Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS)
Speech and answers to questions of mass media by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during press conference summarizing the results of 18th Ministerial meeting of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Pionersky, Kaliningrad region, 6 June 2013
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have completed the ministerial session of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). First of all, our "troika" (Russia, Finland, Germany) would like to express their gratitude on behalf of all members of the Organisation to the population, the Government and the Governor of Kaliningrad region Nikolay Tsukanov for their hospitality and assistance in organisation of the 18th ministerial session of CBSS.
We have conducted a rather specific and valuable discussion about prospects of strengthening regional cooperation in the Baltic region in various spheres. I will let myself to recap on the main results of the Russian Presidency in the Council.
In this position, Russia aspired to act in the spirit of succession, increase the significance of applied activity of the Council, its orientation on specific projects in interests the population of all countries of the region and to create required financial instruments for that. We may state that we reached specific results. Together with our German partners, we started the programme Partnership for Modernisation for the South East Baltic Area (SEBA), within the framework of which we started to implement several projects, the largest of which is creation of an innovative environmental and tourism cluster "Lake Vistytis" on the border of three countries – Russia, Lithuania and Poland. A conference summarising the first results of the first stage of implementation of SEBA will open on 7 June. We reckon that we will review new projects intended for implementation in Kaliningrad region and in other regions of the Baltic Sea there.
The Project Financing Fund for the implementation of region-wide programmes started to work in the period of Russian Presidency. The allocation of funds for implementation of four pilot projects, including the international module of a youth camp "Baltic Artek", have already been approved. The Pilot Financial Initiative of CBSS with participation of the German KFW and Russian Vnesheconombank, as well as the Permanent International Secretariat of CBSS is operating. Within the framework of this initiative, credit facility agreements for 175 million US dollars about financing of projects in the field of SME in the North-West of Russia, and construction of a modern solid waste disposal and recycling plant in St Petersburg using mechanisms of public and private partnership have already been signed. All the things I list are particular acts.
The Conference of Heads of Governments of CBSS on the protection of environment of the Baltic Sea (April 2013, St Petersburg) intended for development of the Baltic Sea Action Summit held in 2010 at the initiative of Finland became a meaningful event of the Russian presidency in CBSS. Having regarded to the fact the ecologic atmosphere in the Baltic Sea Region is fragile, we consider this line related to environmental protection very important.
We attach significant importance to the development of direct contacts between inhabitants of the Baltic Sea Region, primarily young people. We are convinced that activation of youth cooperation will turn it into a valid channel of formation of the space of trust, stability and neighbourly relations.
We have also reviewed the results of activity of the parliamentary dimension – the Baltic Sea Parliamentary Conference and the NGO forum – of the Baltic Sea Region. We share the opinion that both parliamentary cooperation and interaction in the line of civil community deserves all possible support in the future.
In the end, I would like to thank Germany, who was presiding in CBSS before Russia and has left very good legacy in the form of a strong lead of initiatives aimed at the increase of focus in our work and the achievement of specific results, which can be perceived by our citizens.
I would also like to wish Finland starting its presidency in the Organisation to work more actively on the implementation of the programme laid down at today's session by Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja and supported by all the participants.
Question: We thank you for the aesthetic pleasure from holding this event in a beautiful place like Kaliningrad. We hope that next sessions of CBSS will be held in not less picturesque places.
It is known that the topic of Syria was one of the topics discussed in the course of bilateral meetings. Is it true that you faced almost unsurpassable difficulties in organisation of the international conference on Syrian problems in Geneva? On what stage are the negotiations about its preparation? What is your attitude to prospects of convening this conference – more optimistic or pessimistic?
Sergey Lavrov: Today we, certainly, discussed more constructive issues than those taking place in Syria. However, yesterday, in the course of bilateral contacts with many colleagues before beginning our work, we certainly touched upon the topic of Syria, and it is understandable. The situation there arouses serious concern and none can be satisfied with it. Firstly, because people continue to die, including harmless civilians. Secondly, because the situation is starting to negatively affect the state of affairs in the entire region – contradictions between religions and ethnicities start to activate. And all of this is happening on the background of rather troublesome processes developing in other countries of this region, including countries, where "revolutions" occurred and the "Arab spring has flourished".
We are interested in reviewing all these problems in one package not to allow the global community to narrow their view by any "blinders" and concentrate on an immediate task – to replace one leader, then another, paying almost no attention to consequences of such actions. In my opinion, we all are starting to realise now that everything is interconnected within the framework of Arab spring and we need to decide who international community is with and what are healthy forces of this region: those who embark upon the course of violent solution of issues of authority in this or that country disregarding victims among civilians, or those, who still wish to resolve these problems through negotiations.
There are problems, changes in this region escalated long ago, may be even over escalated. We strongly advocate for settlement of any occurring situations exclusively by way of negotiations. Therefore, we were initiators of the first Geneva conference in June 2012. That time Kofi Annan provided us great support. In the entire period that followed we were trying to arrange the work on practical implementation of the agreements reached last June within the framework of Geneva Communiqué.
Now, when the American party agreed to such logics during the visit of US Secretary of State to Moscow, and we formulated and proposed an initiative on holding a conference for organisation of negotiations between delegations of government and different groups of Syrian opposition with John Kerry, we face the chance to start the implementation of this task. I say "start the implementation of this task", because we cannot resolve it in one sitting. In view of the clump of accumulated contradictions, this will inevitably become not a fast process.
We proceeded with preparation of the organisation part of affairs, because Syrians themselves must decide on the content part. Having received oral support of almost all more or less significant participants of the Syrian drama, Russia and the USA at the request of other countries and with consent of the UN deal with discussion and coordination of organisation issues. First of all, it concerns the range of participants. We strongly presume that we need to follow precisely the Geneva Communiqué stating that there will be delegations from the government and opposition groups.
We need that all Syrian structures are present at this conference. This concerns not only the "National Coalition", which has not been able to take a constructive position in favour of participation in the conference yet, but also those opposition structures, which do not wish to be present at the Geneva conference, if it is convened under the "umbrella" of the "National Coalition", thinking that its positions do not contribute to settling a business talk and reaching an agreement. The National Coordination Committee, representing the internal Syrian opposition, the majority of members of which have never left the country and lived through everything together with its people is among the organizations wishing to participate in the international conference independently. Kurds also wish to participate independently. At least, we received clear-cut declarations of it from the Supreme Council of Kurds of Syria.
We deem it necessary to provide all opposition structures of Syria the opportunity to bring their point of view to the conference and to participate in the process of coordination of the compromise, which would secure peace, stability, equal rights to all ethnic and religious groups in this country and contribute to pacification of the situation in the entire region, as well as creation of conditions for advancement to a very important task, which other start to forget under the influence of the Arab spring. I mean creation of condition for faster renewal of negotiations about Palestine-Israel Peace Process.
Therefore, one task that is not being solved yet is to ensure participation of all Syrian opposition groups in the conference. I will repeat, the "National Coalition" does not want this and sets preconditions – overthrow of the regime first, then we can agree. I think that all of us see lack of logics, as a minimum, in such position.
The second problem is other participants of the conference, external players. We are convinced that all neighbours of Syria and other countries, which may actually affect the situation, must be invited. At this stage, our partners are using quite strong expressions when they speak against the Iranian presence. We consider it a mistake and will insist that all, who may affect the situation, must be invited to the negotiation table in Geneva. External players should not be vested with the function to predetermine the agreements that will allow overcoming the crisis instead of Syrians. Syrian parties must do it themselves. While the task of external participants is to constantly push Syrians to finding accord.
As to the content part of the issues, I will repeat it again that it is for Syrians to decide. Also as regards fates of individual personalities on the political stage. The Geneva Communiqué clearly formulates that the formation of a transitional governing body based on consent between the government and the opposition must the purpose of the negotiation process.
I have heard that officials from the US Department of State have given a very peculiar comment on the results of yesterday's meeting in Geneva between Russia, the USA, and UN considering these particular issues. In particular, the State Department representative stated that Russia, the United States and the United Nations agree that the goal of the new conference in Geneva must be the forming of a new transitional government in Syria. This really matches with what was written down last year. But, if the reports that I have received are true, the State Department went on to add that "this should be a transitional government to which the current authorities in Damascus would hand over all their powers". If this was really said by the State Department, this is a very strong distortion of what the talks were about. Agree that forming a government based on agreement between the current government and the opposition is one thing. While forming it by handing over powers from the government to the opposition is another thing. Therefore, I expect that the US negotiators will observe what we have agreed upon with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Our negotiators will strictly adhere to these particular agreements.
So, these are the estimates that may be made at this stage. Currently, amid disagreements about the composition of external participants and while the "National Coalition" staked by many sponsors of the opposition in Syria cannot agree to the Russian-American initiative, we took a pause till June 25. American partners have assured us that they will try to fulfil their part of job and to achieve a constructive approach on behalf of the "National Coalition". Meanwhile, we will continue to work with SAR government which has already announced that it is ready to participate in the conference and that the Syrian Foreign Minister will head the government delegation. We will continue our work with other opposition forces, because, as I have already highlighted, they must participate in the conference. We will certainly attempt to get consent that the circle of external participants is representative and is not formed based on some geopolitical or other preferences.
Question (addressed to Guido Westerwelle): Is it true that the EU will return to the issue of embargo on supplies of weapons to Syria depending on the results of the forthcoming conference on Syria?
Can you say what are reports of German intelligence on current Russian supplies of C-100 systems to Syria?
Sergey Lavrov (adds to the answer of Guido Westerwelle): I wish to support what was said by Mr Westerwelle as regards the need to urgently clarify any facts related to the messages about possible use of chemical weapons by the parties. To that end, we think that the UN Secretariat has made a gross mistake, when it did not respond to a specific request of the Syrian government to investigate the use of poisonous chemical substances near Aleppo on 19 March, and requested an unhindered unlimited access to any site in the Syrian territory. It is clear that Damascus did not wish to repeat the experience of Iraq. But that specific case had to be investigated. We also need to investigate the reports provided by the participant of the Independent Commission Carla Del Ponte regarding use of chemical weapons by the opposition.
On this occasion, I would like to remind again that, as before, we expect complete information from our Turkish colleagues regarding more than a week old reports about detention of Al-Nusra Front militants with sarin gas. All of us would like to get clarity about all these issues, because the issue of chemical weapons has become the subject of speculation and provocation. I do not rule out that somebody wants to use it to state that a red line has been crossed and a foreign intervention is necessary.
The question of the head of Echo of Moscow radio station Alexey Venediktov also touched upon the issue of weapons supplies to the opposition. I have already provided my opinion about it – I can only repeat one simple thing. The opposition in any case gets a wide flow of weapons, including heavy weapons. In particular, when government armed forces regained control over Al-Qusayr, they have found heavy weapons, including antiaircraft defence, artillery systems. Thus, the supply channels required to continue the war remain open. By the way, they found foreign trainers there, who worked with militants from extremist groupings.
Question: In your speech, you called the experiment on the border with Poland – agreement about local near-border movement of the population of near-border territories, which has been successfully implemented since August 2012, as good "beacon" for further collective work on the establishment of visa-free regime between EU countries and Russia. How do you estimate prospects of negotiations on conclusion of a similar agreement between Russia and Lithuania?
Sergey Lavrov: The Russian-Polish Agreement about local near-border movement of the population of near-border territories is not an experiment any more, but rather a practice that has fully justified itself. Despite some sceptic predictions, there were almost no violations of this regime, when we introduced it with our Polish colleagues. We face only one problem – long queues, including because people wish to go from Kaliningrad region to Poland to buy things there at a cheaper price, the Polish come here to buy cheap petrol. We think that it is a normal process. We agreed with my Polish colleague that we would contribute to the creation of more comfortable conditions, create more checkpoints that are modern, extend them and help people move without obstacles.
As to the possibility to extend this practice to our relations with Lithuania (Kaliningrad region and adjacent regions of Lithuania of matching area, as it was with Poland), it depends on our Lithuanian colleagues. We have been offering to conclude a similar agreement for a long time. The Lithuanian party presumes that it is better to move, as they say to us, to visa-free regime between the Russian Federation and the EU. Yes, it is our goal, but it has not been achieved yet, therefore I do not see any reasons, why we should not provide comfort to the interaction and contacts between people: Russians living in Kaliningrad region and Lithuanians, who are also interested in maintaining links – business, cultural, family – with people of Kalinindrad.
From member states of CBSS represented here we have an agreement about small-scale near-border movement with Norway. This concerns a very limited section of the border, however, it is sufficiently proved agreement allowing our citizens to actively communicate across the border. Yesterday, the Agreement about small-scale near-border movement between Russia and Latvia entered into force. According to this agreement, lists of citizens wishing to participate in this programme will be made by July 1 of this year. After that border crossing certificates will start to be issued not to put a stamp in the passport each time the border is crossed, as then they will need to change their passport very frequently.
As to Lithuania, if our Lithuanian neighbours agree to extend this practice to the relations between our countries, we will be glad.