Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following the talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Maldives Abdulla Shahid, Moscow, June 25, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
The talks with our colleagues from the Maldives were constructive and very practical.
Despite our long history of diplomatic relations, over 50 years, Mr Abdulla Shahid is the first Foreign Minister of the Republic of Maldives to visit Russia. We consider this to be a demonstration of mutual interest in the steady development of bilateral ties. Indicatively, Defence Minister of the Republic of Maldives Mariya Ahmed Didi attended a number of events presented by our Defence Ministry several days ago, while we are looking forward to the visit of Minister of Tourism Ali Vahid next autumn. He will attend a session of the World Tourism Organisation.
We discussed in detail the status of and prospects for bilateral economic cooperation and noted the recent positive dynamics of trade, although the amount is still fairly modest for now. We noted the stable demand for Russian agriculture products, notably poultry, in the Maldives. We also noted the interest of our economic operators to increase the import of marine bio resources from the Republic of Maldives. We agreed to develop corresponding contacts between our governments to promote these processes effectively. On the whole, we agreed to build up and diversify our trade and investment ties, in particular, considering the results of last week’s Maldives international investment forum in Male, which was attended by a Russian delegation.
We talked about the positive practice of Maldivian students attending Russian universities. Mr Minister described the exceptional careers that many graduates of our universities have made in their home country. We were pleased to hear that.
We spoke about the development of tourism, notably the increase in the number of Russians visiting the Republic of Maldives. Last year, the increase was substantial and the trend is continuing this year. Our partners reassured us that they would pay increasing attention to safety issues for foreign tourists.
Today, we took another step towards improving our contractual legal framework as we signed an agreement on visa-free travel for our citizens, which will facilitate the growth of the tourist flow and, in general, the development of contacts between our business circles and in other areas. We agreed to expedite the coordination of a number of projects that we are working on, including the agreement on the extradition and transfer of imprisoned individuals.
We mentioned the sad incident that occurred at Male Airport in July 2014 under the former Maldivian government when our citizen Roman Seleznyov was literally abducted by US security services. The Russian position on this issue has been made known: lawless acts like this are unacceptable. We are grateful to the Maldivian government that shares our approach.
We highly assessed the cooperation between our foreign ministries. We have a framework for consultations between them, which is based on the protocol signed in 2004. We agreed to make these consultations more regular. We discussed in detail opportunities for enhancing coordination in the UN and its specialised agencies. We are grateful to the Republic of Maldives for invariably supporting Russia’s initiatives, including those against the glorification of Nazism and for building trust in outer space, preventing the deployment of weapons in space, and promoting international information security and countering cybercrime.
We hold similar positions on most international issues. We hope they will become even closer after today’s talks, which were fairly substantive. Like the Republic of Maldives, we share the sense of importance to further democratise international life and develop interstate communication based on international law and with reliance on the principles of the UN Charter. Like the Maldives, we are interested in more efficient cooperation between all states in the efforts to counter the numerous current threats, including terrorism, drug crime and other forms of organised crime, and to resolve problems of climate change that are of special importance to the Republic of Maldives. We fully understand these concerns. As part of our cooperation with the participants of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, we will support the Republic of Maldives in resolving this serious problem under the auspices of the Green Climate Fund in which Russia is a donor.
Question: Can you comment on the move to pressure Iran with tougher sanctions, which the US spoke about yesterday. Has Washington been in regular contact with Moscow on the Iran issue? Does Moscow consider this contact to be a mechanism for resolving or easing the current situation?
Sergey Lavrov: We have been in contact with Washington over Iran and other regional issues, as well as the situation in the Persian Gulf, including in the UN Security Council. Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolay Patrushev is in Israel to attend a tripartite meeting with his counterparts from the US and Israel, which is being held at the initiative of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr Patrushev’s interlocutors are obviously concentrated on Iran as a country creating problems for the entire region, ascribing all the negative processes taking place there to Iran and its policy. They have declared Iran a primary source of spreading terror around the world. While at the same time, the Americans forget that only one Shiite organisation is included on their list of terrorist organisations, which has about 15 in total, while all the rest refer to Iran as an enemy in their policy-making documents. So, when the US ranks countries in terms of the threat of terrorism, I would recommend that it first look at its own laws.
Question: Is Moscow satisfied with the evidence provided by the US to the UN Security Council to support the Americans’ claim that Iran is allegedly responsible for an attack on oil tankers?
Sergey Lavrov: As for our position, we are strongly against blaming anyone, whoever it is, without presenting proof. We are in favour of the most thorough investigation into any accusation regarding the attacks on the tankers in May and this month. The blurry photos provided by the Americans, as well as their blurry videos are not unassailable evidence [of Iran’s guilt] not only for Europe or Russia but also in the US. Experts who do not work for the Executive Office of the US President offer rather frank and critical assessments of what has been produced as evidence.
It would be appropriate to remind you that yesterday the UN Security Council discussed the situation in the Persian Gulf and approved a statement which did not support the US’ persistent attempts to link Iran to these incidents. Even so, after a failed attempt to push the matter through, the US representative tried to secure the wording that it was quite clear that a “country” was behind the incident. This attempt also failed because nobody has ever been provided proof that a country rather than an independent group was responsible for the incident.
We are very concerned about what is happening. The new, purely personal, sanctions that were imposed yesterday by the Trump administration against Iran’s leadership are worrying and are sending a signal that the situation is developing along a very negative scenario. This reminds me of 2003, when then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared at the UN Security Council holding the notorious vial in his hand while the US was hectically imposing sanctions – one after another – against Saddam Hussein and Iraq as a whole. We all remember what this led to. A month later, in May 2003, the US announced a victory for democracy in Iraq. You can see how this democracy has manifested itself over the 16 years that have elapsed since that time.
I would conclude my answer by reminding you of Russia’s proposal, made long ago, to establish a dialogue between the littoral countries in the Persian Gulf, primarily, the Arab monarchies and the Islamic Republic of Iran, who should be receiving assistance from their neighbours, the League of Arab States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the European Union as a sort of positive external supplement. It is time to stop expecting relations between the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf and Iran to be settled in any way other than through dialogue, confidence-building measures and transparency.
Question: Is Moscow happy with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s decision to allow Russia’s participation in its June session? How will the issue of paying annual contributions be resolved?
Sergey Lavrov: Speaking of PACE, yesterday, it voted in favour of the resolution that the UK and Ukraine delegates, first and foremost, attempted to block by introducing over 200 amendments (none of which has been passed) in order to prevent the adoption of this document and suppress the desire of most Council of Europe member countries to readmit Russia to the Parliamentary Assembly as a full member of this organisation.
The resolution was adopted. We believe this to be a positive step. It is important that the delegations that voted in favour of it (which, I repeat, was the majority of them) clearly stated that the rights reinstated to the Russian Federation cannot be challenged. However, attempts to undermine this process continue. They continue today, and they will continue tomorrow. We will proceed from how this situation unfolds and what the results of the PACE session will be. It is ongoing. The election of the Secretary General is ahead. Following this session, we will be able to make a final decision. I hope it will be to consider the crisis resolved.
Speaking of paying annual contributions to the Council of Europe, this issue will be resolved as soon as the decision on reinstating Russia’s rights is finalised. We said this many times. Reinstate our rights in full, and we will be ready to pay the contributions that we withheld due to the unacceptable and discriminatory attitude towards the delegation of the Russian Federation’s Federal Assembly.
Question: Do you plan to maintain political contacts with Georgia in the Karasin–Abashidze format, within the framework of the Geneva discussions or the customs agreement group? Can you confirm the reports that State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Grigory Karasin may very soon have an emergency meeting with the Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative Zurab Abashidze?
Sergey Lavrov: We never broke off political contacts with Georgia. The Karasin–Abashidze format has been used around 20 times over the years after the war that was started in August 2008 by Mikheil Saakashvili. This is a rather helpful mechanism, as are the Geneva discussions. It is the only format where Georgia representatives directly communicate with representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We think it is extremely important not only to maintain this format but to use it more often in order to work towards resolving practical issues. They include a comprehensive agreement on the non-use of force, humanitarian issues and a number of other matters.
Concerning the customs agreement group, as far as I understand, you are talking about the group established in the context of Russia’s accession to the WTO that was “hibernating” until recently. We want it to start working as soon as possible. It is in our interests because there is an agreement. We appreciate our Swiss colleagues’ mediation in concluding this agreement. We value the mediatory efforts proposed by Switzerland for its fulfillment. We hope it will start up as soon as possible. But the ball is not in our court. For some reason, the Georgian leadership is doing its best to prevent this group from getting down to business.
Regarding the reports about plans to arrange an emergency meeting between Grigory Karasin and Zurab Abashidze, I know nothing about it. If our Georgian counterparts wish to have this meeting, we will be ready to consider their request.
Since you touched upon Georgia, I would like to draw the attention of our distinguished colleagues from the media to the fact that a key detail was somehow left out of the coverage of these matters – namely, a Russian delegation presiding over a meeting of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy. Georgia had been trying to host this event for years. All the other aspects, including the choice of venue (the Georgian Parliament) and seating of the Assembly President, Russian MP Sergey Gavrilov, was not some sort of improvisation but a decision of the organisers, namely the Georgian Parliament. When I read the description of these events in the media, I see only one statement presented as a reason for the crisis, which is the Russian delegation’s attendance of the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy meeting at the Georgian Parliament. This is an exact case of when an understatement is worse than a lie. It is very important to highlight key points here.
Once again, we heard Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze say that all their guests are safe. Do not forget that Sergey Gavrilov and members of his delegation were also guests, literally, and they were not safe. President Salome Zourabichvili’s claim that Russia is “an enemy and invader” is not helping Georgia’s attitude towards Russians. She is inciting ultra-extremist, nationalist and anti-Russian sentiments that are manifested in what is currently happening on the streets. When somebody says that certain displays of anti-Russian sentiments may be ignored, I feel like we should be more careful about this because it is the head of state who determines the policy and this policy is clearly anti-Russian.
Also, our concern is that in this case too, our American colleagues are trying to do everything to prevent Russia and Georgia from improving their relations (and the improvement has been obvious in the past few years). Some analysts noticed that several days before the provocation at the Georgian Parliament, Senior Director of Penn Biden Center Michael Carpenter visited Tbilisi. He had a busy schedule behind the scenes but also made some public statements warning against too much enthusiasm about developing relations with Russia – in a very straightforward manner, right from newspaper pages and other media outlets. This aspect cannot be brushed aside, of course.