Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, Belgrade, October 10, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to express my gratitude to President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic for today's meeting which highlights the strategic nature of our partnership.
I have conveyed President Vladimir Putin’s warmest greetings and best wishes to the President of Serbia. President Putin remains committed to continuing the dialogue at the highest level. We discussed possible contacts at the presidential level in the near future. I am quite sure that we will agree on the timeline of such a meeting.
We maintain a trust-based dialogue not only at the presidential level, but also at the level of governments, individual ministries, agencies and, of course, our respective foreign ministries. A meeting of the Intergovernmental Russian-Serbian Committee on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, which took place last week, came as further confirmation of the progress taking in our bilateral relations and strategic partnership. As President Vucic just mentioned, concrete and major steps to promote trade, economic and investment cooperation for the benefit of our peoples and Russia-Serbia cooperation were outlined at that meeting.
According to the statistics, despite the coronavirus pandemic, our trade grew by over 16 percent to an almost $1.5 billion in the first seven months of this year. The result will be even more sizable by the end of the year.
We continue cooperation in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to vaccine supplies and sending our specialists to Serbia, the presidents launched a project for the joint production of the Sputnik V vaccine in Serbia in July. I am confident that this will be a major contribution to ensuring the interests of the people in that friendly country.
We also covered regional affairs and the Kosovo problem. Russia remains invariably in favour of resolving this matter based solely on UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and it be found as part of a direct dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, and this final decision be submitted to the UN Security Council for approval. President Putin has repeatedly underscored, and this remains our unwavering position, that we will accept any decision that suits Serbia and the Serbian people. Of course, we are concerned by the provocation in northern Kosovo in late September. We appreciated the restraint and firmness of the Serbian leadership and personally President Vucic, which made it possible to overcome this crisis and to put an end to the Kosovars’ provocative actions.
In our contacts with the European Union, we invariably talk about Brussels’ responsibility for the intermediary functions initiated by it, which the EU received by the resolution of the UN General Assembly. It is time to act upon the agreements that were reached long time ago in particular, back in 2013, on creating Serbian municipalities in Kosovo. Conniving with the Kosovars’ attempts to “drag out” this decision, which is vital for the Serbian population of Kosovo, does not reflect well on the EU.
We presume that our US partners will also use their influence - which is significant - on Pristina in order to ensure the normal course of the negotiating process and come to agreements that will be in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and suit our Serbian friends.
We exchanged views with President Vucic on the situation in the Balkans in general. We operate on the premise that Serbia remains the most important factor of peace and stability in this region and its opinion should be taken into account in any negotiation format and discussions.
I am sincerely grateful to President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic for his hospitality. Once again, I would like to highlight the strategic nature of our relations.
Question: Some Russians currently travel to Serbia to get a Pfizer jab. This is the only way for them to be able to travel again. No one doubts anymore that the story with vaccines and their recognition is just politics, and nothing else. Where are we in terms of the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates by different countries, including by Russia and Europe? Can our country do anything to accelerate this process?
Sergey Lavrov: The vaccine issue is not just a political, but also a business affair, and there any many things that prove this. Regarding our position, back in April 2020, when the Group of Twenty held its summit on fighting the coronavirus, President Vladimir Putin publicly spoke out in favour of countries that make vaccines lifting patent protection. This would have maximised the production of life-saving medicines for treating this infection. Our position has not changed. Unfortunately, other countries making these vaccines did not support this idea, but this position remains relevant to this day.
We have been engaged in talks with the European Union for quite some time now on the mutual recognition of vaccine certificates. There are various reasons why the agreement on this matter has yet to be achieved. There are objective reasons that have to do with completing the relevant procedures. However, we are also witnessing a political bias in the attitude towards Russian vaccines. Our European colleagues publicly recognise this without any hesitation. Still, we see an interest in most EU countries in facilitating people-to-people contacts as much as possible. I hope that common sense prevails.
Question (retranslated from Serbian): What will be your comment on the increasingly frequent accusations by some leaders in the Balkans and Europe against Russia, alleging that Moscow exercises excessive leverage over the developments in the region through its energy policy and otherwise? What do you think about the future of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, taking into consideration that Pristina does not want to honour any of the agreements reached in Brussels? You have already mentioned UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which is designed to serve as a foundation for any decision.
Sergey Lavrov: We have grown used to fears and “incantations” on Russia’s “attempts to interfere” into the developments in the Western Balkans. In our relations with Serbia and other countries in this region, Russia is guided exclusively by the principle of mutual benefit and balance of interests. This is what all our agreements with Serbia and other countries in the Western Balkans are all about.
We have known for quite some time now that the European Union is trying to assert its rights to this region. Former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said that when the EU has a presence in a certain region, there is no place for anyone else. She was referring directly to the Western Balkans. Moreover, the European Union believes that it has the right to carry out its policy, which is often far from constructive, in far-away regions like Central Asia. The EU also has its own approaches to other parts of the planet that are even further away from Europe. They are telling us that we must not undertake anything in regions where the EU has its own agenda. It goes without saying that this is nothing short of neo-colonial thinking.
I had a meeting with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, just a few weeks ago, and he adopted the same position. Still, I explained this to him in detail. If anyone has any specific evidence to back the groundless accusations of Russia violating international norms, be it the Western Balkans or anywhere else, please do show us these facts.
As for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, all I can do is confirm that it must be based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244. When it was adopted in June 1999, it was the Russian delegation to the UN Security Council that insisted on including the confirmation of Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in this document. We will see to it that this provision is honoured, and in a way that is acceptable for the Serbs.
As for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, we believe that the European Union has special responsibility, since the UN General Assembly has designated the EU as a mediator. At the very least, the agreements that have already been reached, including on the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo, must be carried out without delay. We will insist on implementing anything Pristina and Belgrade agree on.