Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Greek daily Efimerida ton Sindakton, published on December 7, 2018
Question: How would you characterise the present stage in Russian-Greek relations?
Sergey Lavrov: The latter half of the outgoing year was not easy for Russian-Greek relations. A political and diplomatic crisis provoked by the actions of the Greek authorities, who expelled a number of current and former employees of Russian foreign missions in Greece, has led to a temporary suspension of the interstate dialogue. For our part, we did not take any action to curtail cooperation and only responded to accusations that were levelled at us.
This freeze could satisfy neither side because it was at variance with the long-term interests of both states. In this connection, an agreement has been reached on a working visit that the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, will pay to Russia on December 7. We regard this agreement as timely and very important. We proceed from the assumption that his talks with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will make it possible to normalise the bilateral dialogue.
We are confident that there are no real obstacles that would impede progress in Russian-Greek relations. We are able to build up joint efforts so as to intensify contacts in all areas, including trade, economy and investment. We should prioritise the implementation of major joint projects, something that will allow us to reach new highs in cooperation. Concrete areas could be discussed at the upcoming 11th session of the mixed Commission on Economic, Industrial, Scientific and Technical Cooperation.
We still view Greece as an important partner in maintaining peace and stability in Europe, specifically in the East Mediterranean region and the Balkans.
Question: How would you assess the situation in the Balkans?
Sergey Lavrov: We are concerned about the situation in the Balkans. We see that NATO and Brussels have redoubled their efforts to absorb this region. They are insistently forcing the Balkan countries to make a false choice between Moscow and Washington plus Brussels. This is further destabilising the security architecture in Europe, increasing tension and creating new dividing lines.
Kosovo remains the biggest source of instability. Pristina is openly sabotaging the agreements reached with Belgrade through the mediation of the EU and has staged numerous provocations. For the past five and a half years, nothing has been done to create the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo. The so-called Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj has initiated draft laws that run counter to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and has even proposed creating a regular army contrary to the Kosovo Constitution. This army will be clearly spearheaded against the Serbs living in the province, especially in its northern regions. On November 22, Pristina introduced 100 percent duties on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, in violation of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). This measure is also designed to create unbearable conditions for Kosovo Serbs.
This has actually put in question the reputation of the EU and its ability to force Kosovars to honour their commitments. The Serbian leadership has been acting very responsibly in this situation. President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic has pointed out more than once that he hoped to ease the tension and that Belgrade would not take any mirror measures so as not to aggravate the crisis.
The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina is playing a destabilising role in the republic. This protectorate regime is hampering the republic’s development and reconciliation, as well as drawing it away from strict compliance with the Peace Agreement, the implementation of which the High Representative must oversee. Attempts have been taken to discredit the outcome of the elections which Bosnians have held in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to question the legality of the victory of Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik.
We also see gross interference in the internal affairs of Macedonia by the United States and the EU. Macedonians were openly encouraged on a daily basis to vote for the Prespan Agreement [to rename Macedonia] at the September 30 referendum. The referendum has not attained its goal, as you know. But on October 19 the constitutional amendments were pushed through the Assembly [Macedonian parliament] by means of blackmail and the bribing of opposition deputies. Foreign diplomats, including the US Ambassador, were directly involved in this. They are working hastily now to formalise the deal in early 2019.
It is notable that this hasty process is fully in keeping with Washington’s goal of ensuring that Skopje joins NATO as soon as possible. The allegation that the Prespan Agreement should be approved to accelerate the country’s integration into the EU does not stand up to scrutiny. As we know, accession talks with Brussels can go on for decades.
Question: What is Russia’s perspective on the situation in the South Mediterranean region?
Sergey Lavrov: Unfortunately, the southern part of the Mediterranean Region remains a major hotbed of international tension and a source of a number of dangerous threats including terrorism, illegal migration, drug trafficking and organised crime. The mass exodus of the Christian population has disrupted the ethnic and religious balance. As I have said time and again, this sad state of affairs is the direct consequence of geopolitical engineering and the interference into the sovereign affairs of MENA countries, as well as imposing alien development models and reform recipes.
Russia has been expending considerable efforts in order to improve the situation in the region. It is through the actions by the Russian military and the proactive initiatives by our diplomats that Russia has dealt a destructive blow to terrorists in Syria, helped launch a political process and create conditions for the return of refugees. Together with Iran and Turkey, who are guarantor countries as part of the Astana process alongside Russia, we are working on forming a Constitutional Committee in keeping with the outcome of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that took place in Sochi. The current agenda for the Syrian Arab Republic consists of the formidable challenge of restoring its infrastructure, which will require the international community and international humanitarian organisations to combine their efforts without any preconditions or double standards. Once these challenges are addressed, the migration burden on Europe is expected to ease.
Russia continues to contribute to the overall efforts aimed at restoring Libya’s state institutions, territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev attended the International Conference for Libya that took place in Palermo on November 12-13. Russia proceeds from the premise that there is no alternative to an inclusive intra-Libyan dialogue based on the 2015 Skhirat Political Agreement. We remain committed to further facilitating the UN initiatives to this effect.
Stability in the Mediterranean would hardly be possible without overcoming the long-standing Palestinian problem based on the UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions we all know, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative. Unilateral steps to review the international legal framework of the settlement process do nothing to advance this cause. Just as before, Russia will seek to promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation and facilitate the resumption of dialogue between parties. In particular, we proposed holding a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Moscow.
We remain committed to a comprehensive, fair, solid and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem. We strongly believe that Cypriot communities must have a final say on the various aspects of the settlement resulting from the talks held within the framework of the UN Security Council resolutions. We believe any attempts to impose ready-made recipes and artificial deadlines to be unacceptable. Our proposal remains on the table to get all the permanent members of the UN Security Council involved in devising a final resolution on the settlement’s external aspects.
I have no doubt that we can strengthen security and stability across the Mediterranean and ensure peace and prosperity for its people only through international law, as well as the values of mutually respectful dialogue and diplomacy.