Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik, East Sarajevo, December 14, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held constructive talks in a traditionally friendly atmosphere. This year, I met with Mr Dodik in June and we spoke by phone several months ago. Today we have met again. I am delighted to be in East Sarajevo.
Republika Srpska is an old and good partner of Russia. We highly value our friendly and trust-based relations with Banja Luka. We stand for the further development of our cooperation, and believe that this is in the common interests of the people of Russia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the goal of national reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and stronger peace and stability in the Balkans.
The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Agreement, was signed 25 years ago today. We spoke in detail about this. We share the opinion that this agreement constitutes the basis of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state, and that there is no alternative to the constitutional principles of equality of the three constituent peoples and two entities.
As a guarantor of the Dayton Agreement, Russia wholeheartedly supports its fundamental principles when it comes to the internal organisation of BiH and invariably encourages all parties, in Bosnia and beyond it, to comply with them. These principles stipulate that any problems arising in BiH should be settled through an internal political dialogue based on mutual respect, search for a balance of interests, compromise, consensus and full compliance with the principle of external non-interference in Bosnia’s affairs. A long pending issue concerns the transfer of full responsibility for Bosnia and Herzegovina to legitimate local representatives. In this context, the preservation of the Office of the High Representative contrary to all of the previous agreements is not just an anachronism. I believe that it discredits our Western colleagues, who insist on the preservation of this institution. It is a symbol of a foreign protectorate over independent Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been a member of the UN Security Council many years ago but remains a Western protectorate to this day.
I would like to seriously caution some of our partners against trying to destroy the Dayton architecture. We have noticed such attempts, which are fraught with grave consequences, whatever the reasons behind them. I took part in the talks held to coordinate the Dayton Agreement. I know how fragile the balance is and how important every element of this fundamental achievement of the international community is. Removing even a single element can threaten the entire agreement and provoke unpredictable consequences. The Dayton Agreement in no way hinders the development of relations between that state and its foreign partners, including European integration structures. Any decisions on the speed of movement towards European integration should be made on the basis of strict compliance with the Dayton principles. We will respect any decision. It is in the same spirit that we regard the choice of military-political neutrality by Republika Srpska. We regard this as a responsible position based on an understanding of the current complexities in Europe and the need to avoid any moves that could aggravate confrontation, deepen the dividing lines and move them further east, which, regrettably, NATO members continue to do.
We talked in detail about our bilateral relations. Large Russian companies are working in Republika Srpska to implement the ambitious investment projects of Zarubezhneft, Sberbank and Gazprom. These projects are expanding opportunities for the economic and social development of Republika Srpska. These projects include forward-looking plans, which will be gradually implemented.
We pointed out that Russia provided assistance to Republika Srpska at the initial stage of the spread of the coronavirus infection and expressed willingness to provide assistance also to other agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We also discussed the possibility of interaction in the creation and use of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Our education and humanitarian ties are growing rapidly. We are grateful to our Serbian friends for their consistent support of the Russian language: the number of Russian language courses is increasing. Ties between Russian regions and Republika Srpska municipalities are becoming more numerous. They involve Moscow, St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and other constituent entities of Russia. We discussed the implementation of Mr Dodik’s initiative to build a Russian-Serbian church and a spiritual education centre in Banja Luka.
It is of crucial importance that we agree on the inviolability of the international legal results of World War II and have been acting consistently against their revision and the glorification of Nazism.
We exchanged views on the current developments in other parts of the Balkan region. We share the view that there is no alternative to ensuring peace and stability through political dialogue and respect for national interests based on international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It is vitally important to help the regional countries settle their problems through national dialogue without any attempts to draw them into serving others’ unilateral geopolitical interests.
I have no doubt that practical steps to implement the agreements reached during today’s talks will help promote cooperation between the Russian Federation, Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole.
Question: Do you think the new mandate of the Russian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina will not include the Office of the High Representative, considering the complicated relations in BiH, in which the key role is played by the Peace Implementation Council, whose decisions Russian ambassadors to BiH often do not agree with? They openly express their opinion and defend the inherent principles of the Dayton Agreement. Why was Russia accused of having a destructive influence on the Balkans?
Sergey Lavrov: I would like to highlight that in your question about the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the way in which decisions on its future are made you mentioned the High Representative and the Peace Implementation Council but you didn’t mention the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the constituent peoples or ethnic groups. In other words, your question implies that external players should continue to deal with all Bosnia’s problems. This is what our Western colleagues – the EU and the United States – have always wanted and still want.
Unlike them, we are convinced that Bosnians, including Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, are responsible people who are fully aware of their national interests and can independently decide the problems of their single state.
If some Bosnian political forces, from whatever camp, believe that it would be better to rely on external assistance and that the external forces will prevail and force other BiH peoples to take foreign orders anyway, I don’t think that these representatives act in the fundamental interests of the Bosnian people.
As for the Office of the High Representative, I have already said that it is an anachronism and its preservation for many years is proof of utter disregard for the Bosnian peoples. The Peace Implementation Council and its Steering Board can play a positive role, of course, but only if they try to create an environment in which all Bosnian parties will be able to reach common ground more efficiently, while the non-regional players will not tell the Bosnian parties what to do. Russia respects the independence and wisdom of Bosnian peoples and would like to recommend that all the other external forces and actors do the same.
Question: The so-called creeping intervention has been gaining momentum in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the past 20 years via the Office of the High Representative. What do you think about the position Croats as a constituent entity should assume in this context?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe that the Croatian people have an integral right to uphold their interests and rights within the unified state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I believe that since the Dayton Agreement calls for and stipulates equal rights of the three constituent peoples, the representatives of the Croatian, Bosniak and Serbian people in the Presidency must enjoy the full trust of these constituent peoples. The sooner the external players accept this, the better it will be for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future. I am sure that this is possible to do within the framework of strict compliance with the Dayton Agreement. I know about the ongoing discussions on amending the election legislation. I believe that Bosnians themselves can come to an agreement on a fair solution to this truly fundamental issue.
Question: You said the other day that Russia continued working on a concept of a summit of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. How are you proceeding in light of the transition of political power in the United States? Will the situation become clearer after January 20, 2021?
Sergey Lavrov: We have sent our proposals to Russia’s partners for formulating the concept of President Putin’s idea for a summit of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. We have received positive responses from some of them. Several other partners are still analysing our proposals. We understand that Washington will need some time for this. We are waiting patiently for their response.
Question: The Electoral College started its work today in the United States. If it confirms Joe Biden’s victory, will this be enough for Moscow to recognise him as the new President of the United States?
Sergey Lavrov: When it comes to the ongoing processes in the United States in the context of the presidential election, I would like to point out that it is not Moscow that can recognise or not recognise any candidate as the winner. The winner will be declared president in accordance with US laws. This is what we will proceed from.
Question: It has just been announced that the United States will adopt sanctions against Turkey for buying the Russian S-400 air defence systems. Can you comment on this?
Sergey Lavrov: I would like to say that this information did not come to light just now. The United States has been talking about this for more than a year, and so this has come as no surprise to us. This is yet another proof of an arrogant attitude to international law and part of the illegal unilateral restrictions which the United States has been using for decades. This does nothing to enhance US prestige on the international stage as a responsible member of the international division of labour, including in the sphere of military-technical cooperation.