Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Gabon Pacome Moubelet-Boubeya, Moscow, May 27, 2021
We have discussed the state of our bilateral relations. We recalled the past years and decades of our friendship and cooperation, and outlined ways to promote ties in all areas.
We reaffirmed our further commitment to expanding our ties based on equality, respect and consideration for each other’s interests. The presidents of our two countries focused precisely on this when they met in July 2018 in Moscow.
We see substantial potential for building up trade, economic and investment cooperation. We agreed to take further steps to implement promising projects in hydrocarbon production, energy and infrastructure development. A number of Russian companies – we also mentioned this today – are showing a specific interest in finding partners in Gabon and promoting mutually beneficial agreements on the ground. We will provide assistance to representatives of the business community to establish direct contacts with each other, with the support of both governments – this was also agreed upon with my counterpart. In this regard, one of the important approaching opportunities for making these agreements practical is the upcoming St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), which will open in just a few days.
An intergovernmental customs cooperation agreement will facilitate the expansion of mutual trade; the work on the document is being finalised. We will continue to cooperate in training highly qualified personnel for Gabon at Russian universities. The Russian Government has allocated additional state scholarships for the next academic year at the request of Libreville. We have had our first experience training personnel for the Gabon army and law enforcement agencies, and we plan to expand it further. There are relevant agreements in place between the defence ministries, and a legal framework for this. We are also ready to supply military products to help increase the defence capability of the Gabonese Republic.
As for foreign policy affairs, there is the protocol on foreign ministry consultations of April 25, 2001. It laid a firm foundation for coordinating our foreign policy steps. We noted our identical or close positions on key issues, primarily, the need to respect and implement the provisions of the UN Charter and ensure respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, to guarantee the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs and the political-diplomatic settlement of conflicts. Both Russia and Gabon believe that every country, state or nation has the right to decide for itself what model of political and socio-economic development to use.
We exchanged views on cooperation in the UN, including issues that are now a subject of debate – regarding the reform of this universal organisation and its Security Council. We reaffirmed our position on the need to correct the distortion in the membership of the UN Security Council that is dominated by Western countries and their allies, while the developing nations are serious “underrepresented.” Therefore, we will insist that a reform of the UN Security Council should primarily focus on expanding representation from the developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
We spoke about the importance of implementing the agreements reached at the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019. Many events were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and some were held via videoconference. The main point is that we created specific mechanisms for further work in this area, including preparations for a regular summit next year.
We focused on developments in Africa. We voiced the common opinion that to resolve the many persisting problems effectively it is necessary to adopt a comprehensive approach that primarily implies the coordinated actions of the Africans themselves with support from the world community. “Support” is the key word in this context. The decisions drafted by the African countries themselves must not be replaced by anything.
We discussed in practical terms the persisting hotbeds of instability, including in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Chad and, in general, in the Sahara-Sahel region. The assessments we heard from our colleagues were very useful. We will consider them in our further work on African problems in the UN Security Council where they dominate the agenda, and in bilateral cooperation with the African Union, with sub-regional organisations and in contacts with individual countries that promote peaceful solutions. Gabon is one of these countries. We agreed to continuously monitor this part of our work.
We reviewed in detail the need to build up the capabilities of the international community and especially the African countries in countering terrorism and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which is becoming a serious problem. In this context, Russia and Gabon are ready to take part in international efforts, in part under UN aegis. We have already reached some practical results in this respect.
I believe the talks were very useful and allowed us to plan the specific steps that we will take for further development.
Question (addressed to Pacome Moubelet-Boubeya): Preparations for the next Russia-Africa Summit scheduled for 2022 went into top gear. How is this format expected to help strengthen cooperation between the African countries and Russia? What do you expect from it?
Sergey Lavrov (adding after Mr Moubelet-Boubeya): The pandemic has interfered with the event programme agreed on at our Sochi summit. Nonetheless, many events were held and continue to be held in the videoconference format. Hopefully, personal contacts will resume before long, as well as political consultations between the foreign ministers of the three member countries of the African Union (the country holding the chairmanship of the union, the one before it and the next one) and the Russian Federation, including on the issue of preparations for the second summit.
In addition to the political declaration approved at the first event, the Memorandum of Understanding Between the Russian Government and the African Union Commission on the Basics of Mutual Relations and Cooperation was coordinated and signed. The Russian Foreign Ministry has established a Russia-Africa forum secretariat on a permanent basis. Currently, the action plan for cooperation is being finalised and will be forwarded to the African Union Commission. There are framework documents, like the declaration and the memorandum, and currently a document is in the pipeline that sets forth the practical steps to carry out the agreements reached at the highest level.
Question: Head of the Ukrainian delegation in the Contact Group Leonid Kravchuk said that Minsk could no longer serve as the venue for talks on a Donbass settlement. This statement has gained relevance and importance following the recent events around Belarus. Please comment on this. Will Minsk cease to be the venue for these talks?
Sergey Lavrov: As for how the Contact Group will work now and its refusal, as Leonid Kravchuk said, to continue its activities in Minsk because of the events involving Belarus, which are now drawing everyone’s attention, I want to reaffirm what Moscow has officially said more than once: we insist on putting an end to the practice of demonising people who are not to the West’s liking.
The Belarusian authorities said clearly, as soon as the incident occurred, that they were determined to be transparent, conduct an open investigation, receive experts in this field and provide all information and the necessary materials. Some pieces of this information have already been distributed in a unilateral manner. Our Western colleagues, particularly the Baltic States, are behaving indecently, judging by diplomatic standards and by human standards as well. They shouted from the rooftops about introducing sanctions and are now demanding that an independent international investigation be conducted, ignoring the fact that the Belarusian authorities proposed precisely this in the wake of the incident. They have also meted out punishment [to Belarus]. Unfortunately, these manners are typical of many of our Western colleagues and not only on this occasion – far from it.
Leonid Kravchuk is the head of the delegation but it is not for him to decide how the Contact Group will continue its work. The Contact Group was established in the context of a package of documents approved at the Minsk Summit in February 2015 and later by a UN Security Council resolution. I believe those people who signed this package of documents will negotiate the format for this work.
If Mr Kravchuk decided to refer to the situation with a Ryanair flight, then why did neither he nor our Western colleagues raise the same concerns over a (similar) event in 2016? Without any explanation and for no reason at all, they said that a Belarusian flight had to be forced to land, so that a man could be removed from the plane. This man took part in anti-Maidan activities, spoke against the illegal anti-constitutional coup and the armed seizure of power and stood up to those who eventually occupied key positions of power in Kiev. These were ultra-radicals with a neo-Nazi slant. The Ukrainian authorities forced the Belarusian flight to land and removed this man from the plane because he spoke against the anti-government coup. I would rather not mix up the two episodes. Unless the Ukrainian party is looking for a pretext to shirk its obligations for good. I believe France and the FRG, as coauthors of the Minsk agreements, will not allow the Ukrainian authorities to do this.