Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and replies to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Moscow, October 8, 2018
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to welcome once again my colleague Mr Melanesi who is visiting Moscow for the first time as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Italian Republic.
Our talks took place in a traditionally friendly atmosphere. We discussed a broad range of bilateral, regional and international issues. We consider it important that our positions are similar or consonant on many points.
We discussed the schedule of forthcoming Russia-Italy contacts, including those at the top level. We are interested in developing our political dialogue in different formats, including consultations between our foreign ministries and inter-parliamentary exchanges. There is a plan to hold meetings between heads of chambers of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation and the Parliament of Italy. We reaffirmed our mutual interest in further enhancing the effectiveness of our joint struggle against international terrorism, drug trafficking, cross-border crime and other new challenges and threats. We emphasised the need for further cooperation between our countries’ relevant competent authorities, including within the bilateral working group on countering new challenges and threats. We noted that trade grew by about $15 billion in the first seven months of this year. This means that we are overcoming a decline in trade and want to consolidate the new positive trend. We are convinced that this task will be facilitated by the active work of the Russian-Italian Council for Economic, Industrial, Monetary and Financial Cooperation that is co-chaired by Italian Foreign Minister Mr Melanesi and Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov.
Energy cooperation remains a key area. We discussed the developments around Nord Stream 2, which has already got underway, and a potential second stage of the Turkish Stream. These projects are commercial, meet the interests of European countries and diversify the routes of Russian natural gas supplies to Europe, reducing transit risks and enhancing European security.
We gave a positive assessment of our cultural and humanitarian exchanges. The large-scale Russian Seasons project is being successfully implemented this year. More than a dozen interesting events have already been held as part of the initiative. Now preparations are underway for its closing ceremony on December 19 of this year.
Our ties in education and science are expanding. This is graphically illustrated by the agreement on research cooperation signed last June by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Italian National Research Council, as well as by increased cooperation between universities under the dual diploma programmes.
We expressed mutual willingness to promote contacts between civil societies and are pegging great hopes on the activities of the Russian-Italian Dialogue Forum that is a useful mechanism. It facilitates the expansion of human contacts and an improvement in mutual understanding between our nations.
As for international issues, we spoke about the status of Russia-EU relations. Moscow is interested in a strong European Union that would act as a predictable and pragmatic partner and would pursue foreign policy in the interests of Europe and EU members. We believe – and our Italian colleagues share this opinion – that dialogue between Moscow and Brussels should be improved and invigorated. In this context, we see and appreciate the constructive determination of our Italian partners to facilitate these processes.
We also discussed our interaction within the OSCE with regard to Italy’s presidency of the organisation. We noted our joint work in such key areas as counteracting terrorism, drug trafficking and cyber threats; the coordination of integration processes in various areas of the OSCE’s responsibility; protecting traditional values, including the rights of national minorities; and counteracting christianophobia, islamophobia and antisemitism.
As for regional issues, we focused on developments in Libya. We are convinced of the need to search for universally acceptable approaches that would allow Libyans to determine the future of their country through a national dialogue. We expressed readiness to facilitate the solution of the crisis in the region using political and diplomatic means in accordance with the common principles of international law. We welcome the active role of Italy in this direction.
For our part, we spoke about our assessments of the Syrian settlement process. They are based on the need to focus all the efforts of the international community on fulfilling the goals outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Let me remind you that this is precisely what the Astana Format is directed towards. I mean the process that was begun by Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
We also spoke in detail about the situation in Ukraine. We informed our Italian colleagues about our efforts to attain the unconditional implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures. There is no alternative to this. And it should be implemented in the form in which it was approved by the UN Security Council.
I want to thank my colleague for the excellent negotiations. I hope they will be followed by regular contacts. Thank you for the invitation to make a return visit to Italy.
Question: Speaking about sanctions, what does Russia expect from Italy and what can Italy do for Russia to ease tensions? Did you discuss that?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, we discussed that, as we said in our opening remarks. When the European Union introduced sanctions against Russia, after the events primarily in Crimea where local residents exercised their right to self-determination in a completely logical and legitimate manner, in circumstances when their mere existence and their fundamental values and interests were attacked and threatened by those who unlawfully took power in Kiev in a coup, we saw that as a decision that helps neither to advance our relations nor to resolve the crisis in Ukraine. The putchists who seized power in Kiev essentially felt they had impunity.
The subsequent waves of sanctions – tied to the refusal of residents of the larger part of Donbass to accept the illegitimate regime that took over Kiev in a coup – also demonstrated that the EU was acting out of inertia.
Everybody breathed a sigh of relief when the Minsk Agreements on settling the Ukrainian crisis, the agreements unanimously approved by the UNSC, were signed. Unfortunately, very soon it became clear that Kiev has no intention of honouring these agreements, but rather intends and continues to consistently evade the key principle of the resolution, which is direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk. When that became obvious (and I am certain that our European colleagues, mainly France and Germany as co-authors of the Minsk Agreements, are well aware of the reasons why the agreements were not fulfilled) it was not very convenient for our European colleagues to take it out on the Kiev officials and accuse them of sabotaging the agreement. So they invented a very convenient formula: the EU wants to lift the sanctions from Russia, cooperate with our country but first the Minsk Agreements must be fulfilled. Since the current Kiev officials are not honouring the Minsk Agreements, this stance taken by the EU basically implied that the Kiev officials were encouraged to keep sabotaging the Minsk document proceeding from the premise that the Russian Federation will pay for it. And Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko continues to use this situation gladly. This is our analysis of the events.
As concerns the sanctions and how we can further develop our relations, there are now, without doubt, many governments in the EU that understand how unhealthy the current circumstances are. They support in-depth examination of the matters and following not ideological arguments, not the logic of Euro-Atlantic solidarity but the fundamental interests of European countries and, of course, the Russian Federation.
These governments include the government of President of the Council of Ministers of Italy Giuseppe Conte. Today we highly praised the constructive attitude promoted by the incumbent Italian government, including at various EU-related forums. I believe the core interests of the European nations will prevail. Businesses have conducted many assessments that show the damage from the current situation, the losses that have already been sustained. I think nobody wants this to continue. We expect that we will return to the previous terms of our relations and restore all the cooperation mechanisms between Russia and the EU, including summits and regular meetings of the Russia−European Union Permanent Partnership Council as well as activity as part of over 20 sectoral dialogues.
The fact that Brussels is approaching the current state of affairs with greater common sense confirms that some dialogues are starting to recover – for example, on migration issues. There are also good prospects in counteracting terrorism and drug trafficking, and in energy. Although the energy dialogue has not been resumed to its full extent, our Minister of Energy maintains regular contacts with the European Commissioner for Energy. We have a full understanding of where we are at. We are acting pragmatically. I think reality will reassert itself. This is also evidenced by the fact that in the past 18 months to two years, trade between Russia and the EU started to return to an upward trend and continues to grow rather steadily. We welcome this trend and will always be open to constructive proposals aimed at resuming our relations in the interests of Russia and our partners.
Question: A conference on Libya will take place in Palermo. Who will represent Russia at it? Can we expect President of Russia Vladimir Putin to participate?
Sergey Lavrov: It is logical that a question about Libya followed the migration question (addressed to the Italian minister) because, I hope, everyone remembers that this migration explosion, the wave that swept Europe came in the wake of the NATO countries’ aggression against Libya, which violated the relevant UN Security Council resolution. We expressed our view on this issue at that time and warned that it would end badly. We are still dealing with the consequences. Our colleagues and friends in the European Union are the hardest hit.
Russia and Italy have a well-established and well-structured dialogue on Libya and other issues of the region. Libya is regularly discussed by our Security Council staffs, foreign policy presidential aides and foreign ministries. Since the very start of the Libyan crisis, the Russian Federation has worked with all key political forces without exception. We met with and invited to Moscow the head of the government of national accord, representatives of the chamber of deputies in Tobruk, the commander of the Libyan national army and other key participants of the political process and parties to the domestic Libyan conflict. We believe it is absolutely essential to work with all Libyan forces and note that many of our Western colleagues that had somewhat different approaches to the Libyan settlement process now share our position and are working with all key players.
The second principle that we were guided by like Italy was to avoid ultimatums or any artificial deadlines on stages to the settlement. The priority should be allowing Libyans to reach an understanding of what principles they want to lay at the foundation of the political system of their state.
I would like to emphasise in this context that the role of the international community is not in imposing solutions but primarily in creating conditions in which the sides in Libya will find it easier to come to terms. And both we and Italy support the role of the United Nations and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Libya Ghassan Salame.
It is also important to emphasise at this point the need to respect the role of Libya’s next door neighbours in all these efforts.
All these issues are expected to be submitted for discussion at the Palermo conference with the participation of all key Libyan and international actors. I believe this may be a fairly useful event. As for a more detailed response to this initiative and the level of our participation, we will be able to speak about this a bit later when we study the materials that we received together with the invitation. The invitation came the day before yesterday, so we cannot yet give you a final answer as to the level of Russia’s participation in the conference in Palermo but we will certainly take part in it.
Question: Could you comment on the accusations of cyber spying that were recently made by the Dutch Defence Ministry? Do you think this is connected with the forthcoming OPCW session?
It was reported that the Dutch ambassador will be summoned to the Foreign Ministry today. Is he likely to receive a note of some kind?
Sergey Lavrov: Preliminary comments on this episode have already been made. As a brief reminder, there was nothing secret about the trip of Russian specialists to the Hague last April. This was a routine trip and they did not try to hide anything either when registering at the hotel, arriving at the airport or visiting our Embassy. They were detained, not allowed to contact representatives of our Embassy in the Netherlands and asked to leave. Honestly, it all looked like a misunderstanding, all the more so since there were no protests or demarches on behalf of Moscow or the Hague in connection with this incident.
But half a year later, I believe some three weeks ago in September, it was leaked to the Dutch press that these people were involved in cyber spying. As we were interested in these developments, we invited the Dutch ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and asked him to share with us the details and facts about this leak in the media. We did not receive a sensible answer.
On October 3, our ambassador was summoned by the Dutch Foreign Ministry and given a note of protest as regards this episode with the accusations that came to your attention through the media. When the ambassador asked where he can find concrete facts and relevant materials, he was told that we will learn about everything at a news conference that will be held by the Defence Ministry. This is the whole story.
I think this is yet another example of megaphone diplomacy and neglect of legal mechanisms that were established and exist for discussing problems that arise in relations between any countries, including Russia and the Netherlands.
We are inviting the Dutch ambassador to consider this point of view I’ve just expressed. We will provide additional detailed information.
Now a few words about the session of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that opens literally tomorrow. Probably, it will be used by those countries that want to distort the contents of the Chemical Weapons Convention and turn its Technical Secretariat into a kind of punitive body, thereby undermining international law, specifically the prerogatives of the UN Security Council.
I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that I think a meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) at the level of defence ministers was held on the same day as the news conference. So if we are talking about direct or indirect coincidences, we must also bear this in mind. The session of the European Council where heads of state and the EU government will also deal with different issues will take place in the near future. Some politicians may have believed that the April episode in the media exactly at this time would help divert attention from complicated issues now being discussed by the EU and, to a certain extent, NATO, such as aligning the defence capabilities of these two structures.
I will stop there. As we analyse this situation we will share additional information with you.