Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following his talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Moldova Nicu Popescu, Moscow, September 11, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
We held good business related talks. We share the opinion that the latest internal political processes in Moldova open up opportunities for invigorating bilateral relations. Mr Popescu emphasised that the new Moldovan Government is interested in developing cooperation with Russia. We have heard statements like this from the Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova Maia Sandu. We welcome this attitude and are willing to reciprocate and search together for solutions to accumulated issues. We are willing to resolve them on a very good foundation. I am referring to the 2001 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation that remains current.
Let me recall that in trade and the economy, where we had quite a few problems, we carried out the agreements reached at the highest level and took many steps that were primarily aimed at simplifying Russia’s access to Moldovan fruit, vegetable and wine products. As a result of these moves, trade has increased. Last year it increased by almost 30 per cent to over $1.5 billion. In the first half of this year it grew by about 14 per cent. This is a good trend.
We noted that over a thousand companies with Russian capital continue operating in the Republic of Moldova, including Gazprom, Lukoil and Inter RAO. More than 70 Russian regions are involved in cooperation with our Moldovan colleagues. They work together on economic and humanitarian projects. We welcome this trend. We hope that approaches to further developing our economic ties will be discussed in detail at the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation meeting next week. This meeting will be resumed after an almost three year break. The Russian-Moldovan second business forum will be held in Moscow before the end of September. We will encourage direct contact between our businesspeople. This is also very useful in finding solutions to existing problems.
We agreed to step up contacts between our diplomatic services and communicate on a more regular basis. We suggested resuming the practice of signing two-year consultation plans between our foreign ministries. It was also noted that over the last three years young Moldovan diplomats had been actively participating in events held by the Foreign Ministry’s Council of Young Diplomats, such as the global and Eurasian forums of young diplomats held in 2017–2019. The next forum will take place in Moscow.
We focused on culture matters, promoting people-to-people exchanges and strengthening cooperation in the areas of education and information. We also discussed the need to take measures to preserve the standing of the Russian language in Moldova. Our colleagues have noted this. I believe it will help prevent an artificial contraction of space for Russian speakers in the Republic of Moldova.
We agreed to take measures to stop violations of the visa-free travel regulations, such as imposing restrictive measures on the two countries’ people. We also noted that it is necessary to ensure the rights of journalists to work and to prevent discrimination towards media. The former Moldovan government took such actions against Russian-language media.
We agreed to give an additional boost to the talks on the Agreement on Pensions and the package of agreements on migration.
We proposed resuming the practice of signing three-year programmes of cultural cooperation, and our colleagues promised to think about this. These programmes have always included events that were interesting and popular with our people.
We discussed the Transnistria settlement process. We reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to continue performing the functions of a mediator and a guarantor of agreements reached in order to implement and advance decisions coordinated by Chisinau and Tiraspol as part of the efforts to enhance confidence-building measures and move towards a comprehensive and viable settlement on the Dniester. We welcome the resumption of official meetings in the 5+2 format scheduled for October this year. We believe these meetings should take place on a regular basis and be more frequent, as it was agreed when this format was negotiated.
We spoke about cooperation within the Commonwealth of Independent States, as far as work in the CIS is concerned, as well as in the EAEU, which granted the Republic of Moldova observer status.
We discussed our cooperation in the UN, the OCSE, the Council of Europe and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation. These are very productive formats, which allow our diplomats to exchange opinions more regularly and try to develop common approaches.
We reaffirmed that support for the statehood of the Republic of Moldova, its non-aligned status and the efforts of the republic’s authorities to ensure political stability in the country and cement inter-ethnic accord remains Russia’s priority in bilateral relations. These conditions are conducive to developing and strengthening diverse ties between Russia and Moldova as effectively as possible on the basis of pragmatism and mutual benefit.
I believe the talks were held at the right time. Hopefully, in the future our ministries will work together more smoothly and regularly because problems do exist and we spoke about them today. It is important that the foreign ministries ensure that sectoral bodies take a coordinated approach to our joint work.
Question: President of Moldova Igor Dodon said Russia was ready to dispose of the ammunition stored in Transnistria. He said Moscow’s proposal was made by Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu during his visit to Chisinau last month. Do you have any details on this? When could this process start? How would it go (there are tens of thousands of tonnes of this ammunition)? How much time will it take to do it?
Sergey Lavrov: Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu made this proposal during his recent visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol, where he met with President of Moldova Igor Dodon and Transnistria leader Vadim Krasnoselsky. Importantly, both the Moldovan President and the Transnistrian leader supported his proposal to dispose of this ammunition. The term of storage of approximately 50% of the local stockpiles has expired or will expire soon. There are not tens of thousands but 20,000 tonnes of ammunition there. But anyway this is a very serious issue. The ammunition did not appear from nowhere. The Russian troops that were part of the 14th Army left some of it, and some was brought from Europe, when the Soviet force was withdrawn.
The Russian Group of Forces deployed in Transnistria, where the 14th Army was stationed, and the Joint Peacekeeping Force that also includes Russian military are very important components of peace that has persisted in the region after the Russian military stopped the bloodshed there 25 years ago. Not a single shot has been fired since then. It is perfectly obvious that this is an inalienable part of the efforts we are pursuing to settle the Transnistrian problem, with account taken of the territorial integrity of Moldova, a neutral Moldova, and Transnistria’s special status.
Let me remind you that when the process of political settlement was quite active in 2003 and was heading towards the signature of an agreement, the Transnistrian leaders gave their consent to an initial stage in the withdrawal of this ammunition. More than a half of all the ammunition was withdrawn while the process was ongoing. But as soon as the then Moldovan leaders renounced the already initialed agreement under EU pressure (as we now know for certain) the Transnistrians said that in a situation, where everything that had taken so long to negotiate went down the drain, they could not support the final withdrawal of ammunition from the depots in Cobasna. Considering the security aspects, Defence Minister Shoigu suggested disposing of the ammunition whose term of storage has expired. We have talked to our colleagues about the actions that are required for this. It is necessary to deliver the relevant equipment, dispatch specialists, determine a source of funding, and then sign a contract. All these steps must obey the security standards existing in the Russian Armed Forces. This is the only way. Preparations for this will take slightly more than a year. The militaries on both sides must contact each other in order to resolve everything on paper and plan the specific process. We are ready for these contacts.
Question (for Sergey Lavrov): Do you see any new potential for improving Russian-US relations in the context of John Bolton’s resignation? How do such frequent changes in negotiators affect the development of relations? If this is appropriate, can you tell us what impression you had of him considering that at home he is seen as a somewhat controversial figure?
Sergey Lavrov: I will try to be politically correct. I have known John Bolton since the 1990s. He was Assistant Secretary of State for International Organisation Affairs. I did the same job in our Foreign Ministry. Later on he worked as US acting ambassador to the UN. We met, but when I was sent to New York he left government service and worked in different political think-tanks. We spoke from time to time and had coffee when he came to New York from Washington. He is very pleasant to talk to, a very knowledgeable and educated man. It is very interesting to talk to him. As for his political views, we didn’t agree most of the time. He has a sharp style with an emphasis on using power, including armed forces. As you know, he put forward quite a few initiatives on current crises, in Venezuela, Iran, and in other countries.
I do not want to guess how this will affect Russia-US relations. Policy in the United States is determined by the president. He has repeatedly expressed interest in normalising trade, economic, humanitarian and political ties between our countries and in promoting cooperation in the international arena. We have heard such statements and we welcome them. This was reaffirmed in the meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka last June. Importantly, those that fulfil the president’s policy need to translate these declared political principles into reality. This is not yet the best process, but there is progress in some areas. Thus, we have resumed the dialogue on counterterrorism. Recently, our deputy foreign ministers completed yet another round of talks. We have contacts on Syria, the Korean Peninsula and Afghanistan. We are interested in developing cooperation although the mechanisms that existed in these spheres have yet to be revitalised. However, we are ready for it.
As for changes in the US position on various foreign policy matters, I heard Mike Pompeo saying at yesterday’s news conference that there would be no changes. Let us be guided by what is happening in reality. This is how we will understand if there are changes or not.
Question (for Sergey Lavrov): Mr Lavrov, you are reportedly planning to visit Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan soon. Can you tell us about the objectives of your visit, especially to Iraqi Kurdistan, which is your first ever visit there?
Sergey Lavrov: I have an invitation from my colleague, Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Ali Alhakim. We have agreed that this visit should be made before the end of this year. Now we are finalising the specific dates. Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, is planned as part of this visit. It is also part of our shared commitment in support of the Iraqi leadership’s effort to consolidate society and provide for an ethno-confessional accord in the country. We will try to support these efforts vigorously. Iraq is an important partner for Russia and one of the key players in the region. Iraq will play a significant role in our efforts to launch a serious and comprehensive conversation on ensuring security in the Middle East and North Africa.
I would also note that Iraq, as well as Lebanon, have recently become observers in the Astana process. Iraq and Lebanon, alongside with Jordan, attend the meetings held by Russia, Turkey and Iran. We have a large international and regional agenda. Iraq has considerable influence on a number of processes in other countries in the region. We traditionally maintain substantial bilateral cooperation with Iraq, including on the economic, humanitarian and education agendas. All of this will be high on the agenda of our talks.