Statements and speeches by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a news conference following the 23rd OSCE Ministerial Council meeting, Hamburg, December 9, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen,
I apologise for being late as it was necessary to hold a consultation with the German chairmanship. As of now, we cannot say how this session will end. Negotiations are ongoing on a number of decisions. To our great regret, there are delegations that are trying to make the adoption of one set of documents conditional on reaching an agreement on documents related to absolutely different topics. Nevertheless, we greatly appreciate the efforts of the German chairmanship and the personal efforts made by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his team, who have applied and are applying considerable efforts to ensure the success of the current session.
I believe that we can already talk about very significant achievements. The German chairmanship has organised a fruitful discussion on current issues related to various dimensions of security in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia. These problems abound, as you know. I am referring, in particular, to the situation in the military and political area, the growing terrorist threat, cyber space challenges, lingering old and new conflicts in the region, and, of course, the decline in economic cooperation in the area of the OSCE responsibility.
Frankly speaking, we expected that the ministerial decisions will be substantial and their package will be impressive. But so far, as I have already said, there is a risk that this will not happen because some delegations are seeking to make agreements conditional in ways that are artificial and unacceptable. Moreover, at an early stage it appeared that prejudice dictates the stance some delegations hold in respect of our initiatives. We have proposed two drafts, which fit perfectly with the OSCE mandate: the first one on ensuring the media pluralism, you might be interested in that, and the second one against discrimination in sport. These are absolutely obvious and correct things for which there is an even greater need at a time when we witness a fairly unfavourable situation in both areas. Yet we failed to not only arrive at a consensus, but our proposals were not even advanced for discussion by the experts of all the OSCE countries. We deeply regret the fact.
In addition, the instruction that the foreign ministers adopted by consensus in Basel, namely, to adopt a declaration on the unacceptability of violating the rights of Christians and Muslims and of persecuting them, has not been carried out yet. We regret that this instruction has not been acted upon for the past two years. We regard this as an attempt to evade a frank discussion on these pressing and deepening problems.
At the same time, we are satisfied with the fact that the Ministerial Council has reaffirmed the consensus regarding the need for more active efforts in fighting terrorism and combating drug trafficking more effectively. I believe that this is our great achievement. I hope that this obvious consensus will be enshrined in concrete documents.
I would particularly like to mention the discussion on military-political security issues in the Euro-Atlantic region that took place yesterday. The German chairmanship took some very interesting, proactive steps to put this subject onto a constructive course. There was a very useful exchange of opinions yesterday. I hope that our proposals, which are now under consideration together with proposals from other countries, will make it possible to formulate the task and achieve common understanding with regard to a starting point for the discussion and coordination of practical agreements on strengthening confidence-building and security measures. To reiterate, it is very important to have a common point of departure. This has yet to be achieved.
Economic interconnectedness is another achievement of the German chairmanship. This subject has been actively addressed over the past year. We also have an understanding that this concept should be promoted. We have long advocated harmonising integration processes in our region. The subject of economic interconnectedness is a very important step in this direction.
There was also a frank exchange of opinions on conflicts. We have a consensus regarding the way forward on a settlement in Transnistria. This is the “five plus two” format. We expect that now that the election campaign in Moldova is over and after the ongoing campaign in Transnistria, we will be able to invigorate this format. We also have complete understanding within the format of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs (Russia, the United States and France) regarding the need to continue our efforts on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement based on previously coordinated principles.
We commend the OSCE’s contribution to the settlement of the situation in eastern Ukraine. This is the work of the Contact Group and its four subgroups, which are led by OSCE coordinators, and of course, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission that is doing very important work in ensuring security on Ukrainian territory, including in the Donbass Region.
We addressed the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. The Mediterranean [region] is an OSCE partner. In addition, the situation in that region (terrorist threats, migration crisis) has a direct impact on European security. We are convinced that in considering the consequences of the situation in the Middle East, we should be fully aware of the causes of the terrorist threat and the migration crisis. Of course, these are the conflicts that were unleashed, among other things, as a result of outside interference. It is vital to resolve them through political dialogue based on consensus among all forces in each crisis-stricken country. This is in the interests of the European region.
Unfortunately, we have made no progress yet on the OSCE as an institution. For over a decade now, together with a number of co-sponsors, we have been advocating OSCE reform. Above all, adopting a charter. If we call this institution an organisation, it cannot exist without a charter. In this case, it is a rare and unique exception that does nothing to help its work. We have long been proposing adopting rules of procedure and clear-cut mandates for all OSCE institutions, but this has also failed to receive support. Incidentally, we are told that the OSCE’s appeal is in its flexibility and even ambiguity that allows these institutions – the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Representative on Freedom of the Media and the High Commissioner on National Minorities – to work in the absence of any clear-cut principle or mandate. Everything depends on what kind of person holds this position. This is wrong. Institutions should not be subjectively designed but should be able to act objectively in any situation, in the interests of all member countries. However, to reiterate, we are not giving up and we are not discouraged. We will continue to press to ensure that OSCE activity is based on intergovernmental decisions and is devoid of ambiguity as much as possible.
Speaking about this year’s results, it can be said that Germany has done a great deal of positive things during its OSCE Chairmanship. To me, the biggest achievement is that our talks on the military and political aspects of security hold the promise of reaching an understanding, which is only possible if based on equality and mutual respect for each other’s interests. If we reach this starting point, it will be a practical and very important result [of German Chairmanship].
Question: Have you discussed Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s initiative on conventional arms control in Europe with your German and American colleagues?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already spoken about conventional armaments in Europe. We discussed the German initiative aimed at creating conditions for resuming a process that has not been suspended by Russia but by our Western partners, who flatly refused to ratify the adapted Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). They pledged to ratify it long ago, in 1999. We have waited for them to do it for nearly 10 years. All NATO states refused to ratify it, and only Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus have done so. Therefore, we decided in 2008 that this cannot go on, that the situation had become embarrassing, and so we suspended our participation in this treaty. This is the reason behind the unceasing calls for resuming arms control talks.
Everyone calls for returning to that positive period when the CFE Treaty and the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence and Security-Building Measures were drafted. We discussed this at our working breakfast yesterday, and I reminded our partners that the atmosphere was completely different when these documents were drafted in the late 1990s. It was the age of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe and an equal dialogue based on mutual respect, an age without mutual accusations and unilateral restrictions. It was a highly positive period in the common European process. We have been invited to bury the past, forget the years of quarrels and accusations, forget the past and resume talks on conventional forces in Europe. Let’s compare the situation in 2016 with the environment in which the Charter of Paris for a New Europe was adopted. During their recent summits in Wales and Warsaw, the NATO countries adopted decisions that have dramatically changed the arms balance in Europe. Never mind the forgotten commitments not to expand the bloc eastward, which they made to the Soviet Union. Yesterday we reminded our partners about this. I gave to them the declassified documents about conversations between Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl, and Eduard Shevardnadze’s talks with Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Egon Bahr, which were attended by James Baker and Francois Mitterrand. These transcripts show these German, American and French politicians clearly saying that there would be no eastward expansion for NATO, and that the bloc’s military infrastructure would not be moved towards the Russian border.
They have forgotten everything. The bloc’s military infrastructure is standing at our border. They are deploying new units, and have moved their heavy weaponry towards our border. The United States is deploying heavy weaponry in the Baltic countries for the first time in years. In fact, this never happened before. NATO continues to say that it will admit new members. They are tightening their grip on Montenegro. We see them trying to act as quickly as possible. Nobody has asked Montenegrins if they want to join NATO. In my opinion, the government should have consulted the people on this important issue. It looks as if they are trying to make Montenegro join the bloc before the mandate of the Obama administration expires.
We are not interfering in this process, but the fuss definitely looks unattractive. Since the atmosphere this year differs from the time when we adopted the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, we should, above all, stop to catch our breath. If we really want to seriously discuss our military-political steps and arms control plans, we should sit down at a table, as I said yesterday, place the map on the table and see what weapons the parties have and where they are deployed. Only by doing this will we be able to see the imbalances and move on.
Question: Is Russia satisfied with the OSCE Ministerial Council’s decision on anti-Semitism?
Sergey Lavrov: We traditionally support the OSCE declarations on this issue. Unfortunately, no declarations have been adopted on anti-Christian or anti-Islamic sentiments, although a decision was taken two years ago to draft these.
Yet another initiative was approved this year to condemn anti-Semitism and adopt a definition for it. We are not against this, but it has been proposed, quite unexpectedly, to approve the Working Definition of anti-Semitism that was formulated by a Holocaust remembrance NGO. I have nothing against this organisation or the definition as presented in one of its decisions, but not all OSCE states are members of this organisation. In addition, we believe that anti-Semitism is a global issue. The OSCE must certainly contribute to a solution, and we have supported this intention. But we have also proposed that the text submitted by the initiators of this decision should be approved with a reservation saying that the OSCE, while adopting this Working Definition of anti-Semitism proposed by an NGO, will cooperate with universal organisations, including the UN, in fighting anti-Semitism. The co-authors of this initiative, in particular our American colleagues, have rejected our proposal for some reason, saying that Russia is allegedly trying to undermine the efforts to adopt a decision on the definition of anti-Semitism. I cannot understand this, and I believe that blocking cooperation on anti-Semitism between the OSCE and the UN in this manner is completely unacceptable. I do not understand who could benefit from this negative and obstructive stance.
Question: Fighting in Aleppo goes on, contrary to your statements yesterday. It is said in the West that Russia is not interested in making a deal with the United States as long as the Obama administration remains in power, and that you are waiting for the Trump administration to take over. Will you comment, please?
Sergey Lavrov: I have not said that the fighting has stopped completely; I only said that fighting had been suspended to let the civilians and anyone else who wanted to, leave the city. Of course, fighting will resume after the humanitarian pauses and will continue until the terrorists leave eastern Aleppo. This is clear to everyone, including our American partners.
Had we wanted to wait until the Obama administration leaves office, I would not have talks with my colleague, John Kerry, with whom I have talked three times personally and once over the phone in the past two days. As I said yesterday, we have agreed that our experts will meet in Geneva tomorrow. If the US experts do not change their minds, as they did several days ago, and do not advance new proposals, there is a good chance of coordinating the settlement of the situation around eastern Aleppo by convincing all terrorists without exception to leave the city. Again, I cannot say that there will be no surprises, because there are too many strange elements in the US actions at the bilateral talks on Syria.
Question: The meeting in St Petersburg has boosted the efforts to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan based on the adopted documents. The meeting was held at the initiative of President Vladimir Putin, who attended it. But the process has stalled despite the initial positive change. What can you tell us on this issue?
Sergey Lavrov: We commented on the situation with a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement long ago, including in light of the agreements that were reached at the Vienna meeting of the three foreign ministers [of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs] with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and at the St Petersburg meeting between Vladimir Putin, Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan. The June meeting in St Petersburg was also attended by representatives from France and the United States.
These agreements focused on the need to reaffirm the ceasefire regime. This has been done, but, unfortunately, violations have not stopped. We highly appreciate the OSCE’s role in monitoring the situation along the line of contact. The agreements also provided for increasing the number of OSCE observers rather moderately, from 12 to 19.
We believe that these agreements should be formalised in OSCE decisions, which can only be done by consensus. There is consensus on increasing the number of observers, but no consensus on their deployment areas. Like many other people, I believe that they should be deployed along the line of contact. But as I have said, we cannot reach consensus on this issue.
Question: You have mentioned all conflicts except for the one in Georgia. Georgia is demanding that the OSCE mission to the country be restored. Russia is against it, so there is no consensus on the issue. Why is Russia opposed to an OSCE observation mission to Georgia?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia supports the deployment of an OSCE mission to Georgia. If Georgia asks for an observation mission, Russia will definitely support this request, but only if it relates to Georgia. However, I believe that in your question you meant that Georgia wants to deploy an observation mission to South Ossetia, not Georgia. In this case, an agreement is impossible, since South Ossetia is not a member of the OSCE.
Question: Could you comment on a statement by a German intelligence agency claiming that Russia is seeking to destabilise the German government by supporting extremist groups and engaging in propaganda? Similar statements are also coming from a number of other Western governments and representatives.
Sergey Lavrov: I think that even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has commented on this nonsense. That is the way she described it. I have nothing to add in this respect. As for the German media, I heard that a Bild editor called me a war criminal today and asked German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier not to talk to me. Let it lie on the conscience of the German media, who of course, I do not mean to offend anyone, are second to none when it comes to anti-Russia sentiments. I do not know why, but it is totally at odds with the friendly feelings between the Russians and the Germans.
Question: You have called the position of the US on Syria “strange.” Could you elaborate on this point?
Sergey Lavrov: All I can do is repeat what I have said at previous news conferences.
One week ago, on December 2, in Rome US Secretary of State John Kerry handed over to me a draft proposal on ways to resolve the situation in eastern Aleppo. I said that it was an interesting idea and promised to provide feedback as soon as I return to Moscow. The next day, on December 3, I publicly stated that we had received a proposal from the US that was consistent with our ideas, and that we were ready to hold an expert meeting as soon as the next day to finalise all the details. It was about withdrawing all fighters without exception from eastern Aleppo, which meant that Russia and the US, in contact with the Syrian government and armed forces, had to agree on corridors whereby fighters would leave either for the Syrian border with Turkey or for Idlib. The US proposal also provided for the creation of corridors for civilians willing to leave Aleppo for any other destination.
Let me repeat that we received this proposal on December 2. On December 3, we said that we agreed and proposed a meeting as soon as the next day so that we could agree on these specific routes. As soon as these routes were agreed, all hostilities would halt, so that fighters could leave Aleppo. Civilians would also be offered an opportunity to leave the city. We suggested a meeting for December 4. The US asked for it to take place on December 7, which is hard to understand, given their insistence on the urgency of the matter. We agreed to meet on December 7.
On December 6, we were informed that the US recalled its document, that it had a new one (very strange indeed), and that in this situation the meeting in Geneva was no longer needed. So we took this new document and in less than 24 hours we prepared our response. The US liked our response, they approved it with two or three clarifications and offered to meet in Geneva as soon as possible. So now our military experts and diplomats are expected to meet to discuss this issue in Geneva on December 10.
But the strange things do not end there. On December 5, it was clear that we had to meet the US to agree on eastern Aleppo. The same day, the UN Security Council was to vote on a resolution on eastern Aleppo. The resolution did not contain a single word on the need to withdraw fighters, and focused on the need for a 10-day cessation of hostilities. But Russia could not accept this, because this break was ostensibly designed to help fighters catch their breath and receive reinforcements. Russia, in turn, asked the UN Security Council not to hold a vote on the resolution, since there is an agreement between Russia and the US that is radically different from what is in the draft resolution. The US representative said she was not aware of any such things and that contact between Russia and the US did not make any sense. When I asked US Secretary of State John Kerry what this all was about, I heard an even stranger thing. He said that it was possible, that it was the first time he heard about it and that he did not micromanage what was happening in the UN Security Council. Isn’t it strange to refer to one of the principal organs of the international community charged with maintaining international peace and security as something you can micromanage?
Moreover, when the US recalled the December 2 proposal that I had received from US Secretary of State John Kerry, and submitted a new version, the US Secretary of State was attending a NATO summit in Brussels, and he was asked about it there. He answered that he was not aware of any new document, and that the December 2 document had never been recalled. You can find and verify all this information on the internet. I hope you now understand why we said that the US actions were quite strange.
Question: What will happen to the Ukrainian hostages in Donbass? Will they be released before Christmas, which is being coordinated in Minsk? And what about the Ukrainians who are in Russian prisons – Oleg Sentsov, Paris-based journalist Roman Sushchenko who was arrested on charges of espionage, and Stanislav Klikh. Could they be released as part of a prisoner exchange?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding hostages and unlawfully detained persons, we have long and consistently advocated their release based on the principle “all for all.” As far as I know, the conflicting parties – the Ukrainian authorities and Donbass representatives – support this principle in word. Several groups of prisoners have been exchanged, but it was awhile back. We have recently reaffirmed the importance of doing this while meeting in the Normandy format, including at the heads of state level. However, the practical aspects of such exchanges can only be coordinated within the Contact Group by those who have the information pertaining to such exchanges. The parties need to exchange and review the lists of persons eligible for exchange. I know that the representatives of Russia, Donetsk and Lugansk are ready to do this. I hope that the Ukrainian party, which has firmly raised this question, will agree to a meeting to coordinate details, lists and so on.
This is not the only problem. Other issues complicating a settlement are concerned with the Ukrainian representatives’ refusal to hold a direct dialogue with their Donbass counterparts, although only dialogue can produce practical results regarding specific individuals and the places where they have been detained. Avoidance of direct contact is hindering the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, which include numerous provisions on the coordination of many issues between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, including security issues, which are very important but not more important than the issues of political reform.
As for the Ukrainians that are being held in Russian prisons, I believe there are legal opportunities, such as those that were used to exchange Nadezhda Savchenko, because there are Russian citizens in Ukrainian prisons, too. I will not even comment on this, because the issue depends on the parties’ use of the legal procedures.
Question: Why can’t the idea of an armed mission to Donbass be discussed constructively at an OSCE meeting?
Sergey Lavrov: The issue of an armed police mission to Donbass has not been discussed because nobody has supported the idea, none of the OSCE member states. Ukraine is possibly the only party that supports this, though I cannot speak for Kiev.
Question: My question is about a new road map for the Minsk Agreements, which is currently being drafted. Could you clarify how radically the new road map will differ from the current one? Does Russia believe that this initiative can end the impasse the Minsk Agreements find themselves in?
Sergey Lavrov: What do you mean by the current road map?
Question: How will the new initiative be different from the document approved by all parties?
Sergey Lavrov: The road map in question and which the sides are now trying to agree is not a substitute for the Minsk Agreements. They have been re-affirmed in their entirety. The road map will literally outline in detail the sequence of steps which will ensure progress towards the final result. The key challenge now is that our Ukrainian colleagues at some point began to block all progress on providing the special status to Donbass, codifying this status in the constitution, declaring an amnesty, and organising elections in these territories, and instead ask for complete silence to be achieved first and a month without a single shot. Do you understand that this it is unrealistic to do what our Ukrainian colleagues are requesting? It is physically impossible to check every person along the contact line. Provocations happen on both sides. There are volunteer battalions there, which are out of the chain of command, which is also a headache, I believe, even for the Ukrainian government, although some try to turn them into a special extremist force and legalise them as such.
We want the safety issues to be resolved. There’s a Joint Centre on Control and Coordination where, at the personal request of President Poroshenko, the Russian and Ukrainian officers work on coordinating issues in order to disengage the Ukrainian armed forces and the forces of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Now, on the basis of a number of Normandy format agreements and the Contact Group, we have a more or less clear idea what the steps should be to disengage the parties starting with the three pilot security zones, and then adding a few more safety zones with an eye toward making the entire contact line a secure zone.
With regard to withdrawing heavy weapons, obligations were violated during the process. There are many details that have been agreed. People in Donetsk and Lugansk want to know when all this will happen, what will be the fate of the commitments regarding the political side of the Minsk Agreements, and when will the amnesty be declared as pledged by President Poroshenko. There’s already a law in place which provides for such an amnesty, but it hasn’t been signed by the President of Ukraine. Suddenly, despite the availability of this law, our Ukrainian colleagues started saying that amnesty can only come from a court ruling, on a case-by-case basis, and only following the elections in Donbass. Clearly, it doesn’t make any sense to hold elections in the areas where the voters and the candidates have been declared terrorists by Kiev. Given this approach, one can expect the Kiev authorities, following the elections, to say that they do not recognise the election results, because the voters and candidates were bandits. That’s hogwash.
The people of Donbass also want to be aware of progress in drafting the law on the special status of Donbass. It is also a delicate issue, as all the requirements regarding the content of this law are contained in the Minsk Agreements. They were personally supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, as well as, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Poroshenko. This law is there, but it is being fiddled with. Recently, our Ukrainian colleagues have been delaying their response to the so-called Steinmeier formula. This formula was adopted at the Normandy four summit on October 2, 2015. According to it, the law on the special status, the contents of which, I reiterate, are clear to everyone, enters into force on a provisional basis on election day in Donbass, and on a permanent basis on the day when the OSCE issues a final report on the results of this election confirming that it were held in compliance with the standards of a free and fair vote.
For an entire year now, we were unable to put this agreement on paper. At a meeting in Berlin, which the Normandy four leaders held a month ago, President Poroshenko again began to digress, although German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was sitting at the same table and ultimately, at the request of those present, confirmed that what he had in mind was not what the President of Ukraine was trying to ascribe to him. As a result, after a two-hour discussion, we agreed to re-confirm the Steinmeier formula, but all subsequent attempts to put it on paper as part of the Contact Group have so far failed.
The entire point of this new road map is not to put safety ahead of the political reform, or the other way round, but to lay out specific steps. For example, three security zones on the contact line are being created. The Ukrainian government simply shows the Contact Group members a draft law, and four more zones are being created. The draft is submitted to the Verkhovna Rada, and so on until the moment when security is fully ensured, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, proper conditions have been created for holding the election with an amnesty and the special status of Donbass, as well as codifying this status in the constitution.
Question: What do you think about the US decision to lift restrictions on arms supplied to Syria? Will it affect the talks with the United States?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course, this will have an impact on our negotiations. This is another odd angle of the US policy toward Syria and Aleppo: the left hand is doing something constructive, while the right one, at the same moment, is opening the floodgate for pumping fighters with weapons. I don’t think it will have a significant impact on the situation in eastern Aleppo, because the bandits are surrounded there. They will hardly be able to receive any reinforcements. In terms of the future of Syria, restocking the arms supplies of the opposition is a big risk. In most cases, the weapons that go to the so-called "moderate" opposition end up with the terrorists, namely, ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra. By the way, it was kind of weird that up until the last minute the United States didn’t want to mention Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organisation in the draft resolution on terrorism, which we were developing here.
Question: What was the West's reaction to the liberation of large areas of eastern Aleppo? How is it different from the reaction to liberating Palmyra?
Sergey Lavrov: I can see and hear what our Western colleagues say. Occasionally, there are quite hysterical and emotional statements about the need to stop these alleged "war crimes" and to bring everyone to justice. They submit resolutions to the UN Security Council, demand humanitarian aid, and to do so, as I mentioned before, demand a cessation of hostilities for a period of 10 days. I think everyone understands that the militants in eastern Aleppo are going through agony. Again, we do not want to support those who would like to finish off these militants at any price and without any negotiations. We are willing to resolve the problem without further loss of life or destruction. That is why we have for many days now been talking with the Americans, who have pledged to negotiate with the militants on leaving eastern Aleppo of their own accord. They can be let out with their personal weapons, but, of course, without heavy weapons. Why are the Americans dragging it out? Perhaps, there are two explanations. First, the US State Department is not in charge of all issues. Someone in Washington believes such cooperation with us is not very becoming. If the second explanation is possible, it is that the Americans cannot influence the groups in eastern Aleppo. We do know that they are being influenced by certain countries of the region. We are working with all of these countries, including Turkey. We are beginning to reach a common understanding. Perhaps, this channel of cooperation will be more productive than the channel with the Americans.
Question: PACE has adopted a resolution on human rights in Donetsk and Lugansk. Is Russia willing to comply with this recommendation and be a defendant in court for violating human rights in Donetsk and Lugansk?
Sergey Lavrov: With all due respect, neither the OSCE as the current intergovernmental structure, nor the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is an international legal person. Again, we have long been trying to sort this status out. The decisions by the OSCE or any of its structures have no binding force. As you have quite rightly noted, they are just recommendations.
Unlike the OSCE, the Council of Europe is an international organisation and a subject of international law, which operates on the basis of legally binding conventions.
With regard to judicial proceedings, if there are courts of which Russia is a part, or bilateral agreements with a specific party, then anyone can file their complaints using all these channels.
With regard to human rights in Donbass, it is necessary to agree upon visiting that area. I’m aware that the representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk have repeatedly agreed to establish contacts with the ICRC and various human rights organisations. It is necessary to talk with them as required by the Minsk Agreements. It invariably comes back to the Kiev authorities shunning direct dialogue. They even go as far as demanding that the leaders of DPR and LPR Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky, respectively, are guaranteed to not participate in the election. To our question of why – since President Poroshenko himself personally insisted and demanded in Minsk that these two individuals sign the Minsk Agreements (which they did) – they have to go now, we get the answer that they are not legitimate. We say that precisely the fact that the Kiev authorities insisted on them signing the Minsk Agreements makes them legitimate. They tell us that their legitimacy was needed for signing the Minsk Agreements, and now they are illegitimate. Frankly, it all sounds a bit childish.
Question: If you fail to reach a common solution with US Secretary of State John Kerry before he leaves office, do you have any ideas about what your future work with your US colleagues may be like?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia-US relations are, of course, influenced by the individuals who depend on those who occupy top positions in our countries, the foreign ministers. By and large, these relations are rooted in the balance of national interests. Perhaps, everything will depend on how the new US administration understands US national interests. It is only taking shape now. I have a feeling that its approaches to implementing Donald Trump’s basic premises, which he laid out in his campaign speeches, are only now beginning to acquire some flesh and shape. Clearly, President-elect Trump has been and continues to be much more vocal about his commitment to fighting terrorism than the Obama administration has expressed in its actions.