Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Dominican Republic Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado, Moscow, November 26, 2018
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have held constructive talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado. We have known each other for a long time. This is not his first visit to Russia. In November 2016, he took part in a ministerial meeting involving Russia and the quartet of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Sochi. At that time, meeting participants approved the roadmap of our cooperation formalising a permanent mechanism of political consultations. I would like to once again thank Mr Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado for his personal contribution to drafting this document. At that time, the Dominican Republic presided in CELAC.
The Dominican Republic is a promising partner in the Latin American and Caribbean region. We were happy to note the dynamic development of diverse Russian-Dominican ties, and we agreed to continue our work to expand and deepen them still further.
Our countries are interested in streamlining and expanding the bilateral contractual and legal framework. We have just signed an intergovernmental agreement on terms for eliminating visa formalities. Another step has been taken toward turning Latin America and the Caribbean region into a zone of mutual visa-free travel by private individuals. The Dominican Republic has already become the 25th country (out of 33) with which we have signed such agreements.
I am confident that this will facilitate the development of human contacts, especially cooperation in the tourist industry. The Dominican Republic ranks among the most promising tourist destinations for Russian citizens. In 2017, 230,000Russians visited that country, a 75 per cent increase on 2016. There is an office of the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Tourism in Moscow. We conduct this work based on a special agreement.
We are interested in supplementing our effective political contacts with expanded economic cooperation. There are some promising plans in the area of agriculture and energy, including green energy. We have agreed to help establish direct contacts between business communities, to provide them with all-round support and to encourage them to take part in various fairs and exhibitions.
We have impressive potential in education exchanges, professional training, as well as cultural and humanitarian ties. We provide Dominican citizens with government grants for studying at Russian universities. The 3,000-plus Dominican graduates of Soviet and Russian universities have established the Association of Graduates of Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Cuba that also promotes our cooperation between civil societies.
Dominican police participate in anti-drug courses at the Russian Interior Ministry’s Training Centre in Managua and courses for employees of emergency services of Latin American and Caribbean states at the Regional Russian-Cuban Centre training fire-fighters and rescuers in Havana. We are particularly glad that Dominican diplomats regularly attend the annual specialised thematic courses organised by the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
We will be glad to see Dominican representatives at various events next year. I mean the St Petersburg International Legal Forum (SPILF) and the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), which had so-called specialised Latin American segments during the four previous years.
In the foreign policy cooperation area, we are equally committed to the norms and principles of the UN Charter and to peaceful political and diplomatic methods to settle all conflicts.
We have reviewed the key issues on the agenda of the UN Security Council, where the Dominican Republic will work as a non-permanent member in 2019-2020. We have discussed in detail matters requiring additional focus.
Testifying to our intention to closely coordinate our steps at the UN Security Council and other bodies is today’s signing of the Memorandum of Intent on consultations between our ministries at international multilateral venues, involving both countries’ permanent representative offices and delegations.
We traditionally devote significant attention to our cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as to Russia’s ties with CELAC and sub-regional structures of this important region of the world. We are grateful to the Dominican Republic for its invariable support for our contacts and its striving to fill them with practical content.
I am grateful to Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic Miguel Octavio Vargas Maldonado for his cooperation.
Question: From Russia’s point of view, which rules of international maritime law has Ukraine violated as a result of yesterday’s incident with the Ukrainian ships? What arguments is Russia going to use? What will you do during the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council? Are new Western sanctions expected in this regard? How will the introduction of martial law in Ukraine affect the situation in Donbass?
Sergey Lavrov: This incident was a definite provocation. Everything that needs to be said about it is in the statements of the border service of the Federal Security Service of Russia (FSB), and in comments by the Foreign Ministry’s official representative. Beyond key provisions of international maritime law, rules of common law were also violated, including the UN Charter, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and other international legal instruments that require all states to respect the sovereignty of other states. The fact that such a violation occurred, and the dangerous methods used – maneuvering in a narrow strait – could have created and indeed did create risk for regular ship movements in this area.
Regarding what we plan to do at the UN Security Council meeting, we entertain no illusions, knowing that the West has taken a position of blind support for President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko and his regime. On the other hand, last evening’s statements and EU appeals to Russia and Ukraine to show restraint, at least suggest some new ideas. If Ukraine is being addressed on a par with Russia, it means that Kiev, in the eyes of its Western sponsors, actually did something they do not approve of. I hope the Ukrainian authorities will draw the necessary conclusions from this.
At the same time, we cannot be happy that the EU is still trying to cling to certain arguments for which there is no reason. I heard a statement by the European External Action Service that the EU expects Russia to stop inspecting passing vessels. Apparently, we are already talking about the Sea of Azov, because yesterday's incident occurred in the Black Sea, close to the Kerch Strait. We are being urged to stop inspecting ships, although this is being carried out in full compliance with existing agreements, including with Ukraine. These inspections have not led to a single complaint from any inspected vessel. I have talked about this and would ask our colleagues in the European Union to pay attention to the factual side of the matter, not to confuse the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea, and not to create a problem where there is none.
More on calls for Russia to stop inspections. When Ukrainian officials directly, openly, and publicly called to blow up the Crimean Bridge, for some reason I did not hear Brussels urging them to restrain their representatives and stop calling for terrorist acts. So, this is a multifaceted issue.
I do not think we have seen all the repercussions of yesterday's provocation yet. You already know that Ukraine has launched the process to introduce martial law. Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council Secretary Alexander Turchinov said this means that the elections will not be held as scheduled. Interesting things are happening there. I think we are unlikely to get bored watching how this Ukrainian government plans to steer its way out of a situation that people are perceiving more and more negatively.
As for the sanctions, we have long ceased to worry about them. Of course, sanctions are always bad. It is difficult to comment on such a policy, when incidents like yesterday’s make the side whose sovereignty was violated an object of new sanctions. But we can hardly hope to be able to influence people entirely obsessed with finding new reasons to put pressure on the Russian Federation.
Regarding the escalation in Donbass, I can say that yesterday there were disturbing reports. Representatives of the DPR and the LPR have not confirmed them, but we still need to carefully monitor what is happening there. If martial law is declared in Ukraine, radical socialists, knowing their habits, will feel like their hands are untied. Violations of international humanitarian law have been frequent there even without martial law, with residential and social facilities being shelled, and civilians killed. We strongly urge Kiev’s Western sponsors to calm those who are trying to use the military hysteria to earn political dividends for the upcoming elections and other events in Ukraine.
Question: Do you consider the violation of the Russian border by Ukrainian ships to be a provocation ahead of the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires?
Yesterday Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko called on the member countries of the Budapest Memorandum to join together to protect his country’s sovereignty and security which are allegedly under threat from Russia. Could this be the beginning of direct confrontation?
Sergey Lavrov: When Ukraine was planning this provocation – and nobody doubts that the top leadership approved this, issuing direct instructions – they must have calculated the additional benefits that they want to extract from this situation. First of all, they expected the United States and Europe to rush to take the side of instigators as they always do.
The G20 Summit in Buenos Aires is approaching, while at the same time about a week and a half ago at the UN General Assembly Ukraine proposed a draft resolution on the militarisation of the Sea of Azov, where it criticises what it calls “the militarisation of the Sea of Azov.” It is important to them to provide whatever facts they can collect to corroborate the fluff they have circulated at the UN.
It is hard to say what considerations they were guided by when they were planning this provocation and what they were seeking to gain as they pursue a policy that is leading Ukraine straight down the path of radical nationalism. It is radical nationalists and neo-Nazis who today rule the roost in Ukraine, the latest evidence of which was yesterday’s outrageous action outside the Russian Embassy in Kiev that was pelted with smoke bombs. I would not say that police officers did nothing, but they were not particularly enthusiastic about putting an end to this bedlam.
I heard that Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko has called on the member countries of the Budapest Memorandum, which was signed by the leaders of the United States, Russia, Great Britain and Ukraine, to join together to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty. The Budapest Memorandum is about the agreements concerning Ukraine giving up the nuclear weapons that remained on its territory after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The signatories to this memorandum pledge not to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine and observe all the OSCE principles without exception. We remain fully committed to honouring these obligations. What the Budapest Memorandum does not provide for is a commitment of any of its signatories to put up with, regard in silence or much less support an unconstitutional armed coup d’etat. The OSCE principles that Ukraine, among other countries, has signed onto under the Budapest Memorandum unambiguously prohibit transfers of power such that occurred in Kiev in February 2014. The people who took power in flagrant disregard of one of the key principles of the Budapest Memorandum should have remembered this and should not have tried to shift the blame to someone else. They should behave more uprightly because even Kiev’s Western sponsors sometimes feel uneasy about the ideas the Ukrainian leaders wrap their interests in.
Question: Last year the international community accused President of Syria Bashar al-Assad of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun and did so immediately, without waiting for facts to emerge or for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate. Why aren’t we seeing a similar reaction today, after the chemical attack in Aleppo?
Sergey Lavrov: Perhaps I am not the right person to ask this question. Let me remind you that in Khan Shaykhun, the US at first asked us to help secure the Syrian Government’s consent so that international experts could visit the air field from which the plane that carried out the counterterrorism operation against the militants took off. According to the US, this plane carried bombs with toxic substances. Only 24 hours after the request was made, we reached an agreement with the Syrian Government that approved the experts’ visit to the site. As soon as we did this, the Americans said: “Thanks, but we don’t need it.” Sometime later, they attacked the air field. Sometimes they don’t need to understand what happened, if they already have a predetermined position on who is an “acceptable extremist” and who should be subject to efforts at regime change.
If you wonder why there are no statements from Washington now, RT has an office in the US, and you can address your question there, although those who follow what you are doing will use it as another chance to say that US domestic affairs are being interfered with again. They will respond that the US position is formulated in the US and there is no reason to try to understand it.
I am trying to be ironic, because in fact it is sad when our Western partners begin to filter information even at the legislative level, which happened in France. But this is a matter for a separate conversation.