Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova Andrei Galbur, Moscow, April 4, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen,
I held substantive and sincere talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova Andrei Galbur. We have a common understanding that the current state of Russian-Moldovan relations cannot be considered satisfactory. Our partners emphasised today that the new Moldovan Government is interested in promoting cooperation with the Russian Federation. We welcomed this intention and reaffirmed our readiness to jointly look for solutions to existing issues on the firm foundation of our 2001 Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation.
We discussed our trade, economic and investment relations and the situation that took shape after Moldova signed the association agreement with the European Union in 2014 that provides for a free-trade area with it. Naturally, its entry into force affected the full range of our economic ties. This was one of the reasons for the reduction of our trade by more than one-third last year. As part of our preparations for a regular meeting of our Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, we agreed to step up efforts to resolve the existing problems. This year we hope to hold a meeting of this commission, which has not met for a long time. Our relevant departments will work to achieve this.
Needless to say, we discussed the cultural and humanitarian aspects of our relations, which are vital for the citizens of our countries considering their historical, cultural and spiritual ties. We agreed to speed up the coordination of the intergovernmental programme of humanitarian cooperation for the next three years. This programme will help enhance human contacts and deepen cooperation in education and information. We were pleased to hear the Moldovan leaders confirm their intention to support the Russian language in their country.
We discussed some aspects of implementing our bilateral agreements on visa-free travel, including the problems connected with the rights of journalists and the activities of the Russian-language media.
We agreed – and I consider this a very important issue – to fully validate the 2003 agreement on the reciprocal recognition of educational documents. This has not been done yet, but both our countries are interested in redressing this issue.
One more important decision that we made today is to give an additional impetus to negotiations on a package of migration agreements, which is designed to put things right in this area and ensure the protection of the rights of Moldovan guest workers in Russia and the correspondence of our relations in this area to generally accepted standards.
We spoke about the Transnistria settlement. Russia is ready to continue acting as a mediator at the talks and as a guarantor of the agreements reached. We are interested in Chisinau and Tiraspol overcoming their current state of distrust and in the adoption of decisions that would lead to a comprehensive and viable settlement of this issue.
We share the view that the “5+2” configuration is the only universally accepted format for the conduct of the talks. We agree that it is necessary to restore the viability of this mechanism by taking small albeit specific steps and switch over from simple to complicated issues, including the determination of the final status of Transnistria as part of a united, indivisible and neutral Moldova.
We have many common views on international issues and cooperation. We are cooperating in the CIS and appreciate Moldova’s commitment to this issue. We are also working together at the United Nations and the OSCE. We also have a common interest in exchanging opinions on the development of our ties with the European Union and NATO. We are maintaining regular dialogue on this issue. The plan of consultations on the topics of our contacts at the foreign ministries level that we signed today will facilitate our cooperation on all these issues.
I think on the whole the talks revealed our mutual interest in overcoming the current, largely unsatisfactory state of our bilateral relations, in preparing the ground for a return to more active steps in the trade, economic, humanitarian and foreign policy areas and in implementing joint projects in the interests of our countries and peoples.
Question (to Andrei Galbur): What can you say about the general situation in Transnistria? Does Chisinau see any need to implement various special measures on its part to prevent a resumed escalation of the frozen conflict?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Andrei Galbur): I can only confirm what my colleague, Mr Galbur, has said. We are confident that the 5+2 format should remain the basic mechanism of the peace settlement, that all previously reached collective agreements should be honoured, and that their implementation should be resumed.
Today, we have discussed a number of measures that should not hamper our common efforts. Unilateral steps that have been taken until now do not help this cause. There is a well-known issue regarding criminal cases against Transnistria’s political leaders, which, of course, does not make prospects for resuming talks on the most important issues all the more promising. The Republic of Moldova and Ukraine have reached agreements regarding measures to monitor Transnistria’s activities and the movement of its citizens. These measures were introduced unilaterally and run counter to the memorandum of 1997 on the foreign trade activities of Transnistria.
We found it rather strange that our Ukrainian neighbours, who mediate the negotiating process together with Russia and act as guarantors of the peace settlement, have exceeded their powers by taking unilateral actions.
After today’s talks, we reached a consensus on the need to restore trust. What we need is a tactic of specific steps from small to big. I am confident that the overall atmosphere should improve. We are determined to help address practical issues that should eventually be addressed by Chisinau and Tiraspol. My colleague has told me today that the incumbent Government of Moldova is ready to do this.
I am confident that it is necessary to respect the role of the peacekeeping operation, which ranks among the most successful operations as there has been no unrest or clashes since the deployment of ground forces. To launch the entire political settlement process, it is necessary to establish trust and make specific moves to defuse tensions on the ground. When launched, the entire political process will be our common cause. The 5+2 format will aim to accomplish precisely this objective. At any rate, our involvement in this format boils down to this. This also concerns the peacekeeping operation’s efficiency and our own role in guaranteeing the safety of Soviet-era ammunition depots whose relocation from the Republic of Moldova was, unfortunately, stopped in 2003 when the process of reaching political agreements was torpedoed.
We have a rather substantial burden of past problems and mistakes. As I see it, all of us can draw the right conclusions from this experience today and make sure that, instead of stockpiling new difficulties, we should move along the road of the peace settlement. The concerned parties themselves, mediators and guarantors in the person of Russia and Ukraine and observers in the person of the United States, the EU and the OSCE should display goodwill to accomplish this.
Question: In light of the resumed hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia has repeatedly called on the sides to reach a peaceful settlement and stop hostilities. Moscow is holding substantive talks with the representatives of Baku and Yerevan. What do you think: is the OSCE Minsk Group on Nagorno-Karabakh working efficiently? What’s your take on the Nagorno-Karabakh representatives accusing Ankara of what happened?
Sergei Lavrov: Our position was outlined by President Putin, the Foreign Ministry, and the Defence Ministry. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and I contacted our counterparts in Baku and Yerevan. We expressed our concern, reiterated the presidential message regarding the need to immediately stop the ceasefire violations, and not to obstruct the path to resuming efforts towards peaceful conflict resolution. We hope that these appeals have been heard. At least, the sides stated that the corresponding orders were issued. However, reports keep coming that the situation remains unstable. In conjunction with Baku and Yerevan, we continue to push to make sure that the signals coming from Moscow, Washington and Paris are heard. Russia, the United States, and France co-chair the OSCE Minsk Group. The day before yesterday, they issued a statement, which sends a message similar to the one sent by the Russian President.
The OSCE Minsk Group is a fairly large facility. The Minsk Group has defined the principles that should underlie the final settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. For practical work we, of course, need a more compact mechanism, such as the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair troika, namely, Russia, the United States, and France, which operates through special representatives in conjunction with the OSCE Special Representative. The ambassadors of Russia, the United States, and France, as well as the special OSCE representative, are constantly in touch with the parties. They regularly visit Baku and Yerevan, meet with presidents and foreign ministers, visit the conflict area, and inspect the contact line, trying to identify additional measures that should be taken to avoid incidents. It is an internationally recognised troika of mediators, whose role is enshrined in the OSCE decisions and UN Security Council resolutions. Perhaps, we should think of the co-chairs as the most important mechanism that should be supported in every possible way.
This situation is similar in the Ukraine settlement. The UNSC and the OSCE have adopted detailed resolutions on the settlement principles and operations conducted by the OSCE in Ukraine. However, translating these principles into action calls for more compact formats, such as the Contact Group, which represents all the parties to the conflict – Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk – and the Normandy format, which helps to nudge the parties in the right direction. Another bilateral Russia-US facility was created in June 2015 in accordance with the agreement signed by the presidents of Russia and the United States.
The Syrian settlement is another good analogy. There’s the ISSG, which includes more than 20 countries. It has agreed upon the principles of an early solution to the ceasefire problems, humanitarian issues and the launch of the political process, but not all 20-plus countries, or the UNSC, are involved in the specific implementation of these principles, but rather several target groups that have been formed under the co-chairmanship of Russia and the United States.
In the same line of thinking, the correct thing to do would be not to try to undermine the role of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and "water down" their role and achievements, which are highly important and have been made by the co-chairs with the involved parties over the past almost 10 years. Any attempts to take these efforts out and beyond the Russian-American-French framework as co-chairs will be used by those who seek to if not completely thwart, but seriously complicate and hamper the peace process. Such forces are certainly out there. We can state that there are attempts on the part of those who are not satisfied with the basic approaches towards the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, which are enshrined in numerous documents signed by Russia, the United States, and France, including the documents signed by the presidents of the three countries. These documents suggest the exclusively peaceful political settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which cannot have a military solution, and should be entirely based on the OSCE Helsinki Final Act.
You’ve mentioned Turkey. We are not blaming any external forces, or any external actors for provoking the current outbreak of tension. We are not blaming Ankara. Of course, we've heard about the statements that you’ve mentioned. We’ve also heard the one-sided statements by the Turkish leaders. Overall, our Turkish neighbours should focus on stopping their interference with the internal affairs of other states, be it Iraq or Syria. There’s plenty of evidence that Turkey, despite all the calls to the contrary, continues such interference and terrorism support. I’m not here to judge the role played, or not played, or still played by Ankara regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, but the right thing to do for all, including Turkey and the Turkish people, would be for Ankara to focus on ending terrorism support. I believe it’s a safe assumption. We will advocate this approach.