Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl, Moscow, March 12, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had very good, detailed and intensive discussions on a wide range of issues of mutual interest.
Relations between Russia and Austria are consistently developing in many spheres, despite the complicated situation in Europe. Of great importance for our common efforts is a regular and intensive dialogue at the top level. We exchanged positive views on exchanges between our parliaments, departments and regions and spoke out in favour of deepening our cooperation based on the tried and tested, as well as new forms of interaction.
We focused on our trade, economic and investment ties. Austria has been a major economic partner of Russia. We expressed appreciation at the stable growth of mutual trade, which increased by 42.7 percent to nearly $6 billion last year. Despite the adverse circumstances, including sanctions, Austrian entrepreneurs have not withdrawn from the Russian market. Mutual investments continue to grow.
We pointed out the positive and effective role of the Joint Russian-Austrian Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, which has resumed its full-scale meetings, as well as the productive and concerned activities of the Russian-Austrian Business Council.
We also discussed the implementation of our largest joint projects, including the extension of the broad-gauge railway line from the city of Kosice in Slovakia to Vienna. We highly praised our cooperation in the field of energy, where Gazprom and OMV have been working together to implement a number of infrastructure projects.
Humanitarian exchanges are making rapid headway. The Cross Year of Music and Cultural Routes was a success in 2018. The bilateral Commission of Historians is productively working on historical and commemorative projects. We discussed the programme of the 2019 Russia-Austria Year of Youth Exchanges during which numerous concerts, exhibitions and artistic festivals will be held. We agreed to coordinate reciprocal issuance of free visas on the easiest terms for participants and organisers of events in the Year of Youth Exchanges.
The joint statement on establishing the Sochi Dialogue Russia-Austria Public Forum that we signed today testifies to our shared interest in expanding contacts between our scientific and business circles and civil societies. Let me recall that the decision to establish this venue was made by the presidents of Russia and Austria during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Vienna in June 2018. The forum is co-chaired by Russian Presidential Aide Andrei Fursenko and President of the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry Christoph Leitl. Its Coordinating Committee will include public figures of both countries. The first session is expected to be held this year. We agreed to facilitate its productive work.
During our exchange on key international issues, we focused on the situation on our common continent. We reviewed the prospects of Russia-EU relations. Both sides are interested in putting them back on a normal trajectory. We expressed concern over the current crisis in the Council of Europe, which is linked with the decision to deprive the Russian delegation of what are its lawful rights in PACE under the Council of Europe Charter.
We spoke about settlement efforts in eastern Ukraine. We favour full and consistent implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures. For our part, we emphasised that the actions of the Ukrainian authorities are leading to the disruption of this important document that was approved by the UN Security Council.
We spoke at length about the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Syrian settlement process. We want to see it move forward on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. For our part, we described what Russia is doing in this respect, primarily in the Astana format. We agreed on the need to render aid to the Syrian people and rebuild the destroyed infrastructure to enable Syrians to return home. Another humanitarian task, mine clearing, will certainly play a major role here. Russia is actively supporting this Austrian initiative.
We also reviewed the problems that are emerging in the sphere of strategic stability now that the US has taken the course of withdrawing from vital agreements in this critical area. We hope that the discussions that continue in the OSCE and in the context of our relations with Western partners will prevent the collapse of the mechanism of strategic stability that has ensured security in Europe for many decades.
In general, we are satisfied with the results of the talks and will continue our close contacts.
Question: Just recently, President Trump asked Congress to allocate half a billion dollars for Europe to counter Russia's malign influence in that region. Do you think Europe alone will cope with what they call your “influence?” Doesn’t what the Americans are doing represent outside interference in and of itself?
Sergey Lavrov: What we see in the US administration’s budget request for the next year is, of course, not diplomacy, but, rather, modern American diplomacy, which boils down either to threats or sanctions, or, as we are seeing, to an attempt to purchase allies. It’s up to US legislators and taxpayers to decide whether it is in their interest. Of course, it is also up to the countries that are the recipients of this generous aid designed to fight “Russia's malign influence” – clearly, in order to exert their “well-intentioned” influence instead of our “malign” influence.
By the way, I am not sure whether the recipient countries will like the fact that someone wants to buy them. However, knowing the manners that now prevail in Washington, I cannot rule out that if they refuse to accept this aid that is imposed on them, they will see sanctions imposed on them, so they need to make up their mind.
Question: Last year, certain tensions and misunderstandings arose between Russia and Austria following a spy scandal. Then, both sides said that it significantly undermined their relations. Do you think these negative factors are out of the picture now?
Sergey Lavrov: I already spoke on this subject back when our Austrian colleagues suddenly decided to publicly accuse Russia of something instead of making the appropriate inquiry, if they had such concerns, via channels that exist specifically for these purposes. I remain convinced that every profession has its own genre, and there is no need to mix them up. This has never led to anything good either in art or in life.
Question (for both ministers): The other day, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry confirmed to journalists that Washington is considering the possibility of imposing sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 project and all companies associated with it, including the Austrian one. What will the Austrian government do if the United States really goes that far in unfair competition and imposes more expensive gas supplies on Europe? How will Russia respond?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Karin Kneissl): I will pick up where Ms Kneissl left off, namely, international law. This contradicts all tenets and norms of international law. It is not for nothing that our American and some other Western colleagues no longer use the phrase “international law,” but urge everyone to respect the rules-based order.
Under international law, there must be elementary competition of economic approaches and proposals. This, by the way, is consistent with WTO rules. The rules invented by a small group of countries which they are trying to impose on everyone else solely in their own interest fit into the logic currently promoted by the United States. Calling the Nord Stream 2 project purely political, Washington issued a demand to abandon it and to buy American gas instead which is 20% to 30% more expensive. So, it will be not a political but an economic project. Indeed, it will be purely commercial for the United States, which will be receiving additional revenue. For those whom they are trying to force to abandon Nord Stream 2 and to switch to more expensive American gas, this decision will be political, even though they will come under pressure in the form of all kinds of illegitimate unilateral economic sanctions. I have already mentioned that Washington’s diplomacy comes down to sanctions. This applies to Nord Stream 2 and a number of other areas.
Recently, US Secretary of State Pompeo accused Rosneft of violating US sanctions against the Venezuelan oil company and demanded an end to the purchase of oil from PDVSA. How can this be explained?
By the way, a bad example is contagious. Juan Guaido, whom US Vice President Mike Pence proclaimed interim President of Venezuela, has already announced that his country should stop selling oil to Cuba. How does this fit with international law? It doesn’t.
Competition must be fair. We are witnessing the gross violation of all ethical and legal norms, when the United States demands, in fact, that all countries in the world not buy raw materials and energy resources from Russia, but instead buy them from the United States, not buy Russian-made products as part of their defence industry cooperation, but buy more expensive US-made products. Unfair competition in sports has already become proverbial.
Dictating everything to everyone will not bring any good. We have already warned our American colleagues that, perhaps, in a very short historical period (18 to 36 months), they may receive some kind of benefits, but in the strategic, long-term perspective, they are undermining trust in the dollar-based international system. This will not end well for them.
Question: Is there still a chance to overcome the systemic crisis in the Council of Europe?
Sergey Lavrov: We remain willing to constructively search for ways to overcome this crisis through a return to the basics, namely, all the provisions of the Statute of the Council of Europe without exception. The Statute implies equality of all CE members in all bodies of this pan-European organisation. Of course, the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe contradicts this principle which is enshrined in the Statute of the organisation.
We appreciate the commitment of a number of European countries, including Austria, as well as Finland, which currently chairs the Council of Europe, with the significant support of the majority of the CE members, to find a solution based on reaffirming the basic principle of the Statute and adopting a corresponding resolution stating that the Statute remains inviolable.
I heard that the minority, which is now trying to block such an outcome and demanding that Russia continue to be punished, is trying to get away with handouts in the form of allowing us to vote as an exception to the rule without returning full rights under the Charter of the Council of Europe to our parliamentarians. I heard that this Russophobic minority is trying to convince everyone that Russia has already given up on the Council of Europe and firmly decided to leave it. This is not true. This is a provocation. We have seen similar provocations in a number of other instances. We know that our British colleagues, our Ukrainian neighbours, and another three or four countries that traditionally follow the Russophobic policy of Washington are behind this. Once again, I can say with authority that the things that they are spreading in European capitals are not true. Russia did not make a decision to withdraw from the Council of Europe. Russia is doing everything to find a way out of the current artificially engineered crisis on the firm basis of the CE Statute.
Question: Returning to the Sochi Dialogue, could you clarify why Sochi? Are all civil society groups invited to participate? Will there be more such dialogue formats, which, in general, should improve relations between Russia and the EU?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Karin Kneissl): I believe the point of the question was somewhat different. I think the lady wanted to find out whether the journalists would participate in the Sochi Dialogue as well, and you (addressing Karin Kneissl) did not list them. But I think we can issue a personal invitation to the AP-PA representative.