Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference following the 26th OSCE Ministerial Council meeting, Bratislava, December 5, 2019
Bratislava hosted a regular meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council. The OSCE that was based on the 1975 Helsinki Final Act is not going through its best times today because of the problems that have accumulated in security and strategic stability in the common Euro-Atlantic space.
Lofty principles were laid out in Helsinki and in subsequent summits, including the one in 1999 that adopted European security declarations. The participants agreed that security must be common and indivisible, equal for all, and that nobody should ensure their own security at the expense of the security of any other state. It was also agreed that sub-regional organisations in the Euro-Atlantic area would always take part in the dialogue on an equal basis with OSCE members. I am referring to the CIS, CSTO, NATO, the European Union and the Council of Europe. Attempts to develop such a dialogue were made in the 1990s, but later our Western colleagues, who themselves initiated these declarations that were adopted shortly after the collapse of the USSR, somehow lost enthusiasm for these lofty principles. For instance, they are bluntly refusing to codify the principle of indivisible security that I mentioned, and do not want to adopt documents that would make it binding. Their logic is very simple. They do not make a secret of the fact that they are only willing to grant legal security guarantees within the North Atlantic Alliance. Obviously, this runs counter to the agreements on using the OSCE as a venue for cooperation in the interests of promoting security, removing any dividing lines and pooling the efforts of the OSCE states for common benefit.
Of course, we are bound to be concerned over what is happening in NATO. Several days ago President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin commented on this situation at the meeting with Russian Defence Ministry senior officials. The problem is that NATO apparently considers itself a source of legitimacy and is trying to persuade everyone that this role has no alternative, that it can only be played by the North Atlantic Alliance, and that it has the right to determine who is guilty of everything that is taking place around us and that the West does not like for some reason. Boundless expansion continues; military infrastructure is rapidly moving eastward, close to Russian borders; tensions are constantly escalated, and Russia is permanently accused of aggressive intentions. This is taking place against the backdrop of decisions on the further buildup of the NATO countries’ military budgets, which were adopted at the summit held in London. Meanwhile, the current budgets exceed Russian military spending more than 10-fold.
The available facts point to a simple and easy-to-understand situation: NATO wants to dominate not only in the Euro-Atlantic region but, judging by its actions, in other regions as well, for instance in the Middle East. This is why we wanted to draw your attention to this obviously unsound situation. The bottom line is that it runs counter to the lofty declarations that the OSCE leaders adopted after the organisation turned from the conference into the current entity. First and foremost, this applies to the principle of indivisible security.
We have proposed several initiatives on a return to the source, the foundation on which the OSCE was built back in the Cold War years. I would like to emphasise again that mutual respect, consideration for others’ interests and consensus-based efforts without dividing lines are the key provisions on which the OSCE rests.
Today, we distributed a statement by the CSTO foreign ministers, urging all OSCE participants to begin creating a common and indivisible security space, as we agreed to before. We also released a statement by the CIS countries and some other states (Serbia, for example) on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and the need to do everything we can to prevent the falsification of its results and the glorification of those who are guilty of the most heinous crimes in human history. Some people are trying to do this, including many in Europe.
There are many other areas that we are paying special attention to. They concern economic security. There are some good solutions in this area, including digital technology and innovation. There are many issues that require solutions with a view to streamlining integration processes. We have heard that many of our colleagues in the OSCE consider it practical to establish a dialogue between the EU and the EAEU, although consensus on this issue has not yet been reached.
The third security dimension is the human dimension. This traditionally evokes heated debate in the OSCE. This happens primarily because our Western colleagues try to act like teachers and regard others as pupils. They try to impose neo-liberal values on all other OSCE countries. We clearly confirm our position – we are ready to follow all the agreements that were made in the universal format and conform to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the OSCE decisions on humanitarian issues.
This applies, in part, to the need to fully respect the linguistic and education rights of national minorities, something not being done in Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia. This also applies to the need to grant citizenship to everyone. The concept of “non-citizens” that still exists in Latvia and Estonia is well known. We consider it shameful for Europe, in particular, for the EU. This also concerns the agreements that were adopted by the OSCE earlier and that our Western colleagues do not like to remember. These agreements demand that each state should give the public unlimited, free access to any information. This includes information from inside a country and from abroad.
I will not quote examples – there are representatives of our media here that are affected by the failure to abide by this requirement, which actually amounts to a ban on the work of journalists.
There are many problems in the OSCE. I would like to complete my opening remarks by noting the growing understanding of the unsound condition of this organisation. Statements in favour of starting to talk with each other, trying to understand your partner and find a balance of interests are being made increasingly more often. I think Miroslav Lajcak, OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Slovakia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, put forth a very important initiative by disseminating the so-called Bratislava Appeal (this is an open document and you can read it). It was not designed as a foundation for negotiation. He urges everyone to be guided by the values that were universally agreed upon in the OSCE. The Appeal is open for other countries to join. Russia has joined in with pleasure. We hope it will eventually be supported by all members of the organisation.
Question: You mentioned NATO. It was announced following the NATO Leaders Meeting in London that space is an operational domain for NATO and that Russia was named as a threat alongside terrorism. NATO leaders also declared that they would address Russia’s deployment of new intermediate-range missiles. Will you comment on this?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the threat of Russia and terrorism, it started with Barack Obama. They made such statements at the UN six years ago. Let this be on the NATO countries’ conscience. It is perfectly clear that they want to dominate the world and get rid of any and all rivals, including by waging an information war in a bid to pull both Russia and China off balance. I believe this is very difficult to do with regard to both countries. We are aware what is going on. We have our own responses to the threats which NATO is generating around the world and which it has openly said are spearheaded at Russia and China. We know how to respond to these threats without joining the arms race but to protect our security in the most reliable manner. President Vladimir Putin pointed out more than once that this is what we will do. And this is what we are doing.
As for declaring space an operational domain for NATO, the alliance has already done this with regard to cyberspace. This should be taken into account by all the international agencies, because we must comply with the rule set out in the UN Charter – security is our common domain, and the collective security system must be based on the principles of equality and respect for each other’s sovereignty. To counter these unilateral approaches to space and cyberspace, Russia has put forth unifying initiatives that are not designed to make any one country an autocrat dictating its rules to all the others. The Russian-Chinese draft treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space has been submitted to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament for consideration. The United States and a small number of its closest allies are blocking the start of negotiations on this issue.
As for cyberspace, our initiative on international cooperation in the field of information security, which we have been advocating at the UN for years, has acquired a new meaning. A draft document on advancing responsible state behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security has been circulated at the UN General Assembly. It is the right place where all UN member states without exception can discuss such issues as cybersecurity. An open-ended working group has been established at our initiative and all UN member states have been invited to participate in it. There are plans to hold four rounds of talks. It is the right platform for finding solid and workable solutions rather than trying to aggrandise oneself and look down on everyone else. It is regrettable that our NATO colleagues are guided by this instinct, but it is an indisputable fact.
Question: Germany is expelling employees of the Russian Embassy in Berlin without warning the Russian authorities, claiming that Russia was not providing sufficient assistance in the investigation of the August murder, and that there is serious factual evidence of Russia's involvement. But they have presented no evidence. Some Western experts have already compared this to the Skripal case, where the UK used its famous and groundless ‘highly likely’ approach. In that case, the accusations were followed by actions even before the investigation was completed. Do you think we can expect an objective investigation, and is Russia going to become involved in it after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hopes that Russia will do so?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia and Germany have channels for communication between law enforcement agencies, including for considering issues where the legislation of one of the sides has been violated. These channels should be used now. Our German partners are saying they believe Russia is not cooperating enough, but I don’t know what their opinion is based on.
Today, in a discussion at the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting, representatives of several countries mentioned Malaysian Boeing tragedy. Once again, our Dutch colleague said Russia is not cooperating with the investigation, with the Joint Investigation Team (JIT). First, no one invited us to join that team. Second, the facts that we provided to this investigative group outweigh any other contributions that anyone has made to the investigation in terms of their quantity and quality. The evidence we provided included primary data from the radars, and a full-scale replication experiment conducted by Almaz-Antey concern, and much more. But our simple questions about the same data from Ukrainian radars, records of Ukrainian dispatchers’ communication, and the long-promised satellite images from the United States remain unanswered. When we continue asking them what they mean by our ‘insufficient’ cooperation, do you know what they say? The answer is: “You must admit that you did it. This will be responsible way to cooperate with the investigation.” If our German partners choose to follow that model, then we will probably have no success with them either. That sounds like the wrong way to talk to anyone, and even less so with the Russian Federation.