Council of Europe (CoE)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answer to a media question at a joint news conference following talks with Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić, Moscow, October 19, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
This visit by Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, draws a symbolic line under the system-wide crisis affecting the Council of Europe in 2014-2019 due to the illegal actions of a number of its Parliamentary Assembly members that run contrary to the organisation’s charter.
In the spring of last year, I met in Moscow with Secretary General Pejčinović Burić’s predecessor, Thorbjørn Jagland. The crisis was fully underway at the time. Now the situation has changed qualitatively, primarily as a result of the 129th Session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe held in Helsinki last May.
Russian parliamentarians’ rights have been fully restored since then. The main lesson to be learned from that situation is that speaking a language of threats is unacceptable at the Council of Europe, as are ultimatums, pressure, or attempts to violate the key principles enshrined in the Council of Europe Charter, which the organisation is guided by.
Marija Pejčinović Burić’s visit takes place shortly before the 25th anniversary of Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe. We will mark this date on February 28, 2021. This is a good time to analyse where we stand and what challenges we face in the interests of further cooperation between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation.
We have reaffirmed our interest in strengthening multilateral cooperation within the Council of Europe. Russia aims to dedicatedly participate in its work. Our country’s commitment to all of its obligations that we have taken on under the numerous conventions of this pan-European organisation remains unchanged.
What is most important for us is for the Council of Europe to remain one of the pillars of world order based on international law, and not on the “rules” established by individual countries or their non-universal organisations and alliances. The Council of Europe must justify its mission as a pan-European organization providing mechanisms and conventions that consolidate the legal and humanitarian landscape on our common continent. It is important that the various agencies of the Council of Europe are not used to promote a narrow group interests.
I had a frank discussion with Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić. Unfortunately, we have seen attempts to promote double standards and to settle political scores on the Strasbourg platform in recent years. We discussed the continuing widespread violation of human rights and the rights of millions of people within the Council of Europe’s space. I am talking about overt discrimination against the ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine and the Baltic countries. We emphasised the unacceptability of the developments stemming from Crimea’s water blockade in violation of all existing conventions, both European and universal; and in violation of the recommendation made back in 2016 by Special Envoy of the Council of Europe Secretary General Gerard Studman, who visited Crimea and put together a report. One of his recommendations was the need to immediately respond to the problems of water supply to Crimea.
We pointed out another issue that our friends at the CE Secretariat are well aware of - the unacceptability of glorifying Nazi criminals and their henchmen or destroying monuments to the soldiers who liberated Europe. We strongly believe that the Council of Europe, which claims the status of the continent’s leading human rights organisation, should not turn a blind eye to these shameful developments.
We also covered what the Council of Europe can do to ensure coordination of the international efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout. Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić has put together a valuable report on this subject. A decision by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is now being drafted. It is supposed to be adopted at its meeting to be held next month under Greek chairmanship. We believe that the Council of Europe should not just be a “guardian of convention” in the sphere of healthcare, but articulate a constructive agenda and unite the efforts of the member states building on existing mechanisms, including the European Social Charter, the Medicrime Convention and the European Pharmacopoeia. In this regard, we welcome the proposals contained in the Secretary General’s report to expand the social dimension in the Council of Europe’s activities.
We also discussed the role and the place of the organisation in Europe’s architecture. We share the opinion that the Council of Europe should maintain its identity and independence and not become part of the efforts to draw new dividing lines, but to concentrate on resolving its main statutory task which is “to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and of facilitating their economic and social progress.”
These words have more relevance today than ever before. We will do whatever it takes to make sure that this primary goal of the Council of Europe is translated into practical actions as quickly and as broadly as possible.
Question: Did you discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? It is becoming obvious that the agreements reached at the trilateral meeting in Moscow have not led to a complete ceasefire. Did you discuss steps to de-escalate the conflict?
Sergey Lavrov: We told our colleagues from the Council of Europe Secretariat what Russian thinks about the situation and the steps we are taking. We are convinced that the main goal now is to immediately stop the confrontational rhetoric both by the parties and the responsible international players. This is not difficult.
The next, absolutely necessary step, that must be taken alongside the cessation of confrontational rhetoric is to stop the hostilities, strikes at civilian facilities, to fulfill the demands that were made in the statement by Russia, the US and France as the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, and the Moscow document signed with our assistance by the ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia on October 10. The same is confirmed by the document they agreed to on October 18 of this year, on trying to stop the bloodshed again.
You are right: our hopes have not materialised since the Moscow meeting – the hostilities continued including strikes at the civilian infrastructure and residential areas. This is unacceptable.
To make a ceasefire work (we became convinced of this after the two adopted documents failed to change the situation on the ground significantly), it is necessary to create and use a mechanism to monitor compliance with it. We are working on this now with the participation of the Russian Defence Ministry and our colleagues from Azerbaijan and Armenia. I hope this mechanism will be agreed upon very soon.
Having listed the current goals, I must also mention the need to considerably enhance the efforts on a political settlement. The Moscow statement mentions this as well. There are detailed and extensive ideas that were developed and discussed between the sides by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group – Russia, France and the US. I believe they contain the answers to these questions.
Considering what can be achieved at this current historical point, I think we must encourage the sides to harmonise key provisions that will make it possible to stabilise the situation in this region for the long term, unblock economic and transport ties and ensure reliable security in Nagorno-Karabakh and the adjacent territories.