Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at a meeting with members of the Association of European Businesses in Russia Moscow, October 31, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am glad to have this opportunity to deliver my remarks at the Association of European Businesses. Our moderator has told me that this is the eighth time I will be speaking here. If our meetings are of interest to you, I will be happy to accept your invitations. I believe that our useful, depoliticised and frank dialogue helps us to find points of convergence and common interest and strengthens mutual understanding.
We highly appreciate your commitment to the promotion of cooperation with Russia and your readiness to implement joint projects in various spheres, from energy to high technology. We will always remain your supporters as well as good friends and will help you to do business in Russia in a comfortable atmosphere. President of Russia Vladimir Putin talked about this at a meeting with German business leaders in Sochi, which was also attended by President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.
It has become a bad tradition to say that the global situation is not improving. There are old crises and conflicts and new security challenges. Of special concern to all of us is the unprecedented outburst of international terrorism. The international community has not yet created a truly global UN-led counterterrorism coalition, which Russia continues to advocate. We are seriously alarmed by some unpredictable actions of the US administration, such as the actual withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme, as well as increasing threats to apply a military solution to the Korean problem.
As we see it, one of the main reasons for the increasing global instability is the inability of a small group of US-led countries to work jointly together based on equality and mutual respect with due regard for the interests of each other. We see flagrant disregard for the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, including the use of military force without the Security Council’s mandate, which has seriously damaged global and regional stability and promoted the proliferation of extremist and terrorist ideologies. The current situation in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, where statehoods have been undermined and chaos is reigning, is the direct result of the opportunist policies that have been implemented in Iraq and Libya and are being implemented in Syria.
Explicit attempts to use unilateral sanctions as a tool to promote unfair competition in violation of WTO norms and numerous UNGA resolutions condemning unilateral illegal methods of coercion adversely affect global trade.
Given this, relations between Russia and the European Union are developing unevenly. Indeed, there have been positive developments in a number of areas. After bilateral trade was down by more than half over the past three years, we saw mutual trade increase by 25 percent over the first eight months of this year. This is a good result even though the starting point was low. The political dialogue has intensified. President Putin had a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in July on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg. We maintain regular contacts with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. Expert consultations are held on issues of mutual interest. In particular, for obvious reasons, Brussels is willing to discuss migration and readmission matters with us. We are ready for this, but we believe it would be correct to restore all our sectoral dialogues frozen unilaterally by our EU colleagues.
However, I must admit that there are attempts to prevent Russia-EU relations from getting back on track of progressive development. We can see who is behind this. We observe the destructive policy pursued by a fairly small but very aggressive Russophobic group of European states. They are trying to play an anti-Russian card within the EU in order to achieve their self-serving geopolitical goals. As you may be aware, we are being accused of interfering in elections not only in the United States, but some European states as well without a single piece of evidence to corroborate this. Of late, Moscow was accused of making decisions regarding ministerial appointments in South Africa. In a word, the fantasy is running wild.
To counteract the evidence-free danger coming from Moscow, various anti-Russian entities are being created, such as the Strategic Communication Group East, which will function as part of the European Foreign Service, as well as a multinational “centre of excellence” for combating “hybrid” threats in Helsinki. I recently had talks with Foreign Minister of Finland Timo Soini and asked him what the centre will actually be doing. He said that, probably, it will engage in studying all the hybrid threats that there are, and that they would be glad if Russia joined this centre. It was mentioned during a conversation, but nobody invited us there officially. If they do, it will probably be an interesting project to join. So far, at least, such an invitation has not been extended. These steps to create different entities and to combat hybrid threats carried out by the media resemble hunting for dissidents and are unlikely to help restore any trust.
The attempts of these self-serving forces in the EU to politicise and undermine the energy dialogue between the EU and Russia are a cause of concern. There are accusations that the EU has become overly dependent on Russian energy despite the fact that the amount of Russian gas on the European market is absolutely comparable to that supplied by Norway and makes up about one-third of the total amount. Attempts are being made to discredit joint projects, such as Nord Stream-2, although it is designed to significantly reduce transit risks, improve the EU's energy security, and contribute to EU economic growth. After all, about 200 companies from 17 member states will be involved and that’s only at the construction stage of the Nord Stream-2.
We are perplexed by the attempts of some members of the European Commission to impose on it decisions on the need to receive a negotiating mandate for signing a special agreement with Russia on Nord Stream 2. These attempts are absolutely groundless. The legal service of the commission clearly said that there are no foundations for extraterritorial application of EU law in the Baltic Sea. The legal service of the EU Council reached the same conclusion quite recently. We believe the introduction of new legal norms exclusively for Nord Stream 2 amounts to politically motivated discrimination against the project’s investors. Incidentally, as I understand, Denmark does not even try to conceal this and has even passed a corresponding law. I believe it must be unique in legislative practice for economic and energy projects.
The growing energy needs of Southern and South-Eastern Europe could be met by the extension of the second branch of the Turkish Stream to EU territory. Many governments of EU states have shown considerable interest in this. We are open to this, but considering the unfortunate experience of the South Stream, we will start this work only after receiving firm legal guarantees from Brussels.
I still hope that common sense will prevail because we are natural, mutually dependent partners in the energy area. Long-term failsafe supplies of Russian hydrocarbons to Europe provide substantial competitive advantages for the economies of EU countries, not to mention the fact that this year the export of Russian energy sources to Europe has set a historical record.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Speaking before such an educated audience, I hardly need to explain in detail that attempts to isolate Russia, punish it for its independent foreign policy and compel it to change course, have failed and could have never succeeded. Positive trends are growing stronger in the Russian economy, which is confirmed in recent reviews of the World Bank and the IMF.
New opportunities for foreign business are opening up in Russia against the backdrop of the restored economic growth. This goes for the companies you represent as well. The US-imposed sanctions are the main obstacle on this road. We noted that, speaking at the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade, Mr Schauff said these sanctions damage industry in EU states because European producers in the Russian market are replaced by companies from other parts of the world. This is an objective fact that cannot be even disputed.
Using the excuse of countering the Russian threat, Washington is not only trying to patch up so-called “Trans-Atlantic solidarity” but also to advance its economic and energy positions in Europe, edge out our joint energy projects, and challenge Russia in the arms market that is the target of the last portion of the announced sanctions. President of Russia Vladimir Putin said at the recent meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club that some “do not even conceal that they are using political pretexts to promote their strictly commercial interests.”
It is up to Europeans to decide how much they need to antagonise Russia. We know that the political and especially business circles of EU countries are increasingly often expressing discontent with this situation. President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker repeatedly spoke about the need to restore dialogue with Russia, for instance, at the conference in Luxembourg in early October. I believe these words will be translated into practical deeds sooner or later.
Against the backdrop of these events we hear allegations that Russia is interested in a weak EU and is trying to divide it. This is untrue. We want (and we have always said this) to see the EU – our neighbour and key trade and economic partner – as a strong, united and independent international player capable of determining its priorities on the basis of a stable balance of the national interests of all its members rather than only on the basis of the position of its aggressive minority on policy towards Russia.
In turn, we will be open to develop cooperation at a pace and to an extent suitable for our EU colleagues. Naturally, in the process we will continue our multi-vector foreign policy of consolidating diverse cooperation with those states that have got rid of ideological blinkers in their economic relations with foreign partners. These states form an overwhelming majority. We will strengthen Eurasian integration and step up practical work in the SCO, BRICS and other associations that are engaged in a search for mutually acceptable agreements and are free from dictates. Incidentally, the G20 is one such association.
What do we think about future EU-Russia relations? The creative potential for cooperation – from trade to the countering of new challenges and threats – is truly enormous. It is important to use it correctly. Russia is consistently advocating the formation of a common space of peace, security and partnership. Many great Europeans, including Charles de Gaulle and Helmut Kohl, spoke about the need to build Greater Europe without dividing lines.
I am convinced that today it is necessary to speak about indivisibility of not only security but also economic development.
Aware of this objective reality, the EAEU is actively stepping up dialogue with dozens of countries and associations on all continents. It continues working on aligning Eurasian integration with China’s One Belt One Road initiative. There is growing interest in the formation of a new integration loop that President Vladimir Putin called the greater Eurasian partnership with the participation of member-states of the EAEU, SCO and ASEAN. We will welcome the EU’s joining this work. We share a continent. To begin with, we hope to receive a reply to the proposal to establish contacts between the EAEU and the EU. For the first time it was made two years ago and we regularly remind our partners about it. We heard timid promises to start this work at technical level. We are ready to work at any level. We consider it counterproductive when two neighbouring integration associations do not have direct contacts.
We continue to proceed from the long-term, non-opportunistic and intrinsically valuable nature of relations between Russia and the EU, all the more so since much in the life of our people and the world in general depends on the shape they are in. I believe we should preserve the accumulated capital of the Russia-EU partnership. We are ready for this. We will continue supporting European entrepreneurs in their commitment to build up their presence in this country and carry out mutually beneficial projects with Russian partners.
Question: I am surely speaking for the majority of European investors in Russia when I say that Russia needs Europe and Europe needs Russia. European business is deeply integrated in the Russian economy. For instance, our company Siemens has 7,000 employees here. They perform not only representative functions but also the functions of economic integration as distinct from many representatives of US companies. At the same time we are bound to see that the ratcheting up of US sanctions is creating a “toxic cloud” for European business in Russia. In this context I’d like to ask you if you see an opportunity for bilateral dialogue between Russia and Europe, improving relations between Russian and European business and the relaxing of sanctions, which we are greatly looking forward to as representatives of European investors.
Sergey Lavrov: Talking about bilateral dialogue it is necessary to understand that we did not break off this dialogue. We had probably the most ramified mechanism of cooperation with the EU among our foreign partners. More than twenty sectoral dialogues, summits twice a year, annual meetings of the Permanent Partnership Council at the level of the Russian Foreign Minister and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and consultations on international issues and human rights. Now practically everything has been frozen, as I have mentioned. There are attempts to resume dialogue on migration. One round has been held (apparently, it is no longer possible to tolerate lack of dialogue on a subject that is very important to all of us). The same applies to the dialogue on readmission, which is directly linked with the dialogue on migration. The first contacts on counterterrorism and anti-drug measures have taken place after a long break.
By the way, Estonia that is in charge of the EU during these six months has not included either anti-terrorist or anti-drug measures into the programme of its Presidency, as was expected. On the whole I find it difficult to understand the current role of country presidencies when after the Treaty of Lisbon they are not even allowed to host summits with foreign partners (they can only be held in Brussels). It appears that summits were taken away, but these countries can shape the agenda proceeding from their own interests, ignoring the position of the entire EU. It’s their domestic business, but terrorism and drugs are issues that always warrant discussion.
You are probably primarily interested in business dialogue. In the past three-odd years we have gained experience with bilateral business platforms. Quite recently, the “captains” of German business visited Sochi and talked with President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. Similar meetings were held in Germany at my level when Sigmar Gabriel headed the Economic Ministry. Such bilateral meetings also took place with French, Italian and Austrian entrepreneurs. But I have not heard for a long time about EU-Russia business dialogue, which had always been one of the major components in the preparations for a summit, for instance. That said, the entrepreneurs that are in charge of this dialogue on our side are obviously ready for it.
It is a good question by the way. During this time I almost got out of the habit of mentioning the Russia-EU business dialogue. Ask in Brussels and I will ask our businessmen who is avoiding contacts.
As for sanctions (I mentioned them in my speech to illustrate all factors that influence our relations), we cannot and will not ask for their removal, all the more so since we are told to do something “good” – from the Western point of view, and they will have a pretext for removing sanctions. In other words (and we are being told this by many people) this proposal contains an understanding that sanctions are useless and do not benefit anyone. They embody the absolutely politicised position of those who want to “punish” Russia and gain competitive advantages. It is interesting to hear about an excuse for removing sanctions.
Let me recall that sanctions as a means of competition have been used for a very long time, primarily by the United States. According to my information, private European companies were fined for over $200 billion from 2008 to 2016. Volkswagen alone had to pay a fine of $14.5 billion in 2016. Total was punished for “commercial bribery” and BNP Paribas for relations with Cuba, Sudan and Iran. Alstom had to suffer for some corruption schemes in Indonesia, Credit Agricole for cooperation with Sudan, Cuba and Iran. Swiss UBS was charged with concealing information on US citizens. There have been many cases.
As you understand, all this had and has nothing to do with what Russia is doing. This has nothing to do with Crimea, which regained its status as part of Russia after the anti-constitutional coup d’etat in Kiev, a criminal action that the residents of Crimea did not accept. All this has nothing to do with Donbass, either. Both Donbass and Crimea are simply a convenient excuse for our American colleagues to engage in unfair competition and undermine the positions of rivals.
This is why this topic is not limited to an agreement on what UN peacemaking mission should be sent to Donbass or to the situation where, once we agree, the Europeans will again find an excuse (again an excuse!) to start relaxing sanctions. The question is much broader. It is necessary to see the entire picture that is linked with extremely intense competition, in which the Americans (I do understand them) want to be more successful than all others. I understand this desire, but it is very difficult to justify their methods.
Question (via interpreter): I have three brief points I would like to make. First, I think claiming that business is business and politics is politics is unrealistic. Second, it is imperative to stop saying bad things about each other, if we want to improve our relations. Third, the EU also wants Russia to be strong and uphold its interests on the basis of international law.
You say that Russia does not want to split the EU, but then proceed to say, in the next sentence, that a number of EU countries are bad. EU policy is coordinated by 28 countries. With regard to implementing the Minsk Agreements, I know that Germany, France, and the United States are working with Russia to agree upon the UN Security Council resolution on peacekeepers in Donbass. We must rely on ‘islands’ of cooperation such as business, education, and science. We need to talk more about the positive aspects of our relations that unite us.
Sergey Lavrov: I will take it up where you stopped and said that we should talk about what unites us, not what divides us. So, we are trying to talk about energy. It is supposed to unite us, correct? Well, in fact, it divides us. Not through our fault or the fault of Germany or the overwhelming majority of the EU member states, but through the fault of a handful of countries that can be counted on the fingers of one hand. They are convinced that they and the EU countries are better off paying 50% extra for US liquefied natural gas than buying cheaper gas from Russia. That's all there is to it.
By the way, with respect to economics is economics and politics is politics. In this particular case, for these countries, politics is economics, and economics is politics.
I have already commented on the information that the European Union makes decisions based on the position of all 28 countries. When 28 countries say that they need to resolve any issue based on consensus and solidarity, I understand that in the presence of contradictory approaches among the 28 countries, the middle ground is chosen as a common position. With all due respect, I must note that when it comes to politics with regard to Russia, the EU position and solidarity are determined not on the basis of middle ground, but on the basis of the lowest common denominator, which is determined, primarily, by the aggressive minority that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, as I mentioned.
Marcus, I can see that you disagree. I am not the one who makes decisions in the EU. I'm talking about how we see it from the outside, not on the basis of speculation, but, frankly (I hope I will not disappoint anyone), on the basis of confidential bilateral talks with many EU member countries.
I fully agree that we must lower the mutual rhetoric. I am all for it.
Just like we need a strong EU, the EU needs a strong Russia. I fully support what was said about the need to do so on the basis of international law, which implies rejecting unconstitutional anti-democratic methods of changing governments.
During our recent contacts – I realise that I will have to talk about Ukraine anyway – we frankly told our German and French colleagues (we could have told this also to our Polish colleagues, but unfortunately, our contacts with them have been suspended) that by signing the agreement between Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition on February 20, 2014 these three European countries assumed responsibility for its implementation. When the opposition trampled on its own commitments the following morning, this was a sign of disrespect for Germany, France and Poland. This is a fact. Germany, France and Poland only said, when we asked why they had not called the opposition to order, that Yanukovych had fled from Kiev. First, Yanukovych was in Ukraine at the time. And second, approximately at the same time Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi fled from Yemen, and the progressive Western community has been demanding for the past three years that he return to Yemen from Saudi Arabia, where he is living now. Why does your attitude to the situation in Yemen differ from your position on Ukraine? Both countries had elected and universally recognised presidents who presided over UN member states. But your European colleagues believe that since Viktor Yanukovych left Kiev for Kharkov, it was perfectly all right to stage a coup. As for Yemen, three years after its president fled the country they demand that his legitimate powers be restored. In other words, we want international relations to be based on full respect for international law without double standards.
By the way, the agreement that was signed on February 20, 2014 did not protect Yanukovych. Its first paragraph says that the parties assumed the obligation to create a national unity government that would prepare a new constitution and elections. But Arseny Yatsenyuk, whom you supported in the agreement with Yanukovych, went to the square immediately after the coup to congratulate the protesters and to ask them to congratulate him on the creation of a government of winners. You – Germany, France and Poland – signed the agreement that stipulated the creation of a national unity government, but your commitment has been disregarded by those who worked together with you on that agreement.
This is history, but forgetting history is very dangerous, because neither Crimea nor Donbass had attacked Ukraine after the coup in Kiev. They simply said that they do not want to be associated with that anti-constitutional act and asked to be left alone so that they would be able to analyse the situation. In response, nationalist leader Dmitry Yarosh, the main driving force behind the Maidan revolt, demanded that Crimea be cleansed of Russians. All of this has been documented. Donbass was declared a terrorist region and an anti-terrorist operation was launched against it. Donbass did not attack Ukraine, but Ukraine indeed attacked part of its own territory and declared that it had been occupied by terrorists. This distinction is very important, but some people have forgotten it. We made a gesture of good will, as President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed recently, by recognising the results of presidential elections in Ukraine although we knew that this government is based on radical nationalism. You can see evidence that this is so every week.
As for progress in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, we have responded to the concern expressed by our German and French colleagues, as well as other Europeans and Ukrainians, that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) comes across threats and security risks too often and that it should be reinforced somehow. About a year ago, we were willing to support a solution under which the SMM would be issued weapons for defence purposes. But Germany, France and the rest of the EU did not support it, because they have no experience or practice of operations involving armed observers. Ultimately, responding to the calls for strengthening the security of the OSCE mission in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has made this proposal.
One reason for the resumption of discussions on the safety of the OSCE mission was the explosion of its patrol vehicle near the dividing line in the Lugansk Region. A special report was prepared following an investigation, which clearly said that the mine was not laid by the Lugansk self-defence forces. The report also said that the Kiev government had refused to provide the video recording of the incident it had at its disposal. Nobody raised an outcry over this. We do not want to look for those who had committed that crime, although the conclusions are obvious. We want the Minsk Agreements to be implemented. With this aim in view, President Putin proposed involving armed UN peacekeepers in the protection of the OSCE mission. France and Germany expressed interest in this initiative. German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked President Putin in a telephone conversation why we proposed only protecting those OSCE observers who would monitor the contact line following disengagement. Ms Merkel pointed out that OSCE observers also work in other parts of Ukraine on both sides of the contact line, patrolling the territory, driving around in their vehicles and talking with the local population. President Putin said that it was a logical comment, and the proposal we subsequently forwarded to the UN Security Council provides for armed UN peacekeepers protecting all OSCE observers during the implementation of their mission.
As I have said, Germany and France view this as an opportunity to come to an agreement. The draft of the resolution we proposed has been submitted to the UN Security Council, but its discussion has not begun because Ukraine said it was no good and promised to submit its own proposal on this issue. It has not done it so far, although more than a month has passed since then. We see where this is heading. Kurt Volker, who has been appointed US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, has visited Berlin, Paris and, for some reason, London. He also visited Kiev several times, where he has recently made a number of important statements, which show which alternative to our proposal is being prepared by the American curators of the Kiev government. The United States is the only country that can influence Kiev, the opposition and the radicals. Mr Volker said that the peacekeeping force, as he put it, should occupy Donbass and encircle it, after which the United States would support President Poroshenko’s efforts to honour his obligations, including the amnesty, a special status for Donbass under the formula proposed by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, which Poroshenko and his government have been sabotaging for the past two years, as well as elections. It is evident that as soon as the occupation force takes control over the full contested area of Donbass, Poroshenko will not lift a finger to implement his promises. It appears that European capitals realise this as well.
Kurt Volker has made one more notable statement, saying that this matter should be settled between Europe, Ukraine and Russia, and that there is no place in that for Donbass. I deeply regret that Berlin considers this an acceptable picture of what should happen. However, I also agree that we can move forward and that the only way to do this is through a strict and faithful implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This is what the aides of our presidents have been doing within the Normandy format, where they are coordinating a roadmap that would synchronise security enhancing measures with steps towards a political settlement. This work is underway, and I strongly hope that Mr Volker’s statement, which directly contradicts what Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine are doing within the Normandy format, will not hinder the drafting of this roadmap.
Question: President Vladimir Putin recently appointed our friend Alexei Meshkov Ambassador to Paris. Since he is here, I would like to congratulate him on this important appointment. What is Meshkov’s roadmap for the near future? What advice did you give him? How do you see the development of French-Russian relations?
Sergey Lavrov: The information on his “road map” is classified. I believe that all ministers provide newly appointed ambassadors with certain instructions and general strategies to follow, and these documents are classified. But there is no secret in the overall direction that Ambassador Meshkov will follow in his work. His activities will be aimed at enhancing our strategic privileged partnership, as it was called by our predecessors.
He will seek to prevent the current circumstance from interfering with the long-term national interests of the Russian and French peoples. We see that attempts are being made to instill these circumstances into everyday life. Hopefully our shared history will keep those in temporary service from damaging relations between Russia and France.
We have very good plans. Our presidents have already met twice. President Putin has visited France and President Macron has accepted the invitation to visit Russia, including the St Petersburg Economic Forum in May 2018. We have agreed to create a new major platform for public dialogue, called the Trianon Dialogue.
The fact that that the presidents discussed this initiative at their first meeting is very important, as a broad-based interaction between the most diverse members of civil society is perhaps the best way to reinforce the foundation of our relations and show our governments and various agencies the direction in which the citizens of both countries want to move.
Question: This Friday the US President will embark on the longest ever visit to the countries of the Far East: Japan, China, Vietnam and others. This is meant to reassure these countries in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat. At the same time, on November 10−11 Pope Francis is bringing together 11 Nobel Prize winners to discuss ways to ensure a continued dialogue to find peaceful solutions to the existing issues. What is your opinion of this?
Sergey Lavrov: A lot has been said on what is happening on the Korean Peninsula and around North Korea. President Vladimir Putin has also commented in detail on this. Of course, we unequivocally support a peaceful solution, which has no alternatives. This requires taking steps towards each other and abandoning the rhetoric related to the ties between Russia and the EU.
In any conflict or crisis, I don’t want to use these terms with regard to our relations, in a situation where there is no agreement, you need to calm the rhetoric or even abandon it altogether and look for ways to take political steps towards each other. We have yet to see such steps from either the United States or North Korea, although, as I have previously said, the smarter and stronger party should take the first step.
In parallel with the lack of political moves and progress on the political track, with no reaction to the Russian-Chinese initiative to “double freeze” at least for some time the adventurous actions in North Korea and the joint military exercises by the United States and the Republic of Korea, the rhetoric has gone overboard using even personal insults, which, naturally, does not contribute to creating an atmosphere that could defuse the situation.
We are hearing more statements from Washington that the issue could have a military solution. Yesterday or today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford said that if there is an order to use force on the Korean Peninsula he does exclude that it will be done without going to Congress. This is a very worrisome statement.
We have been in contact with our South Korean and Japanese neighbors, and they, too, are worried. They understand that if a military scenario is used, they will be the first targets. South Korean President Mun Zhe Ying has told us that the United States would need to consult South Korea before using force.
I have heard different statements from Washington, which don’t suggest that they are planning to seek any coordination, consultation, and least of all any consent. Just a couple of days ago, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he agreed with President Donald Trump that a military option could not be excluded.
I remember a month ago, when the situation was already quite tense, but had not yet reached the boiling point, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, commenting on the possibility of a military scenario on the Korean Peninsula, said that it would produce a catastrophic number of victims.
We have yet to get a clear understanding of how policy is formulated and coordinated there not only with regard to this problem, but virtually to any other issue. We will seek to ensure that the Russian-Chinese initiative, or any other peace initiative with the potential to succeed, is given proper consideration. We have yet to get to that point.
Question: How have we reached a situation where the EU and Russia no longer trust each other? What has happened between 2003, when the European Union and Russia coordinated a common economic space, a sign of a high level of trust, and 2014? What can be done to avoid repeating this in the future?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a very good observation, and I fully agree with you that problems in our relations began long before the coup in Ukraine. There are several facts that indicate this. In fact, there were many expectations in 2003 regarding not only the common economic space but also a common humanitarian space.
Romano Prodi, then president of the European Commission, said at a news conference, following the 2003 Russia-EU Summit, that he had no doubt that five years from then Russia and the EU would sign a visa-free travel agreement. 2008 came and it seemed that there were no particular global issues, like Ukraine, even on the horizon, but progress on a visa-free travel agreement was being delayed. When it reached a more or less practical stage and the agreement was, in effect, talked over and its wording coordinated, we were told that working groups should be established to monitor security at Russian border checkpoints, and that biometric passports were needed as were readmission commitments. We established all those working groups; EU inspectors visited Russia to see what we were doing and we also visited the EU to see their arrangements. By 2011 or 2012, there was nothing else to work out and we only needed to sign the agreement. But it transpired that this was not enough either because the minority I mentioned (it existed by then) used the EU solidarity principle to induce the EU to adopt the following position: Russia has met the technical and legal requirements; the EU and Russia are fully ready to introduce a visa-free system, but politically it would be a problem to introduce it with Russia before it was introduced with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. This was in 2012. That’s where it all is coming from. This is just one example, but there were many of them.
My EU counterpart at that time, Catherine Ashton, and I had no luck holding a normal permanent Partnership Council stipulated by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which was supposed to meet once every six months at the foreign ministerial level to review all areas of Russian-EU sectoral cooperation. Long before Ukraine, our meetings were reduced to discussing Syria. Before Syria, there was Iraq, the Middle East settlement, or something else. But it had been some time since we coordinated activities in all partnership areas as we had been directly instructed by our leaders.
Now I have to go back to the EU positioning problem. If the current practice persists and anyone is able to block a constructive decision that meets the interests of all, then we are likely to underperform in terms of our full potential, which is huge, as partners for some time to come. I have no doubt that a common economic space, building bridges between Eurasian integration and the EU, progress on the Grand Eurasian Project and its extension not only to the SCO, participants in the One Belt, One Road project, and ASEAN states, but also to the EU is the best way both for you and for us to secure our positions in the world that is becoming increasingly competitive and where new growth and influence centres are emerging. Being on one huge piece of the Earth and failing to use our relative advantages means going against our own national interests. Our sole hope is for sober-minded and far-sighted leaders. I hope Europe still has these people.
Question: It is unfair to say that Estonia that holds the Presidency of the EU Council is not interested in promoting dialogue between the EU and Russia. We are wholly devoted to the five fundamental principles of Russia-EU relations determined last year, including the principle of selective partnership and involvement in the areas where this is beneficial for both sides.
You have also devoted attention to the Eastern Partnership agenda. I can only assure you that the discussions on this matter continue in Brussels. During its Presidency Estonia is playing an active role in forming the EU agenda and drafting the declaration of the Eastern Partnership summit that is scheduled for November. I hope it will give a clear message to our partners that this policy will be continued and will produce practical dividends for our partners. The bottom line is that we can develop the Eastern Partnership in a way that prevents all of its participants from facing a complicated choice between the EU and Russia.
Sergey Lavrov: I simply stated the fact that during the Estonian Presidency the mechanisms that must be used all the time have not been formed. Don’t take offense, please.
As for the five principles that you described as fundamental in Russia-EU relations, it is common knowledge that Russia did not take part in their formulation. I will not describe in detail the development of my contacts with High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. I know for certain that she was simply not allowed to visit Russia for a very long time although we had agreements on this score. Dialogue was badly affected because of this. Whenever questions arise, it is always better to meet, ask them and receive answers looking someone straight in the eyes. Ms Mogherini managed to come to Moscow only when the EU formulated its unilateral five principles you mentioned. Armed with this document that substantially restricted her freedom of action, she eventually came to Russia.
I thought that our relations are still determined not by the five principles that were just mentioned and elaborated unilaterally, but the principles that are laid down in the Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. It expired in 2010 but continues to be valid because the new agreement on which we started working is not yet ready. The work on it stalled long before the anti-constitutional coup d’etat took place in Ukraine.
You mentioned the Eastern Partnership expressing satisfaction that I allegedly spoke about it. However, I haven’t spoken about it although I know that you are preparing a summit, this time with the participation of the leaders of all six focus states. This is also a step in the right direction. We spoke with our colleagues earlier on when the Eastern Partnership was still created. We seemed to be invited as observers. Then we were invited to separate projects but in the end we were not offered any opportunity to take part in any project. I hope that any statements made during the development of the Eastern Partnership do not reflect the EU position. They were based on the logic that requires a choice from a partner country – you are either with Europe or Russia. This is similar to the statements made recently by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Brian Yee. He said that Serbia should choose between Russia and the EU because it is impossible to be friends with both and that the United States unequivocally supports Serbia’s choice in favour of Europe. Isn’t this interference in domestic affairs?
We heard similar words from EU members. During Ukraine’s first Maidan in 2004 Belgian Foreign Minister and later on European Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in public that the Ukrainian people should choose between Russia and Europe. I recall US political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski who wrote The Grand Chessboard among his many books. Speaking about the future of Eurasia and Western interests he bluntly set the main task – “to keep the barbarians from coming together.” He voiced very interesting philosophical ideas. He was an intelligent, educated man and very knowledgeable too. Regrettably, many of the ideas he recommended at that time are being translated into reality.
Question: When we aspire to progress in our businesses, we try to comply with certain principles. But when nothing seems to go well, an unwillingness to compromise is not the correct approach. As we deal with our Russian partners, we think that the time has come to look for compromise rather than continue to abide by cast iron principles. Everyone is ready for this. What clever steps can Russia take in this direction? Is there any sign of progress in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements?
The Association of European Businesses is acting in the interests of close unity and cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Our visit to Brussels was largely focused on this. What future do you envision for this union? Is partnership possible between the EU and the EAEU?
Sergey Lavrov: I understand that you are dissatisfied and even disappointed with the current state of our relations, which is not what it should be considering the potential of the EU, Russia and the EAEU.
Anyway, your question contains the answer, which is that the path towards this goes through the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
Here is a short story. The coordination of the Minsk Agreements took 17 hours. In the end, we coordinate a package the UN Security Council approved unanimously without any exemptions, including the signatures put under the Minsk Agreements by the leaders of the two self-proclaimed republics, Alexander Zakharchenko for the Donetsk republic and Igor Plotnitsky for the Lugansk republic. President Poroshenko insisted at that time that Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky come to Minsk to sign this document. But now he said that these two men must not be let anywhere near the agreements on the implementation of these accords. US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker has said there is no place for them in that. We want to deal with partners who will honour their commitments. It is clear that President Poroshenko will do his best to sabotage the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, because he has been intimidated by the radicals who accuse him of betrayal. He appears unable to use his prestige and support from the EU, the United States and the UN Security Council to show the radicals to their place and insist on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. You could say he has no courage for this.
The subsequent meetings and Normandy format summits focused on ways to implement the Minsk Agreements. President Putin said the path was obvious: to prepare and coordinate the laws on elections and a special status for Donbass within a month. It didn’t work out. Mr Poroshenko then said the law on a special status cannot be adopted before the elections, because he must know who will head the Donbass government before adopting the law. In other words, the region will receive a special status if the people elect the leaders he likes, and not if the elected leaders are not to his liking. This procrastinating discussion went on and on, until Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then the foreign minister of Germany and now its president, advanced an initiative we now know as the Steinmeier Formula, under which the law on a special status is adopted and becomes tentatively effective on the first day of the elections and fully effective when the OSCE publishes its report on monitoring the elections.
A year has passed and nothing has happened. The Steinmeier Formula has no legal status. It has not even been committed to paper. We asked for an explanation. President Poroshenko said that the final OSCE report could say that the elections were unfair and undemocratic. He needed a whole year to formulate his doubts. President Putin said then that the law could become tentatively effective on election day and fully effective on the day of the OSCE report saying that the elections were free, fair and in keeping with OSCE criteria. Everyone accepted this. It was our second concession, because the Minsk Agreements do not say anything about this. They say that the law must be adopted before the elections so that those who come to the polling stations would know which powers those for whom they vote will have. Our third concession made beyond the Minsk Agreements was the initiative on arming OSCE observers. The Europeans said this was unacceptable. And now we are bogged down at the UN Security Council, which appears willing to discuss our draft resolution but is not discussing it. Our Ukrainian and American partners say they need a different resolution, but they have not proposed anything. So, if the EU needed a reason to abandon its Russia-hating policy, there were several to choose from.
I don’t want to sound anti-American, we are just stating the facts. The Americans wish to preserve their domination of the world economy, politics and military affairs. Probably this is hard to contest as a major power’s aspiration. However, in striving to achieve this goal, they resort to a method of unsavoury and unfair rivalry. We have cited numerous examples of this today. But in the final analysis, as one watches the European internal life or what is usually understood as the mainstream, one gets the impression that the Americans have managed, over recent years, to create an environment where it is a cinch that any negative events in the European Union from protests against official policies to corporate bankruptcies or even man-made disasters could be blamed on Russia, its ill-will, or its misuse of the information space. It was even aired that we would not only meddle in all elections across the board but were also capable of manipulating the environment to induce, for example, floods like the horrendous ones we saw in Europe yesterday.
Where elections are concerned, I would like to say that we did nothing either in relations of the United States, Germany or Britain (where we were also accused of masterminding Brexit), or France (there were charges there as well and the French President even dropped two Russian media outlets, RT and Sputnik, from his pool).
But let us go back to Europe: The Swedes said they were almost certain that we would interfere with their elections. I have mentioned the Republic of South Africa. However no one has produced a single fact.
As for Germany, the fact that Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone communications were intercepted was registered and recorded by everyone. But neither the Federal Intelligence Service of Germany nor anyone else is conducting an investigation. All of them prefer to “wag their tongue” and say they know about the Russians’ doings but they cannot present the facts because they are secret.
Secrets are an interesting thing. Alexander Litvinenko died tragically in London. There was an investigation. We were insisting that it should be public, but it was classified and conducted with the involvement of the secret service. The investigation is called public but in fact it is secret and no one knows up till now what charges were brought and what facts were put on the table.
The 2014 Malaysian Boeing disaster has been investigated in secrecy as well. The material we provided is not considered or at least is not mentioned. They were in a hurry to establish a tribunal two years ago. We suggested that the investigation should be completed first of all. But the investigation has not been completed to this day and they are extending it for another year. There is not a single hard fact, but the accusations continue. Asked why no evidence is provided, they reply that it is secret, just as our American partners do in reply to my daring them to prove our interference in their elections. They say there is incontestable, if secret, evidence. The Senate has been into it for nine months, a special prosecutor has been appointed, but there is not a single hard fact, even though press leaks are a norm in US political culture. Had there been even a single fact of any importance, it would have been leaked long ago. After all, so many people are involved in the congressional hearings, the special prosecutor’s investigation, and so on. This is why the song and dance about secrecy is, honestly speaking, ludicrous for people, who are advancing such grave charges against us.
I would like to reiterate that we are expected to provide a pretext for them to state that Russians have reformed and to offer us normal cooperation plus the lifting of sanctions. We are doing what we are doing. I have cited examples of highly constructive approaches to the same process of implementing the Minsk Agreements. If someone needed pretexts, here they are. We have created these pretexts simply because we are willing to implement the Minsk Agreements, not because we want to ask your government to do us a favour and lift the sanctions. I have no doubt that our Normandy Format partners (the Germans and the French), who are engaged in this on a permanent basis, know all too well who it is who is blocking the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
Allow me to give you just one example. In Berlin a year ago, the leaders agreed to encourage the establishment of security zones on the line of contact. Several areas were chosen as a pilot zone, in two of which heavy weapons were disengaged. A third zone, coordinated by all parties, is called Stanitsa Luganskaya. Disengaging heavy weapons failed time and again there because Ukrainians said they couldn’t do this on account of the continuation of shelling. They put forward a condition that they were ready to start the disengagement if there was a week of complete silence. Since then – you may ask OSCE representatives – the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has recorded eight full weeks of silence. Each time, with the OSCE reporting to this effect and proposing to start the disengagement, the Ukrainians would say that this was our statistics, while they had counted one hundred shots. So that was that.
Currently, yet another attempt is being made to start this disengagement on November 4. It will be the ninth week of complete silence, which – I have almost no doubt but I’d like to be mistaken – the Ukrainians will challenge by presenting statistics of their own. This is also a pretext. But you are expecting us to provide positive pretexts, and I have given you an example, while this pretext is negative and fit for urging those in Kiev, who are abusing the good graces of Berlin, Paris, Washington and other Western capitals, to stop playing these games and perform their commitments, because, as you know, it takes two to tango.
Question: What can the business community do to help you fight against this anti-Russia hysteria, which we know is not based on any facts?
Sergey Lavrov: Business knows best what is in its interests. The best thing would be for you to simply put forth your position, which is that you need a different atmosphere, to the leaders of your and our countries. Frankly, I am not optimistic that business requests will be heeded. I know and I have seen this happen during a recent meeting President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev had with German business leaders in Sochi, that none of them have left Russia, just as the French and Italian companies. We see that German business, as well as French, Italian, Austrian and other businesses, does not want politics to interfere with the economy. But I also remember how the EU, following in the footsteps of the United States, adopted sanctions against Russia after Crimea’s reunification and after developments in Donbass, and I have read about debates during which businesses urged their governments not to mix up the economy and politics. We talked about this today. At that time, Chancellor Merkel said – at least, this is how the media quoted her – that in this particular case politics must prevail over the economy. In other words, economic interests were deliberately sacrificed. There is nothing more to say on this score.
As for hysteria, US Special Counsel Robert Mueller III has presented the results of many months of work by accusing two former members of Donald Trump’s election campaign of associating with President [of Ukraine] Yanukovych. They looked for a Russian connection. I don’t want to interfere in this process, but it is a fact that the incumbent Ukrainian authorities made contributions to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In short, if there is a will to create problems and prevent others from attaining their goals or from restoring relations, there is always a way to do this.
Question: We are now helping to find jobs for the 700 Russians who have been released from the US diplomatic mission in Russia. These people have been told about a certain black list, and no matter how hard we tried we have been unable to find employment for them with Russian agencies or companies with state capital. How can these people be helped?
Sergey Lavrov: I am not an expert in the domestic law of the United States or other leading Western countries, but I can imagine a situation when, say, American citizens held non-clerical positions at the Russian Embassy in Washington, because I know that the Russians who officially held technical positions at the US Embassy in Russia fulfilled functions that are only assigned to the diplomatic staff under the Vienna conventions. They travelled around the country and polled people, which is diplomatic work. We did not make any negative conclusions from this, except in rare cases. Imagine what would have happened if several hundred US citizens working at the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco, which has been shut down in a very aggressive manner by the FBI and other security agents, who poked their noses into our archives, were dismissed and looked for jobs at US government agencies. Would they easily find new jobs? I don’t think so. I believe that each country should act in accordance with its own procedures. European countries also have a procedure regarding those who have foreigners among their relatives, for example, relatives married to foreign citizens. I am sure that if these are gifted people, and these people should be gifted because the Americans would not have hired them otherwise, they will find new employment. Why should they focus on government agencies? The demand for talented people is very high at our private companies.
As for the overall situation, it does not make us happy at all. We had to do this, to level off the number of diplomats and personnel at the Russian diplomatic establishments in the United States and in the US diplomatic establishments in Russia. At the same time, we made a big concession to the Americans, because we included the 170 employees working at the Russian Permanent Mission at the UN in the overall number of employees Russia and the United States should have at their diplomatic missions in the partner country. The 170 employees working at the UN have no relation to bilateral parity and are protected by the agreement on the obligations of the United States as the host country of the UN Headquarters. In fact, we could have deducted these employees from the overall figure. But we didn’t do this in the hope that this would help stop the crazy spiral that was launched by a Nobel Peace Prize winner in December 2016. It is a shame that Obama’s desire to destroy Russian-US relations has such long legs and that it has been taken up by many Democrats and, regrettably, some Republicans as well. Moreover, each of these groups is doing this exclusively for their own political considerations as part of infighting in the United States. It is regrettable that the Trump administration has not managed to cut short this process, even though the US President has more than once indicated his desire to normalise relations with Russia and to maintain good and mutually beneficial relations with us in the interests of the entire world. I hope serious analysts realise how all this began and know about diplomatic rules, including the rule of reciprocity. If you compare the actions taken by Barack Obama and Donald Trump, who had to go with this rather unclean stream, and our reply actions, I hope you will see that we are trying to respond as moderately as possible and to observe the main diplomatic proprieties.