Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Acting Vice President of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez, Moscow, March 1, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held detailed and substantive talks on the full range of our relations and, of course, the situation in and around Venezuela today.
Venezuela is an old and reliable partner of ours. Today we have reaffirmed our solidarity with the people and the legitimate government of the country and also supported its efforts to protect its sovereignty and independence.
We are in complete agreement on the need for unconditional adherence to the fundamental principles envisaged in the UN Charter by all states without exception – non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs above all. It is especially important today when the entire world can see the cynical campaign that aims to topple the legitimate Venezuelan government, including by threating it with direct military intervention.
Russia has consistently spoken in support of the exclusively peaceful resolution of internal Venezuelan problems. It is obvious that Venezuelans must independently take steps to fix the current situation without instructions, pressure or ultimatums from the outside.
We have expressed our solidarity with the friendly Venezuelan people and our support for the measures taken by Nicolas Maduro’s government to prevent further destabilisation. We have reaffirmed our readiness to join in the efforts of regional and international mediators calling for an inclusive national dialogue. As I have said, we will be ready to join in given the consent of the main political forces in Venezuela.
Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez confirmed what President Nicolas Maduro has said repeatedly: that the Venezuelan leadership is ready for such a dialogue. Of course, it is unfortunate that the opposition has consistently rejected dialogue – upon direct instructions from Washington, as we all know very well.
Ms Rodriguez also informed us about the developments in Venezuela’s domestic politics and told us about the efforts to stabilise the socioeconomic situation that has deteriorated, as we all know, as a result of illegitimate unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on the leading sectors of the Venezuelan economy and the freezing of Venezuela’s state assets abroad, above all in the United States and Great Britain.
For our part, we noted that it is unacceptable to politicise the issue of humanitarian aid to Venezuela. Decisions regarding the provision of humanitarian aid must comply with established international procedures rather than be an excuse for manipulating public opinion, mobilising anti-government forces and justifying intervention plots.
Also, I would like to note that today Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez confirmed that the Venezuelan government is ready to cooperate with competent UN bodies on the issue of humanitarian aid.
Russia will continue to support the Venezuelan authorities in resolving its socioeconomic problems, including through provision of legitimate humanitarian assistance. We proceed from the premise that the best way to help the Venezuelans is to expand practical, pragmatic, mutually beneficial cooperation. In this context we mapped out steps towards strengthening links in trade, investment, industrial production and finances, pursuant to the agreements reached by presidents Vladimir Putin and Nicolas Maduro last December in Moscow.
We also discussed preparations for the 14th meeting of the Russian-Venezuelan High-Level Inter-Governmental Commission that is scheduled for early April in Moscow. We agreed to use this meeting for a detailed discussion of the prospects for the implementation of large projects in geological exploration and upstream operations, joint initiatives in the pharmaceuticals industry, information technology, nuclear medicine, peaceful uses of outer space and defence industry cooperation.
We agreed to continue our close dialogue. We noted our shared commitment to continuing close coordination of our delegations’ moves in the UN, the UNSC and other international bodies.
Question: What do you think about the US plans to establish an illegal armed unit in Venezuela with a view to creating the same situation there as in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: We are certainly worried about the US plans to arm militants in order to destabilise the situation in Venezuela and, frankly speaking, invade this sovereign country. The US is not embarrassed to speak openly about it. According to incoming reports, the US plans to buy small arms, mortars, portable air defence systems and a number of other types of weapons in an East European country, and move them closer to Venezuela by an airline of a regime that is the most, or rather absolutely obedient to Washington in the post-Soviet space.
Naturally, we see these intentions. Many other countries, including Venezuela’s next door neighbours, see them, too. Brazil and Columbia, for one, announced their intention not to support plans for a military invasion of Venezuela in any way. If they keep their promise and firmly adhere to this position, the US plans are unlikely to materialise. I hope the absolute, universal rejection of military scenarios by the world will cool down the hotheads in Washington, although some of them are truly unstoppable. But we will work on the basis of international law and demand that the US respect the UN Charter.
Question: Is Russia supplying Venezuela with any humanitarian aid currently? If so, does it plan to continue doing this and on what terms?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already said in my opening remarks that today we discussed the humanitarian aspects of the situation in Venezuela. Needless to say, the situation is affected by the humanitarian crisis that is being artificially triggered by the imposition of illegal unilateral sanctions and by the freezing and de facto seizure of Venezuelan assets abroad. The Venezuelan government is perfectly aware of this and is interested in resolving these matters, including through the relevant UN agencies. This is an absolutely legal and legitimate position that fully conforms to the norms of international humanitarian law and rules that the UN has for such situations.
Let me note that by contrast US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams declared that the US will not cooperate with UN agencies in delivering humanitarian aid to Venezuela because they cooperate with the Maduro government. This is the position of a country that professes concern over the humanitarian situation in Venezuela but is prepared to stage provocations on the border as was the case on February 23. In reality the US seeks only to delegitimise the lawful government of the rightful President Nicolas Maduro.
As for the Russian position, responding to the wishes of our Venezuelan friends, we recently sent to them the first consignment of medications (7.5 tonnes) at the expense of our WHO contribution under the project that is being carried out by the Pan American Health Organisation. Now we have received an additional list of medications and medical compounds that the Venezuelan government would like to receive. We are looking into it, specifying organisational and logistical details.
Speaking about the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, a considerable role in its normalisation is played by massive supplies of Russian grain, which greatly helps the Venezuelan government deal with its current challenges.
Question: How likely is direct US military intervention in Venezuela? US President Donald Trump has said, and his cabinet members have repeated, that all options are on the table.
Sergey Lavrov: I have already said that there is no country, except one or two of the closest US allies, that would support or allow military intervention in Venezuela. Everyone, including Venezuela’s neighbours, has already stated that they do not share or support this approach.
Having said this, I should add that everything is possible, considering the current approaches of the US administration. I cannot rule out that Washington may decide to once again act in a way that would violate all possible norms of international law. In addition, Elliott Abrams, who was appointed US Special Representative for Venezuela, says directly that his responsibilities do not include searching for a peaceful solution but raising tensions and creating a situation that would provoke, as the US wants, an explosion and bloodshed in Venezuela, and justify a military intervention. Nobody hides this fact in Washington. This is why I would like to repeat that I cannot rule out that these statements will serve as a prelude to such a reckless act.
It is also evident that if Washington does act against the regional countries’ clearly stated policy in this situation and invades Venezuela, it will bring to light the true goals and motives of US policy in Latin America. It is not about democracy, as they try to tell us, but about bringing everyone who disobeys to heel. The talk about how this is not just about Venezuela, and Cuba and Nicaragua will be next, is no coincidence. What if tomorrow someone else falls out with the US? They will say the results of an election in the county do not meet democratic standards.
I do not think that this position, which is clearly insulting to Latin American countries, will score Washington any points in the region. I am sure that in this case Latin Americans, who have healthy and long-standing democratic traditions as well as traditions of cooperation within regional organisations, will state their position explicitly, like most members of the international community. We hope very much that reason will prevail in the US leadership.
Question: The Russian resolution on Venezuela received fewer votes in the UN Security Council than the American one. Had it not been for the veto of Russia and China, the US resolution would have been adopted. As Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya put it, in this case the UN Security Council would have ousted the legitimate leader of a sovereign country for the first time. What options for action are there left now that the Security Council has all but turned into an instrument for coups? Are there ways of letting Venezuelans decide their destiny themselves?
Sergey Lavrov: As for yesterday’s vote in the UN Security Council, there is no point in counting how many votes were received by one resolution and how many by the other. The bottom line is that none of them passed. This does not mean that one draft was more legitimate than the other. This decision-making procedure is enshrined in the UN Charter and is binding for all members of the international community. It requires the absence of a veto of any Security Council member. If a resolution was vetoed it did not have legitimate grounds. Nor was it likely to be presented as something more legitimate than the other. Such are the rules and they form the foundation of modern international law and the UN itself.
Let me recall that when the UN was established it was the US that insisted on the right of veto of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. So there is no point in saying some are abusing the right to veto and others are not. The issue is very simple: the founding fathers of the UN proceeded from the premise that it is unacceptable to ignore the position of a country that is a permanent member of the Security Council. Relying on historical experience, they realised full well that in this case the adopted decisions would be unstable and maybe even be subversive and destructive.
As for the question about what options remain and how to let Venezuelans decide their destiny themselves, today we mentioned the Montevideo Mechanism that was created at the initiative of Uruguay, Mexico and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). This mechanism implies organisation of an inclusive dialogue between all political forces of Venezuela. President Maduro has already expressed his readiness to take part in this dialogue without any preconditions. Regrettably, Juan Guaido whom the US appointed to be “leader” of Venezuela categorically rejected this opportunity.
This is how the different forces are arrayed: there is a group of countries that favours an agreement on starting dialogue and has the support from the legitimate President, and there is the opposing party that is fully under Washington’s influence and categorically rejects this.
There is also the International Contact Group (ICG) that was established by the EU countries. They pondered this idea at the end of last year. At that time their thoughts were constructive – to facilitate nationwide dialogue in Venezuela. However, later on this position evolved in a different direction. As you know, the leading EU countries gave President Maduro an ultimatum. They demanded that he announce an early presidential election and then fixed the ICG position in a document adopted at the meeting in Uruguay. This document does not even mention the word “dialogue” but contains appeals that sound like demands to immediately set the date of the early presidential election.
This is a counterproductive, neocolonial position. Habits die hard when they have developed over centuries. I understand this, but let me note that the legitimate government of Venezuela is also ready to work with this entity, the ICG. This is an excellent example of constructive behaviour by President Maduro and his government and of the destructive and confrontational conduct of a man who was appointed from overseas as “the leader of the state” in violation of all norms and principles of the UN Charter.