Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at the joint news conference with CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas following the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council videoconference, Moscow, May 26, 2020
We have held a CSTO Foreign Ministers Council meeting via videoconference.
Russia is chairing the CSTO this year. Considering the difficult situation caused by the coronavirus infection, we approached the preparations and holding of this meeting with certain precautions.
We had to adjust the meeting agenda because we could not ignore the goal of countering the spread of the coronavirus. The dynamics of the situation confirmed the need for creating a response to the threats of biological security and developing cooperation in our common epidemiological space. During this crisis we consider it particularly important to pool our efforts and take coordinated steps. We share the opinion of the CSTO member countries that the statement on solidarity and mutual assistance in countering the coronavirus fully reflects the CSTO’s consistent position of principle. This statement will be published today.
Based on identical positions, we verified our views on a broad spectrum of global and regional issues.
We supported the creation of a fairer and more democratic world order based on internationally recognised principles of international law. We adopted a joint statement on this issue, which reaffirms the commitment of the CSTO members to the goals and principles of the UN Charter.
This year is the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. We adopted a special foreign minister statement on preventing such catastrophes in the future, and urged the international community to take joint actions to preserve the memory of the historical truth of the struggle for the world’s liberation from Nazism, prevent any attempts to insult the memory of the dead and denounce all forms of the ideology of hatred, extremism and ethnic, racial or religious discrimination.
We discussed the implementation of the CSTO’s priority goals during Russia’s chairmanship in the context of the tasks set forth by President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the November 28 Collective Security Council in Bishkek.
We reviewed the prospects for developing peacekeeping activities with an emphasis on promoting and expanding cooperation in this area between the CSTO and the UN, including upgrading of our regulatory framework.
In the context of developing the statuses of CSTO Partner and Observer states (as you know, these statuses were established by the CSTO Council) we discussed the deepening of cooperation with the CIS and the SCO. The current meeting was attended by CIS Executive Secretary Sergey Lebedev and SCO Secretary-General Vladimir Norov. We discussed the prospects for pooling efforts by the three organisations.
We endorsed a number of documents on personnel issues and the CSTO plan for this year.
We will hold the next CSTO Foreign Minister Council meeting in Moscow in the latter half of the year.
Question: The coronavirus pandemic has affected not only the lives of millions of people, but also international relations. How is the CSTO organising its work in this new context? How is it addressing the pandemic?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a very relevant question. Today we adopted two documents aimed at containing the coronavirus infection. The first one, the statement on solidarity and mutual assistance in the fight against the coronavirus infection, calls for cooperation under the aegis of universal international platforms such as the UN and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The second document was adopted at the initiative of Armenia and Russia to support UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for a global ceasefire to focus on fighting the coronavirus infection. We support this call. At the same time, the statement specifically stipulates that the ceasefire, of course, cannot extend to terrorist organisations recognised as such by the UN Security Council. This is the CSTO countries’ political stance.
There is also a number of practical issues. Some of them have to do with organising our work. As you understand, we will operate via videoconference for some time. A decision on returning to in-person participation will be made taking into account the recommendations of the sanitary authorities after appropriate analysis. Several events have been held directly addressing the problems caused by the coronavirus infection. One of them took place in April. It was a videoconference of the heads of military medical services. Military medicine is actively involved in the coronavirus response efforts in our country and our CSTO allies. In November 2020, Russia, chairing the CSTO, plans to hold an applied research conference of military doctors.
Today we also proposed using the CSTO crisis response centre to explore additional opportunities to contain the infection. If we look at the problem more broadly, we were reminded today that the Collective Security Strategy of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation for the period until 2025, which was approved by the heads of our states, explicitly instructs the foreign ministries to carry out joint actions aimed at strengthening the regime of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), including advocacy for the adoption by all states of their obligations to ensure the full transparency of their biological activities outside their national territories. This primarily concerns the United States, which is now single-handedly blocking a verification mechanism as part of this convention, and at the same time, is conducting military biological activities around the world, including close to our borders.
These topics are the subject of an intensive bilateral dialogue with our CSTO allies. We have already signed a relevant agreement with Tajikistan; we are working with Armenia and Kazakhstan on this. This is also extensive work, which should ensure the fulfillment of the parties’ obligations under the BTWC to never reorient any biological activity to military purposes. I hope that the entire scope of these capacities that the CSTO has and the tasks set by the heads of state will allow us to achieve the desired results.
Question: The CSTO summit in Kazakhstan in 2018 adopted documents regulating the procedures for granting the status of CSTO Partner and CSTO Observer. What can you tell us about your efforts in this area? Are individual countries interested in cooperation with the CSTO?
Sergey Lavrov: These decisions were adopted and signed by the heads of state at the summit in Kazakhstan almost two years ago. They require ratification. Now, the process of ratification has been completed by all signatories with the exception of Tajikistan that still has to finish some procedures. When this is done, the decision will enter into force immediately and it will be possible to grant these statuses.
We discussed this issue today and confirmed our agreement to the effect that this will be done on the basis of consensus with consideration for each country’s interests and the added value that partners and observers can bring to the CSTO.
According to the provisions on partners and observers, these statuses may be granted both to states and organisations. It was noted today that the CSTO already has close ties with the CIS and the SCO (they took part in this session). A consensus on granting observer status to our fraternal organisations is taking shape.
Certain individual states are also interested in cooperating with the CSTO. We have not yet received an official request on granting observer or partner status because this is not a legal reality or a legal situation right now. But as you know, Serbia is actively cooperating with the CSTO. It takes part in the work of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly and a number of exercises. I believe other CSTO neighbours will look at the CSTO, all the more so as tasks like the need to counter terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime are bound to evoke interest in the Central Asian countries that are not CSTO members.
We will start reviewing potential candidates as soon as the ratification process is over.
Question: In late April Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Alexander Mantytsky reported that Kabul asked Moscow to help it to counter the coronavirus infection. Last week, doctors from Tatarstan conducted video consultations on sharing their experience of combating COVID-19 with their colleagues. Will Russia render more aid to Afghanistan? I am referring to sending medications, personal protective gear and equipment or sending medical teams like it did for Serbia and Italy.
Sergey Lavrov: Everything will depend on what specific protective gear and equipment Afghanistan needs. If a request for aid describes what exactly is needed, the crisis management centre headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova will immediately review it. The centre analyses opportunities for helping other countries based on its resources.
Question: I would like to ask a general question that makes it possible to put on record the state of affairs as it is now. How do you assess Armenian-Russian relations in the field of defence, among others, both at the CSTO and bilaterally?
Sergey Lavrov: Our assessment is that these relations are allied. And they are allied in reality. This refers both to the CSTO and our bilateral ties. Our military collaboration is quite close. As you may be aware, Armenia hosts a Russian military base that helps to ensure stability and security in the region. As for military-technical cooperation and the military-technical aid that we are rendering to the Republic of Armenia, we have established a very close and productive – I cannot even call it a dialogue – rather, it is a continuous, daily and professional work that we have organised. There are no problems in this regard.
Question: My first question is about the US announcement that they are withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty (OST). What consequences, in your opinion, will this decision entail?
My second question is about Hong Kong. US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has stated that the US may introduce sanctions against Beijing, if China approves a bill on Hong Kong’s “national security.” Thereby, the Americans say, China will “seize Hong Kong.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that any Chinese actions likely to affect Hong Kong’s freedoms may induce the Americans to revise their approach to the “one country-two systems” principle. How would you comment on the US statement?
Sergey Lavrov: Currently, it is very difficult to comment on US official statements because they are full of arrogance and permissiveness, including the self-arrogated right to give all others marks and present them with demands with regard to meeting the US interests. The Hong Kong-related problems they are trying to exploit are the PRC’s internal affairs. And we regard them as such. I do not think that the US attempts to use this problem as a pretext for a scandal are adding reliability to dialogue with America on any other issues. We in Russia have repeatedly experienced the same thing. Regrettably, we are not surprised by what the US is declaring with regard to China, although all of this is unprecedented.
A lot has been said about the US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, including by the Russian Foreign Ministry representatives. I will not comment on this matter for long, but nevertheless let me give you just one example. Like in the case of the INF Treaty and many other international legal documents that have ceased to “please” the Americans, they have accused us of being the chief reason why the United States is leaving the Open Skies Treaty, because Russia allegedly grossly violated all of this treaty’s provisions. They also recalled Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the fact that we do not allow them to approach our border with those states within a closer range than 10 kilometres. But this is our position based on the treaty itself that exempts the 10-kilometre zone from the border of states that are not parties to the Open Skies Treaty from monitoring arrangements. The fact that our Western colleagues do not recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states changes nothing. This is our position and it fully conforms to international law.
Their second grievance is that we have limited the range of flights over the Kaliningrad Region with account taken of its geographical peculiarities and the precedent the Americans have created with regard to Alaska. The Kaliningrad Region and Alaska are semi-exclaves, something that follows from their geographical location. Second, we proceeded from the assumption that open-skies airfields had been set aside for monitoring purposes both in Alaska and the Kaliningrad Region. There is one airfield for Alaska and one for the Kaliningrad Region. A maximum range of flights has been imposed in Alaska pursuant to the Addendum to the Treaty, and so we have imposed a maximum range of flights for the Kaliningrad Region. We have defined the regime of flights over the Kaliningrad Region in an absolutely tit-for-tat manner. But for all the identity of these approaches, their results, if we compare them, differ quite interestingly. For example, if we compare the areas, the image that can be obtained during one monitoring flight over the Kaliningrad Region may reach 98 percent of the entire territory, whereas in Alaska one monitoring flight can cover no more than 3 percent of the territory under surveillance. None of our Western partners, who were so active in backing the US treaty violation charges against Russia, recalls Alaska. They are speaking solely about the Russian Federation’s violations. There are other chronic treaty violations on the part of the United States; my colleagues repeatedly mentioned them during the past few days. So, what will come next? We will analyse this situation in an even-handed manner based primarily on our national interests and the interests of our allies, including, in the first place, the Republic of Belarus, with which we form one group of countries under the Treaty. Certain events are upcoming in keeping with the Treaty. The Treaty’s regular review conference is scheduled for October. An extraordinary conference needs to be convened in connection with the US withdrawal declaration. The conference should be held not earlier than one month and not later than two months after the US notification came in. Today, the Treaty depositaries are working to decide on the timeframes.
Question: My question concerns the latest escalation on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (border guards were involved in a shootout). Can the CSTO play a role in stabilising the situation in this region?
President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said yesterday that he will think about cooperation with China in missile construction. Does this cause concern in Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the situation on the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, unfortunately, this is not the first escalation. We urge our allies to start a dialogue and to refrain from the use of force as much as possible. We are ready to act as mediators. We believe that the sooner the situation calms down, the better it will be. We said this to our friends today.
As for cooperation between the Republic of Belarus and the People’s Republic of China, and what President Lukashenko spoke about. We are allies with the Republic of Belarus, we have very close military cooperation, common military planning and many joint military-technical projects, but there are no bans on military-technical interaction with China. Russia also has joint military-technical projects with foreign countries. The main thing is that at the same time we never follow a path that can pose risks for our Union State, military interests and security interests of Russia and the Republic of Belarus. I am convinced that our Belarusian colleagues act in the same way.