Remarks and answers to media questions by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint news conference with Belarusian Foreign Minster Vladimir Makei following a joint meeting of the foreign ministry collegiums of Russia and Belarus, Moscow, November 18, 2019
We held a joint meeting of the foreign ministry collegiums of Russia and Belarus on the eve of an important date – the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on the Creation of the Union State. We noted that since then our relations have covered a long road of integration and today we are strategic allies. Close and deepening foreign policy coordination is a part of our relations. The main outcome of the collaboration between our foreign policy departments over the past two decades can be summed up as follows: today Russia and Belarus have the same approach to almost every key issue.
We agreed to continue to closely cooperate on major global issues and promote joint initiatives at the UN, the OSCE and other multilateral venues. The Programme of concerted foreign policy actions in 2020-2021 will facilitate the implementation of this goal. This is a unique document. As far as I know, neither Russia nor Belarus has similar documents with any other partner. We also signed a detailed plan of consultations between our ministries for next year, which includes 25 specific subjects. In addition, we approved a resolution on the meeting of the collegiums, which was completed today.
We expressed concern about NATO’s consistently increasing military political activities near our borders. It was one of the key topics of today’s discussion. We recalled that in May of this year, the foreign ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation approved an open address to the foreign ministers of the North Atlantic alliance with a proposal on specific measures to enhance trust, and further develop contacts and cooperation. Unfortunately, this act of goodwill on our part did not invoke a response.
We agreed to continue the policy of coordinating approaches both on a bilateral basis and within the CSTO regarding overall NATO activities and also regarding the situation with military political security in Europe.
Another topic was the issues of arms control. We noted the unsatisfactory situation in this area due to Washington’s steps to intentionally undermine the architecture of global strategic stability. By discarding the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and creating uncertainty around the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the US is provoking a dangerous escalation of tensions and militarisation of foreign policy thinking. Also alarming are Washington’s actions towards reducing the threshold for using nuclear weapons as well as moving the arms race into space.
We discussed this situation. For our part, we noted that President Putin’s address on the INF Treaty to the leaders of the key nations in the Euro Atlantic and the Asia Pacific regions reaffirmed Russia’s commitment not only to display restraint but also to announce a moratorium on deploying intermediate and shorter range missiles as long as the US and its allies desist from such actions. Our proposal remains in force, within the above address, to the North Atlantic alliance members to join such a moratorium. This proposal runs in the same vein as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s initiative to adopt a respective multilateral declaration. I hope this synchronised signal from the Union States’ member nations will be heeded.
We also compared notes on the unhealthy situation at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons where our Western partners pursue a deliberate policy of undermining the consensus foundation of the efforts in this area in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
We discussed the prospects for cooperation in the UN in order to counter the illegitimate practice of unilateral sanctions and emphasised that imposing unilateral sanctions seriously affects confidence in global affairs and obstructs the progressive development of the global economy. We also put forward specific initiatives and discussed joint efforts to counterbalance this practice and direct the discussion on disagreements in various fields of international life towards a civilised and legitimate dialogue.
In conclusion, I would like to note that yesterday an important event took place in Belarus, I am referring to the regular parliamentary elections in the country. I would like to take advantage of the opportunity to congratulate my friends in Belarus on having successfully held them. Observers from Russia took part in monitoring the election, including as part of bilateral cooperation and as members of the CIS and OSCE missions. All of them noted that the elections were held at a high level, as is the tradition.
Question: The programme of concerted foreign policy actions by the participants in the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State has been carried out since 2000. Today, you signed another similar programme. Can you describe in more detail this mechanism for bilateral cooperation? Did you discuss any adjustments to this document today in connection with the drafting of a programme of action by Russia and Belarus on implementing the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State?
Sergey Lavrov: The gist of this document is in its name – concerted foreign policy actions by our states. This applies to our work in the UN, the OSCE and other multilateral venues, the promotion of specific initiatives that have enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority in various organisations. I will mention the initiative on the unacceptable glorification of Nazism – a fairly urgent issue against the backdrop of the ongoing negative processes in some countries, including in Europe. Naturally, prevention of an arms race in space is also a timely initiative.
In parallel with this, Russia and Belarus promote specific UN-approved proposals: on drafting and implementing confidence-building measures in outer space; ensuring international information security and preventing cybercrime, to name a few. As we discussed today, this also includes WMD non-proliferation, arms control and the unacceptability of attempts to break it. Incidentally, our joint initiative submitted to the UN General Assembly this year which was supported by many states and received an overwhelming majority of votes – nobody voted against it – was on consolidating and developing the system of arms control and WMD non-proliferation. This is a new initiative. It was put forward at a moment when the system was threatened with complete elimination due to the US actions mentioned earlier.
In Europe, the issues of ensuring European security are primarily initiated collectively owing to the proposals of Russia, Belarus and other countries that hold the same positions. On the whole, these specific initiatives fit into the philosophies of our states – commitment to international law, and unreserved respect without any dual interpretation for the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the organisation that was established following the bloodiest war in human history – World War II.
As you know, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Victory next May in Moscow, Minsk and other capitals in the post-Soviet states that played a decisive role in the victory over Nazism together. This is especially important in a situation where the very foundations of the UN’s role in world affairs are being called into question, when our Western colleagues are trying to replace universally acceptable standards of international law with rules invented by a narrow group of states that can vary on a case-by-case basis. This is a general explanation of why we need these programmes and how they are agreed upon.
They are coordinated at meetings like today’s. They contain specific instructions for all of our representatives at international organisations to promote the initiatives I mentioned, as well as appeals to the ambassadors of Russia and Belarus to all countries to closely cooperate with each other and coordinate their actions on international issues.
As for your questions on whether this foreign policy programme was adjusted in connection with the drafting of the Programme of Action on Implementing the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State, the answer is no. No adjustments were made to it and we do not plan to introduce any amendments to the treaty depending on what we did today. Our foreign policy coordination is objective. It is not based on considerations of expediency or some artificial connections. Our Belarusian friends and we have fully confirmed this today.
Question: The Kremlin confirmed today that talks in the Normandy format are scheduled for December 9. Does this mean that the terms Moscow insisted on for progress in the talks have been fulfilled?
Sergey Lavrov: If all four participants in the Normandy format are ready to meet on December 9, the conditions are ready. After all, we haven’t set forth any artificial demands for this meeting. The only thing we insisted on was that the participants in the Normandy format respect their own decisions that were made in 2015 and 2016 and then subverted by Pyotr Poroshenko regarding both the entire political process and security on the ground.
Under President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky’s government, it has become possible to resolve issues that have remained outstanding for years, for instance, the disengagement of forces and weapons in Stanitsa Luganskaya, and an end to violations committed by the Ukrainian armed forces at two other areas that were slated for the disengagement of forces and weapons in the Normandy format. Actions were also taken, which finally made it possible for all sides to sign the Steinmeier formula on the holding of elections in conjunction with the granting of special status to the territories in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Yet another term (let’s call it a term) that we set was as follows: we suggested that apart from stating the implementation of the previous agreements, the participants in the new Normandy summit could take additional steps to facilitate the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Our French and German partners assure us that this fully reflects their own approach. We hope they will use their relations with Kiev to persuade it that there is no alternative to the full implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures. These signs from Paris and Berlin are all the more important since we hear fairly contradictory statements from President Zelensky’s executive office and the Ukrainian government. Thus, it is said that there will be no amnesty according to its interpretation of the Minsk agreements or that there will be no direct contact between Kiev and Donetsk and Lugansk (this was declared by none other than Ukrainian Foreign Minister Prystaiko). Many similar statements are being made, which require a response from the other participants in the Normandy format because it is necessary to fully preserve the commitment to the foundations that were laid by this format and that now direct the actions of the Contact Group with the participation of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, which are supported by Russia and the OSCE. We lay special hopes on our French colleagues that are the hosts of the summit. We hope they will do everything they can to remove any ambiguities and let this summit reaffirm movement towards the implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures, which is immutable and has no alternative.
Question: We keep hearing news today about hacker attacks especially targeting government organisations in different countries. Unfortunately, the virtual space is used by terrorist and criminal organisations. This is a hot issue both for Russia and Belarus.
Belarus is working to develop information and communications security technologies in this area. Can you tell us more about Belarus’s new initiative on establishing a “digital neighbourliness belt?”
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Vladimir Makei): I fully support this logic. It completely meets Russia’s commitment on forming as many digital “neighbourliness” entities both via bilateral channels (we have such agreements with an umber of countries) in the format of regional organisations in our common Eurasian space and globally, which Mr Makei talked about. Meanwhile, globally, Russia and Belarus are among the most ardent co-authors of the resolution which is passed by the UN General Assembly each year and which gave a push to intergovernmental talks with all UN members on drafting rules for responsible behaviour in the information space, primarily from the point of view of ensuring a countries’ sovereignty security. We once again welcome this initiative by our Belarusian friends as well.