Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Acting Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia Ara Ayvazyan, Yerevan, May 6, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to once again express gratitude to Mr Ara Ayvazyan and all our Armenian friends for their hospitality and for the warm welcome accorded to our delegation. During our talks today, as well as during a detailed conversation we had with Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikola Pashinyan, we discussed a broad range of issues of mutual interest.
We are time-tested allies and strategic partners. I would like to use this occasion to congratulate the people of Armenia, all our friends in this country on our upcoming Day of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. This is a sacred date and a shared heritage of our nations, of all nations of the Soviet Union. Together, we hold dear and sacred the memory of the Red Army, which saved the world from the Nazi plague.
We pointed out that the political dialogue is developing actively between Russia and Armenia at the highest and high levels. This year alone, our leaders have held two full in-person meetings and eight telephone conversations. Our prime ministers have met twice as well. We maintain active interaction between the relevant ministries and agencies.
We are also strengthening ties between our parliaments. On April 24, a delegation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation attended the events held to commemorate the 106th anniversary of Armenian Genocide. On May 16-18, President of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan plans to visit Moscow.
In the next few months, we in Russia expect to host a number of Armenian delegations, which represent the widely diverse aspects of our governments’ activities.
There are landmark events on our calendar. Next year, we will mark 30 years of diplomatic relations and the 25th anniversary of the basic bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. We have agreed to coordinate a programme for these jubilee events, which should highlight the strategic and allied nature of our relations. I hope that they will be well received by the citizens of our countries.
We highly appreciate the quality of interaction within the framework of integration associations such as the EAEU, the CIS and the CSTO. We discussed the entire range of trade and economic matters. Russia remains the leading business partner and investor for Armenia, even though our trade declined slightly last year. We hope to restore our economic growth trends within the framework of the meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, which is scheduled to take place this year.
We noted the importance of our military and military-technical cooperation. Security in the South Caucasus is protected by the 102nd Russian Military Base, the Russian-Armenian Joint Group of Forces, and the FSB Border Guard Directorate in Armenia.
Today we have signed an intergovernmental memorandum on biological security. Implementation will make a vital contribution to the further development of cooperation in this sensitive and increasingly important sphere and will help strengthen our common biosafety space. We will also promote this important subject in multilateral platforms, such as the CSTO and the CIS.
We discussed our common efforts against the coronavirus. Russia has sent tens of thousands of Sputnik V doses to Armenia. We are currently discussing the acquisition of another million doses and vaccine production in Armenia.
Our collaboration in education is moving forward. About 5,000 Armenian citizens are studying in Russia, including over 2,000 on federal grants. Approximately as many young people, that is, about 5,000, are studying at six branches of Russian universities in Yerevan and at the Russian-Armenian University. We have great expectations for the 7th Russian-Armenian Youth Forum, which is scheduled to take place in Moscow in early June.
We discussed and confirmed that we have similar views on a number of international and regional issues. We have agreed to closely coordinate our activities at international associations, including the UN, the OSCE, the OPCW, the Council of Europe, the BSEC and several other formats. We will support each other’s initiatives and candidates in international organisations.
We had an in-depth discussion on Nagorno-Karabakh, pointing out the progress and stabilisation achieved there. We will not relax our efforts to ensure the return of all the detainees to their homes, clear mines, protect cultural and religious heritage sites and launch the operation of the relevant international organisations in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Trilateral Working Group on resuming economic ties and transport links, co-chaired by the Russian, Azerbaijani and Armenian deputy prime ministers, is greatly contributing to normalisation in the region. The success of this job will be decisive for creating the conditions needed to normalise the overall situation and launch creative cooperation in the post-conflict period. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group should continue working as well, primarily to promote an atmosphere of trust.
The outcome of our talks has once again demonstrated that Russia and Armenia are firmly resolved to strengthen their allied and strategic partnership. We regard these relations as a major factor of peace and stability in the South Caucasus and as a guarantee of our countries’ successful socio-economic development.
I have invited my Armenian colleague to visit Russia again to continue our close contact on foreign policy and other topics.
Question: You mentioned the 30th anniversary of our diplomatic relations and the 25th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. Do you plan to dramatically boost our cooperation this year? Are you working on new roadmaps?
Sergey Lavrov: Our partnership is so broad that it would be physically impossible to boost it dramatically. We will plan and hold special talks and several major, landmark events dedicated to the anniversaries of our diplomatic relations and the basic treaty. We are working on a programme for next year. We have agreed that our staff will prepare the relevant initiatives. I can assure you that the citizens of our countries will welcome these events.
Question: During a meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council in Kazan on April 29, Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and Prime Minister of Russia Mikhail Mishustin noted a 10 percent decrease in bilateral trade because of the pandemic and the need to discuss proposals for increasing it. Have you discussed this issue?
Sergey Lavrov: Although our bilateral trade fell by 9.6 percent, it nevertheless amounted to $2.3 billion. This is a substantial sum. There is no doubt that it will be increasing rapidly as we emerge from the pandemic.
The Intergovernmental Commission is responsible for the practical aspects of resuming growth in our trade. Its co-chairs, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Alexey Overchuk and Deputy Prime Minister of Armenia Mher Grigoryan maintain close contact and are in agreement on ways to promote additional spheres of cooperation.
The efforts undertaken by the Trilateral Working Group, co-chaired by the Russian, Azerbaijani and Armenian deputy prime ministers, are creating new possibilities for unblocking economic ties and transport links in the region. These agreements, when they are reached, will allow us to greatly build up Russian-Armenian cooperation and Armenia’s interaction with its neighbours in the region.
Question: On April 13 and May 5, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group issued statements in which they mentioned, inter alia, the importance of a final comprehensive and sustainable settlement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Can we presume in this context that the co-chairs have reached an agreement on the resumption of the peace process? What is Moscow’s view of the co-chairs’ interaction on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement?
Sergey Lavrov: The peace process, which was launched on November 9, 2020 by the signing of an agreement on ending the war, launching a peacekeeping operation and unblocking economic ties and transport links, has been ongoing for six months now. Therefore, describing the situation as “the resumption of the peace process” would be distorting reality.
The Trilateral Group is working on practical solutions to the problems that are directly connected with the peace process: when the people eliminate the blockade, embargo and obstacles to equal and mutually beneficial cooperation within the framework of international organisations, they will be able to enjoy the direct benefits of the advantages of this geopolitically and geo-economically important strategic region.
We played the decisive role in the drawn-out talks between the three leaders on ending the hostilities and using the peacekeeping contingent as a ceasefire verification mechanism, and we are probably more interested than others in implementing the agreements reached by the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan and the prime minister of Armenia. I have no doubt that when they called for a final comprehensive and sustainable settlement, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group had in mind the actions that must be taken to attain this goal.
There is no doubt that when the people see the benefits of a peaceful life and the lifting of the restrictions, sanctions and the blockade, they will take a different look at the subjects which our colleagues are highlighting and making such a big fuss about. There is no need to politicise the matter. The process is proceeding with difficulties as it is, because we are dealing with issues that concern the routes interconnecting the region, the connectivity of regional relations, the contact line, and the delimitation and demarcation of the border. These are clear and practical matters which must be dealt with so the region can breathe freely and resume a peaceful life. Those who attempt to postpone these matters and to prioritise political matters instead are turning the process upside down. It will be easier to settle the political problems when Azerbaijanis and Armenians live peacefully side by side with each other “on the ground” again, as they did for centuries.
Question: The European Commission has stated that the EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response to the Russian sanctions, which Russia has imposed in response to the unfriendly EU actions towards Russia. How would you describe current Russian-EU relations? Which of the sides has the ability and power to direct these relations towards a more constructive path?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already commented on this subject. As for Russian-EU relations, the architecture, which used to be extremely well developed, has been destroyed by Brussels, which actually stimulated the anti-constitutional coup in Ukraine.
After that, when the Russian-speaking people in Ukraine, including Crimea, rose up against these atrocities and people in Crimea voted for independence in light of a direct military threat from the neo-Nazis, we were accused of violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The exchange of these measures began when the EU, seeking to camouflage its helplessness before the ultra-radicals who had seized power in Kiev contrary to the EU-approved agreements, tried to shift the blame. This exchange of sanctions, which has been initiated by EU members and other Western countries, including the United States, is ongoing.
We will not leave unanswered such attacks on Russia, its leadership or members of our parliament, as well as our companies, which, according to the EU, are guilty only because they have been registered in a country which the EU decided to denounce as an aggressor, without any reliable substance and absolutely illegitimately. This manner of using unilateral restrictions in contravention of the UN Security Council is becoming a trend. The United States introduced it, and the EU has taken it up quite eagerly, in my opinion.
As for the latest developments, we clearly announced that we had declared persona non grata those officials of the EU and EU members who played a crucial role in the latest round of sanctions against our officials and members of our parliament. The EU statement to the effect that our decision is illegal and contradicts international law means only one thing: the EU believes that it can get away with anything. When the EU threatens us with more sanctions, I wonder if its feeling of omnipotence and infallibility is being complemented by yet another belief: that it can act with impunity. This is a dead-end street. I know that a number of EU members think so as well, but the aggressive anti-Russia lobby in the EU is doing its job very well. Reasonable forces in the EU are unable to do anything about it and just go along with it. This is regrettable. But it is not our choice. I would like to say once again that a look at the facts of the events that took place after March 2014 will show who began the sanctions and why we have no choice but to respond to these acts of hostility.
Question: One of the main issues on the agenda of your visit is the unblocking of economic ties. But President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said on the subject of transport links that they are establishing the Zangezur Corridor, and if Armenia objects to it, the matter will be decided by force. This is basically a threat against the territorial integrity of Armenia. Can you comment on this? Does this idea fit in with the trilateral statements?
Sergey Lavrov: Our talks were devoted to more than trilateral cooperation and to unblocking economic ties. This was only one of the subjects we discussed. Today we talked about all aspects of the post-conflict settlement, including military, military-political, humanitarian and many other matters.
As for trilateral cooperation at the deputy prime minister level, this mechanism was created by decision of the presidents of Russia and Azerbaijan and the prime minister of Armenia following their meeting in Moscow on January 11, 2021. It includes reaching agreements that can only be exclusively voluntary and mutually beneficial, and does not stipulate anything other than diplomatic accord and arrangements that will unblock economic ties. Any other initiatives that contradict these agreements of the three leaders cannot be regarded as an alternative to the agreements reached.