provision of transport services. When the information quoted by you appeared, our French colleagues apologized and said it had been a distortion of what we had discussed.

With regard to Russia's position on the conflict in Mali, we state it regularly. In my opening remarks, I mentioned that we are concerned about the prospects of destabilizing the Sahara and Sahel area, where the instability in North Africa is spilling over. People who are now fighting in Mali against French and Africans overthrew the regime of M. Gaddafi. Our Western partners had armed them, including for the overthrow of the former Libyan regime.

It is important for us not to approach what we observenarrowly. At present the international community acts on a case-by-case basis. Something happened in Yemen - we focused on that country, then Libya, Tunisia, Egypt. Now - Mali, Syria. It is important to raise one’s head and take a broader view "beyond the horizon" over all of these processes, which are connected to each other and have a lot of threats, including the threat of terrorism. "Al-Qaeda" and its "partners" in this unsightly business seriously set out to seize power in the states.

We are also very concerned with the situation between the different sects of Islam, which has a serious cumulative explosive potential. It is necessary to do something with this process, especially through the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. We advocate that all Islamic countries will show solidarity with each other and avoid a split in of one of the world's major religions. We hope that the situation will stabilize in Mali, and African countries in the near future will deploy on operations there as authorized by the UN Security Council.

I repeat: we must try to look at the situation as a whole in the vast and important region and to match our actions in each direction with the overall objective of preventing the collapse and disappearance of secular states and the coming of radicals and extremists to power. It will be a "delayed-action mine" for decades to come.

Question: How far is it fair to say, in your opinion, that the famous "reset" has come to an end? How would you define Russian-American relations?

S.V. Lavrov: We have already spoken about "reset" many times, it cannot last forever. If it is a computer term, it should be clear to everybody that an eternal reboot is a system failure, which means that it has frozen.

When the Obama administration announced a desire to "reset" US-Russian relations, we took this as a clear understanding of the counterproductive policies towards Russia under the Administration of George Bush, that is when the personal relationships of the "top" leaders were warm, but they did not pass onto subsequent "stages" where practical actions were agreed on. And a complete misunderstanding reigned there. It was not our fault; we have always tried to have practical relations in line with the prevailing atmosphere between the Presidents.

When the new U.S. administration declared its desire to "reset", it was, first of all, related to itself. And it quite actively, and not without success, tried to promote new approaches. The atmosphere had changed at all levels of the Russian-American interaction: a U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission was established; the START Treaty was signed; Agreement 1-2-3 on cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy (profitable for American and Russian companies) was ratified by the Senate, even if it had been collecting dust for a long time; Agreements on visa simplification were signed, etc.

Cultural ties have been actively developed: last year we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the first Russian settlement in California, Fort Ross. Cultural life in general, was very rich.

At the same time, there were and there are irritants in our relations. Anti-ballistic missile defence is the main one. But we are still open to further dialogue. While speaking about that dialogue, our American partners are elaborating the plan and the construction of their anti-ballistic missile defence objects, which has a global dimension, regardless of what we say. That is, they agree to continue the dialogue, but do what they have already decided for by themselves and pushed through the decision making process of NATO.

To the anti-ballistic missile defence irritant has been added a new one, i.e. the "Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012" which I have already mentioned today, when a human tragedy was cynically exploitedto "punish" Russia and intervene in the process of our judicial system, and which has not yet been completed. The U.S. lawmakers have taken on the role of judges in matters relating to our internal Russian life, which, above all, we must sort out ourselves. We had to respond. It was not our choice. We were forced to do so because there are certain laws in relations between states, and such acts cannot be left unanswered.

Now there is a new aggravation due to the unjust decision of the U.S. Court regarding the "Y. Shneerson’s collection". It was a shocking decision that had nothing to do with justice. The collection, which is the property of the Russian people, is regarded as the property of the American Hasidim Community, who, incidentally, more than 10 years ago received from Russia as an act of grace some books from the library for temporary use for a few months, and so far they have not been returned. In my opinion, it is also necessary to make this the subject of court proceedings.

We understand that the U.S. judicial system is independent. It is independent everywhere. The U.S. administration told us that it fully agreed with our arguments on the "Y. Shneerson’s collection", but has done little to explain to the court the reality. The court made the decision with a very weak position of the U.S. administration. We will seek to reciprocate. It cannot be left without reaction as well.

But all this does not have a positive effect on our relationships, which are not in the best form. Nevertheless, we have consistently advocated, despite the problems and difficulties, continuing to move forward in areas where we have common interests. And where there is no agreement, including cases that I have mentioned, it is necessary to look for ways to avoid problems that would pollute the whole atmosphere and which would not allow our countries to cooperate.

We will consistently and firmly rebut attempts to interfere in our internal affairs and lecture us, all the more so as the "speakers" are not perfect in many ways. But we will not remain offended and refuse all other areas of cooperation. On June 18, 2012 in Los Cabos, Presidents Putin and Obama agreed that it was time to pay special attention to the promotion of bilateral trade and economic relations and investment projects. Our volumes in this area are significantly behind Russia's relations with major European countries and China, as well as the volume of trade and economic ties between the U.S. and Europe, and China. It will be an important test of how we can encourage business communication. Russian business wants to come to the U.S., but sometimes it feels discriminated against. As happened last year with the JSC "Severstal", which had decided to open a high-tech manufacturing business in Detroit, and was promised loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy. But under political pressure from some U.S. lawmakers, these guarantees were withdrawn, taking into account that the Russian company had planned and plans to build a high-tech manufacturing line, creating new working places in the U.S.

It is necessary to overcome politicized approaches. We hope that the new administration formed by President Barack Obama will draw conclusions from painful experience and will behave as agreed - on the basis of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit and without any attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of each other.

Bilateral contacts have been planned. I hope that during the Munich Security Conference in early February this year we will meet with the U.S. delegation. Presently, Vice President Joe Biden is going there. If we are there together, we will certainly discuss all the issues and look at how to develop the relationship further.

Again, it is not a new concept; it is a new version, because the key principles on which Russian foreign policy relies on remain unchanged. They were consolidated in the Foreign Policy Concept, adopted in 2000, and there is a need to carry out a pragmatic foreign policy, clear, predictable, interacting with all states that are ready for this, on the basis of equality and mutual benefit and defending national interests firmly, but without sliding into confrontation. These principles fully retain their value and will be used in the new environment in the various situations that arose recently in international relations.

Once again, the concept is reported to be considered in the Office of the President and will be published after approval by the President.

Question: According to Russian Foreign Ministry information, there are dozens of thousands of Russian citizens in Syria. Yesterday, less than a hundred of them came back home, but meanwhile the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. In this regard, are there any plans for a large-scale evacuation of Russian citizens and reducing staff of the Embassy?

S.V. Lavrov: Evacuation has not started, so it is quite difficult to begin a large-scale evacuation.

The point is that in Syria, in fact, there are several dozens of thousands of our citizens. First of all, they are women who married Syrians. Not all of them are on the consular register, but those who are have been notified of the opportunity of delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria (which is executed regularly), and may return home at will. When the survey was conducted, about a thousand women said they would be interested in this. But when they turned up to the most recent EMERCOM flights, fewer than a hundred people had expressed their willingness to take this opportunity.

As for the Russian Embassy in Damascus, we start from the premise that now there should be no non-essential staff who are not engaged in daily activities – and there are none there. Families of employees left long ago, and this is probably correct, since the work in Syria is not very easy. The Embassy is fully operational, doing its job. It maintains contacts with the Syrian government, and the opposition forces. We have no other intention, but plans in case of deterioration of the situation exist for any country in this and other difficult regions. However, we do not speak of any involvement. Today according to the evaluation of our Embassies and relevant departments here at the centre, there is no need to use any of the existing plans.

Question: It was planned to begin the withdrawal of the international military contingent from Afghanistan in 2014. In this regard, in neighbouring Tajikistan there are fears that the spread of terrorism and extremism could happen in the region. Is Russia ready to do anything to help in strengthening the Afghan border with its own means or by means of the CSTO? Could the Russian military base in Tajikistan be involved, as the decision to extend its stay was made last year?

S.V. Lavrov: The prospect of aggravation of the threats from Afghanistan after 2014 concerns not only Tajikistan, but also other countries in Central Asia and Russia. Drug and terrorist threats from Afghanistan hurt our Central Asian neighbours, and through them the Russian Federation. This issue is regularly discussed in the framework of the CSTO. At the last summit in December 2012, in Moscow, in this respect specific solutions were taken, which in particular involve assisting Tajikistan in strengthening the Tajik-Afghan border, in equipping it with modern equipment as well as support in other areas, including cooperation in the framework of CSTO among law enforcement, border and customs services. These are rather detailed solutions, which, in my opinion, will help to curb the "spillover" Afghan threat to Central Asia and through it to the Russian Federation.

Any deployment of additional forces and resources at this stage is not planned. All the foreseen measures will be implemented through the support of our Tajik friends. There are Russian advisors of the Border Service of the Russian Federation, and the Russian military base, which is an element of stability and a part of the combat potential of the CSTO. While there are no other plans for active use of the military base, it is constantly in a state of readiness.

Question: The Ukraine demanded payment of customs duties for goods to be supplied to the Black Sea Fleet of Russia. Did Moscow refuse to pay or will Moscow pay these amounts?

What, in your opinion, do Russia and the Ukraine expect in the coming year: endless and fruitless negotiations over the price of gas or something more constructive?

S.V. Lavrov: Regarding taxation and levying other amounts on goods coming for the needs of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory. The problem is that these payments are accrued by our Ukrainian friends unilaterally, in violation of the basic agreements on the Black Sea Fleet (BSF). This problem has not been solved yet, we seek to address it. The negotiations are taken in the framework of Sub-Commission on the Black Sea Fleet, which is quite active and is able to solve several delayed issues. The aspect, which you mentioned is not solved yet, but without any doubt it will be resolved. We offered to put all that which would be saved with the re-call of the unilateral requirement to pay in the social infrastructure of Sevastopol.

As for what is expectedof Russian-Ukrainian relations, of course, their main content can be characterized, as you say, as "fruitless negotiations on gas prices" - but it is a part of our agreements, and they are to be fulfilled. Companies, the Ministry of Energy and heads of governments and presidents of two countries involved in these issues not in utilitarian terms, say, "the price will be such or such", but in a much wider context - with the understanding of how we could deepen our strategic partnership with the Ukraine. Last year, at the meeting of the Interstate Commission in Yalta, we signed the Declaration on the content of the strategic partnership, and in the context of this broad horizon the practical issues of our cooperation in the energy sector are considered - not just the price of gas, but our interaction in the field of industrial cooperation and in many other areas.

I think the richness of our relationship will continue to grow, and the more creative they are, the more practical will be the issues that need to be addressed. The price of gas is one of them, but, again, not the most important. The most important thing is to understand the enormous advantages of the interaction of our countries in a highly competitive world and I am sure there is such an understanding. Competitiveness of industry in Russia and Ukraine is significantly increased if we have in-depth cooperation. Certainly, we will welcome the participation of the Ukraine in the integration processes taking place in the CIS. It is totally natural to use the comparative advantage of the economic, infrastructure, and logistics and transport sectors, created at a time when both countries were part of a single state.

Question: Is there any new information on the case of the death of A. Dolmatov in the Netherlands? Can you dispel the rumours that there is a letter to his mother, which is in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia? If it is, could this letter somehow have influenced his suicide? How is this process developing in general? Has the Russian Foreign Ministry taken measures to determine the cause of death of A. Dolmatov?

S.V. Lavrov: I do not know anything about the existence of a letter addressed to his mother from A. Dolmatov. Like all of you, I read his suicide note. I have not seen any other letters or even heard about them. As soon as we learned of this sad event, we immediately addressed the Dutch authorities. We demanded that they carefully and thoroughly investigate the circumstances of the tragedy that occurred in the deportation centre of Rotterdam. We addressed a similar claim to the Netherlands Embassy in Moscow.

Our diplomats are in constant contact with the authorities in the Netherlands. We are being told that the competent bodies and services of the country are doing whatever is necessary to understand the causes of the tragedy. Yesterday I spoke with the Ambassador of the Netherlands in Russia R. Keller, who assured me that the issue of the death of A. Dolmatov is a priority, and it is paid increased attention. We are engaged in the preparation of all the necessary documents to repatriate the body back to Russia. According to the assurances of the Dutch side, under the current rules, the procedure will take, roughly, a week and a half. We will insist on the truth being sought. This is all I can say.

Question: Last year during the same press conference, you said that Russia would certainly try to finalize the proceedings about the possible involvement of the Kosovo authorities in an illegal transplant. However, since then nothing has been heard about the "Medicus case". Has Russia made any progress in achieving the stated goal?

S.V. Lavrov: Unfortunately, we are confronted with the unconstructive position of the European Union, which "usurped" the investigation, and it is neither good nor bad. I think it is even being phased out. We based and base our position on the support of the fair demands of Serbia. This, above all, is a Serbian problem. In Belgrade there are plans to raise this issue in the UN Security Council to connect the organization to the investigation. We support such intentions.

Question: Last year Armenia, Azerbaijan, and other co-chair countries celebrated the 20th anniversary of the OSCE Minsk Group. The year was another fruitless period in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict settlement. Everyone is talking about the will of the parties, but the will of intermediaries is an important factor as well. Why do we not hear from Russia any harsh statements condemning the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan? Till now no single meter of the Azerbaijani lands occupied by Armenia has been released. Why do we not hear calls for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on withdrawal of the Armenian armed groups? Do you not think that the will of the intermediaries will also have an effect, taking into account the leverage that Russia has to promote the process? Should we expect it in 2013, given that this year is the year of elections?

S.V. Lavrov:Russia, as a member of the "troika" of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs together with the U.S. and France, aims to find a solution that will help to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. If someone wants to draw attention to themselves in public, then, perhaps, you need to talk about convictions, requirements and public scourging. If we want to solve the problem in practice, it is necessary to act with other methods. That is how the United States, France and Russia as co-chairs of the Minsk Group act.

Let me briefly recall the background. In 2007, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group prepared a draft of the Main principles for the conflict settlement. On its basis it was possible to elaborate a peace agreement. In 2007 Armenia expressed willingness to take the draft as a basis, but Azerbaijan did not accept the document. The co-chairs, resulting from the need to find common ground, continued to work in 2009, updating the draft of the Main principles for the conflict settlement and submitted it to the parties. Baku was ready to take it as a basis, but the Armenian side said it would be better to work on the basis of proposals of 2007.

In this situation, Russia in the person of D.A. Medvedev, the state leader at the time, invited the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to a meeting. D.A. Medvedev asked the leaders of both countries whether it made sense that Russia, in the framework of common co-chairs, approached(MG) to try to find something in between the proposals of 2007 and 2009. The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed.

Around 10 meetings between the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, with participation by American and French co-chairs of theOSCE Minsk Group,who were always present, were devoted to this issue. In the summer of 2010 at the summit of the "Group of Eight" the presidents of Russia, USA and France issued a statement in which they called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to approve the final version of the compromise document, developed by the Russian side on the basis of contacts with the leaders of both countries. At that time a meeting between the leaders of Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan was planned in Kazan. And the presidents of three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group at the meeting in Kazan urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to approve the final version of the document. It seemed to me to be a positive development of events. Unfortunately, the document was not adopted. I think you know why: the parties made the appropriate public statements.

Since then, the co-chairs have not lost heart, but contacts at the highest level have not been foreseen. Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan meet. The co-chairs offered them a shortened version of the document to eliminate the controversial provision. The work continues.

Question: Why did Russia and Azerbaijan, as strategic partners, not succeed in agreeing on the renewal of the lease of the Gabala radar station? Are there any prospects for this project? Could anything be changed or has the question been definitely closed?

S.V. Lavrov: The question is definitely closed. We were ready to negotiate, but our Azerbaijani friends decided not to give any discount. We believe the cost that Azerbaijani colleagues insisted on was excessive. Now measures to close the station are being undertaken, and they are to be carried out over several months. The Azerbaijani side knows about it.

Question: The Russian Foreign Ministry has been working long and hardon the bilateral agreement with the United States on adoption of children. Did you think that there could be a complete ban on adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens? How do you personally feel about the fact that this hard work came to nothing? Have you tried to dissuade the country's leadership from the decision (denunciation)?

S.V. Lavrov: We have been working for a long time, almost two years, on the agreement with the United States on adoption. The U.S. side was trying to explain to us that they have a specific issue: questions of adoption are the responsibility of the states, so the impact of the federal government is severely restricted. We have emphasized that it is important to us to have an instrument agreed by the federal government, and to find mechanisms that would permit the U.S. Administration to solve issues with state governments. In the end the agreement containing such obligations of the U.S. Administration came into force in autumn 2012.

A few days later we addressed the American side with the requirement to provide access to the Russian boy M. Babaev, who was adopted by an American couple. The adoptive mother and father had had their parental rights terminated by a court in Florida for child abuse. The boy was transferred to a temporary foster-parent in anticipation of new adopters. Once again, we required access to M. Babaev. The court in Florida refused several times, and the U.S. administration gave up. It is indicative, because in the same way, as in the case with the "Y. Shneerson’s collection", we have not seen a sincere desire of the U.S. administration to do something. When it is necessary, it finds ways to seriously bring its point of view, even to independent courts, and works with Congress in such way, that it finally listens. We all know that.

In case of M. Babaev we have not seen such a desire in general, and not seen any readiness to help us to visit the "Ranch for Kids" in Montana, about which we found out by chance from the American media. It turns out that dozens of Russian children abandoned by their adoptive parents had been “brought" there. And nobody informed us about it. Children's Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation P.A. Astakhov and the Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and Supremacy of Law of MFA of Russia K.K. Dolgov sent a request to the Administration of the United States to visit the ranch. The administration again gave up. Then P.A. Astahov and K.K.Dolgov reported that they would go in any case. But when they arrived at the gates of the ranch, they were turned away. So far, we have no access to these children.

These known cases are just the “tip of the iceberg". We are specially engaged in the study of the adoption system in the U.S. With a large quantity of bona fide adoptive parents, with whom Russian children really found a family, there are also a lot of cases which are not known and which are very disturbing. I note that not so long ago Vietnam terminated the agreement with the U.S. on cooperation in the field of adoption, including the lack of legal "levers" or the unwillingness of the U.S. administration to use them.

I can assure you that the "Dima Yakovlev law", which was a necessary measure, reflects our assessment of the situation in general with the adoption in the U.S. We know that American adoptive parents of American children do not always behave properly - there are a lot of rejections of adoption.

We would like to place our children especially within our own families, as we are governed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It considers international adoption to be an exceptional practice, which can be used only when you cannot find a new family in the country where a child was born. The UN Convention focuses the state on the fact that one of the objectives of the national family policy was the establishment of priority conditions for the adoption of orphans by its own citizens. I am sure that the ban on adoptions by U.S. citizens will not affect the performance of Russia's obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the articles of which emphasizes that it does not impose obligations on the participating States to provide their children for international adoption. The convention only establishes the basic principles to be observed in situations when there is international adoption.

We still have opportunities to provide children for adoption in other States that faithfully implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The USA, by the way, has not ratified the document and is not going to join it. The main reason, as we were told honestly by the Americans, is the unwillingness to report to the parties on the performance of its obligations resulting from it. It is not the only document on human rights that the United States refuses to bring into effect. Among them are a number of conventions of the International Labour Organization, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and others.

We have good experience of cooperation in the field of adoption with other countries. For example, Italy is the second country in the number of adopted Russian children after the U.S. In 2011 Americans adopted 960 of our children, and the Italians adopted 800 children. These are figures of the same order. In Italian families there have been no cases of inadequate attitude to Russian children. We are preparing a similar agreement with France. I agree that if you take a pure arithmetical value, the vast majority of adopted Russian children in America feel well. But there are dozens of cases, which are known (and many are not), when children became objects of tyranny and violence, and died in American families. This does not happen with children adopted by parents from European countries. Not a single case. There were problems because of mixed marriages in Finland (R. Salonen story). But it was a dispute about who a child should be with. No abuse had occurred.

Question: Mr. Lavrov, is there any chance that in the foreseeable future full-length negotiations of the "Group of six" will be held with Iran? How do you assess that Iran will not allow access of the IAEA inspectors to the Parchin military site?

S.V. Lavrov: I am sure that the negotiations will take place. Now technical issues are to be agreed, including the location of the meeting. We do not understand why we arearguing about where to meet, it is a minor thing. Apparently, some of the participants of the "six" and Iran have their own considerations. It is a pity if this will delay the process. There is a firm understanding that the political directors of the "six", led by the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, will meet with Iranian officials.

Recently, a regular visit by IAEA inspectors to Iran took place to agree upon modalities of work on issues that the Agency had accumulated, and which are suspicious that the Iranian nuclear program had or has any military component. The Iranians stressed that they want to completely harmonize the document. We think that the Iranian colleagues could do it a little faster and respond to the IAEA's proposal, which also tends to accommodate, to elaborate a suitable modality. As I understand it, a visit to various sites, including Parchin, was discussed in the context of the study of these modalities. IAEA inspectors have already visited. No surprises can be expected.

Question: In September 2012 you said that Russia is ready to sign a new agreement with Estonia on the border if Tallinn would refrain from surprises. Why has there been such an expression of good will on the part of Russia, given that the position of the Government of Estonia has not changed? What are Moscow’s main demands for signing the Agreement? What are the chances that such a document may be open for the two countries?

S.V. Lavrov: This story is old and well known. During intense negotiations with Estonia and Latvia on the preparation of agreements on the border, we had a clear understanding with Riga and Tallinn that no historical allusions would be contained in the documents, and the ratification procedure would not have any surprises in the form of references to certain agreements of the past era. The Latvian side fully endorsed this agreement.

When the Estonian parliament proceeded with ratification of the agreed and signed contracts, a reference to the Tartu Peace Treatywas included into the ratification resolution, contrary to the agreements with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia. After that, we had to withdraw the signature of the Agreement and declared that in order to permanently close the border issue, it was necessary to start new negotiations and prepare a new document. The Estonian partners took this up with understanding, when they got our in-depth explanation of the situation, and said that they would wait for a certain period, and when there was a suitable moment in terms of various factors, they would be ready to resume negotiations. We waited and periodically reminded them of this.

But last autumn, there was an initiative, as I understand it of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Estonian Parliament. Our good faith has always been available. With the decision, which was adopted on the initiative of the committee, even the Estonian side manifested good will. Now that contact has resumed, it is continuing.

Question: Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would talk to investigators about the possible return to Poland of the debris of the Polish presidential plane that crashed near Smolensk. There has been information that Warsaw has not yet exhausted the legal possibility to achieve this return. Yesterday in Brussels a joint statement of the Polish and Russian parliamentarians, in which they expected the investigation to be over as soon as possible and the wreckage returned, was issued. Could this affect the acceleration of the process or could there be an opportunity to return the fragments of the plane to Poland prior the end of the investigation?

We apologize for asking one and the same question over and over again but the Investigative Committee of Russia refuses to talk to us.

S.V. Lavrov: I do not know anything about your relationship with the Investigative Committee. In Russia this tragedy was taken to heart. You know how Russian President D.A. Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin responded at the time. We do not want to create problems for the Polish leadership, the victims' families and Russian-Polish relations. But this is a very serious criminal case, which opened in Russia and Poland. According to our rules, until the investigation is completed and final it is not submitted to the court, the evidence must be available to the investigators. The investigation is almost over, but not yet completed. As far as I understand, this is not unusual, because the Polish investigation has not been completed either.

Realising how emotionally the situation is perceived in Poland, we offered to start a discussion with our Polish colleagues about the technical and logistical aspects of the forthcoming transport of debris to your country in the summer of 2012. Such meetings have already been held at the level of professionals. I hope that soon we will get some news. I cannot comment, or make predictions as to when the investigation would be completed. But we have this question under control.

If the communication in Brussels is a desire to pressure, perhaps it is possible to understand, but it will not speed up the course of the investigation, which, as I said, is carried out under the personal supervision of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Investigators do their best to act quickly. So we are ready to comply with all existing agreements to solve the problems of establishing a monument on the site of the tragedy, we are in contact also regarding this matter.

Question: Recently, Russia has made certain progress in the development of relations and cooperation with Indonesia and other ASEAN member countries in various fields - more political than economic - in comparison with other players in the region. Russia's trade with ASEAN countries is just over $ 20 billion, U.S. has 176 billion, Australia - 47 billion, China about 400 billion. By 2015 China will have reached $500 billion in trade turnover. What do you think should be done to eliminate this imbalance? Maybe Russia, like China, should establish a Free Trade Area with ASEAN?

What does Russia expects from the APEC summit, which will be held in Indonesia this year?

S.V. Lavrov: We are developing a dialogue partnership with ASEAN. We have an agreement on trade and economic cooperation and an agreement on cultural cooperation. Turnover increases. We know the figures you indicated. This reflects the historical course of relations between the countries in question. I am sure that our trade, investment and joint economic projects with the ASEAN countries will continue to increase constantly. Will we be able catch up with China? I do not think that it would be in the near future. We have our own plans, which are approved by the ASEAN countries.

For us a free trade area is a relatively new form of work. Now we, with some countries and organisations, including the European Free Trade Association, New Zealand and Vietnam are elaborating the prospects of establishing such a zone in a pilot scheme. If we succeed with Vietnam, we will see how this experience can be extended to other members of the Association.

We expect from the APEC summit in Indonesia continued work in areas that have been started and continued during the presidency of Russia. I hope for continuation. We have an agreement with Indonesian colleagues that being the part of the "troika" of APEC, we will work together with the previous, current and future chairpersons.

Question:Yoshiro Mori plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putinduring a visit to Moscow in February. Will the issue of signing a peace treaty with Russia be discussed? Recently there was information that in 1992, the Russian side offered to transfer to Japan two islands - Habomai and Shikotan. Can you confirm the news?

S.V. Lavrov: We are interested in the active development of relations with our Japanese neighbour. Between Russia and Japan there a strong foundation has been created in trade and investment fields and energy. There are new plans in these areas, and they are being implemented. The main thing is that businesses from both sides expressed interest in cooperation. The governments of Russia and Japan actively encourage this.

We are ready to continue to discuss and seek solutions to any issues from our agenda. It also applies to the question of a peace treaty. We know that the former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, invited by Russian President Vladimir Putin - they are old friends - would be interested in the question of a peace treaty. As you know, the Japanese Prime Minister has an invitation to visit Russia. We look forward to seeing S. Abe in Moscow.

The question of a peace treaty has a relatively recent history. The leaders of two countries have repeatedly agreed to solve the issue without emotion, pumping passions in the public mind, to prepare the ground for the formation of some proposals acceptable to Japanese and Russian people. It is not easy to do so. We are talking about the situation that has arisen following the Second World War, and is reflected in the UN Charter. To move forward, we must recognise this legal reality, and the most important thing is to create favourable conditions for the solution of any complex issues between our countries. For this we need to increase trade and economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation, which is popular among Russian and Japanese citizens. It requires the development of confident approaches to coordination of actions on international affairs and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. We want APR security to be based not on separate closed units but on an inclusive architecture, which would include all the states on the basis of the principle of equal and indivisible security. If the relationship between our two countries and peoples is richer, more saturated, it will be easier to address any difficult questions. The statements of some Japanese politicians who quite emotionally formulate unilateral demands of Russia do not help to solve the issue. We do not see much usefulness of this kind of statement in terms of creating the necessary atmosphere for the comprehensive development of Russian-Japanese relations

Question: Economic relations are actively developing between Russia and Latvia. Against this background, unfortunately, the political dialogue has slowed down. What actions from both sides could enhance this process?

S.V. Lavrov: In the relations of any two countries agreement on a political dialogue at some level is achieved when there is such a proposal. We communicate with my Latvian colleague "in the field" during various events, whether it is a Russia-EU meeting or Russia-NATO Council. I do not see any reason to create an artificial sensationalism around our relationship. We are in the normal process of economic and trade interaction.

We remain convinced that Latvia must do more to address the problems of "non-citizens". This is a problem of both Latvia and the EU. The leaders in Brussels should be ashamed of their position when, in response to our calls to encourage Riga to implement the recommendations of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN, they said that there was some inter-EU understanding that there is no problem in either Latvia or Estonia. An absence of the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of people who were born in these countries, who, in a referendum on granting them independence vote "for", who want to be loyal citizens of Latvia and Estonia cannot be fair. The number of "non-citizens" is included in the determination of quotas for Latvia and Estonia in the European Parliament, but at the same time they cannot vote, and cannot even choose the local authorities.

I visited Riga several years ago, when V. Zatlers was the president. We called on him to perform at least that part of the recommendations of international organisations that related to automatic citizenship for babies and the elderly persons. There seemed to have been some sort of understanding. I know that the Latvian government tried to formalise these ideas. So far, nothing has happened - and things are still where they were. This issue really burdens our relationship and does not honour Latvia as a member of the EU and the EU itself.

Question: The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in connection with the launch of North Korean missiles in December 2012. Can you comment on this event?

Furthermore, recently a new President was elected in South Korea, Ms. Pak Kyn Xe. She intends to expand relations with neighbouring countries, including Russia. The new leader Kim Jong-un has governed North Korea for more than a year. Does the leadership of Russia wish or plan to meet with the leaders of two Koreas?

S.V. Lavrov:That will primarily depend on how the leaders of two Koreas express an interest in this. We are ready to cooperate in trilateral projects in the electricity sector and in the supply of gas, on the construction of the Trans Korea gas pipeline, and on the junction of the connection of the Trans Korea Railway with the Trans-Siberian railway. For some of these areas meaningful negotiations have already been started. All depends not only on the Russian Federation, but also on the will and commitment to this of the Republic of Korea and the DPRK.

As for the ballistic missile launch by the North Korean, which was the subject of UN Security Council resolution, our assessments coincide with the opinion of the other members of the Security Council. The resolution was adopted unanimously, and speaks for itself. These launches, as well as the nuclear explosions, were banned with the previous decisions of the UN Security Council. We expect that our North Korean neighbours will listen to the voice of the international community and return to the path of cooperation in the framework of six-party negotiations.

For this we need to stay within the requirements of UN Security Council resolutions. We, at least, will do everything to create the conditions for a resumption of six-party negotiations. Russia, in the framework of this mechanism, heads the Working Group on Peace and Security in Northeast Asia – it is much broader than just the problem of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We have specific proposals that we have disseminated as chair of the Group of the Peace and Security in Northeast Asia. We expect that their discussion will begin and will create the necessary critical mass of mutual trust, which will help directly to solve the nuclear issue.

Question: I would like to ask a question regarding the relationship between Russia and the U.S. On the one hand the two countries have two newly elected presidents, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama; on the other is the deteriorating relationship with regard to the "Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012" and the "Dima Yakovlev law". How important is a fully-fledged bilateral summit between Russia and the U.S.?

S.V. Lavrov: I have already spoken in detail about Russian-American relations and will not repeat what I have said. As for meetings "at the top", U.S. President Barack Obama has an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin. We are expectinga reaction to the proposal.

Question: Recently there has been unrest in Russia which isdividing the general public fromministers, due to news such as the "Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.According to the UN, within the last ten years, the number of armed conflicts has decreased, but the number of information conflicts has increased. Russia is losing the information war. Are there any attempts to dispel this negative information "cloud", which is trying to cause flooding and the excitement of the crew on the drifting ship "Russia"?

S.V. Lavrov: I see you are a romantic. Everyone knows how information resources have been created in the contemporary world in various countries, including information resources for the external audience.

We see the importance of this work. The state actively supports the building-up of our information capabilities, including such channels as Russia 24, Russia Today, Rusia al-Yaum, and Hispanic broadcasting of the same channel. Of course, we plan to do more. With much more modest financial means TV channels such as Russia Today and Rusia al-Yaum seriously and successfully compete with English-language resources, such as CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera - if we talk about the Arab world. The statistics are convincing - there is no difference in the times or the order, but rather a comparable percentage of the audience. I hope that other media will not help to sink any "ship", but that Russia's actions, like those by any other state, will be perceived objectively in the international arena. For this we are with you, and meet regularly. I hope this is mutually beneficial.

Thank you. Till our next meeting!