ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s comments and answers to media questions following the Russia-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, Kuala Lumpur, August 5, 2015
The ministerial meeting held as part of the Russia-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership was the key event for the Russian delegation in Kuala Lumpur today. We had a very productive day.
First, we reached an agreement to establish the Eminent Persons Group, which will represent all ASEAN countries and Russia. It will include academics and politicians. We already have certain proposals regarding the candidates. This group will be tasked by the governments to try to prepare a strategic document that will outline prospects of our partnership with ASEAN in all areas in the long term.
Second, we have also agreed to finalise the Russia-ASEAN action plan for the next five years. The current plan expires in December 2015.
Third, we have agreed to give a new lease on life to the roadmap on developing trade, economic and investment cooperation, which was adopted three years ago. We will draft attachments to this roadmap for different sectors, which
have sound prospects for mutual investments.
Fourth, we agreed that the year 2016 will serve as a cross-year of Russia-ASEAN cultural relations and discussed the activities that will make it interesting for our respective citizens in terms of learning about our countries’ traditions, ways of life, culture and achievements in the humanitarian sphere.
It is particularly important to point out that, during the discussion of regional security issues, we reaffirmed our commitment to continuing the process of forming shared approaches towards collective non-bloc security in the region, which we started a couple of years ago, and discussing the foundations that can form the basis of lasting security and sustainable growth.
It was a very useful meeting.
Question: What issues were discussed during your meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry? Did you discuss the situation in Ukraine? Is it necessary to convene a Normandy Four meeting at the ministerial level?
Sergey Lavrov: With regard to bilateral contacts on the sidelines of today's events, there were more than ten. One of these meetings was with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
We discussed primarily the Middle East and North Africa as a follow-up to our conversation that we had a couple of days ago in Qatar with the participation of Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir.
We all agreed that the “Islamic State” represents a common threat and constitutes a common evil. We agree that we need to join efforts in combating this phenomenon as soon as possible and as efficiently as possible. So far, we haven’t developed a common approach to how exactly this can be done given the contradictions between various players on the ground, including the armed groups of the Syrian opposition. I will not go into details, this is the subject of our further contacts. We agreed that experts from the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department will continue to work in this regard. Of course, we will be guided by existing initiatives.
We have also discussed Ukraine, primarily in terms of an exchange of views on how our respective foreign ministries work in line with the decisions taken by President Putin and President Obama. This work was done by my deputy Grigory Karasin and Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.
If I have my numbers right, they have already held four meetings and talked on the phone several times. We use this channel to support the efforts of the Normandy Four and improve the results of the meetings held by the Contact Group in Minsk. Another round of such meetings was held on August 3. It was partially extended to August 4. Some subgroups will continue their contacts using Skype. Video conferences will be organised as well.
Today John Kerry and I exchanged views on where we are in each of the areas — security, political process, humanitarian issues and economic recovery. There is progress, in particular, regarding economic and humanitarian issues. There is hope that appropriate decisions will be made regarding withdrawing weapons under 100 mm caliber and demilitarising Shirokino.
I don’t want to blame anyone, but the self-defence forces have held up their end of the bargain, and the negotiators from the security group have been stalling due to some wavering among the representatives of the Government of Ukraine. But we believe — and John Kerry agrees with us — that this situation can be overcome.
The political process — the constitutional reform, the special status for the Donbass region, and the local elections in the proclaimed republics are the hard part. I reiterate that all of this must — in accordance with the Minsk agreements — be done in consultation with representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk. Much to our disappointment, there are not enough direct contacts on these matters between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. These contacts take place only in the form of the meetings of the Contact Group sub-groups and have so far failed to give a start to a meaningful dialogue in full compliance with the Minsk agreements. I very much hope that this situation will be overcome in the near future, and attempts to delay the fulfillment of obligations that arise from the Package of Measures of February 12 will not prevent us from achieving results.
Question: Will the Russian veto on the UN Security Council resolution to establish a tribunal to investigate the MH17 crash affect Russia’s status as an ASEAN dialogue partner and its bilateral relations with Malaysia?
Sergey Lavrov: Certainly not. Apart from the meeting with ASEAN member countries in the context of dialogue between Russia and ASEAN, I had a bilateral meeting with Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman. I saw a complete understanding of the Russian position, which is aimed at resolving the main issue for our Malaysian friends: establishing the truth. Russia is the only country that has provided its own radar data recorded on that day. No other party has done this. Our US partners have yet to present their satellite imagery or any other information. The Ukrainians are refusing to share the records of exchanges between their air traffic controllers and the crews of the aircraft that crossed their airspace on that day.
The establishment of a tribunal will not solve these problems overnight but, on the contrary, could be used as a pretext for camouflaging the inefficiency of the investigation that is being conducted by the Dutch Safety Board. Furthermore, this is a deviation from UN Security Council Resolution 2166, which provides for a thorough, impartial and comprehensive investigation under the auspices of the ICAO.
We have a lot of questions regarding the inefficiency and inadequacy of measures taken by the present team of investigators, who failed to do the most obvious things within the first few days of the tragedy: For example, they did not implement the measures prescribed by ICAO regulations and principles. They visited the crash site several times, but did not remove the wreckage until several months later, and so on. It is also important that they did not follow the UN Security Council resolution. We wanted this resolution to serve as a basis for UN oversight of the course of the investigation. All year, Russia has repeatedly asked the UN Security Council for information about the progress of the investigation. Our Western colleagues turned down this proposal. The UN secretary general should have issued recommendations regarding the UN’s contribution to the investigation but he did not do it, even though this was provided for by UN Security Council Resolution 2166. We proposed sending a UN mission to the crash site. This proposal was also rejected. We also proposed that the UN appoint a special envoy to monitor the course of the investigation. This initiative was also turned down.
Thus, the Western countries that have, over the course of this year, prevented the Security Council from playing an integrating role in establishing the truth, claim that this body should decide to hold a tribunal, which is absolutely unprecedented. The UN Security Council is not authorised to set up agencies to conduct investigations or prosecute persons for criminal offenses. The destruction of an airliner is a criminal offense. Such incidents have happened in the past but the UN Security Council has never been involved in an investigation. These countries are trying to pass form off as substance, and the substance is that a thorough, comprehensive, honest and impartial investigation should be carried out. When such an investigation is completed, which is expected to happen by the end of the year, then there will be many options for the prosecution of wrongdoers, including the proposal made by certain countries to institute a procedure to use national jurisdictions for this purpose.
The obsession with the idea of getting the UN Security Council involved suggests that certain parties prefer to play “propaganda games” because they have no answers to many legally substantiated questions: Why did this investigation begin so late and why is it being conducted so improperly?
We express complete solidarity with the people of Malaysia; we appreciate the fact that Malaysia is responding to this tragic incident without trying to speculate on it, on the fate of those killed or on the feelings of their families. Incidentally, when the tragedy struck, four countries – Belgium, Ukraine, Australia and the Netherlands – established their own investigation mechanism, without asking anybody – neither the UN Security Council nor anybody else. They didn’t even invite Malaysia. In August 2014, they formed a team of investigators while Malaysia only managed to become a participant in this mechanism in December 2014, four months after the tragedy and after the UN Security Council resolution was adopted. None of this is conducive to establishing the truth but plays into the hands of those who want to issue their own verdict without any conclusive evidence and without answering legitimate questions. This is why this investigation is so imperfect.