Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Serbian newspaper Srpski Telegraf, November 17, 2018
Question: President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic said after his talks with President Vladimir Putin that he got what he wanted in Moscow. Does this mean that Moscow will support Belgrade’s idea of a settlement with Kosovo based on the delineation of the border between the Serbs and the Albanians?
Sergey Lavrov: Our position on Kosovo is public knowledge. It is based on international law, primarily UN Security Council Resolution 1244. We invariably support our Serbian friends’ efforts to protect their legitimate interests in Serbia both at the bilateral level and at international organisations. We will be ready to hold constructive discussions on whatever settlement variant Belgrade chooses. But speculating on the essence of potential scenarios would be inappropriate.
Question: What practical steps could Moscow make to help resolve the matter of the southern province?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia has been the most consistent and loyal ally of our Serbian friends during the Kosovo settlement process. I believe that the best assistance on our part is the support we give to Belgrade’s positions, which are based on compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244, on the international stage. We have been doing this at the UN, including the UN Security Council and many other bodies, such as UNESCO, Interpol and the World Customs Organisation. We will continue to act in this vein.
Question: Presidents Vucic and Putin plan to meet soon. What topics will they discuss above all, and what results can we expect from their meeting? What will be the main issue on the agenda of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Serbia?
Sergey Lavrov: The Russian and Serbian leaders talk regularly. The last time they met was in Moscow on October 2, 2018. The agenda of the upcoming visit is very intense, as usual. This is not surprising. Relations between our two states have moved to a higher level of strategic partnership, which has been sealed in the declaration the presidents of Russia and Serbia signed in Sochi in May 2013. Our truly fraternal peoples are united by common cultural and spiritual roots and sincere feelings of friendship and mutual sympathy. We especially value the close ties that exist between the sisterly Russian and Serbian Orthodox churches.
Our trade and economic cooperation is improving. We are working to implement several large joint projects, primarily Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS) in which Gazprom Neft has invested some EUR 3 billion. Russian Railways has done a great deal to modernise Serbia’s railway infrastructure. Some of its new facilities will be completed in 2021. We have ambitious plans in Serbia’s gas transportation and distribution system, industrial cooperation and interaction in high technology. For example, the Russian IT company Yandex has started operating on the Serbian market.
We see interest for educational exchanges between Serbian and Russian universities. We will do our utmost to promote this.
In other words, there are many topics our leaders can discuss. We believe that the results of the upcoming top-level talks will help strengthen the multifaceted ties between Russia and Serbia.
Question: Milorad Dodik has openly expressed hope that Republika Srpska and Serbia would unite one day. Do you think his dream will come true?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia, just like the Serbian authorities and Milorad Dodik, is among the most consistent advocates of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which recognised the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We stand together in upholding the equal rights of all the three constitutive nations and the constitutional status and broad powers for both political entities – Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We firmly believe that the entire range of responsibilities for the developments in the country should be turned over to the national governments in accordance with their competence. The time has come to curtail the elements of foreign supervision, or more precisely the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has become obsolete. The mission of the international community should be to help the Bosnian parties expand the range of common interests and search for their own compromise solutions to problems, as well as withdrawing foreigners from the country’s Constitutional Court. As far as we know, this is also the position of Milorad Dodik, who has been elected the Serb member of the three-person Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Question: Western officials are alarmed by the warm relations between Serbia and Russia. What are they afraid of and why are they trying to separate Serbia and Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: After the Cold War, Western states refused to work together to create the architecture of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic area, which Russia strongly advocated. Instead, they chose a dead-end scenario of expanding the geopolitical area under their control and creating new dividing lines in Europe. For example, they trampled international law underfoot in 1999 when they bombed Yugoslavia for two and a half months, after which the West, seeking to legitimise its aggression, recognised Kosovo’s self-proclaimed independence.
One result of the Western anti-Russia policy was the armed coup which Washington and several European countries orchestrated and supported in Kiev in February 2014. The upshot is that Ukraine, which had everything necessary to become a successful and prosperous country, was pushed into a bloody civil discord.
It appears that the West has not drawn any lesson from the Ukrainian tragedy. Repeated attempts have been made to turn the Balkans into yet another anti-Russia foothold. The regional countries are being forced to choose between Moscow and Washington with Brussels.
We know that serious pressure has been put on Belgrade to curtail its mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia. Our Serbian brothers have confidently resisted this pressure. We highly appreciate Serbia’s independent and multifaceted foreign policy, which, we believe, meets the fundamental interests of your people.
Question: Serbia and Russia are implementing major economic and energy projects. Are new investments on the agenda? Will Turkish Stream be built via Serbia?
Sergey Lavrov: It is true that energy cooperation is among the priorities of our bilateral cooperation. The leading Russian companies, including Gazprom, maintain close ties with their Serbian partners. They have ambitious joint plans. Practical steps are coordinated at the Russian-Serbian Intergovernmental Committee on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation.
We are satisfied with the progress of Turkish Stream in the two-line format. Several scenarios are being discussed to extend the gas pipeline across Europe, in particular via Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary towards the Baumgarten gas distribution hub.
At the same time, we have learned our lesson from South Stream and would not want to see a repetition of that situation. We will only start working on the extension after we receive firm guarantees from the concerned EU organisations.