Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde, Moscow, November 19, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
We reviewed our interaction at the OSCE, where Ms Linde is currently holding the post of a Chairperson-in-Office. We welcomed Sweden’s commitment to regularly compare notes on OSCE matters in this capacity. Since our February meeting, when Madam Minister was here on her first visit as an OSCE top official, the situation within the OSCE space has not improved and the problems have remained. We recognise that the state of affairs can be described as a deepening crisis of trust between the participating states and is characterised by the domination of confrontational logic over constructive dialogue and cooperation, which was the purpose of creating the OSCE.
We emphasised the fact that attempts to use the OSCE to interfere in other states’ internal affairs are a dangerous path to follow. These attempts must be nipped in the bud. Due to its wide geographic coverage, comprehensive approach to security and consensus rule, the OSCE can play a truly significant part in identifying collective responses to common challenges and threats. To tap this major unifying potential, the OSCE must improve the efficiency of its institutions and field presences and redress certain geographical and themed imbalances in its activities. The thought process on this topic got a start in Vienna. We exchanged views on how to improve the OSCE’s effectiveness. For many years now, Russia, in conjunction with its allies and partners, has been promoting a package of specific proposals on reforming the OSCE so that it can fully justify its intergovernmental nature.
The focus was on the OSCE’s role in resolving the Ukraine crisis. We have emphasised the fact that there is no alternative to the full, consistent and comprehensive implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures. We believe that the Chairperson-in-Office should facilitate a direct dialogue between the parties to the conflict, specifically, Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, including through its Special Representative in Ukraine and in the Contact Group. This is exactly what is required by the Minsk agreements, in which the need to coordinate and find common ground between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk on matters such as the special status of these territories, the holding of elections, and much more, is written in black and white.
We look forward to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission ensuring an impartial approach to observing the state of affairs throughout Ukraine, where the situation with human rights, especially with regard to the linguistic and educational rights of ethnic minorities, is deplorable. We call on the related international organisations to push for repealing discriminatory laws, but Kiev continues to stubbornly stick to its agenda. We are not seeing any serious efforts on the part of our Western colleagues to cut short these gross violations of Ukraine’s constitution and Kiev’s numerous obligations under international and European conventions. The SMM should work directly with Donetsk and Lugansk, without which it is impossible to ensure the necessary weight and authority of the international observers in the eyes of the people in those republics, or the implementation of the Minsk agreements. We are interested in being able to talk about the successful holding of this mission at the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting to be held in Stockholm on December 2-3.
We briefly discussed the draft decisions circulated by the Swedish Chairmanship; work on these is in progress now. Russia has contributed to the list of draft final documents of the Ministerial Council meeting. We prepared a draft declaration on countering the use of the internet by terrorists. We want the decisions of the Ministerial Council meeting in Stockholm to help unite the participating states in the search for ways to respond to the challenges that are common to all without exception.
We reviewed Russia-Sweden bilateral relations. Despite some obvious natural differences, we have a common understanding on positive opportunities for cooperation in areas of mutual interest: trade, the economy, investment, environmental protection, culture and education, healthcare and social support.
We expressed a high opinion of the Russian-Swedish intergovernmental supervisory committee on trade and economic cooperation, which has resumed its activity after an eight-year suspension. The committee outlined plans for the future at a regular session in Stockholm last month.
There are certain problems with the operation of our companies in Sweden. I discussed this with Madam Minister last time. We will hope that the intergovernmental committee can remove these problems. We are doing all we can to create favourable conditions for Swedish businesses in our country.
We are preparing for an important event. I am referring to the Russian Seasons cultural festival to be held in Sweden, Denmark and Norway next year. We hope this festival will contribute to bringing our civil societies and our nations closer together.
There is room for cooperation in the Baltic Sea region and the north of Europe. Tensions are escalating there as well, in part, due to NATO’s increasing activities in the direct vicinity of the Russian border. We want the cooperation formats that have taken shape in the north to be used for promoting a common agenda. This also applies to our Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in the next two years, where we maintain pragmatic and useful cooperation with Sweden and the other members of this association.
We have repeatedly suggested to our Swedish colleagues adopting measures to promote dialogue on regional stability and security in the Baltic. We propose returning to the format that was instrumental in the past – five north European countries, three Baltic states and the Russian Federation (5+3+1).
I believe we had a useful conversation and will continue it during our working lunch.
Question (retranslated from English): Is Russia going to undertake anything to amend its “sad” relations with Western democracies? If these relations remain in the same deplorable state, will Russia be worried about that?
Sergey Lavrov: This has become the customary approach for our Western colleagues. You see, this has already been inculcated into the minds and self-perception of neutral and moderate countries like Sweden, and this line of thinking has penetrated the minds of media representatives. Asking in a demanding tone what Russia will undertake in order to please Western democracies is an unseemly approach. This totally undermines the foundations underlying the OSCE, which Ms Linde is representing today, and the foundations on which the modern architecture of international relations created after the victory over Nazism in WWII is built upon.
Today, it exists in the form of the UN, the values of which are set forth in the UN Charter. The Charter clearly states that the sovereign equality of states is the main principle. No one can approach another country as good or bad or as deserving of ostracism. International law says that all countries without exception must enjoy respect. I am not going to explain in detail why, in addition to these international legal arguments, Western democracies cannot and are not entitled to talk about their superiority based on ongoing developments. We have already been through the times where, using absolutely democratic elections, certain Western democracies ended up in a situation where the country turned into a monster threatening everyone with its ideology of hate and actually using it in practice. I sincerely urge you to respect the history of your country and today’s realities.
We are open to dialogue with our Western colleagues. President Vladimir Putin spoke about this in detail yesterday at an expanded meeting of the Foreign Ministry Collegium. Let’s not turn a blind eye to the gross provocations that we observe daily on the part of NATO and, increasingly often, on the part of the EU as it attempts to play up to Ukrainian militarists, to organise military training missions for Ukrainians, to prepare the Ukrainian army for actions which it constantly threatens to employ claiming that it will take Donbass by force and is unwilling to fulfill the Minsk agreements, and to encroach on Russian Crimea. Ukraine’s bellicose rhetoric and military preparations do not seem to evoke any principled assessment on behalf of the West.
We can see what’s going on there. Rest assured that we will never allow our legitimate national interests to be infringed upon in any way. We have everything we need to ensure this. Regarding Russia’s relations with the West going forward, we have the UN Charter and the OSCE, which state that everyone should strive to achieve a balance of interests rather than meekly agree with what the West is telling us to do. There is a lot of attention on Sweden with its traditions of neutrality, which they are trying to undermine in every possible way, and Finland; they are trying to involve these countries in NATO exercises, including in exercises with a “legend” that is openly directed against the Russian Federation.
I hope that the good traditions of our good neighbour will prevail. Sweden will play the part of a country that promotes consensus of agreements and a unifying agenda, rather than think in terms of why Russia is disobedient in its relations with the democratic West.
We remain open to dialogue, but exclusively an equal and mutually respectful dialogue, and the search for a balance of interests.
Question: Could the recent escalation between Azerbaijan and Armenia affect the peaceful settlement? What is preventing, in principle, the unblocking of transport and economic ties, and also delimitation? Only recently the parties declared their willingness to move in this direction, and almost signed a peace treaty. Regarding a tripartite meeting, the Kremlin said that both consensus and the meeting require agreement from the three parties. Does it mean that there is no consensus?
Sergey Lavrov: I will give a brief reply. You said the Kremlin’s comments regarding the possibility of a future tripartite meeting came down to the idea that such a meeting requires consensus. I can only confirm that to reach a consensus, everybody who plans to meet, needs to agree to this. I am sure that such a meeting will be held.