Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, Moscow, November 2, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
My talks with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger were held in a constructive atmosphere and were very meaningful, just as all the meetings we had before. This was our fourth meeting this year.
Russia has consistently advocated enhancing the OSCE’s role in international affairs and strengthening its prestige as a venue for productive and equal dialogue and interaction.
Mr Greminger and I agree that the constructive potential of the OSCE must be used to restore trust in the Euro-Atlantic region, prevent new dividing lines and help eliminate existing dividing lines and find collective answers to common security challenges. We also reiterated our commitment to the strategic goal of the OSCE countries, that is, the implementation of the 2010 Astana agreements on creating a comprehensive, cooperative and indivisible security community.
It was in this spirit that we discussed preparations for the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting, which will convene in Milan on December 6-7. We also talked about the managerial and budgetary aspects of OSCE operations. For our part, we emphasised the importance of continued OSCE reforms, which include the drafting and adoption of its charter, as well as smoothing out the existing subject, geography and personnel imbalances. We called for strengthening the OSCE’s role in the efforts against terrorism, drug trafficking and cyber threats. We confirmed the need for the OSCE and its institutions to give more attention to freedom of the media and journalist rights.
In addition, we would like the OSCE to help promote large unification projects, including the alignment of various integration processes in the common Eurasian space. Moscow believes that one of the OSCE’s key humanitarian priorities should be the protection of traditional values and the fight against neo-Nazism, anti-Christian and anti-Islamic sentiments, as well as attempts to rewrite history, which are causes for concern given the growing evidence.
We also held detailed discussions on the performance of specialised OSCE institutions, such as the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the High Commissioner on National Minorities and the Representative on Freedom of the Media. Russia believes that the operations of these must be balanced, transparent and based on strict compliance with their mandates without double standards.
We pointed out shortages in the monitoring of elections by ODIHR observers. In addition, we believe changes in the methods and practices of the ODIHR are long overdue, as it should be guided by the interests of all member states without exception, and should avoid one-sided approaches.
We take a positive view of the OSCE’s role in the efforts to find solution to the Transnistrian and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts, the Geneva Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus, as well as OSCE activities in the Balkans. We talked in detail about the possibility of a political settlement in eastern Ukraine, in light of the lack of alternative to the full and consistent implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures. We considered methods to enhance the efficiency of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, whose work Russia is supporting actively. We also pointed out to the OSCE Secretary General that the Kiev government continues to try to hinder the implementation of the Minsk agreements and urged him to take a closer look at the situation and to provide an objective and principled assessment of Kiev’s destructive efforts to legislate large-scale infringements on language, educational and religious rights and freedoms. I would like to repeat that such actions contradict Ukraine’s international commitments, including its obligations within the OSCE framework, as well as Ukraine’s Constitution.
We will continue the talks during a business lunch. I am grateful to Mr Secretary General and his team for the open, business-like and substantive talks, which will certainly be useful for our preparations for the upcoming OSCE Ministerial Meeting to be held in Milan in early December.
Question (addressed to Thomas Greminger): Today, we are marking International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. And today, our journalist colleagues have gathered near the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow to protest the illegal detention of Kirill Vyshinsky who was arrested on May 15 in Kiev for alleged high treason. His term of detention has been extended several times, including yesterday, through December 28. No evidence of collaboration with the secret services was ever found. As OSCE Secretary General, what will you do to protect this journalist’s rights? Do you intend to demand his release?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Thomas Greminger): I would like to add that Kirill Vyshinsky was only arrested for his professional commentary, for describing events, for expressing his opinion of these events and for telling the truth to those who want to know what is happening in Ukraine at a time when that country’s media space has been wiped clean of any Russian media outlets.
We have noted that, according to Mr Greminger, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, has once again expressed regret that the court has extended Mr Vyshinsky’s arrest through December 28. We have also drawn the attention of our OSCE colleagues to the fact that the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media responds differently to various situations regarding the violation of journalist rights. We have submitted a diagram comparing various phrases expressing the negative attitudes used by Harlem Desir to describe the violation of Russian journalists’ rights, on the one hand, and those of journalists from other countries, on the other. We don’t want to accuse anyone of anything, but we are urging all OSCE institutions to act without double standards. When we see flagrant violations of fundamental rights, including those of journalists or any other person, an adequate response is required.
Question (addressed to Thomas Greminger): Don’t you think it unfair that the West deliberately hushes up glaring human rights violations in Ukraine? The Western press says nothing about this Russian journalist’s arrest while they publicise the arrest of a Ukrainian film director in Russia. The Western press also says almost nothing about the deportation of Russian journalists, including my Channel One colleagues. At the same time, your Organisation pretends that nothing is happening. At most, the OSCE issues routine comments stating its concern, but with zero results.
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Thomas Greminger): While replying or responding to your comment that the OSCE releases statements and expresses concerns with zero results, I would, nevertheless, like to note that the OSCE has no other mechanism for requiring member-countries to honour their obligations, except to persuade them. But of course, countries that can decisively influence the behaviour of the Kiev authorities have much more leverage in preventing gross human rights violations. Besides the examples you mentioned, there are many more.
Mr Greminger has noted that Kiev is informed about these issues during confidential conversations. We know that this is so. OSCE representatives and those of leading European countries are doing this. They are doing this quietly in the hope that the power of persuasion, influence, economic and other leverage that influences Kiev (that the West wields) will produce results. But Kiev leaders get a feeling of complete impunity because the West is reluctant to openly discuss it. Our Western colleagues are reluctant to openly discuss this matter because, in their time, they supported the illegal coup in Ukraine and presented it as a democratic revolution. They quickly grew to understand the gist of Ukrainian developments, but they find it very hard to disavow their position, now that they have openly supported democracy. This would be a loss of face. The situation resembles a phrase from “Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” Rephrasing this thought, it turns out that the West is now responsible for those who see its unconditional support for any of their actions as a right to impunity.
Question: For quite some time, the United States has shown disregard for arms control agreements: first the ABM Treaty, now the INF Treaty. Is Russia communicating to its American colleagues the need to get off this dangerous path and begin working together to strengthen the arms control and stability system? What are the prospects for cooperation between Moscow and Washington in arms control?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, in recent years, Russia and the United States, as the two leading nuclear powers, have built up ever more controversy on strategic stability. The previous channels for settling these disagreements, still formally existing on paper, have not been used for some time, which certainly creates an unacceptable situation from the global security perspective.
We regularly remind our American partners of the need for dialogue on the entire range of arms control issues. We did this with Barack Obama’s government, and continued doing so from the first days the Donald Trump administration took office through contact with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the first months of the new government’s work. We have made proposals at subsequent meetings with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and at talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump, starting with last year’s meeting in July in Hamburg on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
We have repeatedly proposed using these channels that have gone unused, and to start a dialogue on all aspects of strategic stability, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Or rather, the latter is not technically a treaty now that the US has unilaterally withdrawn from it, but a situation that is arising from the consistent deployment of the global US missile defence system.
Regarding the INF Treaty, the President of Russia has repeatedly said that we are interested in preserving it. We regret the US’s declared intention to withdraw from this treaty and expressed our willingness to reconsider the situation, but, as we understand it, the US decision is final, and will soon be announced officially. After a six-month countdown, the decision to end the INF Treaty will become a reality.
We have also said more than once, and President Vladimir Putin mentioned this, both publicly and during meetings with US President Donald Trump, that we are ready to consider the possibility of extending the New START Treaty for five years after its ten-year term expires in 2021. However, it is clear that, for this opportunity to be realised, existing problems with implementation need to be resolved. We have talked about this too.
Regarding missile defence, the problems associated with the deployment of elements of the global US missile defence system in Europe, and now in the Asia-Pacific Region, certainly directly affect strategic stability. So they should not be left out of any honest professional discussion.
Regarding other factors that also directly affect strategic stability, I would mention our concern about the danger of turning outer space into a theater of armed confrontation. This subject has been growing more alarming of late. Here, too, an in-depth professional and responsible conversation is needed, otherwise the situation threatens to spiral out of control, and then, as some experts say, stability and security will be forgotten.
Russia has made other proposals relating to conventional weapons, those we have promoted in relations with the United States, in the Russia-NATO Council, including very recently (at the regular meeting the day before yesterday), at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has launched a so-called “structured dialogue” on military-political security issues.
During his previous visit to the Russian Federation, we gave Mr Greminger our Defence Ministry’s proposals containing a number of specific steps aimed at preventing incidents in the course of military activities in Europe and increasing confidence and transparency in military affairs. All these suggestions remain valid. As we understand Mr Greminger, at least in the OSCE, there is an opportunity to initiate a sensible dialogue on these.
Of course, this does not negate the need to restore the channels for discussion of all these problems between Russia and the United States, given the weight and importance of our two states in matters of global strategic stability. We used to have direct channels of communication between the military of our countries, specialists from various agencies under the foreign ministries, and the 2 + 2 format meetings of defence and foreign ministers. We are interested in resuming these formats. When the fuss over the upcoming elections in the United States subsides and the people in charge of strategic stability in Washington can look at these issues more responsibly, without being overwhelmed by their domestic political problems, we expect to still be able to start the process that I am sure will be welcomed by all states interested in security and stability on our common planet.
Question: A question for Sergey Lavrov and Thomas Greminger. On the eve of the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in December, what can you tell us about the developments concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, considering the political processes that are now taking place in Armenia and the Dushanbe agreements between President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan? Can you comment on Armenia’s effort to involve self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh in the talks?
Sergey Lavrov: With your permission, I will be the first to answer because Russia is one of three co-chairs in the OSCE Minsk Group and it is in this format that fairly intensive efforts to find ways for defusing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have been made in the past few years.
As far as I know, according to the agreements reached at the Dushanbe meeting by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, the two countries should stay in communication, and their foreign ministers will meet, and both states should be ready to work with the co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. We welcome these agreements although, of course, we understand that until the current somewhat tumultuous domestic political processes in Armenia are complete, it will hardly be possible to discuss in real earnest specific options for overcoming this crisis and ensuring a full Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. That said, contact during preparations for early parliamentary elections in Armenia in December has been planned. The co-chairs visit the region and meet with the leaders and foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is important to maintain this contact in order to seriously discuss the settlement of the crisis as soon as the circumstances allow.
As for Mr Pashinyan’s numerous statements on the need to involve Nagorno-Karabakh in the talks, we have already commented on this. This issue should be agreed by the parties to the conflict themselves. At one time, Nagorno-Karabakh representatives took part in the talks between Baku and Yerevan. This practice was changed at Armenia’s suggestion and talks have been held only directly between Armenia and Azerbaijan for many years.
Naturally, we assume that Yerevan considers Nagorno-Karabakh’s views in its negotiating positions but a change in the current bilateral format requires agreement from both sides. To our knowledge, such an agreement does not exist. I would abstain from requiring preconditions to start discussing the essential issue of a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.