Organisations of Latin America
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister of Guatemala Carlos Raul Morales following the Russia-Central American Integration System (SICA) meeting in Guatemala, March 26, 2015
We have held a useful and significant event with tremendous prospects.
Russia has developed relations with the Central American Integration System (SICA) for quite a while – since the late 1990s. Today, we have reached a completely new level of cooperation. The Russian Federation has addressed SICA Secretary General Victoria Marina Velásquez with an official request to review the issue of giving us the status of an extra-regional observer at SICA. It was welcomed unanimously and, as the Chairman of our meeting, Foreign Minister of Guatemala Carlos Morales said, it will be reviewed promptly. I hope this will happen.
We have endorsed a joint statement on the primary directions of our future efforts. We have agreed to start working on another document – a memorandum that would specify and unite these areas of activity. They embrace trade, investment, the economy as a whole, education, the prevention of emergencies, enhanced readiness for natural disasters, the organisation of cultural, humanitarian and educational exchanges, and tourism. No less important is our cooperation in terms of consolidating the work of law enforcement agencies in Latin American countries; in part, for combatting drug trafficking and organised crime.
Our bilateral relations with the majority of Central American countries, including Guatemala, are developing well. In many cases, they could be supplemented with effective multi-sided formats of cooperation between Russia and SICA states. We discussed some examples of this today. A regional training centre is being established in Nicaragua on the basis of existing courses for training narcotics officers. Other Central American countries can and will similarly use its services. The development of the joint production of vaccines with Russia in Managua is another very important project. It has already been endorsed by the Pan American Health Organisation and will be certified shortly. This will make it possible to substantially reduce the shortage of vaccines in the region as a whole.
The economy and trade: considering the similar structure of exports from SICA countries, they would probably gain more if they pooled their efforts in entering the Russian market. Likewise, Russian suppliers of different produce to the region should also probably target several countries at once. In both cases, this would reduce logistics costs and other overheads.
Tourism is yet another interesting example. The Dominican Republic is the absolute leader in this respect and has left its neighbours far behind. About 180,000 tourists from Russia visited the country last year. SICA countries could work together on joint itineraries so that when buying a tour to the Dominican Republic Russian tourists could also visit other Central American countries. This idea evoked keen interest.
Easier visa procedures are bound to facilitate economic, scientific, educational, tourist and other exchanges. We have visa-free travel with Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama. We have signed a relevant agreement with Honduras and it is now going through ratification. Today, we will sign an agreement on visa-free travel for citizens of Russia and El Salvador.
We have sound cooperation with diplomatic academies at the foreign ministries of many SICA countries. As was discussed today, we could also switch to multilateral cooperation in this respect.
Russia and Central American countries hold close and in many cases identical positions on important international issues. We stand for respecting international law, for the consolidation of the UN’s central role and for the peaceful settlement of disputes. This is also reflected in the Joint Statement we adopted today.
We are grateful to our partners in Central America for supporting many Russian initiatives in the UN, including resolutions against the glorification of Nazism, the strengthening of confidence-building measures in space, and the development of and cooperation in international information security, to name a few. We appreciate the balanced position of regional countries as far as the events in Ukraine are concerned and their refusal to joint anti-Russian sanctions.
I am confident that the results of our meeting today open a new stage in our cooperation with regional countries that will bring additional benefits to us all.
In conclusion, I would like to thank once again my colleague, Foreign Minister of Guatemala Carlos Morales, for the wonderful reception and excellent organisation of our work.
Question: How does Russia cooperate with SICA countries in countering drug trafficking?
Sergei Lavrov: Russia has bilateral agreements on cooperation in countering drug trafficking with many countries in the region. They provide for training personnel in Russia. Managua also has courses for training narcotics officers (now they are reorganised into a regional training centre). They are attended by citizens of many Central American countries, including Guatemala.
In addition, Russian specialists make single trips to read a cycle of lectures in regional countries. This form of training narcotics officers was recently used in Guatemala. We are convinced that to upgrade the ability to combat drug trafficking we should focus on assistance in training national personnel in the relevant countries.
In addition to this form of work, we also cooperate on the international arena to consolidate and develop the international legal foundation for countering illegal drug trafficking. These activities are based on three universal conventions on combatting different aspects of the drug threat. They are coordinated by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs that is now in charge of the preparations for a special UN General Assembly session in 2016 on enhancing the efficiency of efforts to counter illegal drug trafficking. During our bilateral meeting today, Mr Morales and I agreed to coordinate our preparations for this major event.
Question: You mentioned the situation in southeastern Ukraine at the close of your remarks. How would you respond to a Ukrainian military officer at a checkpoint saying that any ethnic Russian member of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission coming to that area would be killed?
Sergey Lavrov: The OSCE has long-established rules for forming international missions, which preclude any discrimination based on nationality or citizenship. When the Ukrainian leadership asked the OSCE to deploy a special monitoring mission in their country, the Kiev authorities agreed to comply with these rules and principles.
Now, the mission has more than 20 Russian citizens. We have put forward 15 more candidates based on the recently adopted decision by OSCE Permanent Council to expand the mission’s membership to 1,000.
Members of the Ukrainian military which go as far as issuing threats to the Russian members of the OSCE mission, should be immediately dismissed and perhaps, even prosecuted. I'm not sure who exactly said those words and issued such threats: was it a Ukrainian serviceman or a volunteer battalion member? In any case, it goes to show once again that Ukrainian leaders have to straighten things out with the armed people, especially given the unclear chain of command that exists in their country.
The country's leadership seems to be issuing appropriate orders, but there’s no follow-through. For example, the leaders of the Right Sector refused to obey anyone’s orders in unequivocal terms.
Such threats to Russian members of the OSCE mission show once again that ultranationalist ideas in Ukraine permeate even the armed forces. The OSCE mission, the European states and other Western countries which favour the Ukrainian leaders should pay attention to that. We have long since called attention to this threat. We demand to adopt measures preventing Ukraine from becoming a nationalist state, which would be absolutely inconsistent with European law. I hope that such a possibility will not be neglected to the point that it will no longer be treatable.
In any case, the responsibility for the safety of OSCE mission members in Ukraine, regardless of their nationality or citizenship, lies entirely with the Ukrainian side.
Question: Could you tell us more about Guatemala’s request to train a Guatemalan astronaut in Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already mentioned this. We received such a request following the talks with President of Guatemala Otto Perez Molina. It is being considered not by the Foreign Ministry, but the Federal Space Agency and other relevant agencies of the countries that are part of the ISS project. The Russian Foreign Ministry does not deal with the practical side of this issue. The only thing I know is that there’s a waiting list for those who want to get in. Our colleagues in Roskosmos (Federal Space Agency) will, of course, consider this request, and we will make their response known to our friends in Guatemala.
Question: Are there any recommendations from the Russian side regarding the activities of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala?
Sergey Lavrov: This commission was established by Guatemala and fully suits their interests. What is there to discuss?
Question: What’s your take on the situation in Yemen and the US stance on the crisis unfolding in that country? In particular, after President Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine, the United States supported the coup in Ukraine, while after the president of Yemen fled his country, the Americans backed the legitimate Yemeni government.
Sergey Lavrov: In order to answer your question, I’ll have to use an old cliché: clearly, what we are seeing is double standards. Of course, we didn’t want any of these events to happen in Ukraine or Yemen. In both countries, there is still a long way to go to achieve national reconciliation.
I’m convinced that if back on February 22, 2014 - when the opposition in Ukraine trampled upon the crisis resolution agreement and refused to create a government of national unity, seizing instead the presidential administration and the government building and burning the offices of political parties – if at this moment, Europe (particularly the countries that witnessed the signing of the above agreement, namely, Germany, France and Poland), and the United States, which called upon Viktor Yanukovych not to use the army to quell the protests - if they used their clout and authority and asked to immediately restore the agreements, I’m sure that nothing of what we are witnessing in Ukraine today would have ever happened, and there would be no tragedy as we experience today.
It is now imperative to throw all the best efforts into restoring the political process based on the Minsk agreements that were signed on February 12. Here, too, we see that Kiev’s officials procrastinate. In flagrant violation of the Minsk agreements, the official representatives of the Kiev authorities say that they don’t consider the leaders of the proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics as legitimate negotiating partners. We insist on making full use of the Contact Group, whereby the representatives of Kiev, Lugansk and Donetsk should, alongside Russia and the OSCE, work to resolve all issues, including the consolidation of the ceasefire, as well as the control over the withdrawal of heavy weapons, humanitarian aid, economic recovery and the constitutional process. To this end, we were the first ones to propose, a while ago, the creation of working subgroups within the Contact Group to cover each of these areas in order to make this work substantive and goal-oriented. Kiev paid us lip service and dragged things out instead. The decision was made only a few days ago at a meeting of deputy foreign ministers in Normandy format. It’s important to implement it as soon as possible. We will push to make this happen.
You are absolutely right about Yemen: the United States’ stance on the events in Yemen is diametrically opposite to its stance on Ukraine. We must call things by their proper names. They are playing Sunnis against Shiites, which is a dangerous thing to do. In Yemen, too, there’s no way out other than to resume the negotiation process, which was prepared with the involvement of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General. We will insist on it. I hope that other countries that are, one way or another, involved in the situation in Yemen, will act accordingly.
In general, if we take a universal approach to the issue that you raised, in September 2014 we proposed, during the UN General Assembly session, adopting a detailed declaration that would uphold one of the principles of the UN Charter, namely, the obligation of states to prevent interference in the domestic affairs of each other and to highlight the inadmissibility of changing legitimate governments by way of violent coups.
By the way, Latin American countries do not recognise those who came to power through unconstitutional coups. A similar principle applies to the African Union as well. I believe that other regions of the world could adopt this approach and enshrine it in the applicable UN documents. We have put forward such an initiative, but our Western partners don’t show much enthusiasm about it. Nevertheless, we will keep working on it.