Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a news conference following an extraordinary meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs/International Relations, Moscow, April 28, 2020
Thank you for participating in our resumed meetings that are right now taking place online. It is in our interests to inform you about the work that we are continuing to do with our foreign partners under the current circumstances.
We have just finished a very constructive videoconference of the BRICS foreign ministers, held at the initiative of the Russian Federation. Russia holds the BRICS Chairmanship this year. Since a whole number of events had to be postponed due to the spread of the coronavirus, we decided to hold an extraordinary BRICS meeting and discuss how our five countries can contribute to the international efforts against this threat. This videoconference does not cancel the main full-scale Foreign Ministers Council meeting scheduled for June. These dates are still on the calendar but, of course, if required we may adjust them based on the epidemiological situation.
As I have already mentioned, today we spoke about our countries’ action to counter the outbreak of the coronavirus. Our partners acknowledged the fact that Russia’s initiative came at the right time. We had a productive conversation. Of course, the main focus of our discussion was on increasing the efficiency of our countries’ efforts in fighting the threat.
We covered the mechanisms for improving the exchange of experience and information, as well as providing mutual aid and deploying multilateral mechanisms.
In addition to the direct preventive action, we analysed the impact of the current crisis on international relations. We established that there is no other alternative but to seek collective responses to any related challenges and no other alternative but to take a multilateral approach and to pursue equal, non-politicised cooperation of sovereign states in addressing all topical issues on today’s agenda. These efforts (and we spoke about this at length during the meeting) are being obstructed by illegitimate, unilateral and coercive measures – the so-called sanctions that are being imposed in contravention of the UN Charter, the UN Security Council and contrary to international law. Under the current circumstances, these unilateral restrictions which, again, violate international law are holding back the measures against the coronavirus outbreak and are significantly damaging the socioeconomic development of the respective states.
We support the appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet who are calling for the unilateral sanctions that were imposed bypassing the United Nations to be suspended at the least and ideally lifted, so that we could respond to the demands of our time more efficiently.
We have also discussed additional steps taken by BRICS to deepen the five-way partnership at international organisations, including the UN, the G20, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to name just a few.
Our common position is that under these mechanisms, BRICS partnership should enhance the role and responsibility of the global governance institutions and their further democratisation. They should promote the interests of the majority of the countries, ideally, all of them.
Today, we also discussed the BRICS New Development Bank which made a principled decision to create a dedicated lending tool to finance economic recovery projects in the BRICS countries.Up to $15 billion will be allocated to this end. We believe this should help our economies overcome the crisis and resume full-fledged economic activity.
Russia has stated its specific joint crisis response measures to fight the coronavirus infection. This is a fairly large package of measures relating not only to the healthcare sector, but also to the economy, trade, financial stability and employment support. In the near future we will put these ideas down on paper. We agreed that we will submit them for substantive discussion at the upcoming meetings of the relevant departments of the five countries.
Overall, we believe that the changes experienced by the international community pose a threat of new dividing lines, more conflicts and a wider gap between the rich and poor countries. We are witnessing a rapid increase in the importance of innovative technology, especially in the IT sphere, which makes the well-known initiatives that Russia is promoting at the UN even more relevant. These initiatives concern ensuring international information security and developing a universal tool to combat cybercrime.
Overall, and we pointed this out today, multilateral institutions and the nation states themselves are taking a sort of a test for what we call professional aptitude. It is critically important not to try to focus on the fleeting electoral or any other interests in an attempt to politicise a particular issue, but to see the goal of our entire community in joining efforts in order to ensure the most positive outcome of our current efforts for our five countries and, above all, their citizens.
Question: Will the BRICS countries work together to create a vaccine against the coronavirus? This was mentioned in the Ufa Declaration of 2015, but will any real work be done in this area now? Has India announced the time for its hydroxychloroquine supplies to Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: In the declaration of the 2015 Ufa summit that you mentioned, the purported goal was to start working together on developing and using vaccines, including against coronavirus infections. This task was formulated back then politically and specified in 2018 during the BRICS summit held in Johannesburg. The Johannesburg summit documents contain an agreement to create an appropriate five-way mechanism.
Today we analysed this situation and decided to emphasise the need for the speedy implementation of this agreement and the creation of such a mechanism.
The Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Healthcare are involved in dealing with other issues, including the supply of vaccines. A videoconference of economic experts from the BRICS countries will be held tomorrow. On May 7, experts from healthcare ministries will hold a videoconference as well. I think they will discuss specific aspects of cooperation that you just mentioned. We will keep you posted.
Question: Are the BRICS countries ready to take upon themselves the US contribution to the World Health Organisation after Washington decided to suspend its funding?
Sergey Lavrov: We share the opinion that the WHO is a critically important tool which has now become an unparalleled platform for gathering information and facts from various states. This agency brings together top professionals from all countries, without exception, including the United States.
As the main contributor to the WHO budget, the United States had the largest quota of its specialists working at the WHO Secretariat. The WHO contributions come in two forms -mandatory and voluntary. As far as I understand, Washington has suspended the payment of voluntary contributions, but has retained and continues to pay the mandatory part that gives it the right to vote in this organisation.
With regard to compensation, since we are talking about voluntary contributions (the United States has suspended its voluntary contributions), it is hard to say who is going to support the WHO and how. China, for example, has announced an additional $30 million to be paid to the WHO budget. Regardless of the US decision, we have been traditionally supporting the WHO in various areas. Russia played a decisive role in developing the vaccine during the Ebola outbreak. Special institutes were created in African countries, which bore the brunt of this fever. We will continue to support the WHO regardless of what other countries might say about its activities.
Question: Has the date for holding an online summit of the heads of the Group of Five - permanent members of the UN Security Council and the final statement of the leaders been agreed upon?
Sergey Lavrov: The videoconference of the leaders of the countries - permanent members of the UN Security Council will be devoted to the coronavirus. So far, the date has not been set. We were ready to hold it this week. As far as I know, there are some countries that need more time to study the situation.
Question: Recently, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov noted in an interview that back at the 2015 BRICS summit in Ufa, the final declaration included a statement that we need to pay attention to cooperation in combating novel coronavirus strains. What made Russia raise this issue five years ago? What can we do today?
What do you think about China and Russia’s interaction in combating the coronavirus?
Sergey Lavrov: Are you saying Russia predicted the current epidemic before Bill Gates?
Seriously, though, in 2015, humanity was facing pandemic threats, including those associated with the coronavirus, such as MERS - the so-called Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, and SARS - a severe acute respiratory syndrome. Not surprisingly, our researchers and specialists could tell back then that the coronaviruses could resurge.
As I already mentioned, today we reiterated our interest in creating, as soon as possible and in accordance with the decisions of the Ufa and Johannesburg summits, a mechanism for developing and using a vaccine against the coronaviruses.
As for our evaluation of the Russia-China interaction in fighting the coronavirus, we believe that it deserves high praise. From the outset, we provided assistance to Wuhan in China, and I hope we have made our contribution to China overcoming this threat fairly quickly. Now Beijing is helping everyone, including our country, to curb the spread of this infection.
As our respective leaders, President Putin and President Xi have repeatedly stated , we will continue our interaction and strategic partnership across all areas and pay special attention to the current important tasks in order to curb this global threat.
Question: In almost every answer, you mention some kind of joint coronavirus response action – cooperation within BRICS or bilateral cooperation between Russia and China. This is one side, one opinion. The other is found in the new European External Action Service report that says China and Russia are responsible for spreading misinformation about the novel coronavirus. How is such a contrast even possible? What are your comments regarding this?
Sergey Lavrov: When we talk about cooperation with China, we cite facts. There are many of them. We are not hiding them from anyone. They include specific forms of assistance: the delivery of humanitarian supplies, medicine and testing kits, medical specialists were dispatched, there were mutual consultations and many more things.
As for the EEAS statements about the coronavirus misinformation our two countries are allegedly disseminating, I cannot even give you any proper comments because they do not include a single fact confirming these allegations that I could mention.
Actually, we are not asking them for facts. We are already accustomed to our Western colleagues’ increasing attempts to find some unifying motives in pulp fiction about the Russian or some other threat. So far, we have not been confronted with one single fact confirming any allegations of our interference in the US elections, the Brexit referendum in the UK, the referendum in Catalonia, let alone the notorious Skripal case or the MH-17 crash investigation. Now they are accusing us of trying to poison someone in the Czech Republic with some substance that someone brought in a suitcase, and the concerned Czech authorities are aware of this, but for some reason no one yet has shown the suitcase.
I am taking these things now philosophically. If the EU needs this kind of insinuation to somehow cover up its internal problems, what can we do about it? The pure lack of any specific evidence behind this is obvious once you simply look at the facts that are regularly published covering each country’s coronavirus response actions.
Question: In the wake of Libyan National Army Commander Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s recent remarks, does Russia have any leverage on him? Is it possible to develop collective measures to enforce peace and return to talks on the Libyan settlement? How dangerous are such remarks for the future of the Libyan settlement?
Sergey Lavrov: I wouldn’t talk here about any leverage that Russia may have. We have contacts with all actors in the Libya conflict, without exception, including Marshal Khalifa Haftar, Chairman of the Presidential Council Fayez al-Sarraj, and President of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, as well as other figures, including the High Council of State’s senior officials. Many bodies have been created under the agreement concluded in Skhirat in December 2015.
At all stages of the settlement of the Libya crisis and in the course of all the initiatives advanced by our French and Italian colleagues, and the UAE at various points (an International Conference on Libya was held in Berlin), we warned about the need, first, to convince the conflicting parties to agree on the terms that they will use to resolve the problems in their country, the statehood of which was destroyed, as you may recall, in 2011 in the wake of absolutely unlawful NATO aggression. We have always warned against the attempts to impose on the Libyan parties any documents or agreements drafted without their direct involvement, since the non-viability of this approach has been proven on many occasions.
Now, we are faced with a repetition of what has already been done in relation to the outcome of the Berlin Conference. When the final document was submitted for approval by the participants, President Putin specifically asked whether the conflicting parties, primarily, Khalifa Haftar and Fayez al-Sarraj, supported this document. We were told that this matter would be addressed later. We said that without the clearly expressed consent of the Libyan parties, there was little chance that the agreements reached among external players would be viable. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. But this does not mean that the conflicting parties should now make aggressive statements, announce unilateral decisions or refuse to conduct an intra-Libyan dialogue.
We did not approve recent statements by al-Sarraj who refused to talk with Khaftar. We do not approve of the statement to the effect that Khaftar will now single-handedly decide on how the Libyan people will live. Neither one of them is contributing to the achievement of a lasting compromise, which is crucial if we want to overcome this situation.
Here’s a statement made just the other day, which, for some reason, drew little attention from the media, but is in stark contrast to the above. President of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh Issa called for a national dialogue. He wants this dialogue to be aimed at the formation of common government bodies which would represent evenly and equally Libya’s three key regions. This is exactly what we have been talking about all these years: the Libyans themselves must identify the approaches that they will find generally acceptable, develop a dialogue and then build their new state. External actors should support such approaches in every way. I hope that the lessons learned from previous attempts will be learned, and we will be encouraging the Libyans themselves to talk and find a compromise.
In this regard, I cannot neglect to mention the fact that the post of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General Support Mission in Libya has been vacant for over a month now. Ghassan Salame put a lot of effort into fulfilling his mandate, but, unfortunately, they were not successful, and he resigned. I believe it is absolutely necessary for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a new special representative soon. Everyone thinks this should be a representative of Africa. There are such candidates, and we know them well. They are experienced people with good standing. We urge the UN Secretary-General to fill this vacancy as soon as possible and appoint a new special representative so that the process continues uninterrupted.