Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas, Moscow, August 21, 2019
We have finished the first round of our talks and will resume them during the working dinner.
We noted that our political contacts at the top and ministerial levels have been gaining momentum, which is clear evidence that there is demand for Russian-German dialogue, particularly today. We reaffirmed that both countries remain committed to the continued development of bilateral cooperation, including the economy, science, education and culture. We believe that the Russian-German Year of Academic and Educational Partnerships really contribute to expanding cultural ties, including those between universities and academics in both countries, as well as people-to-people contacts. We discussed what was needed to continue holding this event in the two countries in the future.
While reviewing trade and economic issues we reaffirmed our interest in expanding investment cooperation and supporting our companies carrying out large projects, including Nord Stream 2. We appreciate that German businesses are eager to actively participate in projects in Russia, which can be seen from the recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum where the German business delegation was one of the most representative.
We discussed global political issues, including Russia’s relations with the European Union and cooperation in the Russia-NATO Council.
We gave special attention to the situation in Ukraine, having reaffirmed that the Minsk agreements taken in their entirety had to be fully and consistently implemented. We expect the new government in Kiev, which will be formed by President Zelensky, to commit itself to restoring peace in Donbass through the implementation of the Minsk package of measures, which, as you know, was approved by UN Security Council resolution. We reiterated our pledge to support the work of the Contact Group, which will be meeting in Minsk today and tomorrow. We discussed prospects for cooperation in the Normandy format.
We advised our German colleagues of the discussions President Vladimir Putin had with President Emmanuel Macron on the Ukrainian settlement process and a number of other issues during their meeting in southern France the day before yesterday.
We have discussed the developments in the Middle East and North Africa, paying special attention to the Syrian peace process on the basis of UN Security Council resolution 2254. It is obvious that the solution to this problem is to be facilitated by the provision of humanitarian support to the Syrians on a non-discriminatory basis, as well as by assisting the country’s restoration without preconditions, creating the necessary conditions for the return of refugees. We have talked about the situation in Idlib as a result of the former Jabhat al-Nusra, now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group’s ambition to take under control the entire population of this long-suffering region. We have also discussed ways to eradicate the terrorist threat.
We have shared updates on the efforts being taken through the Astana format in cooperation with the UN to complete the formation of the Constitutional Committee as soon as possible. This will be a very important stage in the Syrian process, elevating it to a new level of practical talks on the future of Syria.
We have spoken about the need to strengthen international security and prevent the degradation of the situation in the region. In this regard, we are concerned over the growing tension in the Gulf. Russia calls for overcoming the existing differences through dialogue of all coastal countries with the support of leading players in the international community. Recently, we once again raised our previously proposed concept of collective security in this region and, more broadly, in the whole of the Middle East and North Africa.
Russia and Germany are participants in the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme. We are deeply disturbed by the situation that has developed as a result of the US unilateral withdrawal from this international agreement approved by the UN Security Council. Moreover, the United States not only withdrew from this agreement, but also assumed the right to prohibit all other members of the JCPOA and all UN members to fulfill this agreement in principle. This is a sad situation. We are going to work together with the remaining participants in the JCPOA to prevent the collapse of this very important deal, both in terms of ensuring regional security and strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Russia also considers it unfortunate that Washington decided to unilaterally withdraw from another important international treaty – I am referring to the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty). A cruise missile has already been tested since, with the use of the Mk-41 launching system. Since the United States decided to deploy these launchers as part of its missile defence in Europe, we have been objecting for years that the Mk-41, according to the manufacturer’s description, can launch not only anti-ballistic missiles, but also combat cruise missiles. We emphasised then that it would be a direct violation of the INF Treaty. So the day before yesterday, the Mk-41 was actually used to launch a missile that qualifies to be prohibited by the INF. The system has been deployed in Romania for quite a few years now.
We see this incident as posing a risk of collapse of the strategic stability architecture, fraught with a new dangerous spiral in the arms race. We are interested in discussing the matter of strategic stability with the participation of European countries. We are ready to do so both in the Russia-NATO Council – even through the atmosphere there is still ideologically charged enough – and at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), where a few years ago Germany took the initiative to begin a structured dialogue on military-political security. We hope that this dialogue will lead to specific steps and help shape the arms control agenda. There are not many agreements left in this sphere, and they should be treasured. I am referring, among other things, to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between our country and the United States. It expires in February 2021. We proposed to the United States to take steps to ensure its extension. We are waiting for an answer.
Overall, we find this exchange of views – as I already said at the beginning, it is a regular thing with us – very helpful. I hope it is as valuable for our German colleagues. We discussed the schedule of upcoming contacts for the remaining months of this year and next.
Question: Following talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron said he believed in Russia’s future as part of Europe, and expressed his vision for Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Do you share this vision? Did today’s talks contribute to making this idea come true?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding yesterday’s talks and the statements made during the talks in favor of a large single Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, French President Emmanuel Macron is not the only one who believes this can be achieved.
We hear statements like these from our German colleagues and they can also be heard in many other European countries. They reflect one simple truth: today, there is unprecedented demand for the processes unfolding across our common territory – the huge Eurasian continent – as well as the agreements made about 30 years ago in the OSCE format, which said it was necessary to establish a single and safe European space and a single European humanitarian space, given that today, due to a number of subjective factors, the prospects for creating this large European home are becoming more illusory, while the risk that this space will split up is increasing, thereby posing a threat to our common European civilisation as it may lose its position in the global arena. Responsible politicians are interested in avoiding this scenario and taking, instead, the path of building our common economic, humanitarian and security space. One can talk at length about this but when in 2010 the latest OSCE summit took place in Astana, the heads of the OSCE member countries signed the declaration which solemnly reaffirmed the need for creating this common space in the Euro-Atlantic area and Eurasia.
We continue to work in the OSCE format to push this issue through in concrete agreements. I will mention one of these initiatives – the Structured Dialogue on security which was initiated by Germany and is now in its third year. Hopefully, we will be able to achieve results sometime soon, so we can specify the tasks set before us. Russia’s future as part of Europe largely depends on Europe’s willingness to preserve the civilisational identity of this area.
Question (addressed to Heiko Maas): In early August, you expressed regret that Russia had failed to do everything possible to save the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. At the same time, the United States deployed its Aegis missile defence systems, whose launchers can fire shorter-range missiles in violation of the Treaty. This was confirmed by US missile tests on Sunday. Do you still claim that Russia alone has failed to do everything possible to save this Treaty?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Heiko Maas): I don’t want to object, but I am forced to state that the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles banned the deployment of missile launchers. The Mk-41, which was deployed in Romania a long time ago, was used just recently to launch a cruise missile from among those banned by the Treaty. This is just for reference. I am not trying to make the German Government change their mind.
Question: You said that you had an open conversation, during which you discussed the freedom of the press and assembly. In the past four weeks, we have witnessed very powerful protests in Moscow, accompanied by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s accusations that Germany was interfering in Russian domestic affairs through Deutsche Welle. I am interested in the position of both ministers on this matter. Did you discuss this during talks?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Heiko Maas): As Heiko said, we discussed it. He interceded for Deutsche Welle, saying that they are being harassed here. Naturally, we discussed the subject you mentioned, namely, the way Deutsche Welle covers the protests that have taken place here in the past few weeks. I will not repeat the complaints that have been voiced in this connection. We have information that the spokesperson for the Ministry has made public and conveyed to Deutsche Welle. I believe that an objective analyst will decide independently whether this is an example of classic journalism or whether it falls short of the ideal.
We have discussed Deutsche Welle and the overall treatment of media outlets. For example, we discussed the conditions in which RT and Sputnik are forced to work in France, where they were simply denied accreditation at the Élysée Palace. We pointed out how RT offices in Germany were recently notified that a number of German banks were planning to stop servicing them without stating any reasons.
We also discussed various principles that Heiko has just mentioned, namely, the principles of the Council of Europe and the OSCE, including the Charter of Paris for a New Europe and the Document of the 1991 Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. All these documents contain each government’s obligation to provide their citizens with unimpeded access to information both inside the country and in the trans-border context. Today, RT and Sputnik are banned from taking part in briefings, and certain online software is being invented for automatically blocking news reports seen as politically unacceptable by the authorities of the concerned countries. This runs counter to the obligations to provide people with direct access to information. We have never taken any restrictive action against any European or any other foreign media outlet. We provide full access. I have never heard that any Deutsche Welle employee has been arrested. A young woman working as a correspondent for the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency and wearing the Press armband was beaten in Paris and suffered a concussion.
I understand that you want to find something sensational in all these processes. That is life. Germany, France and Russia have their own laws. Each country’s legislation regulates protests. It is possible to coordinate their time and place. All procedures have been written down, and everybody knows them. If people deliberately want to provoke a scandal, then, of course, they will refuse to meet at the location offered to them, and they will take part in an unsanctioned rally. Apart from the Moscow Election Commission, there is the Central Election Commission of Russia, which is already reviewing complaints from unregistered candidates and looking at the decisions that have been made. Members of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights are actively working on this matter. They have already launched dialogue with the police and National Guard, requesting explanations for their actions in various situations. The courts are also addressing these matters, and those prospective candidates who believe that they were not registered in violation of the law can appeal to court. All this is possible, provided that people abide by the laws.
As a great ancient philosopher said, freedom means living by the law. The entire democratic system, including European democracy, hinges on this principle. Therefore, instead of looking for an opportunity to irk each other, we should rather focus on positive aspects of the great idea of building a Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. General norms, principles and laws will be promoted inside this common space, just like it is happening in the Council of Europe, where a common European legal space is shaped.
Question: Donald Trump has supported a return to the G8 format involving Russia. What will Russia do if the G7 agrees on this in the near future?
Sergey Lavrov: When he spoke to the press before talks at Fort de Brégançon, President of Russia Vladimir Putin replied to this question and said that the G8 simply did not exist. Instead, there is the G7, whose members adopt certain decisions in their inner circle. If any of their decisions are addressed to Russia, then we will, of course, review that decision and reply accordingly.
Question: The Kommersant newspaper has reported that Russia and Ukraine are finalising an exchange of detainees. Under this process, the sailors who were arrested in the Kerch Strait will return to Ukraine. According to the newspaper’s source, the exchange will take place before the end of August. Is this information correct?
Sergey Lavrov: As you know, President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky called President of Russia Vladimir Putin twice. They discussed the current situation, primarily a peace settlement for Donbass and certain aspects of bilateral relations. In addition, it was reported that they discussed the situation with the people imprisoned on both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian border. To make headway on this matter, it is necessary to reach agreement in principle and to coordinate specific, legal, technical and organisational aspects. We should not forget that people’s destinies are at stake, and that painstaking result-oriented work is required, rather than a hunt for sensations so as to be the first to report something.
Question: Ukrainians are concerned about gas transit through their country, in particular after the construction of Nord Stream 2. Can you guarantee on behalf of the Russian Government that after 2019 gas will be delivered through Ukraine’s existing gas transit system?
Sergey Lavrov: About gas, well, Ukraine refused to buy gas from us, and is buying this very same gas in Europe at a cost about 25-30 percent higher than if it had been bought from Russia. As for Nord Stream 2, we talked about this today. It is a purely commercial project, which will increase Europe’s energy security and is in no way aimed at harming Ukraine. Our Ukrainian colleagues know this because our energy ministers meet, and representatives of Gazprom and Naftogaz Ukraine also meet. They are making decisions that should help alleviate the concerns of those who worry about Ukraine, unless they try to politicise this topic as the previous Kiev regime did.
You asked my colleague about the Ukrainian sailors. You probably remember what happened in November 2018, when, grossly violating the safety standards for passing through the Kerch Strait, they tried to covertly break through. Moreover, on board with them, there were representatives of the Ukrainian security service and documents confirming that they had an illegal order to break through without notifying the Russian border guards. However, they are people, and they have families. They were carrying out a dangerous criminal order. As I have already said, the presidents have discussed what needs to be done so that detained persons on both sides can return to their families.
You are not a sailor, as I understand it, but a journalist. There is another journalist, a Russian one, whose name is Kirill Vyshinsky. He did not attempt to break through the Kerch Strait contrary to all norms and rules. He did not harm anyone, but simply wrote reports. He was accused of high treason for writing reports from Kiev. I am saying this so that you have a more complete picture of how and where journalists have to work. You might be interested in this story.