Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan Abdulaziz Kamilov, Moscow, March 2, 2021
As always, the talks with my Uzbek colleague, Abdulaziz Kamilov, took place in a constructive and friendly atmosphere. We reviewed in detail the entire range of Russian-Uzbek relations and stated that, despite the challenging pandemic situation, we have managed to maintain contacts at all levels, including in-person meetings.
With regard to bilateral cooperation, we focused on our preparations for the state visit by President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Russia. We have several dozen bilateral documents almost ready to be signed. The forthcoming second meeting of the joint commission at the heads of government level will make a special contribution to successful preparations for the summit.
We highly appreciate the inter-parliamentary interaction and contact between various departments, including the foreign ministries. Our cooperation in culture and education is expanding. We supported the Klass project initiated by the Ministry of Education of Russia, the Ministry of Public Education of Uzbekistan and Alisher Usmanov’s Art, Science and Sport Charity Foundation which is designed to improve the quality of teaching the Russian language and general education subjects in Russian.
For our part, we reiterated Russia's commitment to continue to provide ample opportunities for Uzbekistani young people to receive a higher education in Russia. Twelve branches of Russian universities operate in Uzbekistan and enjoy the support of the country's leadership. About 35,000 Uzbek students study in Russia, of which about 9,000 have received grants from the Russian Government.
We also talked about reinstating labour migration at its former levels, the epidemic situation permitting. We have specific agreements that allow the corresponding services to coordinate their actions.
We discussed mutual assistance in fighting the pandemic and noted the importance of the earliest possible rollout of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in Uzbekistan. I would like to take this opportunity and to thank our friends for the fact that the vaccine was quickly registered in the Republic of Uzbekistan.
We have overlapping or very close positions on key international regional issues. Like our Uzbek colleagues, we are in favour of resolving crises and conflicts by peaceful means based on international law with the central and coordinating role of the UN.
We agreed to continue to coordinate our actions at the UN, the CIS, the SCO and the OSCE.
We welcome Uzbekistan’s energetic, concrete and effective contribution to our common integration associations. Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our friends on their successful CIS chairmanship in 2020. The adoption of the CIS Economic Development Strategy up to 2030 and the adoption of an action plan for implementing this Strategy were the main accomplishments of this chairmanship.
We also welcome the fact that Uzbekistan has obtained observer status with the EAEU. We consider this the first step on the path of moving closer to the EAEU. We believe that Tashkent will benefit from Eurasian integration, and observer status will make it possible for it to fully and comprehensively assess these prospects. In turn, Russia is prepared to provide its Uzbek friends with concrete practical assistance in order to help it expand relations with the EAEU.
We covered in detail the state of affairs in neighbouring Afghanistan. We are convinced that the conflict cannot be settled through military means (history has proved this many times), but exclusively through political and diplomatic means. We agreed that this work must be continued with the use of tried and tested mechanisms, including the SCO-Afghanistan contact group and the Moscow format consultations on Afghanistan. We have taken note of Uzbekistan’s focus on the mobilisation of multilateral efforts in support of a peaceful settlement. A very important conference was held in Tashkent a couple of years ago, in which I had the honour to represent the Russian Federation.
We were very interested in learning the details about Uzbekistan’s initiative to hold an international conference titled, “Central and South Asia: Regional Interconnectedness. Challenges and Opportunities.” Mr Kamilov kindly invited me to take part in this. We will definitely help you make it a success and make sure it leads to practical results.
The talks were productive overall. I’m grateful to my colleague and friend for the traditionally trust-based and friendly conversation on all matters. I am convinced that this is the only way for us to promote our relations of alliance and strategic partnership.
Question: It was noted that the migrant flow from Uzbekistan to Russia has gone down due to the pandemic. How do Moscow and Tashkent plan to resolve this problem?
Sergey Lavrov: I mentioned the impact of the epidemiological restrictions. This has affected not only guest workers but also students. Many of them went home when in-person studies were cancelled. Now they will be gradually restored.
The emergency response centre has already issued recommendations: it has been up to each school to resume personal studies since last February. A special algorithm was adopted for guest workers. It is common to the citizens of all countries that work or study in Russia. Employers are required to send an application for guest workers, which must be approved at the regional level. The Russian regions are entitled to decide on imposing and lifting epidemiological restrictions. With due account for the requirements of the emergency response centre, each region can return or invite guest workers based on an employer’s application.
The large-scale vaccination against the coronavirus will be launched in Uzbekistan in a couple of days. Today, a delegation of the Health Ministry of Uzbekistan is here and is working with their Russian colleagues. Progress will be achieved in all of these areas. We will soon return to the normal criteria and terms of labour migration.
The issue of producing the Sputnik V vaccine is Uzbekistan is being considered. It was registered there ahead of schedule. We appreciate the cooperation in this regard.
Question: The media report that the US may impose more sanctions on Russia today because of the Alexei Navalny case. What can you tell us about this? Will Moscow react to this move?
Sergey Lavrov: We will react to this by all means. Nobody has cancelled the rules of diplomacy. Reciprocity is one of these. There is not much to say in this respect. We have already repeatedly expressed our attitude to the unlawful unilateral sanctions that are introduced by our American colleagues and the EU countries that follow in their wake without practically any excuse. They have nothing to present by way of substantiating the alleged poisoning of Navalny in any way; those who treated him conceal the facts that could throw light on what happened to him and instead of honestly cooperating they are economical with the truth. When they start “punishing” us (as they believe), such decisions do not reflect well on them. We will respond to this, by all means.
Question: On Monday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reported that the EU is working on a programme to introduce so-called COVID passports or certificates for those who have been vaccinated. This programme may be presented this month. What does Russia think of this initiative? How might it affect the prospects of resuming travel with the European countries?
Sergey Lavrov: As far as I know, this is still an idea that is being developed. As your colleagues in Europe write, this idea has received an ambivalent response from the European countries. The attitude towards this bureaucracy in Brussels is not just ambiguous but is also very serious. Many people say that this idea contradicts the rules of democracy because the EU has already decided that vaccination is voluntary. Introduction of a COVID passport will be at variance with this principle. So people will be forced to be vaccinated if they want to travel. Meanwhile, in Europe people can hardly imagine their life without travel in the EU countries.
Let’s see what it ends up with. I hope a decision will be made with consideration for the interests of the EU members rather than imposed on them. Voluntary vaccination is a very serious approach.
I cannot say at this point how this would affect opportunities for Russian citizens. We must wait for the final solution to this issue. At our level, we informed our EU colleagues that we hope for the adoption of a decision that will not discriminate against our people. It will be possible to be more specific when this programme acquires at least a tentative outline.