Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and replies to media questions at the joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic Miroslav Lajcak, Moscow, October 8, 2018
My Slovak colleague Miroslav Lajcak and I had meaningful talks. We focused on prospects for cooperation between our states, which, despite the notable events in Europe, continues to advance steadily in all areas. I am referring to political dialogue, inter-parliamentary ties and regular contacts between our foreign ministries.
We noted there had been a recovery from a decline in bilateral trade and this was followed by a positive trend last year. The first months of this year showed steady growth of 12 per cent.
We continue our successful cooperation in energy, including the nuclear industry. In the future, Slovakia can continue to count on Russia as a reliable supplier of hydrocarbons. Other priority areas of practical cooperation include industry, transport infrastructure and agriculture.
We greatly appreciated the performance of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation that will hold its next session in a few days, on October 15-16.
We noted that interregional ties are well developed. There are over 50 bilateral agreements on regional partnership and cooperation. Last June, the second meeting of twin cities and partnership regions of Russia and Slovakia was held in the city of Vidnoye in the Moscow Region.
We welcome the intensification of cooperation in the humanitarian sphere. We spoke about the implementation of the programme of cultural cooperation for 2018-2022. Russia appreciates Slovak leaders’ support for those who want to study the Russian language. Their number is growing and the geography of teaching Russian is expanding. We agreed to support different projects and undertakings in this area and facilitate the deepening of student and academic exchanges.
We emphasised the importance of further developing human contacts via civil societies. The next session of the discussion forum that was set up by our countries’ public organisations for this purpose will take place on October 12.
During the discussion of international issues, we focused on the Middle East, primarily Syria. We stand for an early political settlement of this crisis on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We keep our Slovak colleagues informed about the steps made by Russia in the Astana format and in line with the principles determined by the UN Security Council.
We spoke a lot about the OSCE, in view of the fact that Slovakia will hold the Chairmanship of the organisation next year. We talked about the specific areas of its work in each of the three baskets: political and security, economic and humanitarian.
We also discussed the OSCE’s role in settling various regional conflicts. We emphasised our mutual interest in a more active use of the OSCE’s substantial potential for enhancing security and trust in the Euro-Atlantic Region. Our colleagues informed us about the priorities that the Slovak Chairmanship is preparing for next year’s discussions. We are ready for constructive work on this basis.
We spoke about the OSCE’s role in settling the Ukrainian crisis, notably as regards the political process (I am referring to the work of the Contact Group) and the Special Monitoring Mission that was deployed in Ukraine, including its eastern part, at the decision of the OSCE Permanent Council.
We have a shared view on the need to consistently implement the Minsk Package of Measures in the form that it was approved by the UN Security Council. Russian officials explained to their Slovak partners their view of the reasons for Kiev’s efforts to subvert this major document.
We discussed Russia-EU contacts. As for the Russia-NATO Council, we appreciate the position of those West European and European countries, including Slovakia, that recognise the need to transcend the current state of relations between Russia and these entities, which is not quite normal for the time being.
We will continue these contacts, in part in the context of Slovakia’s forthcoming chairmanship of the OSCE, and we will develop our interaction at the UN (we spoke about this today as well).
Mr Lajcak has just completed his role as the President of the UN General Assembly. His work in this position was highly praised at the 72nd UN General Assembly session and largely facilitated the achievement of many positive results.
Miroslav Lajcak invited me to pay a return visit to Slovakia. I will be pleased to go and we will continue our contacts.
Question: What is obstructing the creation of the Constitutional Committee on Syria today? Now the sides are concerned that the opinion of some parts of civil society may prevail during its formation.
President of Syria Bashar al-Assad signed an executive order in the morning today pardoning all deserters. Do you think this executive order will speed up the return of refugees home?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the Constitutional Committee, it is not a matter of what Russia wants or what it prefers. The goal is to make this body representative on a large scale. The work on this issue is being conducted in the Astana format. Naturally, representatives of both the Syrian Government and the opposition are taking part in it. It is necessary for the broadest possible spectrum of the opposition to be represented, as it is written in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. All this is being done in the context of this resolution with the assistance of the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and his team.
An agreement on equal representation of delegates from the Government, the opposition and civil society in the Constitutional Committee has been reached in principle. This is probably the best composition in qualitative terms.
As for the quantitative representation of different civil society groups, there is still work to be done to come to an agreement. It is important to make sure that everyone who is on the Constitutional Committee, who is supposed to be on it, approves of its makeup. We are facilitating this process but see no reasons to speed it up or set artificial deadlines for this work to begin. Quality is the main goal here. Just as during most other conflicts, the UN does not try to artificially accelerate events because attempts to do so result in setbacks and merely create unnecessary frenzy.
So we continue working on this. Our representatives together with our Turkish and Iranian partners are in contact with all interested parties, including our Syrian colleagues and UN representatives with whom they meet on a regular basis.
As for the pardon for deserters, it is likely an effort to promote national reconciliation and create conditions that would suit those refugees as well as internally displaced persons who want to return to Syria.
We are actively encouraging the Syrian leadership in this stance. As you know, when the need to help refugees return home came to the fore, some politicians expressed apprehensions that their safety will not be guaranteed, that they will be discriminated again or immediately conscripted in the army. They quoted Law No 10 that is allegedly aimed at seizing the property of those who do not return home. We are trying to help the Syrian Government and its opponents find mutually acceptable solutions on all of these issues, which will help people to opt to return home.
As for Law No 10, we advised those who expressed apprehensions about it, in particular, UN representatives, to get in contact with the Syrian Government. They did, and as far as I know, practically all misunderstandings related to this document have been addressed. So we will continue striving to better help create the conditions for the return of refugees.
Our military are doing a lot in practical terms to help the Syrian authorities restore basic infrastructure, the system of critical supports for the population. We are informing the countries that host Syrian refugees about places where conditions for the return of refugees have already been created.
Question (for Miroslav Lajcak): Earlier, the Slovak company LOTN that belongs to the country’s Defence Ministry, began repairing Russian Mi helicopters that were supplied to Afghanistan. The company Russian Helicopters insists that LOTN does not have the right to do this. Does it plan to buy a certificate for repairs? Do you think this situation may affect bilateral relations, considering that initially Russia sought to secure this large contract?
Sergey Lavrov (adds after Miroslav Lajcak): I would also like to express support for this idea. Various economic situations may arise. This is understandable.
When there is a clash of economic interests, both in relations with our Slovak colleagues and many other partners, we always find mutually acceptable solutions. Such situations do not affect the general character of our good, close and friendly relations.