Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to questions at a news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Sweden Ann Linde, Moscow, February 4, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had constructive talks and reviewed bilateral relations and cooperation on international and regional affairs as a follow-up to President Putin’s meeting with Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Lofven in April 2019.
We reaffirmed our mutual commitment to promote practical cooperation and welcomed progress in economic cooperation. About 500 Swedish companies are operating in Russia, and they plan to continue in the future. Overall Swedish investment in the Russian economy was about $5 billion in 2019. Last year, trade was down slightly, but we share the opinion that this trend is easily reversible, and the Russian-Swedish Supervisory Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation could play an important role in making this happen. Recently, the co-chairs of this important body have been in touch on a regular basis, but no plenary meeting has been held since 2013. We think it is time to hold this meeting.
The St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) is a useful platform as well. Our Swedish colleagues, including Swedish government members, regularly participate. Last year, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde led the Swedish delegation in her capacity as Minister for Foreign Trade.
We share the belief that cultural ties, including education, scientific research and personal contacts in general are important. We believe that contact between our respective parliament members, which have not been too active so far, could contribute to this as well.
We spoke in detail about the importance of cooperation in regional formats such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) and the Arctic Council and have come to understand that we are on the same page regarding these matters.
We exchanged views on the security situation in the Baltic Sea region in detail. We apprised our partners of our concern about NATO’s rather provocative actions, which is increasing its military activity and presence near Russia’s borders. Russia does not see a single problem either in the Baltic Sea or the north in general that would need a military solution. We mentioned Russia’s recent initiatives aimed at reducing tension and strengthening mutual trust, including in the military area. In this context, Russia considers Sweden’s traditional non-alignment policy to be an important factor in maintaining stability in northern Europe.
We touched on relations between Russia and the EU, as well as OSCE activities, primarily in the context of Sweden’s upcoming chairmanship in this organisation in 2021. We proposed holding consultations on the OSCE agenda, including the Ukraine settlement, in which the OSCE is playing a very positive role, and we would like to make this role even more important. Clearly, a settlement can only be achieved if it is based on the Minsk Package of Measures, which implies a face-to-face dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. In this respect, today we touched on the results of the Normandy format summit recently held in Paris and the tasks for the Contact Group arising from it.
Of mutual interest to our countries are issues relating to the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, including the crises in Syria and Libya, the situation in the Persian Gulf and, of course, the situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. We are open to substantive consultations with our Swedish colleagues on all the above and any other matters that will foster mutual understanding.
I would like to thank once again Ms Ann Linde and her delegation for the substantive talks.
Question (retranslated from Swedish): Do you believe Russia and Sweden stand a chance of getting back to truly good relations, given the difficulties that have emerged in recent years due to the serious difference of opinion on the Ukraine issue?
Sergey Lavrov: We see no obstacles to normalising relations. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs said, there are disagreements but they should not impede cooperation. It is now clear to everyone that the European Union has driven itself into a corner when several years ago it approved the so-called Five Principles, which tie the full normalisation of relations with Russia to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
Not only has the European Union reconciled with the anti-constitutional coup in Ukraine that was carried out by ultra-[nationalist] radicals in February 2014 but it has recognised the coup. The European Union failed to comment in any way on the first action by the putschists, who decided to strip the Russian language of its special status and talked about annihilating Russians or forcing them out of Crimea. The European Union tacitly agreed to all this.
The EU supported the war that the coupists launched against their own people in the east of Ukraine because the latter refused to accept the coup and asked to be left alone so they could figure out what was going on. I will tell you straight that we had a hard time trying to persuade the people in Donbass to join the talks in the Normandy format, which eventually produced the Minsk Agreements that were endorsed by the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, for four years the Poroshenko regime did nothing to implement the document that has no alternative.
Despite the hysterics of the neo-Nazis, President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky found the strength to start carrying out Kiev’s commitments. The first steps on the disengagement of forces and hardware were made, and Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s formula on the link between the elections in Donbass and the granting of a special status to this region was put on paper. This made it possible to hold a third Normandy summit in Paris in December 2019. Ms Minister mentioned this fact and the need to implement the commitments agreed upon.
The authorities in Kiev assumed a number of commitments. Under the Minsk Agreements, they committed to permanently include the special status of Donbass in Ukrainian legislation. The only way to do this is to reflect this special status in the Ukrainian constitution.
The second commitment that Kiev assumed during talks with Donetsk and Lugansk via the Contact Group was the disengagement of forces and hadware in three new sections. But it should be recalled at this point that in Paris, Russia, France and Germany were ready to support the approach adopted earlier, notably on the disengagement of forces and weapons all along the contact line rather than just three sections. Regrettably, to the surprise of the other parties, President Zelensky and his delegation were unable to take this step, which would be fully in line with the Minsk Agreements. Therefore, the answer to the question of how to overcome the current situation is as follows: it is necessary to fully and consistently carry out the Minsk Agreements, which requires specific moves by Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk.
I probably tired you out with this. I apologise for discussing your question in such detail, but it seems to me that the way you put it revealed a serious lack of information on the history of this issue.
As for Crimea, this is even easier to explain. It is simply necessary to respect the will expressed by the Crimean people. Those who would like to make sure this will was absolutely sincere should simply go to Crimea. The opportunity is there, and many people are taking it. We are happy to welcome any unbiased people to this region of Russia who want to see how the peoples in this republic live.
Question (for Ann Linde): The Swedish Defence Committee stated that Russia is a threat to Sweden. It did not even rule out the possibility of an attack. Did you discuss these issues during today’s meeting? Did you manage to remove at least part of this concern?
Sergey Lavrov (adds after Ann Linde): We discussed this today. The threats and risks are mounting. We exchanged our views on NATO’s unprecedented plans to move towards our borders and involve neutral countries (like Sweden and Finland) in its military exercises. We suggested to our Swedish neighbours that we develop a trust-based and open dialogue between our militaries like we did with Finland three years ago. Our Swedish colleagues promised to consider this proposal. I hope we will continue this conversation. We are ready to discuss any issue with our partners in an absolutely open manner.