Speech by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and his answers to questions from deputies during the plenary session of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, Moscow, 20 March 2014
I present for your consideration documents about the reunification of the Republic of Crimea and the Russian Federation, namely:
- draft Federal Law “On Ratification of the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Crimea on acceptance of the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation and the creation of new constituent entities in the Russian Federation”; and
- draft Federal Constitutional Law “On acceptance of the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation and the creation of new constituent entities in the Russian Federation – the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol”.
The historical decision about the reunification of Crimea and Russia takes place against the backdrop of the tragic events in Ukraine. A coup d’état supported by external forces has taken place in the country, which is fraternal for Russia. Anarchy is continuing, actions of national radicals, anti-Semites and other extremists, on which the new powers are based, are fixed every day. Real threats to life and the safety of people, everyday cases of violence, gross and mass violation of human rights in Ukraine, including discrimination and persecution due to nationality, language and political convictions – all of this has made the existence of the Republic of Crimea within the Ukrainian state impossible.
The decision about the acceptance of the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation is based on the free will of the multinational people of Crimea during the referendum of the 16 March. This decision corresponds to international law, including the principle of the sovereign equality of state and the right of people to self-determination, which is stated as a goal of the UN in its Charter.
As a result of the referendum and on the basis of the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Crimea of 17 March, the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea proclaimed Crimea an independent, sovereign state and turned to Russia proposing for it to accept the Republic of Crimea into Russia.
On the 18 March, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, signed the Decree about the recognition of the Republic of Crimea. According to the Federal Constitutional Law “On the Procedure of Acceptance into the Russian Federation and Creation within it of a new constituent entity of the Russian Federation”, the President of Russia notified the Council of the Federation, the State Duma and the Government about the proposition of the Republic of Crimea and signed the Agreement presented for your consideration, with this state.
According to the established procedure, the Constitutional Court of Russia verified the Agreement for its compliance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation and gave a positive opinion.
This Agreement legally formalises the accession of the Republic of Crimea into Russia, as well as envisaging the creation of new constituent entities of the Russian Federation: the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol.
This Agreement guarantees all of its peoples living in the territory of the Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol the right to preserve their native language and to create conditions for its study and development. The Agreement provides the persons constantly living in the territory of Crimea the right to obtain citizenship of the Russian Federation, which means the right to use all the rights and privileges related to this status.
The Agreement envisages the introduction of a transition period from the day of acceptance of the Republic of Crimea into Russia and up to the 1 January 2015, during which the issues related to the formation of new state power bodies and the integration of new constituent entities of the Federation into the legal and financial system of Russia will be dealt with.
These and many other issues are detailed in the draft Federal Constitutional Law “On the acceptance of the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation and the creation of new constituent entities in the Russian Federation – the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol”, which is presented for your consideration together with the Agreement.
On behalf of the President of the Russian Federation I propose the State Duma to approve the draft Federal Law “On Ratification of the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Crimea on acceptance of the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation and the creation of new constituent entities in the Russian Federation” and the draft Federal Constitutional Law “On acceptance of the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation and the creation of new constituent entities in the Russian Federation – the Republic of Crimea and Federal City of Sevastopol”.
I am convinced that the adoption of these documents will become a milestone in the fate of the multinational people of Crimea and Russia, which are interrelated by close ties of historical unity. The reunification of these people within a single state will contribute to their prosperity and wellbeing, and corresponds to the interests of the Russian Federation.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Question: We see that modern world order requires deeper respect for, effective acceptance of generally accepted rights of peoples for self-determination, equality, life and security. To what extent does the presented Law on Agreements considered by the State Duma guarantee and ensure active expression of the right of the multinational people of Crimea to existence?
Sergey Lavrov: If I have understood this right, it is about self-determination. There has been a lot of talking about it lately. The right to self-determination is formalised as one of the most important goals of the UN Charter. The Charter formulates the principle of sovereign equality of states and the right of people to self-determination. This principle is traditionally interpreted in the international legal practice as a part of the general body of norms of international law, which include the principle of territorial integrity of states. All these principles are equal.
The correlation between territorial integrity and the right of a nation to self-determination may be learnt from the UN Declaration of 1970 “Declaration on the Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations”, which was unanimously adopted and since then has been a body of common law norms. According to the Declaration those countries can count on protection of their territorial integrity, which observe the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and thus are possessed of a Government representing the whole people belonging to the territory. According to this document, we have the duty to refrain from any forcible action which deprives peoples of their right to self-determination.
As to Crimea, as you know, its autonomy was restricted several times in the past against the will of the Crimeans. After the armed coup by persons, who seized power in Kiev, actions were undertaken, which even more aggravated the possibilities of the Crimeans to exercise their right to self-determination within the Ukrainian state. The regime undertook attempts to destabilise the situation in Crimea and overthrow the legal authorities. Criminal persecution was organised. Against the backdrop of the events in Kiev and in Western regions of Ukraine, the attempts to do the same in South-East regions of Ukraine, the Crimeans took the decision that it was impossible for them to exercise their right to self-determination within the Ukrainian state. All the more so that political postulates declared by new authorities provided more than convincing grounds for that. For example, the Representative of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yevgeny Perebiynis, stated that Russians were not an indigenous people, whose ethnic origin was not related to the territory of Ukraine, and had no right to self-determination in the Ukrainian territory. I think there is nothing to comment here.
Crimeans made their decision in full compliance with the principles approved by the UN. The Russian Federation recognized the independence of Crimea, then signed the respective Agreement on Accession of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation in full compliance with principles of international law.
Question: What will happen with the military forces of Ukraine, which are deployed in Crimea?
Sergey Lavrov: This question was covered by the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation, Sergey Shoigu and the authorities of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol widely and in detail. All military personnel of Ukraine, which is deployed in the territory of Crimea, was given a free choice: either to leave their units and go to the territory of Ukraine to serve or engage incivil affairs there or to stay in Crimea and continue serving in the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation.
As far as I know, and you can judge this from mass media reports, many people made their choice in favour of staying in service in the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. Those, who made any other decision, do not face any problems in leaving Crimea. As I heard, Crimean authorities provide material, financial and organizational assistance to make this happen in a proper way. The population of Sevastopol respects the military personnel of Ukraine, who make one or another decision.
Question: I do not remember in the last 14 years of work of the State Duma, when each and all factions welcomed the minister with so friendly a chorus of applause. I believe that this is an important assessment.
How do you assess the introduction of sanctions by the United States, the EU and other states? How do you assess the consequences and the very fact of such decisions?
Sergey Lavrov: Nothing good can come out of unilateral sanctions. They are not legitimate, they have no international legal basis. The UN Security Council is the only body, which can make decisions regarding coercive measures against sovereign states. The UN Security Council did not adopt any decisions regarding the Russian Federation, or the Ukrainian government represented by the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.
We are surprised not only by the love of our western partners for imperative unilateral measures against other countries, but also by the specific forms their unjust indignation took. I will not comment. We all know, what specific measures our western partners undertake in this situation. Since they use the decisions, which were made regarding the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation as the cause, but, in fact, the pretext for introduction of these sanctions, I will note that they accuse us and the Crimeans of violation of the Ukrainian constitution and international law. I have already spoken about international law – there are no violations here. The International Court of Justice in its decision of July 2010 said that proclamation of independence frequently does not meet the norms of domestic law of the state, in the territory of which independence is proclaimed. This does not mean that it is a violation of international law. If we talk about the Ukrainian Constitution, the people, who seized power in Kiev by an anti-constitutional coup, made this with evident moral and other support of such actions. To trample on the law to bring their minions supported by pure ultranationalists to power, without whom they cannot rule even in Kiev, and then accuse us and the Crimeans of violation of Ukrainian laws is absolutely negligible from the point of view of the law, and also unacceptable from the point of view of morals and ethics.
Question: You have already said that the proposed draft law envisages the use of the Russian legal and financial system in the territory of the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol. Please comment on the level of social guarantees, which the population of Crimea and Sevastopol will receive, if the draft law under discussion is adopted.
Sergey Lavrov: The response is included inthis law. If my memory serves me right, Article 3 provides that the level of pensions, social payments and other compensations cannot be lower than it is as at 21 February 2014 in Russia. There is a guarantee that pensions cannot be below the level in Russia, and the entire social package as well. I am convinced that everybody knows the content of yesterday’s meeting of the President of Russia and ministers from the Russian Government, where they discussed economic, transport, infrastructure, social issues related to the process of full accession of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol to the Russian Federation. It is already clear that the President’s orders go beyond the limits set in the law. I am convinced that these orders will be fulfilled very thoroughly.
Question: I join a professional assessment of your activities in the last months and assess your response to the emotional statements of some persons regarding the cancellation of the “zero variant”, visa agreements, exit of Ukraine from the CIS as professionally restrained, and I would like to receive an update about your position regarding property of Gazprom, about which the Acting Ukrainian Minister of Justice made a statement. All the more so that it is laden with some decisions and acts regarding private and state property. For example, the well-known story with KAMAZ, the Russian real estate broker winding down their business – all this may lead to some consequences, especially in the area of state property. What is your assessment of all of this?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course, these will be wrongful actions. To be noted, when there was a break-up of the Soviet Union, all the property, which was in the territory of the states, which proclaimed their independence, remained with them. I believe that this principle is applicable to any situation, when according to international law and the free will of the population of a specific territory independence is proclaimed and a new state is respectively created, which then freely joins another state.
Lawyers and legal experts must review all these claims of the Ukrainian authorities in detail. I don’t think anybody is interested in these judicial proceedings. The property of Gazprom and the property of our other business units is non-state property. This initiative can entail a quite complicated chain reaction, from which Ukraine will not gain anything.
We have serious questions regarding the legitimacy of the people, who “are running the show” in Kiev now. When we fulfil the order of the Russian President to maintain contacts on everyday economic and other issues, which are required for functioning of respective economic and infrastructure companies, we want to understand, who will represent the legitimate power in Kiev. We have our own propositions regarding this, which contain nothing new compared to the promises of the opposition of that time and current Ukrainian leaders according to the Agreement on the settlement of the crisis in Ukraine of the 21 February.First of all, this is a constitutional reform, which would consider the interests of all Ukrainian nationals and all its regions. Legitimate bodies of representative and executive power in the centre and in all the regions may be formed only on these grounds. We are convinced that only federalisation of Ukraine will help to stabilise the country.
Question: What is your attitude to the statement of Ukraine about its exit from the CIS? What are the possible consequences?
Sergey Lavrov: The last question included the topics, about which Kiev is talking now, including the introduction of the visa regime. Some say that it should be introduced, some that it should not be introduced. And it is about the members of one coalition. The proposition to introduce the visa regime comes from the heads of the National Security Council, which represents the party “Svoboda”, regarding which in December 2012, when it first appeared in the Ukrainian parliament, the European Parliament adopted a special resolution having called it racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and appealed to all other political forces in Ukraine not to associate with this party and not to form a coalition with it. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitaly Klichko and their parties acted otherwise and created a coalition with “Svoboda”. We see every day on TV, what the members of this party, including parliamentarians, are, – this is just outrageous. If the coalition is based on its force component, which is “Svoboda” supported by the Right Sector, we will hear many more exotic statements.
As to the CIS, Ukraine signed the agreement about the creation of this organisation, but has not signed or ratified the Charter of the Commonwealth of Independent States. When resolutions about cooperation between the UN and the CIS were discussed in the UN in the past, Ukrainian representatives always used the opportunity to emphasise that they do not recognise the international legal capacity of the Commonwealth. However, based on the free will of all other CIS members, Ukrainians never felt any discrimination, they participated in sessions of different level, summits will full rights, and signed many agreements.
There was a precedent with our Georgian neighbours, who, having announced their exit from the CIS, then said that they are not exiting it fully, i.e. they continue to participate in the agreements, which are beneficial to them.
There will be a session of the Council of Permanent Representatives of the Commonwealth today or tomorrow, where this situation will be reviewed. It is still not clear, whether this application was submitted officially. In any case, there are several agreements, including the agreement on the free trade zone, which meet the interests of all of our people. Incidentally, it was developed, signed and ratified, because Ukraine insisted on it in the times of President, Viktor Yushchenko. This agreement was the main cause in this situation, because the accession of Ukraine to the free trade zone with the European Union would contradict its obligations under this agreement, and this was explained. Further events are well-known.
We keep nobody in the CIS against their will. I have no doubts that this step is made without consideration of the indigenous interests of the Ukrainian people, economics and social sphere, but only to organise another propagandistic anti-Russian action.
Question: Today you explained two times that the proclamation of independence by the Republic of Crimea was according to international law. Could you explain more in detail the compliance of the conclusion of the international agreement about accession to the Russian Federation with Crimea with international law?
Sergey Lavrov: The right to self-determination fully complies with the criteria, which are included in the UN declaration of 1970. The Republic of Crimea adopted a declaration of independence, there was a referendum, during which Crimeans from an independent state voted in favour of accession to Russia. When Crimea was proclaimed independent, two independent states – the Russian Federation and the Republic of Crimea – exercised their right under the UN Charter, which is based on the sovereign equality of states. Two sovereign states took a sovereign decision, which concerns two of them and their people. Because there are no hidden pitfalls and it is not possible to interpret this in any other way.
Question: Please comment on the situation related to the military service of the persons who are called up for military service in the territory of the Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol.
Sergey Lavrov: According to the law, which is presented for your consideration, persons subject to military service, who are in this territory, will be called up and will serve in the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol. This practice will be in force until 2016.
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Dear State Duma deputies,
We have no extended statements. I thank all the factions, all the deputies for their support of the initiative of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Today we have heard many controversial propositions and assessments, they did not always match, including with regard to Ukraine. I wish to confirm with full responsibility that the line of the Russian Federation with regard to Crimea and with regard to our strong commitment to the development of friendly relations with our Ukrainian brothers, including giving assistance in overcoming the current tragic pages in their history, was very clearly stated in the address of the Russian President of the 18 March as the head of the country, who also determines its foreign policy.