Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's comments and answers to media questions during the joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Finland Timo Soini, Moscow, February 12, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our talks were very useful, to the point, and constructive.
Despite Brussels’ policy as regards the Russian Federation, our relations with Finland remain neighbourly and continue making steady progress. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Sauli Niinisto hold regular meetings, and preparations for their next encounter are underway. Our prime ministers, heads of ministries and departments and parliament speakers are developing ties as well.
We noted a confident increase in trade, which grew by 21 percent last year. We have supported the implementation of major joint projects. Finland is building the Hanhikivi-1 Nuclear Power Plant with the participation of the Rosatom State Corporation. In turn, Finnish Fortum is building new energy capacity in Russia, including with renewable resources. We made a positive assessment of the performance of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation that held its latest meeting in St Petersburg in the autumn of last year. We support the activities of the Intergovernmental Commission for Cross Border Cooperation that plans to hold a second meeting in late February.
We discussed in detail different aspects of security issues is Europe, especially in the north. We reaffirmed the Russian Federation’s respectful attitude towards Finland’s traditional policy of abstaining from military alliances. We welcomed another contribution by Finland to ensure stability in the Baltic Sea, including the well-known initiative of Finnish President Niinisto to enhance the security of flights over the Baltic.
We discussed in detail issues of cooperation in regional formats in the north of Europe, including the Arctic Council (AC), the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) and the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS). We appreciate the effective performance of Finland in its AC chairmanship.
Since November of last year, Finland has also held the presidency of the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe. We discussed in detail the deep crisis that has hit this organisation. We appreciate the efforts of Helsinki and the Finnish leaders in general to overcome this crisis. There is no doubt that it was triggered by the aggressive actions of the Russophobic-minded members of the Council of Europe. As a result, Russian MPs have been deprived of key powers in crude violation of the charter of this organisation. We are grateful to our Finnish colleagues for their efforts to find a way out of this situation. For our part, we confirmed that we will be ready to cooperate in order to restore justice and legality in this respect.
In the second half of this year Finland will assume the presidency of the European Union. We have a common interest in normalizing Russia-EU relations. We reaffirmed our willingness to walk as far as Brussels will go.
We emphasized the futility of the EU’s position to the effect that the normalization of relations with Russia is only possible after Moscow fulfils the Minsk agreements on a settlement in Ukraine. The facts show that the Minsk agreements are being stubbornly subverted by the current Ukrainian authorities. Judging by all the evidence, they have not given up trying to resolve the Donbass issue by force.
We also noted the flagrant violations by Kiev of basic human rights and freedoms, including language, education and religious freedoms, and the extremely dangerous growth of nationalist and overtly neo-Nazi attitudes in Ukraine. The EU and NATO are shutting their eyes to these very dangerous movements, which by no means improve the image of these two organisations that position themselves as model democratic structures.
We briefly exchanged views and assessments on some human rights points in Russia and in EU countries.
For our part, we are happy with the results of the talks and hope to continue close contact on the issues discussed today and other questions of common interest.
Question: Despite scepticism on behalf of the United States and its supporters with regard to Russia’s draft resolution on Venezuela, Moscow believes it can become the basis for consensus at the UN Security Council. Is the corresponding contact group which includes Moscow, Washington and Europe conducting talks?
Sergey Lavrov: Our resolution is designed to start a national dialogue in Venezuela.
I read that certain US officials and some of the Venezuelan opposition leaders are saying that our resolution is actually designed to disrupt the humanitarian efforts of the United States and its allies. This is a lie and an attempt to divert attention from the fact that the US draft resolution submitted to the UN Security Council, in essence, aims to cover planned provocations by delivering humanitarian aid as a means of destabilising the situation in Venezuela, and even obtaining a pretext for direct military intervention. As you know, the Security Council will never adopt such resolution.
If someone desires to provide humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people, there is a legitimate government in Venezuela to talk to. There is a UN office there. All matters related to humanitarian aid or other involvement by international organisations should be resolved through legal channels.
I have heard statements by certain representatives of the UN Secretariat that the Secretariat should remain neutral in this conflict. Such statements directly contradict the scope of duties of all, without exception, international officials under the UN Charter, which demands respect for the sovereignty of member states. Venezuela is a legal and legitimate UN member, and its government represents its country in this organisation. There can be no neutrality in this matter.
Regarding the political aspects of the situation in Venezuela, we, from day one, have supported the initiative of Mexico and Uruguay, which were in favour of the earliest possible provision of proper conditions for a national dialogue with the participation of all political forces in Venezuela. President Maduro immediately expressed his willingness to be part of such a dialogue, but the opposition rejected his offer. Apparently, because it is being handled by the US representatives, who, in their deliberations of ways to resolve the situation in Venezuela, have lost all sense of shame.
Meanwhile, with the participation of a number of Latin American countries, Mexico and Uruguay created the Montevideo Mechanism. We strongly support its efforts. The EU has, for some reason, decided to assume responsibility for deciding which representatives of other regions can be involved in these efforts. If we are talking about bringing in external players to help resolve the situation in Venezuela and the efforts undertaken by Latin American countries, we, like China and a number of other countries, have expressed our willingness to participate in creating an international support group to promote these efforts. So far, there has been no constructive response from Brussels. The contact group created by the EU and some Latin American countries approved a document which, even though devoid of ultimatums originally advanced by individual EU members, still focuses on unilateral support for the opposition.
I plan to meet with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini one of these days. Of course, we will discuss this situation and Brussels’ position in a Venezuelan settlement.
With regard to contact with the Americans on Venezuela, we haven’t had any, except for the discussions at the UN Security Council, where they tried to push through a resolution covering their aggressive interventionist plans.
Yesterday, the State Department asked us to make arrangements for a telephone conversation with Mike Pompeo. The call will take place today. Most likely, he wants to talk about Venezuela as well. By the way, Timo is just back from Washington, so, at lunch, he will tell me what the Americans are thinking about Venezuela.
Question: In November 2018 the Russian Ambassador to Finland was summoned to the Finnish Foreign Ministry because of disruptions in GPS performance during NATO exercises. Russia did not admit any guilt related to these disruptions. Is Russia ready to acknowledge today that these disruptions were triggered by its activities? If not, was there any inquiry into the origin of this?
Sergey Lavrov: I will say right now that there was no inquiry because it is impossible to investigate fantasies that are not backed by facts. All this is the same as Theresa May’s “highly likely,” an approach that is now being used by some of our other neighbours. Mr Minister raised this question today. I reminded him that immediately after Russia was accused of disruptions, our military expressed their willingness to sit at the table with their colleagues from the relevant countries and analyse the facts that are being used by those who blame Russia. We made an official statement to this effect but neither the Norwegian leaders nor the military nor the press heard us. You asked if Russia is now ready to acknowledge that it did this. If you present facts we will be willing to talk. Otherwise, this is simply not serious.
Meanwhile, the hard facts are the unprecedented buildup of NATO military potential, infrastructure and troops near the borders of the Russian Federation and the increase in the number of various drills in the Baltic and Black seas and in the air. This could have gone bad. If you remember, during similar exercises last August, a Spanish plane accidentally released an air-to-air missile that luckily did not explode and fell on Estonian territory. It could have fallen and exploded on the territory of the Russian Federation. Now it’s your turn to indulge in fantasy.
It is also a fact that we have repeatedly offered our Western partners to finally start a serious, professional discussion, rather than a conversation with yelling, about cybersecurity, the risks that exist in this area and from whom they are emanating. But again, there was no response.
It is also a fact that in response to the initiative of President of Finland Sauli Niinisto, the Russian Federation took part in the activities of the specially established working group. As a result, our military took specific measures to enhance the safety of flights over the Baltic. In part, they agreed to turn on transponders on military aircraft. NATO is refusing to assume similar commitments, including for transponders, even though at the Russia-NATO Council we have raised this issue more than once. However, in the council they prefer to engage in polemics on their interpretation of events in Ukraine after they backed the coup there.
And here is yet another fact. Grievances about the alleged disruption in the GPS signal were related to the incident that took place during the Trident Juncture NATO exercises. Briefing us on their results at the Russia-NATO Council session (we have a practice of exchanging briefings after the exercises), NATO personnel reported that one of the tasks was to act under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which implies a collective military action. Naturally, we asked our Finnish colleagues how this fits in with the fact that neutral countries, including Finland and Sweden took part in the exercises. We were assured that Finland does not take part in any actions related to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. We respect this position and believe that Finland’s neutral status as regards participation in military blocs is a stabilising factor in Europe, especially in the north.
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Timo Soini): I don’t want to leave any misunderstanding here. Mr Soini said that he told me that our Finnish partners were waiting for the information on the disruption of GPS signals. I would like to emphasise my answer to this: we cannot provide information on a supposed fact that we have not seen. Our military are ready for a dialogue but only if the other side can go beyond the “highly likely” approach and can start a serious conversation as adults do. I do not want there to be any ambiguity here.
Question: My question is about historian Yury Dmitriyev known in Finland for his efforts to make public information about the 100 Finns who were buried in Sandarmokh in Stalin times.
Was the situation surrounding Yury Dmitriyev raised during the talks? Currently, he is standing trial for a second time in the case in which he was already cleared some time ago. Do you think the trial of this internationally-acclaimed man can have a negative impact on Russia’s reputation?
Sergey Lavrov: Frankly speaking, I did not know Yury Dmitriyev has been working to locate the sites where Finnish soldiers were buried. I know that he is the head of the Karelian branch of the Memorial Society. Today, we talked about the charges brought against him, I mean the sexual harassment of his adopted daughter. We support memorial activities carried out in any format by different people in any way we can, however, sexual harassment allegations are a serious matter. It requires legal proceedings, something that is taking place now.
Today, we also discussed the issue of how the national child protection system operates in Finland. If a child comes to school and someone, say a teacher or a classmate thinks that there is something wrong with him or her, this could be sufficient cause for removing this child from his or her family. Many Russian nationals from mixed families had this experience. If our citizens are involved in such cases, we, with due regard for Finnish law, dialogue with our Finnish colleagues in an effort to find a solution without overstepping legal boundaries existing in this country. The situation with Yury Dmitriyev involves our citizen and is taking place in our country in compliance with our laws. Indeed, he was acquitted of [sexual harassment] charges 18 months ago but the prosecution appealed against the decision. Not only Russian law but the law of any normal country provides for this action. Hopefully, this is clear. This does nothing to belittle the importance of his memorial activities but at the same time this does not relieve him of his responsibility to answer for his actions under his country’s laws. We have to wait for the outcome of the legal proceedings.