Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto, Budapest, August 24, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have had a rewarding meeting with my colleague and friend, Peter Szijjarto. We considered aspects of our bilateral relations as well as cooperation on the international arena.
We are mutually satisfied because, despite the difficulties brought about by the pandemic, Russia and Hungary have been proceeding with dialogue at the political level, substantive contacts between economic and other departments and interaction between the foreign ministries.
We have studied the current state of bilateral cooperation in various fields in the context of the agreements reached in October 2019 during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Budapest at the invitation of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
We both pointed out that our relations are expanding progressively. Mutual trade and economic cooperation is going up. In the first five months of 2021, it increased by almost 35 percent; this is a good level. Major projects are being implemented within the existing timeframes, including the construction of new units of the Paks nuclear power station by the Russian corporation Rosatom, the development of the Hungarian gas pipeline system, cooperation with Hungarian energy company MOL on hydrocarbon projects, joint supplies of railway carriages to Egypt and other projects Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has discussed in sufficient detail today.
We have agreed to continue working to further tap the rich cooperation potential our two countries certainly have. The Russian-Hungarian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation is focusing on this. Peter Szijjarto is Hungarian Co-Chair. The commission last met in November 2020 in Budapest. At the moment the Russian Federation is preparing to host the next meeting.
We consider our coronavirus response cooperation as highly important. Hungary was the first EU member state to successfully use Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to immunise its population. Now we are discussing the practical aspects of launching Sputnik V production in Hungary. We share the view that the production and rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, and coronavirus developments in general should not be politicised. Any political agenda here will interfere with the achievement of the main goal of overcoming COVID-19 on a global scale.
There was a frank talk on international matters, including on the problems that have arisen in relations between Russia and the European Union as a result of an openly anti-Russia policy that is being imposed on Brussels by the aggressive Russophobic minority. We appreciate Hungary’s sober and pragmatic approach. Despite all the disagreements that will always occur in a varying degree, it is important to not hold the interests of development and the interests of progressive economic cooperation hostage to ideological and political games.
We also brought to notice the actions being taken by NATO to fan tension in Europe under the slogan to deter Russia. We reminded [our counterparts] of the initiatives which our country has submitted to NATO for consideration since 2018. These initiatives seek to achieve the de-escalation of the military stand-off on both sides of the line of contact between Russia and NATO. There has been no answer to them so far.
We touched upon the situation in Ukraine. We share the approach that there is no alternative to the complete and consistent implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures, something which the Ukrainian authorities have been persistently obstructing. We are deeply concerned by the discrimination policy pursued by the Kiev authorities, which is infringing on the rights of the Russians, Hungarians and other peoples who have for centuries lived on the territory of contemporary Ukraine.
We are satisfied with the cooperation between Russia and Hungary at international forums, including the mutual support of candidates for posts at UN agencies/offices.
Today, I also had the opportunity, in response to the kind invitation from Mr Peter Szijjarto, to speak at the meeting of Hungarian ambassadors and permanent representatives [in international organisations]. The dialogue with professional diplomats was constructive and useful to both sides. We believe the discussion we had, as well as the outcome of the talks we had earlier today will contribute to strengthening trust and outlining new prospects for cooperation between our two countries for the benefit of both nations.
I would like to thank Mr Peter Szijjarto again for his invitation that has really allowed me to speak frankly with my colleagues in an unusual format. Mr Szijjarto said that Hungary was not the first country in the European Union to have invited the Russian foreign minister to meet with ambassadors but I want to note that Hungary is the first NATO country to have done this.
In response, I would like to invite Mr Szijjarto to visit Moscow once again. We could then continue our friendly, useful and professional dialogue.
Question: To what extent has the approval of the Sputnik V vaccine by Budapest, and given how successfully it has been used in this country, transformed the relations between Russia and Hungary? In your opinion, what effect will it have on future bilateral relations?
Sergey Lavrov: We have already shared our assessment of the bilateral relations. I do not understand what you mean by asking how the Sputnik V vaccine transformed the relations between Hungary and Russia. Cooperation on the Sputnik V vaccine, its deliveries and plans to produce it in Hungary reflect the high level of trust-based, truly strategic relations between our countries. What can Hungary do in order to get Sputnik V to be registered in the European Union? This is a question for professionals, rather than politicians. We oppose any attempts to make a political issue out of the developments surroundings vaccines, or attempts to accuse anyone of unleashing “vaccine wars” or encouraging anti-vaccine sentiment.
The Russian makers of the Sputnik V vaccine have been engaged in a dialogue with the European Medicines Agency for several months now. We believe that the only possible outcome of this process would be confirmation that this vaccine is of a high quality and effective. This is the opinion of all those who have used it. I hope that the European Medicines Agency experts will be guided by their professional duty. We are interested in the broadest possible cooperation on vaccines.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin announced the development of the world’s first vaccine, Sputnik V, in August 2020, and invited all countries to engage in multilateral cooperation. This proposal remains “on the table.” We will be delighted if professionals heed this call, convinced as we are that politicising this topic hinders progress towards the main goal, which is to fight the coronavirus.
Question: The issuance of the Paks-2 licence keeps getting pushed back. President of Hungary Janos Ader used to say that the station would be launched in 2023, but now they are talking about 2029 or even 2030. In your opinion, when will Paks-2 be launched?
Sergey Lavrov: The relevant companies are engaged in talks on the Paks-2 nuclear power station and gas supplies. These projects are underway, and agreements reflecting mutual interests will be reached. There is no question about this.
Question: There were constant threats of sanctions against Nord Stream 2, but in July 2021, Berlin and Washington came to a “decision” to have it built. Can you comment on this?
Sergey Lavrov: The TurkStream and Nord Stream 2 pipelines are designed to ensure the energy security of our shared region, primarily Europe, including the European Union. Those who are guided by these fundamental interests can see through these attempts to play political games with projects of a purely economic nature. We stand against erecting any artificial barriers to mutually beneficial cooperation between Russian and EU businesses.
Question: I would like to go back to the Crimea Platform meeting. What do you think about this?
Sergey Lavrov: The Crimea Platform is a factitious Russophobic initiative. They are just trying to keep up this momentum in order to play along with the ultra-radical neo-Nazi sentiment in today’s Ukraine. The government in Kiev and the Western leaders are encouraging them. We know the methods they use to force allies into “joining” these inane campaigns. It is no surprise to us that the false understanding of “solidarity” on behalf of the EU and NATO underpins this hollow propaganda-driven initiative that has no future.
We proceed in our relations with Hungary from practical political considerations. This is what our meeting today was all about. There will also be a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen, which will also be about real policy.
Question: My question concerns Russia’s mediating role in Afghanistan. What is your vision of this mediation in the current circumstances?
Sergey Lavrov: We have provided assistance to the Afghan parties, politicians, ethnic and religious groups for many years. Russia established a Moscow format involving the five Central Asian countries, China, Pakistan, India, Iran, the United States and Russia, as well as the former Afghan government and the Taliban. We also created a smaller trilateral group, a “troika” (Russia, China and the United States) to promote this type of overarching format. Since Pakistan joined, it has been an expanded troika. This “troika plus” has been meeting in Doha until recently and encouraging the parties to reach an agreement.
Regardless of how anybody sees the developments in Afghanistan on the ground, they are a reality that cannot be ignored. We have been in contact with heads of foreign affairs in the United States, China and Pakistan. All of them are interested in continuing this work. Call it mediation or cooperation to create favourable conditions for the Afghans to come to an agreement among themselves, the term itself does not change anything. We remain committed to restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan to prevent any further threats for the entire region such as terrorism and drug trafficking. I hope that those who are currently watching the developments in Afghanistan will see it as I have described it rather than succumbing to politicised and ideology-driven phobias.
Immediately after the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said that they must not let Russia and China take control of Afghanistan. If this is what the EU foreign chief believes, I feel sorry for the EU members who have to listen to and support this kind of mindset. Mr Borrell is worried about the wrong thing. He should be preoccupied with the Afghans being able to bring peace to their country as soon as possible. This mentality, “we must not let Russia and China take control of Afghanistan,” is yet another “either or” statement: the countries must choose whether they support the West or Russia and China. It is sad if these kind of people are responsible for the foreign political course of the European Union.
Question: Doesn’t the UN Security Council want to develop a shared approach to the Afghanistan issue? If so, will Russia join it? Are there any conditions and if yes, what are they?
Sergey Lavrov: This has been in the works for a long time. There are UN Security Council resolutions and decisions of the special committee established to monitor compliance with these resolutions. I do not understand the point of this question. If we are suspected of attempting to block the efforts of the UN Security Council again, this is not the case.
In his conversation with President Vladimir Putin on August 19, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council meet to exchange opinions on Afghanistan. We are ready to do this. There has been a proposal to hold a meeting of all Security Council members, including non-permanent ones, in New York. We are ready to do this as well.
The main thing is that discussions in this format should not be focused on attempts to promote a certain action but instead should acknowledge the reality on the ground. They must not be out of touch with this reality. The purpose of these discussions must be to develop approaches that can help the Taliban and the other political forces to reach an agreement and expand the contacts that have already been established.
Question: The Wall Street Journal wrote, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, that Russia does not want to see US soldiers in Central Asia. Is this true? If so, what are the reasons behind this?
Sergey Lavrov: We have a common security space. We have obligations. The CSTO requires the consent of all allies on the deployment of foreign armed forces on their territory. This is a formal legal reason, consideration of international law. But the main reason has to do with the essence. Withdrawing from Afghanistan, the United States wanted to move its infrastructure, weapons, and military personnel to the neighbouring countries, to be able to strike Afghanistan from there if it does not behave. I strongly doubt that any country in Central Asia or elsewhere in the world for that matter would want to risk becoming a target because the United States wants to implement its initiatives. I doubt that anyone would be interested in that. Hosting American soldiers after the United States has explicitly declared its goal to hold Afghanistan at gunpoint and, if necessary, bomb it, means instantly turning yourself into a target.
Question: Is there any concern now among members of the Hungarian government or perhaps among Hungarian people about the potential problem of refugees from Afghanistan? Are you planning to take any measures in this regard?
Sergey Lavrov (adds after Peter Szijjarto): The same applies to Washington's persistent, stubborn efforts to persuade a number of Central Asian countries and other regions to accept Afghan citizens who collaborated with the United States and NATO countries. They are saying it is just for a couple of months, and then they will provide shelter to these people. Supposedly they need time to issue visas. If these Afghans have worked with the Americans for many years, they must have been thoroughly investigated already. Why do they need two more months to make sure they can issue a visa to this or that person? If this is about mandatory visa procedures that take two or three months, why do they not respect the interests of the countries they are trying to dump their collaborators on? This sounds like those countries have no need to clear the incoming Afghans and do not need time to make any enquiries. From whatever angle you look at this, it does not meet the interests of those countries’ stability, those countries the Americans want to ‘penetrate’ in order to attain their own interests. In any case, the final decisions are to be made by the respective states.
The CSTO member states had a videoconference on August 23, where President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev was also invited. The parties discussed these matters frankly and specifically. We agreed to hold the CSTO summit in Dushanbe in mid-September 2021. The SCO summit will also take place there.
It is clear that the topic of Afghanistan and the consequences that its neighbours and other countries are now experiencing as a result of the US uncoordinated actions will remain in the spotlight. We will inform the media about the developments.
Question: If Hungary's membership in the EU “weakened” or ended, would this be desirable for Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: It is a question for Hungary. We always respect the choices of sovereign states, especially those who put their national interests at the forefront of their foreign policy. This is exactly how we will approach the assessment of our Hungarian friends’ actions in various international formats.