Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Croatian newspaper Vecernji List, published on October 27, 2020
Question: In your opinion, what caused the stagnation in Russia-Croatia relations? What are the current obstacles in the way of stepping up cooperation and expanding it to the level of our neighbours, Slovenia and Serbia? How can these complications be removed?
Sergey Lavrov: I would not go as far as describe our bilateral relations as being stagnant. Russia and Croatia maintain regular and advanced political dialogue. In 2017 and 2018, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic visited Russia at Vladimir Putin’s invitation. These were very useful, productive meetings. We maintain close contacts at the foreign ministry level. I have had a number of telephone conversations with my colleague Gordan Grlic Radman this year alone.
There is also forward momentum in our practical cooperation. Last year, the Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation held a meeting in Moscow. We planned to hold this year’s gathering in Croatia, but the pandemic has changed our plans. It will take place after the epidemiological situation stabilises. Of course, Croatian companies continue working in Russia, and the same is true for Russian companies in Croatia. In 2019, trade between our countries exceeded 1.5 billion dollars. Croatia remains a very popular tourist destination for Russians.
The sanctions spiral inspired by Brussels and a number of Russophobic EU countries at the direct orders from Washington remain a serious obstacle for further strengthening Russia-Croatia ties. But this is a different matter. They have been stepping up this anti-Russia policy lately. I hope that our European colleagues will have the wisdom, vision and simply common sense, so that our dialogue with the European Union and its member states is fully restored based on the principles of neighbourly relations, good faith, predictability and openness.
Question: What does Russia think about the LNG terminal on Krk Island? The United States insisted on building it for many years. Croatia’s PPD bought 2 bcm of natural gas from Gazprom last year, and there has been much talk about Croatia’s excessive dependence on Russian gas.
Sergey Lavrov: Russia respects the right of any country to follow its own energy policy and choose the best energy supply sources. We have nothing against competition. That said, this should be fair competition based on market principles instead of Cold-War-era political slogans.
The project to build an LNG terminal on Krk Island is Croatia’s internal affair. If our Croatian colleagues believe that liquefied gas would be better for their economy compared to cheaper pipeline gas, so be it. Everyone has the right to decide what is profitable and what is not.
Our country has been a reliable and honest energy supplier for many decades now, and officials in Zagreb are perfectly aware of this. They also know that there is no political rationale behind these gas contracts. This is nothing but business. Of course, we heard allegations that Croatia and other European countries depend on Russian gas, but we have seen nothing but attempts to sow groundless doubt. We do not impose anything on anyone, and we responsibly perform all the contracts we have.
Question: Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has been deeply involved in Ukrainian matters ever since his work in the European Parliament and has promoted the Croatian experience of the Danube region’s peaceful reintegration as a model for the reintegration of Donbass into Ukraine. How would you comment on this initiative, and did it have a negative impact on relations between Russia and Croatia?
Sergey Lavrov: Concerning the situation in eastern Ukraine, it already has an uncontested basis for a peaceful settlement, the Minsk Package of Measures agreed upon in February 2015. This document was approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2202, which made it a part of international law. Now all that is left to do is fully implement what the parties agreed on more than five years ago following hours of a diplomatic marathon. We can see no need for any additional external initiatives.
Question: Where do you believe Russia and Croatia have common interest regarding international affairs? In South-Eastern Europe, for example, in B&H? On what matters can we cooperate?
Sergey Lavrov: I would say our interests coincide in general. I am confident that both Russia and Croatia are interested in strengthening international peace, security and stability, in ensuring sustainable development, and in political and diplomatic solutions to numerous crises and conflicts.
South-Eastern Europe remains a natural, historical environment for Russian-Croatian interaction, a region where our joint efforts should support processes that imply deeper mutual understanding between regional participants, building a genuine national reconciliation system based on common sense and effective international agreements.
You mentioned Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the topics for discussion with our Bosnian partners is the Dayton Agreement, which will see its twenty-fifth anniversary on December 14. We are confident that the Dayton accords retain their relevance; it formalised the fundamental principles of sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of B&H, equality of the three state-forming peoples and two entities with broad constitutional powers that are crucial for maintaining peace, stability and security, and promoting development.
I think our approaches are consonant with Croatia’s position. That country has signed the Agreement, it bears its share of responsibility for its implementation and I do not think many others are as interested in its fundamental postulates being implemented. Russia is ready to provide all kinds of support when it comes to this.
Question: Russia is being frequently accused of interfering in elections, in particular in the US, of masterminding cyberattacks (even last year’s Croatian Security and Intelligence Agency report mentioned those attacks), of using false news and misinformation, of poisoning its political opponents, Alexey Navalny being the most recent case, and of destabilising the Middle East and the Balkans. What is the reason for this? How do you respond to such accusations and how do you intend to rectify what is going on?
Sergey Lavrov: Unfortunately, we have to admit that recently, Washington and a number of EU capitals have redoubled their efforts to contain Russia's development; they are trying to punish us for an independent foreign policy, for consistently upholding our national interests. To justify their actions, the introduction of ever new anti-Russia sanctions, they throw in various accusations and insinuations, including those you just mentioned. At the same time, no one has shown any facts or evidence. This rhetoric is always being kept at the ‘highly likely’ innuendo level; those claims are based on fabricated accusations and run contrary to even elementary logic. All the proposals we make to set up a professional dialogue on any concerns remain without any reaction. So we have no other choice but to conclude we cannot count on a mutually respectful consideration of the emerging problems, because the West has made it a rule to talk with Russia based on the presumption of its guilt. Consider Berlin's arrogant refusal to respond to numerous requests from our Prosecutor General's Office on the so-called Navalny case, a direct violation of Germany's obligations under the 1959 European Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. Instead of respecting this international legal document, representatives of Germany and France initiated another batch of illegitimate EU sanctions against Russian citizens. All this deplorably and clearly illustrates the inability of the European Union to adequately assess what is happening in the world, and its tendency to put itself beyond the law.
We never avoid responding proportionately to the anti-Russia attacks by our Western colleagues who seem to have forgotten what diplomacy is and have sunk to the level of vulgar rudeness. Our retaliatory steps in the US and EU are well known.
At the same time, we continue to pursue a multi-vector foreign policy, to build up interaction with those who are open to honest joint work on the principles of equality, mutual respect and a balance of interests. The overwhelming majority of such international partners we have are in Eurasia, Africa and Latin America. Among them are our friends and allies in the EAEU, CSTO, CIS, BRICS and SCO.