Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions following a session of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, Nicosia, May 19, 2017
The latest session of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers has ended in Nicosia. The session was opened by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades; the discussion was moderated by Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides. Important decisions were made at the conclusion of the session, in particular opening for signature the Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property. It is directly related to the barbarity demonstrated by terrorists with regard to Christian and Muslim sanctuaries, including in the Middle East and North Africa. The convention is open for signature, which is a major achievement in consolidating the Council of Europe’s convention mechanisms. It is an organisation that ensures a single legal space for all countries on our continent.
Deep gratitude was expressed to the Cypriot chairmanship for the productive work and the hosting of wide-ranging medical, youth, social and sport policy events. The discussion also addressed the implementation of Council of Europe members’ obligations to observe human rights and freedoms as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
In this context, we drew attention to the situation in Ukraine where these obligations are grossly violated. The European Convention is ignored on a significant part of the country’s territory. You are aware of what is going on in that territory regarding the Church, the media and members of parliament, not to mention Donbass, where the Ukrainian government has imposed a full blockade in an effort to thwart the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
We believe the Council of Europe should continue its efforts to prevent discrimination against human rights and the glorification of Nazism, which is still reported in some countries. We also drew attention to the problems of ethnic minorities in Ukraine following the enactment of a new law asserting the Ukrainian language in all areas of public life to the detriment of other ethnic groups living in that country.
Attention was also given to the problem of statelessness in Estonia and Latvia. I cannot say that all Council of Europe members are ready to fight these violations but they have almost no convincing arguments. We are willing to deal with all disputes peacefully but the European Convention is mandatory and the violations that we have listed are absolutely obvious. This concerns attempts to punish some groups of people on the basis of their political persuasions and on the territorial principle – insofar as concerns visa discrimination measures introduced by some EU countries against Russian citizens living in Crimea. We will continue to uphold our position on all these issues.
Question: Could you comment on the US-led coalition’s strike on Syrian pro-government forces in the al-Tanf area? Did the US warn Russia about the attack in advance?
Sergey Lavrov: I am not aware that such a warning was issued. We are still clarifying all details of the attack but according to some reports, several dozen civilians were killed as a result. All of this requires verification. However, my understanding is that the US command justified the strike against the positions of Syrian government forces or tried to justify it by claiming that those government forces posed a threat to the opposition that collaborates with the US military – with the US-led coalition. Whatever the reasons of the US command’s decision to attack might be, they are unlawful. This is another gross violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
We are concerned by the ongoing loss of consensus on the need to combine the efforts of all those who are standing up to ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists on the ground and in the air. Once again we are seeing the intention of Jabhat al-Nusra and its affiliates to use the opposition and some extremists, including Jabhat al-Nusra, in the fight against Syria’s legitimate government. All of this is happening amid growing calls from Washington and some other Western capitals for all contacts with Bashar Assad to be stopped. The US Congress has passed legislation that seeks to punish all those who cooperate with Syria’s legitimate government. All of this distracts us from efforts to achieve a settlement in Syria and from the main goal of that settlement: to prevent the takeover of Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
Question: What is the practical impact of the activity of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers compared to other regional cooperation formats? Could you give some other examples of cooperation apart from opening a document for signing?
Sergey Lavrov: I have enumerated all the events hosted by the Cypriot chairmanship. They have been posted on the official website of the Foreign Ministry of Cyprus.
As for the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ role, it is unique because all the activity of this mechanism is based on legally binding documents. They regulate many areas of life on the continent, within the framework of which it is necessary to ensure human rights and freedoms. This sets the Council of Europe apart from the OSCE, which does not rely on a single legally binding document and is a political organisation. As you know, together with our CIS partners, we have for years been putting forward proposals to develop an OSCE charter, but our Western colleagues prefer to keep it flexible. We can see that this flexibility is important for manipulating OSCE tools, including the so-called Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the position of the representative on freedom of the media and some other agencies.