Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and a response to a media question during a news conference following talks with Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Jean-Yves Le Drian, Paris, November 27, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had very good talks. The Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Jean-Yves Le Drian has just reviewed in detail the subjects we covered. I would like to add a few words to that.
To reiterate, we regard France as an important and traditional international partner. Our bilateral relations continue to develop under the agreements reached at the highest level. The presidents meet frequently. As my colleague said, French President Macron had been in Russia three times (in May and twice in July to attend the World Cup). On November 11, President Putin took part in celebrations in Paris of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
I would like to note that we are seeing positive trends in economic cooperation. Trade is up and growth may be about 20 percent by the end of the year. The Russian-French Council for Economic, Financial, Industrial and Trade Issues chaired by Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin and Minister of Economy and Finance of France Bruno Le Maire will meet again in Paris in mid-December.
As has just been said, we are very pleased with our cooperation in the cultural sphere. The programme of cross years of the Russian and French languages and literature announced for this and next year is being successfully implemented. We focus particularly on promoting such a joint initiative of our presidents as the Russian-French forum of civil societies, Trianon Dialogue. Once we are done with the talks, Mr Le Drian and I will take part in the second meeting of its Coordination Council.
We reviewed our relations in the international arena. We pointed out the need for the full and consistent implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures to reach a settlement in eastern Ukraine. Russia is very concerned about the Ukrainian authorities violating the language, education and religious rights and freedoms, especially language and education rights, of ethnic minorities. We hope that our fact-based appeals to the EU, the Council of Europe and the OSCE which set forth specific facts of the discrimination of ethnic minorities in Ukraine by the incumbent Kiev authorities, will not just be heard. Countries that have influence over the Kiev authorities should force them to comply with their international commitments.
We are pleased that the meeting of the Normandy format political directors took place in Berlin yesterday. Regrettably, although the talks can be considered useful, they again failed to adopt any formal decisions with regard to the agreements that our leaders reached back in 2015 at the Normandy format summit in Paris, where a compromise formula on the interconnection between the holding of elections in Donbass and the granting of a special status to this territory in full conformity with the Minsk Accords was elaborated. Alas, this formula will have to once again be discussed, because Ukrainian leadership representatives were not ready to accept it at this stage. A new meeting of experts is due in December. Another topic that was addressed by the Normandy format leaders in person and that is being totally sabotaged by the Ukrainian authorities is the disengagement of forces and hardware at Stanitsa Luganskaya, where this has been failing to happen for two years since a relevant agreement was reached in Berlin by the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and France and the Chancellor of Germany.
We answered our French colleagues’ questions about the incident in the Black Sea. For some reason, the European Union’s statements refer to the Sea of Azov. Evidently, they don’t closely monitor this matter as a whole and take their cues from some comments that are not based on facts. We stressed that the incident was intentionally provoked. The two Ukrainian security service officers, who were on board these craft, are testifying and their testimonies are available to the media. In my view, it should be utterly clear to everyone, how and why this happened. The Ukrainian vessels could have used the experience they have. In September, when they asked for permission and notified [the Russian authorities] about their passage from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, they were provided with a pilotage service and it worked smoothly. There are many conjectures as to why they chose a different path this time. All those who understand what I mean and how the domestic political situation develops in Ukraine can draw their conclusions.
We had a useful discussion on the situation in the Middle East and Northern Africa, including with regard to the need for an early political settlement in Syria based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Russia, together with other guarantor countries of the Astana process, is working hard to complete the formation of the constitutional committee in line with the understandings reached at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi in January of this year. We have a stake in promoting top-level contacts that took place in Istanbul on October 27, when the presidents of Turkey, France, and Russia and the Chancellor of Germany met to discuss our shared interest in the practical progress towards the attainment of the goals set by UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We have confirmed to our French colleagues our readiness to go on with the practice of joint humanitarian deliveries to the Syrians.
We touched upon the subject concerning the situation involving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for addressing the Iranian nuclear programme. In this respect, we share a common position: we are in favour of the remaining parties to this plan, including Iran, France, Germany, the UK, Russia and China, keeping their commitments under this crucial instrument and working out measures that will not bury it because of the consequences of the United States’ unilateral withdrawal and its threats to countries which will continue to maintain economic ties with Iran.
We talked about the situation in Libya, Yemen, and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and reaffirmed the proximity of our approaches.
We agreed to continue cooperation on African issues, including on the CAR developments, where the UN mission mandate to stabilise that country was recently extended, as well as on other issues on the agenda of the UN Security Council.
We pointed out the alarming trend that is evident in the international arena, in particular in the OPCW, where the Technical Secretariat has been vested with the attribution functions in gross and direct violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. This is a direct infringement of the UN Security Council’s prerogatives. I do not think that the Security Council members, especially the permanent ones, have an interest in this trend taking shape.
We paid special attention to the situation in the Euro-Atlantic, including Russia's relations with the EU and NATO. Both relationships are at the freezing stage. We have reaffirmed our interest in resuming full contacts, especially between the military. It seemed to me that our French colleagues share this approach.
We discussed the preparations for the OSCE Ministerial Council in Milan, which involve a number of important initiatives, including Russia’s initiatives to combat terrorism and drug trafficking, to uphold the language and educational rights of ethnic minorities and reaffirm the OSCE commitments to ensuring unhindered access to information by journalists and the public.
As for the Euro-Atlantic, we reaffirmed the interest that President Vladimir Putin mentioned earlier with regard to the ideas being discussed in Europe and the new approach to building its security architecture, including those expressed by French President Emmanuel Macron. Initiatives to create an EU army are being discussed. France has announced the European Intervention Initiative. We would like to discuss all this in a comprehensive manner, keeping in mind France’s and other European countries’ statements about their interest in developing a security system together with the Russian Federation. We are ready for this. We agreed that the entire scope of issues will be discussed by our experts in an inter-agency format so that after the expert consultations, we can resume the 2+2-format meetings of our foreign and defence ministers.
I am sincerely grateful to our French hosts, especially the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Jean-Yves Le Drian, for organising our work and for the traditionally warm French hospitality.
Question: US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called on the leaders of Russia and Ukraine to begin direct negotiations to resolve the situation around the Kerch Strait, and Germany offered to mediate the dialogue. What does Moscow think of these proposals? Is the situation bad enough to warrant the help of a mediator? Is it possible to break off diplomatic relations with Ukraine, given that such ideas have been voiced by some in that country?
The British Integrity Initiative project confirmed that part of its funding was provided by the British government. What was Moscow’s reaction to that information, given the anti-Russia nature of the project?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the incident at the entrance to the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea, yesterday the situation was discussed in a telephone conversation between President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at her initiative. Certain understandings have been reached that will be implemented in the near future. I do not see the need for any mediation. I think this is a purely practical issue. If the Ukrainian side, like its partners in Europe, is interested in avoiding similar incidents in the future, it is obviously necessary to send a very strong signal to Kiev. This should be done, not by Russia, but by those who maintain very close contacts with the Ukrainian authorities, so that such provocations do not happen again. In practical terms, I think, technicalities, if any, can be discussed at the level of the two countries’ local border authorities. As I said, in September, they made very good use of the existing procedures.
As you know, yesterday we requested a meeting of the UN Security Council. Ukraine also supported holding such a meeting. I think it would be useful for everyone to hear the truth about what happened. But the outcome, I repeat, will depend not on the UN Security Council, the OSCE or other organisations, but on whether the sponsors of the Ukrainian leadership are willing to reprimand them and warn them that it is unacceptable to play with fire like this.
As for the Integrity Initiative project, if the material released into the public space is true (I’m not sure about this, but many people who have read the document professionally say so), then this is disinformation against Russia in the territory of sovereign states paid for by money from the British government. If this is true, the conclusion is unavoidable. This entity’s only goal, as is evident from the comments, is to defame the Russian Federation in the eyes of the public in other countries.
We are watching with concern a number of initiatives being implemented, not even covertly, but publicly, in the West, including in Europe. For example, they are generated by the well-known Reporters Without Borders group, aimed at working out certain indicators of trust in journalism, white lists, etc. The fact that many governments in Europe are beginning to support this approach leads to very unpleasant thoughts that we are dealing with a kind of political censorship. Of course, we would not want the global information content moderated through the prism of one-sided political criteria and political motivation.