Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic, Moscow, April 17, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had very useful talks during which we affirmed the commitment by Russia and Serbia to further promote bilateral relations in all areas based on the Declaration on Strategic Partnership that was signed by the presidents of our countries in 2013.
Our countries maintain an intensive and trust-based political dialogue. President Putin’s visit to Belgrade in January 2019 was especially important. President Aleksandar Vucic visited the Russian Federation twice in 2018. We also maintain regular contacts at the level of foreign ministers and between the two foreign ministries in general. Parliamentary cooperation is also gaining momentum. In June, Belgrade is expected to host a regular meeting of a bilateral inter-parliamentary commission co-chaired by State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin and Speaker of the National Assembly of Serbia Maja Gojkovic.
We noted positive developments in terms of trade and economic ties. Trade exceeded two billion dollars and continues to grow. We attach special importance to the Russia-Serbia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation. It had a meeting in March 2019 in Belgrade that was quite useful. Today, Ivica Dacic as the Serbian co-chair will have a meeting with his Russian counterpart Yury Borisov.
There is also steady progress in the energy sector, including in terms Russian gas deliveries to Serbia. We discussed the advancement of the TurkStream project, including prospects for extending it to Europe, including to Serbia.
Out countries traditionally share rich cultural, people-to-people, educational and spiritual ties. In keeping with the agreements reached by our presidents we are working on an intergovernmental agreement to step up cooperation in protecting cultural property. In March, an agreement was signed in Belgrade to extend Russia’s involvement, through Gazprom Neft, in interior design work at Belgrade’s Church of Saint Sava.
Only a short while ago you witnessed the signing of an intergovernmental programme for cooperation in culture, education, science, sports and youth policy for 2019-2021.
Russia supports Belgrade’s independent and balanced foreign policy. We respect Serbia’s policy of military neutrality that contributes to maintaining peace and stability in Europe. We also value the fact that Belgrade is seeking to expand its ties with the CSTO. Members of the National Assembly contribute to the work of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly as observers. Every year Russia, Serbia and Belarus hold the Slavic Brotherhood military exercise, and our two countries also hold the Brotherhood of Aviators of Russia and Serbia exercise. Serbian military personnel have established a tradition of taking part in the International Army Games. All these cooperation formats strengthen the ties between our peoples.
We discussed the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on the Kosovo settlement and reaffirmed Russia’s support for Serbia on all matters that have to be addressed in order to fully implement this instrument. We noted that twenty years ago NATO forces bombed Yugoslavia for two months and a half and did so without a UN mandate, causing numerous casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, while the use of depleted uranium rounds resulted in a significant increase in cancer cases. These problems have yet to be fully resolved.
We noted that NATO covered up crimes committed by the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army and its leaders, including kidnappings as part of illicit organ harvesting and trafficking, as reported by PACE rapporteur Dick Marty. This report triggered the decision to investigate this issue. An ad-hoc court was formally set up within the EU, but it has yet to begin its work, even though the documentary evidence is available to start the investigation without delay.
In keeping with the UN General Assembly resolution, our EU colleagues are designated as mediators in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, but unfortunately they are overwhelmed by this role. The commitment by Pristina in April 2013, or six years ago, to establish a Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo is being sabotaged, and the EU cannot do anything about it. Decisions by Pristina to create a Kosovo army directly contradict UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Once again, the EU has failed to take an active stand, and NATO Headquarters is encouraging this illegitimate step in breach of a UNSC decision. In November 2018, the authorities in Pristina introduced 100 per cent duties on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, essentially seeking to “strangle” Kosovo Serbs. We call on Washington and Brussels to use its influence with Pristina to ensure that it abides by the Security Council resolutions, since the West, including the US and Europe, were directly involved in drafting them, and to force the Kosovo Albanians to stop this policy of provocation and confrontation.
All in all, we are satisfied with our talks. I strongly believe that the Minister’s visit to Russia, timed to coincide with the 140th anniversary of the first embassy of the Principality of Serbia to Russia, will help strengthen our strategic partnership.
Question: You have repeatedly noted that Russia will support an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina that meets the interests of both sides and conforms to UN Security Council Resolution 1244. How will Russia behave if it turns out that Serbia is interested in the approval of a new UN Security Council resolution that does not conform to Resolution 1244? Will Russia also support it?
Sergey Lavrov: I can only confirm that Russia insists on fulfilling UN Security Council Resolution 1244. This document does not stipulate specific parameters for resolving the situation, but it calls for addressing the matter in the course of a direct dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and with respect for Serbia’s territorial integrity. We will facilitate efforts to find a solution within this framework.
Replying to your question about any specific decision that Russia might support, I would like to note that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Ministry have repeatedly underscored the fact that we will accept any solution that meets the interests of Serbia.
Question: What do you think about the increasingly greater pressure to recognise the independence of Kosovo? We learned about an idea dealing with double sovereignty from our colleagues in Pristina for the first time.
Sergey Lavrov: We still have to discuss this matter. No one talked about double sovereignty when the West recognised Kosovo’s illegal self-proclaimed independence. This is up to our Serbian friends to decide.
Speaking of pressure on Serbia and a demand to recognise the independence of Kosovo, the United States will continue to exert this pressure, in the first place. The incumbent US administration is bent on achieving the maximum possible number of foreign policy successes as soon as possible in the run-up to the next presidential election. We are witnessing such active and impulsive movements with regard to Kosovo, Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula and other aspects. We understand the desire of the Washington administration to score foreign policy achievements and to present them to the voters. But it is necessary to prioritise the interests of a solid, long-term and lasting settlement, rather than national electoral cycles. This settlement can only be achieved by merging positions, ensuring a balance of interests and heeding the positions of each other. This would lead to genuine consensus, rather than something imposed from the outside. This requires much more time than simply presenting ultimatums and demanding that they be immediately accepted. This is the only way to achieve a lasting solution to the problem.
In principle, our Western colleagues believe that they decide the destinies of the world today. Their mentality is now marked by colonial aspects. They are talking about their exceptionality and that it is precisely the group of Western countries that has the right to decide who is right and who is wrong. They are talking less frequently about international law, and they are more often discussing various rules that they themselves have invented and which must be approved by all other states in circumvention of the UN Security Council and with disregard to the UN itself.
Just take a look at how the West is now positioning itself when it comes to international affairs. What did NATO members say about the 20th anniversary of the air strikes against Serbia? They are saying that they were right, and that they brought democracy and freedom to those who were oppressed. This is all. They are not suffering from pangs of conscience; nor do they recall how they bombed bridges with passenger trains on them, as well as the television centre in Belgrade. This is their approach. We talked about this today.
This does not necessarily mean that all of us should strike a posture and refuse to cooperate. We want our partners who believe that they have the right to recognise Kosovo’s independence per se and refuse to recognize things things that they don’t like (which also fit into the self-determination concept) to be honest and to admit that it is necessary to heed the facts of our recent history.
Most importantly, regardless of all disagreements concerning the origin of those events and subsequent developments, UN Security Council Resolution 1244 exists, and no one has abolished it. We are very much alarmed that Western countries want to discuss the Kosovo settlement as rarely as possible at the UN Security Council in New York. They are trying to avoid hearing the Secretariat’s reports in an open format that can involve all UN members. This format makes it possible to hear statements made by Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic and representatives of other countries demanding justice and the fulfilment of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Instead, they are trying to do this behind the scenes and at closed meetings without journalists and the public. We get the impression that the West is trying to persuade the UN Secretariat to submit certain proposals that will undermine the mandate of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. This would be a direct blow to UN Security Council Resolution 1244. We will do our best to prevent this provocative plot from succeeding.
Question: The ministerial meeting of the Russian-Arab Forum came to an end yesterday. You held many bilateral meetings on the sidelines. Can we speak about some result of discussions on Syria’s return to the LAS?
Sergey Lavrov: Yesterday’s 5th Meeting of the Russia-LAS Ministerial Forum was dedicated to the entire spectrum of Russia’s relations with Arab countries, including trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian ties.
Where international and regional politics is concerned, we have analysed all conflicts that, regrettably, persist in this region. I don’t mean Syrian settlement alone. A Joint Statement by the LAS foreign ministers and the Russian Federation, which outlined in detail all our estimates, was published. As for Syria’s return to the LAS, this topic was discussed as well. The majority of our interlocutors and my colleagues agreed that this should be done. Thereby the LAS will rejoin the processes that are directly related to the effort to find ways of implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Now, with Syria remaining outside of the organisation, the LAS is fettered as to its capacity to help promote this process.
Question: Please comment on the situation involving the Constitutional Commission. Time is passing but there are still no results. Is this related to how the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen delivers on his mission? He is said to be fond of working “in silence.” Or is the situation on the ground in Idlib and east of the Euphrates to blame?
Sergey Lavrov: As far as the Syrian settlement proper is concerned, the Constitutional Committee is to be formed shortly. The situation on the ground is no obstacle to this; it is more or less stable. But as you have said, the problem of eliminating the terrorist hotbed in Idlib will have to be solved based on the Russian-Turkish agreements and proceeding from the assumption that the terrorists must not remain there forever. This is clear to everyone. It is also necessary to deal with the situation in the northeast, on the left bank of the Euphrates, and do that in such a way as to prioritise the legitimate Syrian authorities restoring their control [over this area] and establishing dialogue with the Kurds. Turkey’s security interests on the border with Syria must be guaranteed as well. The persisting obstacles to forming the Constitutional Committee are linked to the same factors that made it impossible to approve the Committee’s composition in December of last year. As is common knowledge, Western ambassadors directly urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to take additional time so that the Constitutional Committee be approved with the “United Nations consent.”
We are in contact with the UN colleagues. I talked to Antonio Guterres, and my deputy, Sergey Vershinin, maintains regular contacts with Geir Pedersen. We call on them to follow the basic principle enshrined in the documents of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, which say that the Constitutional Committee shall be formed by the Syrians themselves, while the UN is the facilitator helping them to address organisational issues and start a substantive dialogue.
I have conveyed to our colleagues in the UN leadership our insistent appeal to display independence, be guided by UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the UN-approved decisions of the Sochi Congress, and refrain from pandering to those who would like to marginalise the Astana Process and prevent it from being crowned with success. We are not chasing success or praise. The Astana Process is the only functioning mechanism that has made it possible to advance so far towards Syrian settlement, both in terms of fighting terrorism on the ground and easing the humanitarian situation. The political process counts for much, too, because no one has succeeded in approaching the start of real work in Geneva as closely as the Astana guarantors.
Question: How do you evaluate the outcome of the talks between the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia that took place on April 15 in Moscow with you participation? It was reported that the discussion was based on a plan proposed back in 2016. Would you please remind us about the main points of this particular plan? What further humanitarian steps will be taken following the talks?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, we held the meeting between the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia here, with my participation as well as with three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Igor Popov from Russia, Andrew Shaffer from the United States and Stephane Visconti from France) and Andrzej Kasprzyk, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Nagorno-Karabakh.
You said that, reportedly, we discussed proposals from 2016. As far as I know, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov mentioned that those proposals were discussed in one of his interviews following the meeting. So I have nothing to add here.
As concerns the essence of those proposals, they are in line with the approaches that have been documented in multiple statements made by the leaders of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries – Russia, France and the United States – and require searching for agreements between the parties themselves based on the principles of territorial integrity, the two people’s self-identification, non-interference and non-use of force. I am inviting you to review this series of statements made by the heads of state and the latest statements adopted by the OSCE last December at a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council. They cover all major areas of work. The details are, of course, confidential.
As for the humanitarian measures resulting from the meeting which took place on Monday, April 15, in Moscow, they are also clearly stated in the Joint Statement published after the event. Specifically, the parties recognise that it is necessary to make more effort to try and stabilise the situation, especially during the agricultural season; they agree to assist with family visits for those held in prisons, and to approve contacts between people, especially media representatives.
I believe it is a very helpful agreement. I have read comments that similar things were agreed upon before, particularly in humanitarian affairs, but were not always fulfilled. This is true. But after the contacts in Moscow and sensing the atmosphere of the current work, I have reason to believe that both Baku and Yerevan are interested in these agreements to go beyond just paperwork. We will help them with this.