Council of Europe (CoE)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei, Minsk, June 19, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to our Belarusian friends for the warm welcome accorded to our delegation.
I would like to take this opportunity to once again congratulate all our colleagues and all the Belarusian people on the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, which is our common legacy. During today’s reception, President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko confirmed that he will attend the Victory Parade, at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to be held in Moscow on June 24.
We and our Belarusian friends share the idea that our joint task is to preserve and protect the truth about the events of those years. We emphasised that no attempts to rewrite history, destruction of memorials to Soviet soldiers or recurrence of neo-Nazism will be able to erase the memory of this sacred date and the feat of the Red Army soldiers, guerilla fighters and home front workers who saved civilisation from the horrors of Nazism. This is described in detail and convincingly in the recent article by President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
Today, we have discussed topical issues of bilateral relations, compared positions on current international and regional matters and planned a schedule for future meetings. In particular, we talked about preparations for a joint meeting of the collegiums of our ministries, which we plan to hold in the fourth quarter of this year in Minsk.
We have just signed an intergovernmental agreement on mutual visa recognition and other issues related to the entry of foreign citizens into the territory of the Union State. This document is aimed at creating a common migration space for Russia and Belarus.
We rated the cooperation of our countries in countering the spread of the coronavirus infection very highly. We promptly organised the evacuation of Russian and Belarusian citizens from third countries by our airlines through Moscow and Minsk. Earlier, Russia supplied Belarus with test systems and high protection safety respirators for fighting the infection. Funds from Russian contributions to UNDP and IAEA projects were rechanneled for assistance to Minsk.
We emphasised the importance of further enhancing the coordination of actions and promoting common approaches on the international scene, including in the UN and the OSCE.
We reviewed the progress of fulfilling the programme of coordinated foreign policy actions for 2020-2021.
We supported the idea of promoting cooperation in multilateral associations in the CIS. This year Belarus chairs the EAEU. Today, we discussed implementation of the agreements reached at the online meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in May. We exchanged views on the results of videoconferences of the CIS Heads of Government Council, the CIS Foreign Ministers Council and the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council which were also held last month.
This year Russia is chairing the CSTO. Today, we spoke about implementing the priorities of the Russian chairmanship, including the development of the CSTO’s cooperation with the CIS, the SCO and the UN.
We discussed relations with the European Union and the United States, and NATO’s expanding activities in the direct vicinity of our borders, primarily in the Baltic Region and Poland. Such actions by the alliance are openly provocative and lead to the further fragmentation of the European security space.
We exchanged opinions on strategic stability and arms control issues and criticised the announced US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. We share the view that along with the destruction of the INF Treaty by Washington, this step damages global security and the system of arms control agreements. Russia and Belarus form a united group of states in the Open Skies Treaty. We are not interested in escalating international tensions; we intend to conduct equitable dialogue without ultimatums and groundless accusations but with all sides taking into consideration each other’s interests and concerns. We agreed to closely cooperate on Open Skies issues, based on the primary need to ensure the security of the Union State. We will adhere to these positions at the extraordinary conference of the state parties to the Open Skies Treaty scheduled for July 6.
We also highly appreciate the constructive role of Minsk as a venue for implementing the Minsk Package of Measures through direct contact between the Kiev authorities with representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk. We confirmed that there is no alternative to the full and consistent implementation of the Minsk agreements.
On the whole, we are quite satisfied with the results of the talks that took place in a traditional atmosphere of friendship. We reaffirmed our mutual striving to further promote Russian-Belarusian foreign policy cooperation based on our allied relations. Moscow and Minsk assign a special place to these relations in their approaches to expanding their international mutually beneficial ties with foreign states and their associations.
Question: It is well know that the approaches to the coronavirus infection differ considerably in Russia and Belarus. You said in an interview with the Kommersant newspaper that some components of the Belarusian experience could be used in Russia if there is a second wave. What did you have in mind?
Sergey Lavrov: This is not quite what I said. I said that it would be wise to refrain from assessing the experience of any country.
All of us agreed, as we said so at the meeting with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko today, that our understanding of the coronavirus and its origin is still insufficient. The WHO countries believe that while fighting this infection, we should also accumulate knowledge about it so as to draw correct conclusions afterwards. This is where the experience of every country will be useful.
Question: What can you say about the Venice Commission’s opinion regarding the draft amendments to the Russian Constitution, according to which the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights must be binding in any case?
Sergey Lavrov: I would like to remind you that the dialogue on the proposed amendment to Article 79 of the Russian Constitution, which has been put forth for public vote alongside other amendments, is aimed at ensuring the implementation of all of Russia’s international obligations in a manner that will not contradict the Constitution of Russia. International obligations are obligations Russia assumed under the international treaties it signed voluntarily after the talks on them were concluded and we were convinced that they ensured a balance of interests. After their signing, international agreements are submitted to the Federal Assembly of Russia for ratification. During the ratification process, all the necessary measures are taken to see that this particular treaty corresponds to the Constitution. In this sense, everything Russia has ratified on the basis of the Constitution remains part of its international obligations.
However, a recent trend shows that some multilateral organisations, which were established to implement a treaty, grossly violate their own provisions. For example, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) clearly sets out the functions of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and its Secretariat. The OPCW Secretariat is obliged to send a group of experts to the site of a suspected incident at the request of any country, so that these experts personally collect samples and safely deliver them to a certified laboratory, which must conduct the necessary tests and present its conclusions regarding the suspected use of chemicals prohibited under the CWC to the OPCW. Any amendments to the CWC can be submitted, as per its provisions, exclusively on the basis of consensus and following talks that should produce consensus. In the past few years, our Western colleagues, acting in gross violation of the CWC, have given the OPCW Technical Secretariat the right to assign guilt, which is the prerogative of the UN Security Council. This amounts to a gross violation of this international treaty. We will not participate in investigations conducted according to the rules which our colleagues are enforcing contrary to the CWC. If anyone attempts to accuse us of not implementing a treaty we have ratified, we will stand up as a bona fide signatory, while those who trampled upon the procedures stipulated under the convention will be among its violators.
As for the European Court of Human Rights, which you mentioned, a number of countries, which claim to be developed democracies, such as Germany and the UK, have similar reservations in their legislations, according to which no judgements passed on them will be executed if they contradict their constitutions. Frankly, I do not understand why so much attention is being given to this particular aspect, which is absolutely legitimate in terms of international law.
Question (for both ministers): Why has it taken so long to sign a mutual visa recognition agreement between Russia and Belarus? Were there any particular problems with documents?
Sergey Lavrov: This is not the longest time between the preparation and the signing of a document. A record in this case is held by the EU and the time it took to sign the European Convention on Human Rights and to join the European Court of Human Rights. That was really a record-long period.
I don’t think it is right to ask why a diplomatic process takes time. It would be better to try to deal with the practical problems that arise in each particular case.
We have signed a very important document. It should be ratified now. It will serve the interests of strengthening the Union State by facilitating the processes that connect our nations. It will also serve the interests of European and other countries whose citizens travel to Russia and fraternal Belarus. The agreement will also serve the interests of the diplomats who are accredited in both capitals. Therefore, I would see this agreement as a big step forward, rather than poke around for questionable stories.