Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions during a joint news conference with Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat following talks, Moscow, November 16, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat for accepting our invitation and paying his first official visit to the Russian Federation, which allowed us to hold meaningful and useful talks.
We discussed Russian-African relations that are becoming increasingly versatile. Documents approved by the first Russia-Africa Summit were adopted in Sochi in 2019. Today, they determine the directions for our partnership which we want to reinforce at the second summit scheduled for 2022. We are preparing a Russian-African Union special action plan up to 2025. It will embrace all areas of cooperation and suggest new areas for our joint efforts.
We talked about current issues in trade and investment cooperation. We welcome the increasing activity of Russian businesses in Africa. We gave a positive assessment to the performance of the Association of Economic Cooperation with African Countries that was established following the Sochi summit. It includes many Russian companies that are active in Africa. We are convinced that the specific ideas and projects promoted by the Russian business community will be instrumental in implementing the African Union’s main strategic document –Agenda-2063.
We will continue rendering assistance to various African countries through various multilateral organisations and bilateral channels. We reviewed efforts to counter the coronavirus infection. In response to a request from African Union members, Russia provided aid to almost 20 states by supplying them with vaccines, medications, and individual protective gear, and by sending qualified specialists.
We have high hopes for the further development of one of the key areas of our cooperation – education. We told our African colleagues that the number of places allocated by Russia in Russian universities is continuously increasing. We are now drafting a new grant system that will include not only tuition costs but also related expenses. Mr Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat then promised to provide recommendations on professions that are most needed in the African countries to ensure that students at Russian universities receive an education that promotes the development of the national economies in their homelands.
We reviewed international and regional issues. We have nearly identical positions on the majority of issues. Russia and the African Union members maintain very productive cooperation in the UN, including peacekeeping efforts. We confirmed Russia’s willingness to expand the practice of training African military personnel and law enforcement. We are confident this will enhance the potential of the African Union to implement a principle we define as “African solutions to African problems.” Russia adheres to this principle in its work in the UN Security Council, emphasising that the international community should not impose any artificial solutions on the African countries in settling their conflicts. It should accept their decisions and help these countries implement them.
We talked about current crises in Africa. A difficult situation has arisen in Ethiopia. We believe the African Union can play a major role in promoting reconciliation. We are grateful to the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat for the detailed information on the steps to reach this goal, including the extraordinary meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council a week ago.
We discussed in detail the situation in the Sahara-Sahel zone, the Great Lakes area, Libya, Sudan and the CAR. We paid special attention to the persistent and even aggravated terrorist threat that is emanating from various extremist groups in Africa. We consider it very important to develop cooperation in countering international terrorism, piracy, other forms of cross-border crime, including drug trafficking that largely fuels terrorist activities. The African Union is an extremely relevant structure, with which we agreed to maintain contact and create a permanent dialogue channel.
We are looking forward to seeing the High Representative of the African Union Commission Chairperson for the Horn of Africa and former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, in Moscow. We will continue to review in detail the conflicts covered by his mandate.
I am pleased with the results of the talks. I would like to thank Mr Chairperson for his close cooperation, and I am giving the floor to him.
Question: Last night, the United States accused Russia of testing weapons in outer space. As is often the case, this is being done without providing any facts or evidence. What is your comment?
Sergey Lavrov: The Defence Ministry will comment on this. I can only say one thing: to claim that the Russian Federation is creating risks for the peaceful use of space is, to say the least, hypocrisy. As you rightly said, the claim was not based on facts.
Let me give you some other facts. The United States is urging us (as they put it) to develop universal rules for space activities, but for many years now they have been ignoring Russia and China’s initiative to draft a treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space. They just ignore it and insist on developing some kind of rules and universal norms of behaviour. At the same time, the United States itself is pursuing an arms race in the most active manner. In 2020, they created a space command and adopted a space strategy. One of its main goals is to create a comprehensive military advantage in outer space. To implement this strategy (the facts were the same even before it was approved), the Pentagon, without notifying anyone, is testing offensive and combat weapons in space, including the launch of missile defence systems into orbit. President Vladimir Putin repeatedly commented on this threat, stressing that a completely different situation in the security sphere would take shape, when a particular country had offensive weapons constantly hovering over its territory. Instead of unfounded accusations,Russia would prefer to see the United States sit down at the negotiating table and discuss its concerns about a treaty proposed by Russia and China to prevent this arms race, which the United States cannot accept. It would be interesting for us to hear a reasoned position rather than excuses. We are ready to hear it.
Question: We would like to know the state of affairs regarding mutual recognition of vaccines and so-called COVID-19 passports between Russia and other European countries.
Sergey Lavrov: So far, not much progress has been made. We are awaiting the completion of the correspondingWHO and the European Medicines Agency procedures. We are being assured that no artificial obstacles are being created. They are asking us additional questions. Relevant Russian institutions are providing answers to these questions. We would like to speed up this process. Russia has repeatedly put forward an initiative, starting with the G20 meeting in May, when President Vladimir Putin, in the interest of combating the pandemic and expanding the developing countries’ access to vaccines, proposed suspending patent protection of the corresponding medicines. There was no response. Mutual recognition of vaccination certificates is also Russia’s initiative, the need for which is obvious in these circumstances. But our Western colleagues are not in a hurry to respond, although this matter is being discussed. We look forward to it quickly coming to fruition.
Question: Recently, President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda said that Russia was implicated in the migration crisis surrounding Belarus, because, according to him, migrants arrived in Belarus via Moscow. Do these accusations have any grounds?
What can you say about recent events on the Polish-Belarusian border where Polish border guards used tear gas and water cannons to deter migrants?
Sergey Lavrov: With all due respect for the presidents of sovereign states, I do not want to comment on these false allegations that are being made for the umpteenth time, and not only on this occasion. I am referring to claims like “Moscow is behind everything,” or “Moscow's hand can be seen behind everything.” Not a single fact is provided. However, the facts are out there to answer your second question regarding Poland’s absolutely unacceptable behaviour. I believe that tear gas, water cannons, and shots fired over the heads of migrants towards Belarusian territory reflect a desire to conceal their actions. They cannot but understand that they are violating all conceivable norms of international humanitarian law and other agreements of the international community. Of course, they understand all this. Part of what the Polish side is trying to accomplish is to prevent its actions from being made public. Journalists are simply not allowed there. CNN, BBC, and other (including Western) media outlets and TV channels are working on the Belarusian side and seriously do not understand why they are not allowed on the Polish side. Your colleague from RT France was detained and taken some place where she was charged and fined. We are seeking an immediate end to these arbitrary acts. Journalists must be able to do their job and perform their professional duties. Obstructing their work means violating the numerous appeals and loud demands made by EU members, among others.
In addition to the media, our Polish colleagues are hiding their actions from the EU as well. For example, the EU has the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, as well as Europol and the European Asylum Support Office. These are the official EU mechanisms that were created to deal with such situations. According to my information, they would like to visit the Polish-Belarusian border from the Polish side, but they are not allowed to do so. The Poles are not inviting and not allowing anyone to send their experts there in an attempt to prevent them from forming a full and objective picture of what is happening there or working out recommendations for Brussels, since migration policy is not about arbitrary actions by any particular EU member. It is about the EU’s general regulatory approaches. We saw how they were applied during the Mediterranean wave of migration and the Balkan wave of migration. Everyone tried to address these matters collectively. In this case, Poland is on a rampage, while the leadership in Brussels is using double standards that are so explicit and so overt that it is putting itself in an embarrassing position.
Russia is doing its best to help overcome this crisis. Representatives of a number of EU countries, including Germany and France, spoke with President Putin (a telephone call with French President Emmanuel Macron took place yesterday). We are asked to provide assistance in that matter.
Russia is willing to provide assistance, but most importantly direct dialogue between representatives of the EU and the leadership of Belarus must be established. It is good that acting Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel had a telephone conversation with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. They agreed, as I understand it (of course, I am not aware of the details), that contacts would continue in order to find solutions. Hopefully common sense will prevail on the Polish side of the border.