Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas, Moscow, August 11, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held constructive, trust-based and detailed talks with Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas. We discussed the bilateral agenda and cooperation on international issues both at the UN and in Europe.
Mr Maas is visiting Moscow on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Moscow treaty between the USSR and West Germany on mutual recognition and respect for the European territorial and political realities established after World War II. The original treaty was shown here today. Mr Maas and I looked at it. On August 12, 1970, when it was signed, the Soviet Union confidently, and from an emphatically peaceful position, made a conscientious strategic choice in favour of peaceful and mutually respectful partnership with the West despite the overpowering atmosphere of mistrust and tough ideological pressure. Credit should also go to Chancellor Willy Brandt’s pragmatic “eastern policy.” At that time Bonn took into account the fact that long-term stability in Europe largely depended on normalisation of relations with Moscow.
The treaty facilitated the establishment of the principles of peaceful coexistence in Europe and improved the international situation as a whole. It objectively facilitated the holding of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the signing of its Final Act in Helsinki. It also made it easier for the GDR and West Germany to join the UN simultaneously.
During today’s consultations, we reaffirmed our mutual desire to further promote cooperation in the economy, science, education, culture and humanitarian exchanges. The cross year of science and academic partnership is coming to a close with serious practical results. This year will be replaced with another cross event, the Year of the Economy and Sustainable Development. In addition to this, on September 26, our German partners will launch in Moscow the Year of Germany in Russia. We expect it will take place in Pushkin Square with due account for the epidemiological situation.
We welcome the fact that despite the difficulties related to the pandemic, our German partners have embarked on the practical implementation of the humanitarian gesture of the German government as regards the survivors of the siege of Leningrad. The first equipment designated for the war veterans’ hospital is already in St Petersburg. Later today, Federal Minister will hold a number of meetings in St Petersburg. In part, he will meet with the survivors of the siege of Leningrad. We appreciate the attention given by our German friends to this problem.
Regarding the economy, we focused on completing the construction of the Nord Stream 2 project. Needless to say, we took into account the US sanctions pressure. We appreciate Berlin’s position of principle in support of this essentially economic initiative that will help diversify natural gas supply routes, and help enhance the energy security of Europe based on the estimates of European countries rather than those from overseas.
We expressed to the Germans our concerns over our cooperation in cyber security. We noted that in the past and this year we have recorded many cyberattacks against Russian facilities and organisations that were made from the German internet.
We cooperate with Germany on the Ukrainian issue as well. We have a common understanding that there is no alternative to the Minsk Package of Measures and that it is necessary to implement it as soon as possible. We again urged our German colleagues to use their influence on the Kiev leaders to encourage them to fulfill their commitments in the Minsk process as soon as possible. We regularly exchange opinions on the further possibilities for cooperation in the Normandy format as an important instrument that stimulates the activities of the Contact Group in which Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk are supposed to act directly in fulfilling the Minsk agreements that they signed.
In addition, we also reviewed the issues linked with the crisis in the Middle East and North Africa. We have a common position on the need to fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on the settlement in Syria, which implies confirmation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. We discussed preparations for resuming the activities of the editorial commission of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva (I hope this will take place this month if the epidemiological situation permits). We consider it important for our European partners to pay more attention to the practical alleviation of the humanitarian situation in Syria, which affects ordinary people.
We also share an interest in settling the situation in Libya. We reaffirm the commonality of approaches of Russia and Germany on the need to settle this conflict on the principles that were set forth in the final documents of the Berlin Conference on Libya and confirmed by the relevant UN Security Council resolution. The need to fulfill the Berlin agreements in full remains current. We agree with this. The further escalation of violence in Libya threatens to destabilise the situation not only in that country but also in the Middle East and North Africa as a whole. We believe that the final goal of our efforts must be the restoration of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and statehood of Libya, which were crudely violated as a result of NATO’s venture in 2011 in circumvention of the relevant UN Security Council resolution.
Other issues on which Russia and Germany cooperate include the situation on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on settling the Iranian nuclear programme. Our European colleagues have put forth many ideas in this regard. In turn, Russia also made some proposals that we believe would help resume the cooperation of the JCPOA signatories without exception. We hope to discuss these initiatives in more detail.
We are willing to cooperate on other issues of international politics, including the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other venues.
I am grateful to Mr Maas for his visit to Moscow. We have agreed on a schedule for future meetings, which will be fairly full through the end of this year.
Question: On behalf of Russian journalists, we would like to thank you for taking the situation with the detention of journalists in Belarus under personal control. Several people have been released, but correspondents from Rossiya Segodnya and Meduza have not been in touch yet. You held telephone talks with Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makey. What were the results? Was the topic of Belarus raised? Yesterday German Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas said he did not rule out that this topic would be discussed today.
Sergey Lavrov: Naturally, we are concerned about the situation with our journalists, our citizens. Yesterday, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Dmitry Mezentsev, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs represented by the Information and Press Department, and I addressed this issue in a conversation with Mr Makey and insisted on the speedy release of our journalists. At the same time, we realise that many of those who were detained did not have accreditation, although we know that it was requested in a timely manner, in compliance with all the rules and procedures.
The current situation must be resolved proceeding, first of all, from humane considerations. We know that today there was again information about the lack of contact with some of your colleagues (they got in touch and then contact was lost again). The Meduza correspondent is important to us primarily as a Russian citizen. Meduza is not a Russian media outlet, but as a Russian citizen, of course, he has our protection. In our contacts with our Belarusian colleagues, we will seek an early resolution of this situation.
Unfortunately, when mass protests take place (and they take place in many countries, including the EU, for example, the yellow vests riots were held in France recently), your colleagues who strive to objectively report on what is happening very often find themselves in dangerous situations and are exposed to violence, as it happened with the RT correspondent. Therefore, in bilateral contacts with all our partners, in countries where Russian journalists work, we will strive to ensure they are not discriminated against. Of course, it goes without saying that everyone must comply with the relevant legislation. Within international agencies, including the OSCE, we will also defend an equal attitude towards all journalists without attempts to mark some media outlets as “propaganda media” and journalists as “propagandists who do not reflect the goals of their profession.” This is very unfortunate.
This issue should be addressed not only because it happened and is happening in Belarus, but because it is a common problem. You know Europe’s attitude towards riots (yellow vests; and also in Germany in 2017, during the G20 summit in Hamburg, anti-globalists rallied and violated German laws). We could see how law enforcement agencies operate, including special forces. Today we did not discuss the Belarusian topic, but I am sure that we will be able to exchange views on this matter during the working breakfast.
Question: The distinct role of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) is always emphasised in the context of settling the Ukrainian domestic crisis. Do you think the observers can properly fulfil their mission? Do they objectively describe what is happening in the east of Ukraine?
Sergey Lavrov: We mentioned this earlier today. We closely cooperate with Germany in the Normandy format. As for the OSCE SMM, we actively support this mechanism that has a clear mandate for working in all of Ukraine, not only in Donbass, but also in other regions, monitoring respect for human rights and national minorities, as well as any attempt to promote neo-Nazi activity. Regrettably, the SMM has not paid due attention to this part of its mandate, and we have brought this up with the chief monitor of the SMM, Yasar Halit Cevik.
We also have some questions about certain aspects оf its activities, which primarily draws the attention of the international community (I’m referring to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements in Donbass). Thus, the SMM prefers to report on ceasefire violations and the shelling of civilian buildings in an abstract manner, that is, many cases of shelling reportedly take place in such and such period without mentioning which side attacked; a certain number of civilians are affected and a certain number of civilian structures are destroyed. We have insisted for more than a year that the SMM be more specific in its evaluations and report who is actually more to blame for shelling, who starts them and who responds to them. Using our representative office at the OSCE we have meticulously analysed SMM daily reports that become public. The analysis showed that over 80 percent of civilian facilities are shelled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Over 80 percent of the civilian victims, on both sides of the contact line, are among Donbass defenders. In other words, the Ukrainian Armed Forces bear the lion’s share of responsibility for ceasefire violations. I believe that to enable the OSCE member states and the entire international community to have an objective picture of how the Minsk Agreements are being implemented, the OSCE SMM must fulfil its commitment that it has failed to fulfil for more than a year now, and present a detailed, thematic, analytical report on who initiates ceasefire violations, who is shelling primarily civilian facilities and who is to blame for the death of civilians. We have sent the relevant reports to the Albanian OSCE Chairmanship, the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) on ceasefire, the OSCE Secretariat, and Mr Cevik who heads this mission and is personally responsible for the scrupulous observance of its mandate, objective presentation of information and any attempt to conceal the truth. All of us must be guided by facts rather than guesswork.
In his opening remarks Mr Maas mentioned the Paris summit. We fully support the need to fulfil the agreements reached but this is not at all the case at this point. I agree that all sides must take steps towards this goal – Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. In this context we would like to draw the attention of our German and French colleagues in the Normandy format, the co-authors of the Minsk Agreements, to statements made by Kiev. Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Reznikov, who represents Kiev in one of the structures in the Contact Group, said the Minsk Agreements have become obsolete. President Vladimir Zelensky said that he wants someone to explain to him what they mean and noted that each provision must be decoded. The newly appointed chief negotiator in the Contact Group, Leonid Kravchyuk, publicly regrets that Petr Poroshenko signed them but nonetheless agrees to lead the process on implementation. Many irregular things are happening in this context.
I agree, it is necessary to encourage the specific positive steps on the ground in every way. But these are only a limited number of agreements and we shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees. The main point is Kiev’s philosophical and conceptual approach to the Minsk Agreements and their status. We are hoping that Germany and France will still bring this home to their colleagues in Kiev and explain to them that there is no alternative to fulfilling what is written in the Minsk Agreements.
Question: You mentioned that the US is toughening its threats on sanctions against Nord Stream 2. Last week, a German company faced the imposition of sanctions for the first time. The political appeal for response measures in the US is becoming louder.
Do you expect Germany to take response measures against the US? If so, what measures could be taken?
A question to both ministers: Considering that the construction of Nord Stream 2 has slowed, do you believe it will be completed late this year or early next year?
Sergey Lavrov (answering after Mr Maas): I agree with what was said by the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Mr Maas. We consider exterritorial sanctions, as well as unilateral sanctions which not only the US and the EU resort to, inappropriate. The EU is implementing its own unilateral sanctions but as distinct from the US, it refrains from exterritorial use.
Then United States does not see any red lines or boundaries. While not bothering with diplomatic formalities, it pursues one simple goal – to have an opportunity to do anything it wants in world politics, the global economy and, in general, any field of human endeavour. This is what we are seeing. Washington has walked away from most multilateral treaties and any agreement or association that it may consider restricting its freedom of action. I think this is obvious. This is what we have to proceed from.
We continue to meet with the United States for pragmatic reasons. We are well aware of how Washington operates in the world, and they are not shy about it, something that is evident in the developments around Nord Stream 2. US officials say on the record that they will stop Nord Stream 2 at all costs because the US is ostensibly committed to ensuring Europe’s energy security.
If our European partners are willing to let the US decide their security issues, in energy or any other area, if the countries whose companies are involved in implementing Nord Stream 2 with a view to ensuring their energy security want the US to decide for them, this is their choice.
We see that Germany’s response is completely different. Germany has its position and it promotes it. I hear what is said in Washington at the top level: “It’s appalling! The US ensures Germany’s security and Germany is paying billions of dollars to the Russian Federation.” This is a serious distortion of facts. German Federal Minister Heiko Maas has confirmed that the link to NATO is important for German security. These are allied relations. Not that long ago, the German Chancellor, Ms Merkel said that NATO guarantees German security. We asked from whom Germany is defending itself, whether with NATO or on its own. We did not receive an answer, but in general this is part of the discussion of the principles on which it is necessary to conduct dialogue on security issues and the entire security system in the Euro-Atlantic region. I would like to emphasise again that Russian, German and other participants in Nord Stream 2 believe that the project must be completed. As I see it, there are grounds to believe that this will be done very soon.
Question: You mentioned attacks against Russian infrastructure facilities from German territory. Can you be more specific?
Sergey Lavrov: In Russia, the National Coordination Centre for Computer Incidents deals with computer affairs and cyber security. It has been operating for a fairly long time. It has a number of partners, including in Germany. From January of the past year to the end of last May this centre recorded 75 cases where Russian resources, including over 50 government institutions were attacked by hackers from the German internet segment. Notifications on all cases were sent to the relevant German organisations. Of 75 cases, we received only seven formal answers that had nothing to do with the substance of the matter. We suggested a professional analysis of each episode when we recorded hacker attacks against out structures, including government resources.
Today, we drew the attention of our German colleagues, who voiced concern over cyber security and declared an interest in developing a professional dialogue on settling cyber security issues, to the fact that disregard for our requests does not correspond with the desire they express at the political level. We have given them the statistics on these cases.
We recalled that we have conducted bilateral interdepartmental consultations with Germany on cyber security and information security in its political, military-political and applied dimensions. In 2018, a regular round of these consultations was cancelled by Germany, and they have not indicated a desire to resume them since. True, today we discussed the activities of the High-Level Working Group on Security Policy (this bilateral group exists and does a fairly useful job). In this context, we spoke about an opportunity to resume the dialogue on cyber security. I hope we will move from words to actions and will start a professional conversation.
As for the murder in Tiergarten, we would like to know the truth. Our relevant departments have sent their German colleagues everything they have. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that this information is not enough. But we would also like to receive some confirmation, some evidence regarding the statements of the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office that the Russian state is directly involved in this murder. We have not heard any specific reply so far.
Question: Prime Minister of Slovakia Igor Matovic has just commented on the expulsion of three Russian diplomats from his country by saying that Slovakia and Russia are friends, but Slovakia is a sovereign state, not a “banana republic” where the diplomatic rules can be ridiculed. How would you comment on the expulsion of the Russian diplomats?
Sergey Lavrov: I agree that Slovakia is a country friendly to Russia. We have never had any political problems.
I think that this is not about Slovakia. You have just quoted [Mr Matovic] as saying that Slovakia is a sovereign state. Quite unexpectedly, I read earlier today that the US State Department Spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus, had commended the Slovak authorities for expelling the Russian diplomats. I believe no other foreign spokespersons have commented on the situation in this way. Draw your own conclusions as to who may be implicated in or has a stake in sovereign Slovakia taking this decision with regard to the three Russian diplomats.
Question (translated from German): Do you share your German colleague’s opinion that German-Russian relations would benefit if disputed issues like the assassination in the Tiergarten were discussed openly?
There is another case of interest to the German judiciary which can also be traced to Russia. Could you confirm that the former Wirecard COO, Jan Marsalek, is currently in Germany?
Sergey Lavrov: I know nothing about Mr Jan Marsalek. You asked whether he is in Germany, but your question should certainly be addressed to someone else. I am not aware of his activities because he is not in the focus of foreign policy discussions.
As for an open discussion of any issues, be it the Tiergarten or something else, we have always been ready for this. It was not at our initiative that our Western partners (including Germany) cut a number of channels for contacts after 2014. Everyone knows this well. Among other things, the EU has discontinued all sectoral dialogues. We are taking a philosophical approach to this. If our partners are not ready, love cannot be forced.
Today, we were saying that the European Union intended to take another look at its Russia policy. When and if it evinces this desire, we will not be found wanting. We will be ready for an equal, honest and open dialogue on any issues of mutual interest, especially since there are quite a few of them. It is worth pointing out again that when we are told that the German Federal Public Prosecutor General has declared the Russian state as implicated in the Tiergarten assassination, we would like to get a confirmation of precisely this point. We have no proof whatsoever.
Where requests are concerned, as Mr Maas said, we have replied to a number of requests for legal aid, while on others we simply have no information, as the relevant Russian authorities tell us. Speaking about cybersecurity, I would like to remind you (I hope that the correspondent who asked the last question heard my answer to the previous question) that in 2018 there was a mechanism for consultations on cyber security, which the German side dismantled two years ago. Today we have heard that there is an interest in resuming this dialogue in some or other format. We will be ready to discuss such a possibility. We have a stake in this, especially as we would also like our German colleagues to say something in response to the 75 requests regarding hacker attacks on Russian institutions, including government agencies, launched from the German segment of the internet, requests we sent to Germany over the past year and a half.
I am glad that today we are not just openly discussing matters of much interest for the public but are at last beginning to comprehend the need for having relevant professional channels, where the conversation will be held just because Russia and Germany are partners and good friends and do not want their cooperation to be overshadowed by anything, rather than in the context of home policy interests of this or that country, or in the context of certain electoral considerations. I am confident that it is in our power to cut short any attempts to undermine this cooperation. Russia, at any rate, is ready for this.