Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of the Hellenic Republic Nikos Dendias, Athens, October 26, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have had very productive talks. It is nice to return to Greece again. We are grateful to our Greek friends and hosts for their traditional hospitality towards our delegation.
Greece is among the most important European partners for Russia. We have maintained close historical and spiritual ties for centuries; they are an extremely valuable asset in our relations indeed, including at the current stage.
Next year we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence, which led to the establishment of a sovereign Greek state. Russia greatly contributed to this process. It is notable, as Nikos Dendias has said, that the first head of state of an independent Greece was the Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire Ioannis Kapodistrias.
Today we signed an important document, which will launch one more large-scale cultural and humanitarian project, a Russia-Greece Year of History, which, we hope, will be officially inaugurated early next year. The joint memorandum stipulates a full programme of events. I hope that this initiative will be interesting not only for historians and archaeologists, but also for the general public in our countries, especially the young people.
We agreed that our bilateral cooperation is ongoing despite the complex sanitary and epidemiological situation. We noted once again that we have provided assistance to each other during the pandemic. In particular, our Greek friends worked energetically to help hundreds of Russians – actually, over 700 – return home from Greece. Moreover, the first repatriation flight from Greece was free. We really appreciate this. Mutual support is a distinguishing feature of our relations in a variety of areas.
Regarding bilateral ties, we expressed hope that we would be able to overcome the decline in mutual trade due to the pandemic as soon as possible. The Joint Russian-Greek Commission for Economic, Industrial, Scientific and Technical Cooperation plays a considerable role in this. The co-chairs of this important intergovernmental agency have maintained contact via videoconference. We hope the commission will be able to hold a full in-person plenary meeting as soon as circumstances allow.
We have agreed to continue working to modernise and expand the legal framework of our relations. Our concerned agencies are working on documents in a number of vital spheres, including healthcare, communications, information technology and customs cooperation.
We have achieved mutual understanding on a wide range of regional and international matters, and have agreed to maintain contact in multilateral platforms, including the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and BSEC. We praised Greece for its performance during its Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers over the past six months. We are satisfied with the priorities the Greek Chairmanship has been promoting over this period, and the fact that at the upcoming conference this November in Athens, which will probably take place via videoconference, the ministers will approve a number of important documents, including on promoting youth ties among our countries, education and culture.
We exchanged views on developments in the eastern Mediterranean, reaffirming our commitment to resolving all the disputes that may arise in any sphere through dialogue rooted in international law.
We also talked about Syria and Libya. We shared some information on how we are working with other external actors to promote a settlement, including Russia’s cooperation with Turkey and Iran as part of the Astana Format for the Syrian settlement. We also discussed measures that are being taken to fulfil the agreements between Russia and Turkey on the Idlib de-escalation zone, primarily regarding eliminating what remains of the militants from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.
On Libya we noted the good news from Geneva, where delegations from Tripoli and Benghazi held talks under UN auspices. We hope that the declared truce will be immediately followed by concrete steps to create the relevant mechanisms, while processes related to achieving a political settlement will not be left in cold storage.
We discussed Russia’s role as the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair in promoting a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh, starting with an immediate ceasefire.
We also talked about the other steps we are taking in other areas in the post-Soviet geopolitical space. Of course, we are interested in overcoming and settling all the problems that exist there.
We are satisfied with the outcome of the talks. I invited the minister to visit the Russian Federation again. He promised to choose a city at his discretion. We are ready to accommodate these requests.
Question: We see how rapidly the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is developing. You just mentioned this. Does Russia have a plan or initiative to help reduce the tensions in this area?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the Eastern Mediterranean, I can confirm what I have said. Problems have been accumulating there for years, especially in the south of the Mediterranean. New problems have emerged and they are well known. We are convinced they must be resolved on the foundation of international law.
As for whether we have an initiative, I think this is a general appeal to fully comply with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international legal documents. This is key to alleviating tensions a bit, and transferring the problem to the negotiating table.
The coastal states must be the first to show an initiative. If someone asks us to mediate, using our relations with this or that country, we will certainly be willing to consider this opportunity.
Question (retranslated from Greek): Greece is currently engaged in active talks on expanding its territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles. What is your position on this issue?
Obviously, Turkey has entered a new stage in its policy. What do you think about the attitude of the international community to this policy?
Sergey Lavrov: As for a decision to extend its territorial waters, you said yourself that this is the intention of the Greek government. For this reason, the Russian Federation cannot take any position on this issue, except for the one envisaged by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Under this convention, each participant has the right to establish territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles, naturally considering elementary common sense and geographical features. If the plans of two or more participants in the convention clash, a solution can only be reached at the negotiating table with due respect for each other’s interests as the convention requires.
As for Turkey, we have good relations with it, but they are not without some problems. Our approaches to various issues do not always coincide, but when we find common ground (we are conducting good talks on Libya), we pool our efforts for the good of the cause and facilitate the creation of conditions required for settling crises. We will continue this kind of cooperation with Turkey.
Any problems that emerge between countries must be resolved through dialogue no matter how difficult the situation may be, including that between Turkey and Greece. We would like these problems to be discussed and resolved via direct dialogue.