Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Hellenic Republic Nikos Dendias, Moscow, November 6, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our talks were both very constructive and useful. Athens is our traditional partner in Europe. Our ties go back centuries. Russians and Greeks are much alike when it comes to our spiritual, cultural and civilisational values.
In 2021, Greece will mark 200 years since the start of the national liberation struggle, as a result of which an independent Greek state was established. Russia did everything possible to facilitate this process. Today, Mr Dendias and I discussed what opportunities there are for holding joint events during the preparations for this important anniversary.
We noted that we continue steadily developing our bilateral cooperation in all spheres. We are interested in collaborating in the field of trade and investments. This will be facilitated by the seamless work of the Mixed Commission on Economic, Industrial and Scientific-Technical Cooperation. Its co-chairs will meet in the next few days and the sessions of the relevant working groups will take place before the end of the year.
The packed agenda during the Year of Language and Literature of Russia and Greece confirms once again the high level of our cultural and humanitarian exchanges.
We agreed on further steps to consolidate our legal contractual foundation, in part, in mass communications, international telecommunications, protection of intellectual property and mutual recognition of educational diplomas.
We discussed in a constructive manner major regional and international issues and agreed to maintain and promote our dialogue in the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation where Greece holds the Chairmanship. Naturally, the implementation of the just signed plan for foreign ministry consultations in 2020−2022 will facilitate the development of our cooperation.
We exchanged views on the current condition and prospects of relations between Russia and the European Union, the situation in the Russia-NATO Council and many other matters concerning security in the Eastern Mediterranean and the developments in the Middle East and North Africa, including a Syrian settlement.
We highly value the assessments of our Greek colleagues when it comes to a Cypriot settlement. In turn, we reaffirmed our support for a comprehensive, durable and viable solution of this problem in line with the relevant UN Security Council resolution.
We shared our assessment on strategic stability, primarily in the context of Russia-US relations after Washington withdrew from the ABM Treaty and the INF Treaty.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin sent a detailed message to many world leaders, including the United States and all other NATO members regarding these matters as well as the prospects of extending the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Arms. We hope this will make it possible to discuss the problem in a constructive manner and to search for mutually acceptable ways of resolving it.
I am really satisfied with the results of our talks and I am looking forward to taking the minister up on his invitation to visit Greece.
Question: Against the background of Russia and China complying with the nuclear deal, Iran is taking the fourth step to further reduce its JCPOA commitments. Europe has failed to honour its JCPOA commitments. What fate awaits the agreement? Will Moscow continue to comply with it?
Sergey Lavrov: We are quite anxious about the JCPOA situation. This anxiety did not originate today or yesterday; it was sparked off in May 2018, when the United States announced, in a rather arrogant way, that it was withdrawing from this agreement, which was unanimously approved by a UN Security Council resolution and was welcomed by all without exception countries in the world and international organisations as one of the most important steps on the way to strengthening the non-proliferation regime. This agreement was much broader than what was required for dealing with the Iranian problem. It was due to put a brake on and reverse the alarming trends in the non-proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction. The United States not only broke off its own commitments and grossly violated international law, but also arrogantly banned all other countries from complying with the JCPOA under the threat of sanctions. Thereby Washington – and this is the root of the problem – demanded that everyone do nothing of what was due to Iran under the JCPOA. Iran is urged to comply with all without exception terms, but in return they do not give anything.
The Europeans have volunteered to devise a mechanism that would make it possible to avoid these totally illegal and unlawful US sanctions. They were coordinating this matter for quite a long time. Eventually, they declared that this mechanism had been established. But it remains solely on paper.
We have the impression that the European countries, for various reasons, including, obviously, powerful pressure from Washington, would feel comfortable if they find a way to put all the responsibility for the existing situation squarely on Iran, while disregarding the original cause of the current crisis, which consists in the United States’ peremptory rupture of this agreement.
We note a striving on the part of the European leaders to find a way out of this predicament. I mean the initiative by President Emmanuel Macron of France and the position of the European foreign policy service that was the chief coordinator of the talks on the Iranian nuclear programme. But so far all these efforts are coming to nothing on account of the unwillingness of the US to take the brake off any attempts to find a way out of the crisis.
We will continue to press for the universal compliance with the JCPOA terms and will continue to perform our own obligations.
We are addressing this appeal to Iran, although we are well aware why Iran is reducing its commitments. It is reducing the level of commitments that are voluntary under the UN Security Council resolution and are directly linked with other countries’ commitments to ensure Iran’s legitimate economic interests. But let me note that Iran reduces its commitments after notifying the IAEA and in the presence of IAEA inspectors, while committing no violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Additional Protocol to the safeguards agreement.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasise one fundamental point. Every time Iran announced the next reduction of its commitments, it stressed that its decision was reversible and that it would go back to complying with its JCPOA commitments as soon as others carried out what they were due to perform.
Question (for both ministers): About a month ago now, the Church of Greece recognised the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church or, as it is called by the Moscow Patriarchy, the schismatic church of Ukraine. Do you think the decision came as a result of political pressure? How can church-related disagreements affect our bilateral relations?
Sergey Lavrov: I have not heard about the Church of Greece officially recognising the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine. I heard about a letter from Archbishop Ieronymos to the leader of the breakaway group but I have not seen any official statement by the Church of Greece.
As concerns the circumstances that resulted in the letter being sent and this entire discussion being started within the Church of Greece on this matter, then yes, an external influence is obvious.
Before the said letter was sent, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Athens and he made no secret of the fact that this issue was among the matters addressed during his visit. As I understand, it is for the same purpose that American diplomats visited Mount Athos. Leader of the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius, publicly stated that it would have been impossible to establish this structure without direct support of the United States.
It is becoming ever more obvious that the United States is not going to stop at what it has already been doing and will attempt to push ahead and further break up the Orthodox world in general. This work has been targeting almost all Orthodox churches, which is deplorable. US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, despite his title that describes his responsibilities, is publicly calling for recognising the schismatic group.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and I covered this topic today and asserted that both Greece and Russia hold to a stance that the state must not interfere with the affairs of the church.
As for the impact of this situation within the church community on intergovernmental and interstate relations between Moscow and Athens, we have absolutely no intention to artificially create problems and obstacles which would hinder the development of our all-round mutually beneficial cooperation. But, of course, we might expect a cutback in the number of pilgrims to those Church of Greece eparchies with which the Russian Orthodox Church no longer maintains full communions. And the statistics show that over the first six months of this year, the number of Russian tourists in Greece has significantly decreased compared to the same period in 2018. But this is a choice and a decision of every specific person. I want to stress once again that nobody is going to deliberately create obstacles in intergovernmental or interstate relations.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Did you discuss the upcoming visit to Russia by representatives of the new Greek government, including Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has been invited to attend the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War? Mr Lavrov, much has been said today about your upcoming visit to Greece. Can you tell us when it may take place?
If possible, I would also like to ask you about Russian citizen Alexander Vinnik [who has been in a Greek prison since July 2017]. What is hindering his extradition to Russia, according to the Greek side? What is the US role in this? What has Moscow done to help improve his detainment conditions and expedite his return back home?
Sergey Lavrov: Today we confirmed the invitation to Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis from President of Russia Vladimir Putin to attend the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War on May 9, 2020.
The timeframe for my visit to Greece at the generous invitation of Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias will be coordinated between the two ministries.
We did discuss the case of Alexander Vinnik. As you know, the United States and France have submitted their extradition requests, but the main request concerns his extradition back to his country of origin in accordance with the relevant international treaties. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office is negotiating [with the Greek side]. We have submitted additional arguments today, including with due regard of amendments to the Greek Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, according to which, as we have concluded, there are no legal grounds for Mr Vinnik’s extradition to any country other than Russia.
Russian Ambassador to Greece Andrey Maslov has informed us that the next court hearing on Mr Vinnik’s case will begin in Athens in a matter of several hours. We will wait and see what the outcome is, hoping that justice prevails.
Question: Can you comment on the Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, which are infringing on the interests of Greece and the Exclusive Economic Zone interests of the he Republic of Cyprus? Do Russia’s close ties with the Republic of Turkey influence Moscow’s position regarding the Cypriot settlement and its relations with other countries, namely Israel, Greece and Egypt?
Sergey Lavrov: In general, we are concerned about the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, including – and to no small degree – about the US and NATO efforts to build up their military presence there in an openly anti-Russia manner. This calls for a response from the regional countries, which should not blindly toe the NATO line but above all try to act in the interests of their national security and a legitimate desire to develop ties with all their partners, including the Russian Federation.
As for offshore hydrocarbon exploration, including on the Cypriot shelf, we have always urged all the countries involved, including Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Egypt, to settle these problems through negotiations and the achievement of mutually acceptable agreements within the framework of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Regarding the Cypriot settlement, we regard the opinions of our Greek friends as very useful. As a matter of principle, we support the implementation of all the relevant UN Security Council resolutions on an agreement between the Cypriot sides based on a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation. As far as we know, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is preparing a trilateral meeting to which he will invite Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci. We welcome this idea. We believe that progress in the implementation of UN decisions on Cyprus can be promoted by a more active contribution from all the permanent UN Security Council members, which co-authored all the resolutions on overcoming the Cypriot crisis.
We support the intention to replace the archaic system of guarantees in the external aspects of the Cypriot settlement with the safeguards of the UN Security Council and primarily its five permanent members. As per the resolutions, any settlement must be approved by the UN Security Council, of course.