Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin’s interview with the newspaper Izvestia, published February 26, 2020
Question: What does Moscow think about the new EU arms embargo mission? Will we see a rerun of the 2011 scenario?
Sergey Vershinin: Libya is one of the most painful international problems. It is regularly discussed at the UN Security Council in New York. A crucial meeting has been held in Berlin at the level of the heads of state, which was attended by President Vladimir Putin. The relevant UN Security Council resolution was adopted following that event. The question you have asked proceeds from the efforts that have been taken recently to improve the situation in Libya.
We remember what happened in 2011, and we keep saying that the aggressive actions taken back then, primarily by NATO countries, led to the collapse of Libyan statehood. Soon after that, we received a major seat of tension on the Mediterranean coast in Africa close to Europe. No measure taken so far has helped us to ease the tension and stabilise the situation there. We support the efforts of the UN and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salame, who is in charge. It is very important for us that all the UN Security Council resolutions on Libya point out that it should be a political process waged by Libyans themselves. Our position is that the Libyan sides’ views should be taken into account. It is also important that our efforts and those of the international community are based on the UN Security Council decisions.
I would like you to take note of two factors we consider crucial when it comes to Libya. The first is that Libyans themselves must determine their future and take part in the peacekeeping efforts to stop and settle the conflict. The second thing is that all these efforts must comply with the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council. This also concerns the monitoring of the embargo and its violations, as well as the leading role played by the international community in the settlement of the conflict, in general.
It is from this position that we look at what happened during the preparations of the Berlin conference, as well as during and after it. The decisions taken by the regional organisations, including the EU, should strictly comply with the UNSC mandate and resolutions. Any decision that exceeds their framework is unacceptable and a cause for concern. I am once again referring to the leading role of the Security Council and its decisions. This also regards our views on the effectiveness of efforts in terms of the Libyan sides’ involvement in them. Trying to act without the Libyan sides’ involvement would be bad and ineffective; we must not take any decisions for them. This is why we are meeting with all the sides and invite them to come to Moscow. This is why we are insisting that any decisions must be taken with the involvement of the Libyan sides, because they will not be effective otherwise. We have come to realise this in the past few years, when all of us were trying, although to a different extent, to help settle the Libyan conflict.
Question: In other words, Russia is waiting for additional information about the EU mission?
Sergey Vershinin: As I already said, it is vital for us that the Europeans’ decisions on their actions towards Libya comply with the UNSC resolutions. They should not exceed the limits of the mandate approved for such actions by the Security Council on behalf of the international community.
Question: Russia has time and again protested infringements on the rights of persons illegally arrested by Americans in other countries, in particular Konstantin Yaroshenko, Viktor Bout and Roman Seleznyov. Do you plan to raise this topic once again at international venues? Do you intend to sign more extradition agreements, possibly with the United States and Israel?
Sergey Vershinin: The cases you have mentioned are a cause for indignation and concern. Regrettably, they all happened years ago. The arrest of Konstantin Yaroshenko was a shameless seizure of a Russian citizen in a third country. No other people have been seized in this manner recently, but Americans have mounted pressure on their allies to extradite several Russian citizens – you know their names – to the United States. Moreover, Americans do not even bother to behave in a civilised way towards them, but instead force them to make false confessions and the like. We do not accept this. We denounce this, and we believe that such actions run completely contrary to Americans’ attempts to pose as the advocates of democratic values, in particular in the fields of human rights and law enforcement.
I do not remember a single contact with Americans when we did not raise these questions absolutely aggressively. We will continue to do this on the international stage. We do this primarily at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, as well as in New York, making use of various international human rights protection procedures. We are doing all of this.
I believe that extradition agreements should be part of normal relations with normal countries. It is another matter that it should be a two-way street, but we do not see other countries putting forth equal efforts. Besides, such agreements obviously require a great deal of intradepartmental coordination in any country, including Russia and the United States. I can assure you that we are keeping our people under close supervision. Our consulates and embassies in these countries, first of all the United States, have been instructed to closely monitor the situation, press for meetings with our people and prevent any discrimination against Russian citizens.
Question: The 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council opened in Geneva on February 24. Russia plans to seek a seat at the council for 2021-2023. It has not had a seat at the council since 2015. When will this question be decided? What are our chances of getting a seat? What will we lose if Russia is not elected to this 47-member UN body?
Sergey Vershinin: If Russia is elected, the biggest winners will be the international community and the Human Rights Council itself. Our position is that human rights in general – and there are very many of them – are very important and must be protected, but this should be done without any political bias or a desire, as we have seen happening in Geneva many times, to take any particular aspect of human rights and turn it into a political instrument for putting pressure on undesirable countries. Russia has developed balanced approaches, because human rights are an ocean of problems, including the rights of women and children, gender and minority problems, etc. I believe that our balanced approach is respected when it comes to all of these problems. This is why I say that if Russia is elected, this will be all the better for the council and the international community.
The vote has been set for October. We are working to make our arguments, or better still, the advantages of Russia’s council membership, known to everybody. Time will show, but considering what I have said, I take an optimistic view on the matter.
Question: Do you think that the recent WADA decisions are part of political pressure on Russia? Does Moscow feel isolated on the international stage in this sense?
Sergey Vershinin: I do not believe that high performance sports and that regional, let alone world, competitions are possible without Russia. I mean this. The history of Russian sports shows that no competition is what it should be without Russian athletes. We are acting transparently when it comes to protecting the interests of Russian athletes, as well as the interests of Russia.
I believe that the truth will ultimately prevail and the ongoing processes – arbitration proceedings and so on – will show that the Russian Federation honours all requirements of the Olympic movement and other international sports organisations, and that it has earned the well-deserved right to send its athletes to all international events. As for collusion and conspiracy rumours, I presume that someone may indeed try to make use of this background to damage Russia in sports or politics. But I see no reason why such plans and efforts should succeed.