Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a joint news conference following talks with OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ann Linde, Moscow, February 2, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our talks with Foreign Minister of Sweden Ann Linde were interesting. On this visit, Ms Linde was in Russia as the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. As you may recall, Sweden was most active in drafting the Helsinki Final Act that created the conditions for a pan-European process in Europe and that became the foundation of our common organisation. We hope that in the difficult situation that has now taken shape in Europe, the Swedish chairpersonship will be guided by a balanced and objective approach and will promote an atmosphere of trust in our common space. We will do everything we can to facilitate this approach.
We have the common view that, considering its broad geographical area, and its comprehensive approach to all dimensions of security, and the rules of consensus, the OSCE fully retains its importance and can play a greater role in European and Euro-Atlantic affairs. During the Foreign Minister Council session in Tirana, held via video conference last month, we suggested discussing ways of making the OSCE more effective. Today, we have given our Swedish colleagues an informal document that proposes a discussion on how and in what forms to consider this vital subject. We hope the Swedish side will pay due attention to this issue.
We hope the current chairpersonship will facilitate the resolution of many specific problems by looking for points of contact and drafting a unifying agenda. We discussed in detail our current tasks in three areas of the OSCE, as well as the work of its institutions and field missions. We also touched on budget and personnel issues. Russia is ready for close cooperation in countering terrorism and drug trafficking, ICT security threats, human trafficking and all other forms of organised crime.
We are convinced the OSCE can also contribute to overcoming the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, in part, by ensuring the socioeconomic rights of the people and promoting collaboration between various integration processes in Eurasia.
Our priorities also include the need to protect the rights of national minorities and eliminate manifestations of neo-Nazism, Christianophobia and Islamophobia.
Against the backdrop of censorship of objectionable opinions by global IT companies, it is necessary to pay special attention to ensuring the right of access to information.
We reviewed the situation in Ukraine and again emphasised that there is no alternative to the full and consistent implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures. We believe (and expressed this today) that any attempt to whitewash Kiev, which is stubbornly refusing to comply with its international commitments, will be counterproductive. We hope the current chairpersonship will facilitate a direct dialogue between Kiev and Donbass in the Contact Group and ensure the unbiased performance of the OSCE Social Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.
We discussed the role of the Minsk Group in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement and the prospects for resuming the positive dynamic of the 5+2 format in Transnistria. We assessed the course of the Geneva discussions on security and stability in the South Caucasus.
We had some things to discuss in our bilateral relations. We are committed to implementing the agreements of principle that were reached during the talks between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Lofven in St Petersburg in April 2019. We support overcoming the negative trend in bilateral trade that saw a serious decline in the 11 months of the past year. We allot an important role in this respect to the Russian-Swedish Steering Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation. As we understand it, the co-chairs of this important committee are interested in holding a regular session in Stockholm this year.
We hope that we will be able to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem of supplying Swedish products to Russian automobile manufacturer GAZ Group. Last year, the Swedish authorities, for some reason, banned the export of spare parts for presses used in GAZ automotive facilities. We hope our Swedish colleagues will review this situation in the interest of economic cooperation. We are also interested in the Swedish government helping to improve the economic conditions for the operation of the Kubal aluminium smelter in Sweden co-owned by Russia’s Rusal.
We appreciate the development of our humanitarian ties. Next year, Russian Seasons will be held in Sweden, as well as in other Scandinavian countries. Joint work continues on the project to raise the Russian Imperial Navy submarine Som, which sank in Swedish waters during the First World War in 1916. There are specific plans in place for implementing the project. We look forward to expediting the process.
We have exchanged views on the situation in the Baltic Sea region, and in northern Europe as a whole. We consider Sweden's policy of non-participation in military alliances an important factor in regional stability. We see, with some concern, the consistent attempts to draw Stockholm into interaction with the North Atlantic Alliance. Sweden is increasingly participating in joint exercises with NATO and providing its territory for NATO maneuvers. It is our conviction that neither the Arctic nor entire northern Europe has any problems that require the involvement of military-political blocs. Any problem there can be resolved through the efforts of the countries in that region.
We hope that our numerous proposals for establishing a security dialogue in that part of Europe will be reviewed and that we will receive a clear response. In particular, I am referring to our initiative, long proposed to our colleagues – something we call the 5+3+1 format (the five northern European countries, the three Baltic countries and the Russian Federation) where these countries can frankly exchange security concerns they might have in relation to each other, and in general, about security in the region.
We are grateful to our Swedish colleagues for expressing their willingness to contribute to the success of Russia’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which will begin in May 2021. We agreed to continue to maintain contact.
Question (addressed to Ann Linde): My question concerns the foundation principles of the OSCE, which you are currently chairing, according to which individual rights and freedoms form the core of this organisation. The right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression is one of the top principles.
On December 3, 2020, seven Latvian journalists were charged and prosecuted for collaboration with the Russian media. They were subjected to rough searches. To date, many of their personal belongings have not been returned. The journalists are accused of allegedly violating sanctions by cooperating with MIA Rossiya Segodnya, even though it is not on Latvia’s sanctions list.
My colleagues and I asked the OSCE for help. We would like you to clarify this situation. What are you planning to do to stop the persecution of seven Latvian journalists?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Ann Linde): During preparations for the OSCE Ministerial Council, the Russian delegation introduced draft decisions that did not contain anything revolutionary or unexpected, but simply suggested confirming the basic principles approved by the OSCE back in 1990s-early 2000s. First of all, this was about the principle of free access to information for citizens of a corresponding country, who should be able to use the news and assessment sources within their respective countries and abroad, and journalists. We only cited what the OSCE adopted in the early 1990s at our Western colleagues’ initiative.
At this time, the historical situation has changed for reasons unknown, and the Western countries (at least, most of them) oppose a consensus that would corroborate the need to ensure free access to information. We are preparing a similar proposal for the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting to be held in Stockholm.
Overall, the issue of transparency in global developments has become particularly important. The need for openness applies to the situation with Mr Navalny, which is being so heavily played up by our Western colleagues.
Our German colleagues said they found a chemical warfare agent in his biomaterials, which does not appear in any roster. Then, they double-checked this information with French and Swedish biological labs and the OPCW Technical Secretariat. No information that would actually prove the validity of the accusations against the Russian leadership has been provided so far.
If charges are brought forward, guilt must be substantiated. The refusal to provide information because it is “classified,” or the “patient” himself has not provided his consent to do so, leads us to believe that this is a staged operation.
Today, I reminded our Swedish counterparts about what we expect to receive from them, since one such analysis had been carried out in a laboratory run by the Swedish Defence Research Agency in Umea, following which it was loudly announced that the German experts’ findings were confirmed and that they did their work in a transparent and honest manner.
Question: If the United States offers concessions with regard to preserving the Open Skies Treaty (OST), would Russia be willing to reverse its withdrawal from the Treaty, which began several weeks ago?
Sergey Lavrov: We have discussed this issue. We noted the fact that some countries participating in the Open Skies Treaty are trying to blame the situation on Russia. Allegedly, the Americans have been putting up with our “violations” for a long time now. Finally, they ran out of patience and withdrew from the treaty. So, it’s up to Russia to do something in order to overcome the current crisis.
We have noted numerous violations by the United States over the past years. Compared to the accusations against us, these violations appear to be much more widespread and striking. Almost all of Alaska, except 3 to 5 percent of its territory was closed to our observation flights. Hawaii was off-limits completely as a result of the tricks that the Americans resorted to in violation of the procedures established by the treaty. There are a number of violations committed by the European members of the OST. So, claiming that Russia should be held accountable for the current situation is not really fair.
When the United States withdrew from the treaty, we told our European colleagues that we were willing to keep it, but that we would like to see them comply with the provision that prohibits the transfer of data obtained during observation flights to a country that is not part of the OST. They started telling us that this provision was already included in the treaty. We cited the information that we have that the United States, having decided to withdraw, was trying to talk its NATO allies into committing themselves, in violation of the treaty, to “share” with Washington the information gathered during flights over Russia. Since we had reliable information that the previous administration engaged in “arm twisting,” we invited our OST colleagues to reiterate their commitment that information obtained during observation flights would not be transferred to a third party.
We received a vague response from which Russia concluded that the US pressure had its effect, and that the Europeans were unwilling to confirm what, as they do not rule out, would be violated. This is just to refresh our memory.
In response to your question, if the United States fully returns to complying with the OST, Russia will be willing to constructively consider the new situation. The concerns that the parties to the treaty may have with regard to each other can and should be discussed in the Open Skies Consultative Commission, which was created to serve the OST.
You mentioned that we have already begun to withdraw from the treaty. This is not entirely true. We announced that we had made this decision, but the withdrawal will only begin after we send formal notification to the depositories of the treaty.