Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, Moscow, October 14, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to welcome again my colleague who is visiting Moscow as Foreign Minister for the first time. And, as he told me, this is also his first time in this building that he likes. I hope that the interior design and our talks will also facilitate further progress in relations between Russia and Italy.
We met in Rome last February. Since then, the external background for bilateral cooperation has not improved. It has actually deteriorated due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has also largely occurred because of the aggravation of trends towards confrontation in world affairs, in part, in relations between the West and Russia.
At the same time, we can state that despite all these difficulties we manage to maintain regular contact, including at the top level. This year alone, President of Russia Vladimir Putin had eight telephone conversations with Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte. They personally coordinated many areas of cooperation, including our assistance to our Italian colleagues in their efforts to overcome the first huge wave of the pandemic in the Apennines.
Today, we reaffirmed our mutual efforts to consistently restore cooperation in all key areas. We can already present some results. In part, I mentioned my visit to Italy last February; it was for the regular meeting of defence and foreign ministers in the two-plus-two format after a big pause. A very useful discussion took place at that meeting. Today, we confirmed the requirement for this mechanism. As soon as the epidemiological situation permits, we hope to hold a regular meeting in this two-plus-two format in Russia.
We also noted the important role of the joint Russian-Italian Council for Economic, Industrial and Currency-Financial Cooperation. Today, it held its regular, 17th meeting in Skolkovo. It was attended by its co-chairs – Luigi Di Maio and Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov. As I understand, the participants reached specific agreements that will allow us to further develop our trade and economic cooperation.
We also have mechanisms for discussing joint efforts to counter new challenges and threats. Today, we also discussed the schedule and format of a regular meeting of this group.
We share the general positive assessment of the steady development of inter-parliamentary ties. A regular meeting of the High Russian-Italian Inter-Parliamentary Commission is on the agenda. It was postponed due to the coronavirus. But last year, foreign affairs committees of the upper chambers of our parliaments presented parallel reports on developing bilateral relations, and the work on the further advance of this cooperation continues now.
We highly praised the level of humanitarian cooperation. We have held many events during the past year. Some of them were conducted in a traditional format, while others took place online, which makes it possible to attract a big audience to these cultural and humanitarian events. Russian director Andrey Konchalovsky’s film “Dear Comrades” won a special prize at the Venice Film Festival last September.
The Russian-Italian Civil Society Dialogue Forum continues playing a major role in building up our cooperation. Today, we reaffirmed our support for this important forum. Our cooperation in many scientific areas is also making steady headway.
We discussed key international and regional issues, paying special attention to relations between Russia and the European Union (EU). The state of this is a source of serious concern in Russia. We set forth our views of the current state of affairs. We emphasised that unfriendly moves by Brussels, especially a number of Russophobic EU members, undermine the overall potential of Russia-EU cooperation. At the same time, we appreciate and note the efforts of our Italian partners to maintain the existing constructive potential of our relations although we understand that not everything depends on individual EU members.
We talked about Ukraine. Here we share a common position on the lack of an alternative to the implementation of the Minsk agreements. For our part, we quoted facts that show the destructive position of the Kiev authorities on undermining this important international document.
We discussed cooperation in the G20, including and primarily in terms of Italy’s Chairmanship of this format. Italy will begin fulfilling these functions on December 1 of this year after a G20 regular summit in Saudi Arabia. We are interested in the closest cooperation on the many priorities that Italy will promote. We will facilitate the success of our Italian friends in fulfilling this function.
We spoke about the situation around Belarus and the Libyan crisis, emphasising that there is no alternative to overcoming these through political and diplomatic means.
We will continue maintaining contact between our foreign ministries. We have a consultation schedule that we are fulfilling, in part, in the online format.
Today, my colleague invited me to visit Italy in December to attend the Mediterranean Dialogue conference. I believe this will be one more opportunity to continue our discussions in the interests of Russia and Italy, our peoples and pan-European cooperation.
Thank you for your attention.
Question (for Luigi Di Maio): The international situation has become even more unstable in the past few months with the current conflicts in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. How can Russia and Italy cooperate to resolve these problems, starting with Libya?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Di Maio): I support what Mr Di Maio said. We have been interested in settling the Libyan crisis since it broke out. It should not be forgotten that it was triggered by NATO’s aggressive adventure in crude violation of the relevant UN Security Council resolution, when the North Atlantic Alliance bombed the sovereign state of Libya. We are still trying to put together the fragments of this broken vase through a concerted effort. As I have said, from the very start of this crisis Russia has maintained relations with all Libyan parties without exception: in the east and the west, with representatives of the Government of National Accord, the House of Representatives in Tobruk, and the leaders of the Libyan National Army, to name a few. We also took part in all international efforts to create conditions for an inclusive process that must be organised and run by the Libyans themselves.
Many international conferences in France, Italy, the UAE and a number of other countries, in which Russia has also taken part, were aimed at reaching these goals. The Berlin conference in January 2019 played a special role in this respect. We contributed to preparations for this and insisted on inviting the main parties and Libya’s neighbours because initially the German organisers did not plan it like this. As a result, the participants adopted a number of useful documents that were subsequently developed in the relevant UN Security Council resolution. Now all our efforts are aimed at carrying out this resolution. A number of mediators are trying to facilitate this: Russia, Italy, regional countries (Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia) and Germany as the initiator of the Berlin conference. The main goal is to move all these efforts in the same direction so that none of the Libyan parties are isolated. On the contrary, it is necessary to ensure their participation in the political process following which the balance of interests of all Libyan regions will be considered. This includes three historical Libyan regions and the political forces that represent them. We support the adoption of all these measures under UN aegis. Events in Geneva are being prepared following a series of meetings held with the involvement of mediators and representatives from the east and west of Libya, including in Cairo. The most important goal is for all of us to make a coordinated effort. Italy and Russia understand the need for cooperation in this respect.
In conclusion on the Libya issue, I would like to emphasise our complete agreement on the need for the appointment of a UN Secretary-General special envoy to Libya. This position has been vacant since March. It is no secret that the US’s position is the main obstacle to this. The American delegates literally try to stop the actions of the Secretary-General who was supposed to make the decision and submit it to the UN Security Council some time ago.
Question: In response to the European sanctions, which I believe will follow in the wake of the “Navalny case,” you said yesterday that Russia will have to suspend its contacts with European foreign ministers. Does this mean that today’s meeting with Luigi Di Maio may be the last with an EU foreign minister?
Sergey Lavrov: The EU is increasingly replacing the art of diplomacy with sanctions. Clearly, the bad example of the United States is contagious. We see this not just as a bad example by the Americans, but also as a result of direct US pressure on its European allies and colleagues. Indeed, what we are saying now is that we want to understand what the EU is trying to accomplish. But this EU policy will not remain without consequences.
We see EU confirmation of the principle that only full compliance with the Minsk agreements can lead to normal relations between Moscow and Brussels. However, President Zelensky has noted that the Minsk agreements are only important to him as a means of maintaining the sanctions on Russia, and that he will only support them after they are revised, both in substance and with regard to the sequence of steps outlined in these agreements following the Paris summit with the participation of the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. With this EU approach in mind, where it completely ignores the real state of affairs regarding the implementation of the Minsk agreements and the fact that they have been blocked by official Kiev, we cannot disregard the statements coming from Brussels. In particular, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that Russia has adopted a position that openly undermines EU interests, and that restoring the strategic partnership between Russia and the EU is out of the question before Russia changes its behaviour. I have already covered the Ukraine crisis, which is one of the key crises now, as it unfolds, and who precisely is blocking the implementation of the peace agreements.
We are seeing similarly unfounded accusations in the case of Mr Navalny, which you mentioned. We hear our partners say that establishing the facts is of paramount importance. The trouble is that the facts concerning Mr Navalny’s time in Russia, on a Russian plane and in the Omsk hospital are well known and have been established by us inasmuch as we could, since several people involved in this incident have fled to Great Britain and Germany, and we do not know of their whereabouts. We are asking to be granted access to these people, but no constructive response is coming our way. We do not have the necessary facts. The West has them, but we are denied access to them. Yesterday, during a conversation with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, and today during talks with Luigi Di Maio, we heard a reiteration of the need to establish the facts. First off, the other side has no facts. Second, as we know, during a Monday meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, the participants discussed the need for imposing sanctions, but Mr Borrell assured me that before such a decision can be made, it is imperative to study the facts that Germany and France promised to provide as part of a certain technical group that is now being created. We very much hope that these facts will be presented not only to a narrow group of European countries, but also directly to the party that is being, without proof, accused of all conceivable sins and crimes. Moreover, this is a requirement of the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. We have sent corresponding inquiries to Germany, France and Sweden, whose laboratories conducted these tests, as well as to the OPCW. Until such facts are presented, we cannot take seriously the “incantations” that were clearly written using the same language that we keep hearing and that is used by all EU members in their contacts with us. More than anyone else, we are interested in establishing the truth. We very much hope that our colleagues in the West, primarily, Germany, will not shirk their international legal obligations.