Statements and speeches by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov
Acting Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference on Russia’s diplomatic performance in 2019 Moscow, January 17, 2020
Our views on current international issues have been presented by President of Russia Vladimir Putin in great detail and more than once, including at the annual news conference in December last year and the other day in the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly.
I would like to point out in my opening remarks that the world is still running a high fever, as we can clearly see. The main destabilising factor is the aggressive policy of several Western countries, primarily our American colleagues, aimed at destroying the international legal framework of security and replacing international law with their own invention, a “rules-based world order.” Examples include Washington’s destruction of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), unwillingness to discuss the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), deliberate fanning of tensions in the Persian Gulf, attempts to revise the generally recognised basis for a Middle East settlement, NATO’s increased military activity near the Russian border and attempts to take over the multilateral mechanisms for controlling WMD.
The lack of trust in global politics and the economy is being aggravated by methods of unfair competition, such as unilateral sanctions, protectionism and trade wars. The latest example of this was the US attempts to hinder the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project contrary to the opinion of the leading EU countries.
Washington is blatantly abusing the privileges it has as the host country of the UN Headquarters. Acting at its own discretion in violation of international law, Washington has denied the representatives of “undesirable” countries the opportunity to attend events held at the UN platform. This could be yet another manifestation of the “rules-based order.”
Russian diplomacy is pursuing an independent multivector policy set out by the President of Russia and has been working to reduce international tensions and to strengthen the democratic principles of international communication based on law. We are doing our best to maintain all aspects of global and regional security.
Our top priorities include the fight against international terrorism, in particular in Syria, as well as efforts to promote a political process here and to settle the current humanitarian problems of Syrians. Our achievements last year include the launch of the intra-Syrian Constitutional Committee through the concerted efforts of the guarantor countries of the Astana format. Syria’s post-conflict rehabilitation and its reintegration into the Arab family are gaining priority now. We will do our best to promote this.
We also contributed to efforts to overcome other conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, including in Libya and Yemen. The situation in the region could be greatly improved through the implementation of Russia’s Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf Region. We presented a revised concept last summer at a seminar attended by experts and researchers from the regional countries.
Russia traditionally prioritises expanded collaboration with its partners in the Eurasian space, primarily within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the Union State, the CIS and the Eurasian Economic Union. I would like to single out our achievements in promoting Eurasian integration, including the EAEU’s expanded foreign ties. As you know, free trade agreements were signed with Vietnam in 2016 and with Singapore and Serbia in 2019. Agreements on trade and economic cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and the People’s Republic of China, as well as an interim agreement with Iran, entered into force last year. Active talks continue with Israel and Egypt. It has been decided to launch a negotiating process with India. All these actions are in line with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to establish a Greater Eurasian Partnership that would be open to all the countries of our common continent, Eurasia.
Russian-Chinese relations of a comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation continued to expand. In June 2019, President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Russia, with the sides announcing that bilateral relations had entered a new era. Moscow-Beijing foreign policy coordination exerted an important stabilising influence on the global situation.
Special and privileged strategic partnership with India, diverse ties with ASEAN countries, as well as other Asian and Latin American states, continued to become stronger. Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the African continent received a substantial impetus. As you know, the first Russia-Africa summit in history took place in October 2019, and its results elevate Russian-African dialogue to an entirely new level.
We managed to make headway in resolving the domestic Ukrainian crisis. A Normandy format summit took place after a three-year interval after the new Kiev leaders managed to start fulfilling the decisions of the two earlier Normandy Four summits. We hope that the December 2019 decisions in Paris will make it possible to move ahead in implementing the Minsk Package of Measures. But, of course, these decisions should not remain on paper, like during the Poroshenko regime.
This year, there are plans to continue maintaining global security and strategic stability, including efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space and the unacceptability of weaponising cyberspace. We will completely activate the potential of the UN, the G20, the CIS, and the Eurasian Economic Union, as well as the possibilities opened up by Russia’s presidency of BRICS and the SCO. We will focus on our work with the four other permanent UN Security Council members, including on such key aspects as the preservation and consolidation of the UN’s central coordinating role in global affairs and the inviolability of the principles governing international affairs as set forth in the UN Charter. An overwhelming majority of states supports us in these efforts.
In conclusion, I would, of course, like to note that two major anniversaries occur this year: the 75th anniversary of the Victory in World War II and the Great Patriotic War, as well as the 75th anniversary of establishing the UN. We will continue to do everything possible to combat the falsification of history, to preserve the good reputation of victorious soldiers and to prevent a revision of the internationally recognised results of the defeat of Nazism. Many responsible countries of the world have joined us in defending the historical memory. I would also like to note the contribution of our compatriots living abroad to this work. We are looking forward to seeing our foreign partners at the May 9 celebrations in Moscow.
Thank you, I am ready to answer your questions.
Question: We know that Russia and China plan to jointly celebrate the 75th anniversary of Victory in WWII in 2020. Our countries have done a great deal to help build the post-war world order. What role are they playing now in the maintenance of global stability? How would you describe Russian-Chinese cooperation in this sphere?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already spoken about our strategic relations with China. We hold similar views on all the key international issues. Our views and approaches have been incorporated in a number of joint documents signed by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping, including the Joint Statement on Developing Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Interaction Entering a New Era signed in June 2019 during the Chinese leader’s visit to Russia, which has advanced our strategic relations to a higher level.
We are closely coordinating our moves at the UN. We try to support one another and to uphold the principles of the UN Charter that serve as the basis of the global organisation. We support one another at the UN Security Council when considering issues that imply the need to uphold these principles in each particular crisis situation, as we did during the recent discussion on the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria. We coordinate the way we vote and invariably support justice, trying to prevent the adoption of decisions which our Western colleagues often try to impose on us so as to further their unilateral agenda disregarding the need for reaching consensus.
I mentioned the decision on extending the cross-border assistance mechanism, which was ultimately adopted taking into consideration the position of Russia and China. Our Western partners used every trick in the book to keep open one crossing point for humanitarian deliveries, called Al Yarubiyah, on the Iraqi-Syrian border. They claimed that the closure of that crossing would amount to a humanitarian disaster for the Syrians living in the north-eastern regions. We knew that this was not so. Our Western colleagues only wanted to preserve the Al Yarubiyah crossing so as to legitimise the illegal presence of the US-led coalition forces east of the Euphrates. An objective look at the humanitarian deliveries east of the Euphrates shows that over two months last year, in October and November, UN forces supported by the Syrian Government delivered more than 420 truckloads of aid, including 162 tonnes of medical goods, equipment and medicines, from Damascus and Qamishli to the north-eastern regions, whereas only slightly more than 100 trucks used the Al Yarubiyah crossing in the past 20 months. Deliveries made via that crossing were many times smaller than the aid delivered with the assistance of the Syrian Government and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
This is one example of how we use facts to protect the truth together with our Chinese partners and to prevent the use of the UN Security Council and its decisions as instruments of unilateral pressure on dissenting regimes.
Question: At what stage is the Syrian crisis now? What is preventing its resolution? Can we expect to see relations restored between Syria and Turkey, the European Union and the Arab world this year?
Sergey Lavrov: I would say the Syrian crisis is now in an advanced stage of settlement. There has been progress on almost all tracks – in the military, political, diplomatic, and humanitarian areas. Economic recovery is lagging slightly behind, because our Western partners and several countries in the region have put forward their preconditions. What’s more, those preconditions change depending on what happens in real life. First they said they would remove the restrictions on providing assistance to Syria for the return of refugees and economic recovery as soon as the political process begins. The political process has been launched; now they are saying they need to wait until it yields results. It looks like they will keep lifting the bar, changing their demands during the game. This is definitely not helping to get results.
What is important is a decisive victory in the fight against terrorism. The remaining islands of resistance from ISIS and al-Nusra are mainly in the Idlib de-escalation zone and on the eastern bank, where there are about 10,000 ISIS members in my estimate. They are mostly in camps controlled by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), mainly Kurdish units. There have been alarming reports we are verifying now that that the SDF release terrorist fighters to go and freely settle in other parts of Syria for a bribe. This information raises concerns. We have long warned our American partners, who have influence on the SDF, that they should prevent the escape of militants from camps where they are held in custody. Unfortunately, there is a risk that this can happen.
I have already mentioned the Syrian Government’s cooperation with the UN, citing an example that underscores that there are no longer any reasons for maintaining UN operations to deliver humanitarian aid across the Syrian border without consulting the Syrian Government. Humanitarian assistance really helps to create conditions for the return of refugees.
Russia is also doing a lot bilaterally – in addition to contributing to the relevant UN funds that provide assistance to Syrians and other peoples in the region – including through our military deployed on the ground, the military police and other units. We are assisting in efforts to restore vital systems such as water and electricity supply, and the most basic educational and healthcare services. We urge all countries to follow suit, without trying to politicise humanitarian assistance or making any geopolitical demands for it.
On the political track, as I said, we have seen a result in the form of the Constitutional Committee, which has set up a small body responsible for preparing and drafting the constitutional proposals and adopted the core rules of the procedure. Two meetings have been held, and a third one is being organised.
Next week, we are expecting a visit by Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Geir Pedersen, who also plans to visit Damascus. I hope that these negotiations and his contacts with the Syrian leaders will result in drafting a schedule for the Constitutional Committee’s further work.
We are certainly confident in the need to correct the mistake made when Syria was expelled from the Arab League in 2011. That country needs to return to the “Arab family,” as the President of Russia has repeatedly said.
Question: Russia and Italy have long discussed the Libya crisis. What mistakes do you think the current and past Italian cabinets have made in recent years regarding Libya? What can the Italians do now compared to the past? What do you expect from the conference on Libya in Berlin?
Sergey Lavrov: The main mistake was not made by Italy, but by our NATO colleagues. As far as I know, in 2011, Italy did not play the critical role in taking the decision to bomb Libya and to overthrow the regime in violation of the UN Security Council resolution. I will not list the names of the leaders of that epic adventure as I think everyone knows them. Then, Libyan statehood was destroyed and has not been restored so far.
There have been many attempts to assist the Libyan parties in reaching at least some kind of agreement and returning their country to normal life. There was the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat, which is still regarded by most external parties as containing the basic principles for a Libya settlement. Of course, life goes on, and other things can be added, all the more so as agreements were signed in Abu Dhabi earlier last year, which also concerned state power in Libya but which, unfortunately, were not implemented. A conference was held in Paris where a specific date for elections in Libya was set. But, as you know, we should never get ahead of ourselves and set overly concrete goals. Diplomacy is an unhurried process. There was a conference in Palermo, where useful work was done as well.
In response to our Turkish colleagues’ proposals, we volunteered to try to contribute to these efforts. We invited the leaders of eastern and western Libya to meet, and they accepted our invitation. We had talks with the delegations led by Commander of the Libyan National Army Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Chairman of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives of Libya Aguila Saleh, representing one side, and Prime Minister of the Government of the National Accord of Libya (PNS) Fayez al-Sarraj and Chairman of the High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri, representing the other side, which lasted over seven hours. There is a text that we believe is quite balanced. It calls for a ceasefire and the beginning of a political process. It was signed by Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalid al-Mishri. Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Aguila Saleh asked for extra time. Most importantly, the truce, which was announced before their arrival in Moscow, is being respected. This is a definite step forward. Let's hope that the truce remains in place, preferably indefinitely. At least German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently met with Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi and stated that the marshal had confirmed his commitment to a ceasefire. This is already a useful development.
We supported the initiative to hold the Berlin Conference from day one, because the more countries are willing to help the Libyans create proper conditions for a settlement, the better. Persuading these people to do anything is not easy, so we must work together. We will participate in the conference in Berlin on Sunday for these reasons. We participated in all five preparatory meetings. I believe that the final documents have been agreed upon almost in full. They are fully consistent with the decisions adopted by the UN Security Council on a Libya settlement and do not contain any provisions that are at odds with its decisions. We tried to bring them to a proper condition during the talks. What matters now is that after the Berlin Conference - if everything goes as planned and the UN Security Council supports its results - the Libyan parties do not repeat their past mistakes and do not put forward additional conditions or blame each other. So far, relations between them have been very tense. They don’t even want to be in the same room, not to mention talk or meet with each other.
We will participate in this conference alongside our Italian colleagues. I have a morning meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in Berlin before the conference.
Question: Will Russia have a new foreign policy doctrine, in you view, given the latest constitutional amendments proposed by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and new appointments? We know that the foreign policy course is determined by the President. We are accustomed to you always referring to the “supremacy of international law.” We understand that these amendments are to enhance Russia’s sovereignty and that this is a necessary step to protect our common national interests. What changes may follow in practice?
Sergey Lavrov: President of Russia Vladimir Putin has already commented on our attitude to international law and the way it corresponds to our laws and the Russian Constitution. According to the Constitutional Court’s explanations given some time ago in response to a relevant inquiry, the Constitution contains basic, fundamental rules determining all our actions. No international agreements should contradict our Constitution.
I want to draw your attention to the following. Any international agreement adopted by the Russian Federation, to which it accedes, is signed and submitted to the Russian parliament – the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation – for ratification. Ratification takes the form of a federal law. Thus, our international commitments, first, become part of our legal system, since they become a federal law, and, second, a federal law cannot be adopted if it runs counter to the Constitution.
I do not see here any pretext or reason for speculating or searching for any hidden meaning.
Question: Protesters in Lebanon approached the perimeter of the Russian diplomatic mission in Beirut yesterday. Could it be a message to Russia in connection with its policy in that region from outside parties that support and drive the revolutionary process in Lebanon?
Sergey Lavrov: We appreciate the way the Lebanese leadership and the relevant services responded to that incident. I don’t see any reason to invent a conspiracy theory or a plot.
As far as I understand, the Embassy is near a centre holding those arrested for participating in the riot, whom the protesters are trying to free. Two tear gas grenades fell on the Embassy grounds. They caused no harm to people or property. As I have said, Lebanese services assured us that they would pay greater attention to the security of our diplomatic mission.
Question: You began your remarks by saying the world is “running a high fever.” Indeed, over the past year, we have seen rallies around the world. Protests have flared up in various parts of the world, from Latin America to Hong Kong. However, the key question is – what is causing this infection, and how? In most cases, we have seen support for these movements from Washington, that is, we saw that these sentiments were being fueled artificially.
In the first week of 2020, pressure from the United States began gaining new momentum, with the US-Iranian crisis. How much should we fear the continuation of this trend in 2020? Are we in for more “Venezuelas” – states with dual governments? What do you think awaits Iran in 2020?
Sergey Lavrov: It is difficult to make any forecasts. According to one of Viktor Chernomyrdin’s great aphorisms, “Forecasting is a thankless job, especially when it comes to predicting the future.”
It is truly difficult to “predict the future,” primarily in relation to how our American colleagues will behave. You have listed some examples of their actions. It is difficult to predict what they will invent this year, but nothing can be ruled out.
I have mentioned many times that they are trying to replace international law with some rules-based order, something the West primarily needs. This is an attempt to delay the forming of a democratic and polycentric world order, which is an objectively unfolding process. The West is trying to deter the development of major powers. We can see how much effort the trade dialogue between China and the United States is taking.
Just in case, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has a dispute resolution body. But that body has been impotent for more than a year because the United States is blocking the appointment of participants in its mechanism, and it does not have a quorum. Instead of resolving the emerging problems in world trade through a universally agreed upon international legal mechanism in the WTO dispute settlement body, the United States prefers to deal with its competitors one on one.
Just this morning I read that the European Commission has expressed concern that the recently reached US-Chinese agreement might be violating the principles of free trade and WTO rules. The European Commission has reserved the right to return to this issue later.
But as regards questions that directly relate to international security and weapons of mass destruction proliferation problems, here too, they are making attempts to take these processes into their own hands and preclude a transparent, universal dialogue with the aim to reach consensus-based decisions that will be approved by all.
You can see what is being done at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). I have talked about this more than once. The Technical Secretariat has been, completely illegally, given the function of determining guilty parties, in flagrant violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (CWC). They are trying to apply just about the same approach to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BTWC), where Russia, and most other countries, helped create a verification mechanism. The Americans are actually single-handedly blocking this decision and are trying to advance their own interests, including in post-Soviet countries, through the secretariats of international organisations, including through the UN Secretariat, as well as through their closed-door, non-transparent, secretive bilateral contacts. Biolaboratories are being set up with the Pentagon. These are all very serious things. Again, these things cause everyone’s concern. But the Americans do not want to consider them honestly, with the participation of all parties, signatories to the BTWC.
You mentioned Iran. There is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Iranian nuclear programme (JCPOA), which is an integral part of international law, approved by the UN Security Council in a binding resolution. This is an international law. The Americans decided to apply their own rules – and abandoned this comprehensive plan. Not only did they stop fulfilling their obligations, but they also forbid everyone else to trade with Iran. At the same time, Iran is required to abide by the document that President Donald Trump dubbed “the worst deal ever negotiated,” adding that a new one needs to be adopted. But Iran still must comply with it. Everyone should obey the United States and refrain from trading with Iran, but Iran must still fulfill its obligations. This is an alarming situation. And it is taking an even more dangerous turn now: three European countries parties to the JCPOA – UK, France and Germany – have sent a letter to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, in which they said they wanted to launch the dispute resolution process provided for in the JCPOA proper. This letter was closed, but it is known to have been received.
So what is happening is close to what President of Russia Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned about. He said that at some point the Europeans would take advantage of the situation in Iran, some of Iran’s future actions, to be able to shift the blame onto Iran for everything that happened. Iran – we have also mentioned this before – has, in fact, suspended only the commitments it voluntarily assumed, in addition to its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA, and the obligations under the Additional Protocol to it. Everything Iran is doing in the nuclear field is open and accessible to IAEA inspectors. Iran is now the most verified country of all the NPT member countries.
When European countries said Iran is now obligated to take certain measures, they regretted that the United States withdrew from the JCPOA, but addressed their demands to Iran, harshly and with an accusatory tinge. Just yesterday, I read the news that German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer confirmed the rumors that before the foreign ministers of Germany, Britain and France wrote that letter, the Americans advanced an ultimatum to those three countries, threatening to levy 25 percent duties on automotive and other products if they do not abandon the JCPOA and begin to advocate the development of a new treaty that would satisfy the United States. That was directly stated by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who called for tossing out the old deal and signing a new one, which would not be Barack Obama’s deal, but Donald Trump’s.
The methods used by our American partners are quite diverse. I simply cannot predict what might happen in the future, although we continue the dialogue with the Americans on all problems, as well as with the Europeans.
A few days ago, the deputy heads of the foreign affairs agencies of Russia and the United States had a regular meeting on strategic stability. They discussed the entire range of issues on the agenda, including the topic of predictability. I cannot say that any impressive result has been achieved, but the dialogue continues. We are determined to continue working to ensure that our world still has at least some agreements that will hold back and control weapons, especially nuclear weapons, and require the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
It was for a reason that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his Address to the Federal Assembly highlighted the role of the five nuclear powers that are permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is not a privilege but a huge responsibility to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council and to have the right of veto. This is actually a responsibility that cannot be easily discounted; our President’s call to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to recognise and demonstrate their responsibility, in accordance with the UN Charter, for everything that happens in the field of military-political security in the world, must be heard.
Question: I would like to ask about the three Russian journalists killed in the Central African Republic. It was reported recently that local law enforcement agencies incinerated the journalists’ clothes, which were material evidence in the case. Has the Russian Foreign Ministry contacted its CAR colleagues? How could this happen to material evidence if the investigation into the journalists’ murder is not over in Russia yet?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course, we contacted them. Frankly, I have not heard about the incineration of the clothes. But our Investigative Committee has indeed opened criminal proceedings. We have commented on this more than once; in particular, our official spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, has done so. We noted that the investigation must be conducted by the concerned authorities, in this case, Russia’s Investigative Committee. We also expressed the opinion of the Foreign Ministry, which is responsible for creating conditions for the foreign travel of our citizens. We notified everyone, especially journalists, but also other professionals, that the objectives indicated in their visa applications correspond to the real goals they are pursuing upon crossing the border. This is a huge tragedy. We will insist that the investigation be completed. I know that journalism is a dangerous profession and that, regrettably, your colleagues die every year. It is best to notify the Russian authorities when you plan to work in hot spots, so we know at the least where our citizens might go. I understand that you have a right not to inform us about your plans. But I would like you and your colleagues to consider this request for reasons of your own safety if you plan to travel to dangerous regions.
Question: You said in Nagoya last year that Russia had forwarded a list of Russia’s specific [security] concerns [to its Japanese colleagues]. I believe that you are concerned about the deployment of US missile defence systems in Japan. What [security] guarantees should Japan give to Russia to make progress at the talks possible? Your concerns cannot be eliminated completely as long as Japan and the United States remain allies.
Sergey Lavrov: You have said it all. It is a very serious matter indeed and a vital part of our dialogue with Japan, and not only when it comes to the peace treaty. As a matter of fact, we do not want any threat to Russia to come from the territory of a good neighbour, as we see Japan.
It is true that we have certain concerns. They have been formulated and are being discussed within the framework of a dialogue being held by our deputy foreign ministers as well as by the secretaries of our national security councils. The Secretary General of Japan’s National Security Council, Shigeru Kitamura, visited Russia yesterday. He met with the Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev and President Vladimir Putin. These issues were on the agenda. You mentioned that Japan is deploying land-based missile defence systems on its territory. Our Japanese colleagues told us long ago that they were doing this to protect the country from the threat coming from the Korean Peninsula and that these systems would be operated exclusively by Japanese crews. They said that these systems would be subordinate to Japan’s Self-Defence Forces. We are trying to specify the details pertaining to these matters, though this is not the main point.
Japan is deploying anti-missile launchers it buys in the United States, launchers that the Americans have used to launch not only anti-missiles but also attack, including cruise, missiles. This class of weapons was prohibited under the INF Treaty until the Americans discarded it. This means that attack missiles can be deployed near our border. We need to take this into account, of course. We do not suspect the Japanese authorities or political elite of evil plans against Russia, not at all. But they do have a military alliance with the United States, as you said. If you read the documents, statements and decisions made within the framework of this alliance, you will see that the United States is using it in the interests of its containment policy towards Russia. To them, Russia is an opponent, and Japan is part of this military strategy of its close ally, the United States. Of course, we want clarity regarding this matter. We want to understand how our cooperation will develop if the Americans are trying to involve Japan in their policy, which has been legally declared to be spearheaded against Russia. A dialogue is very important. But we want absolute clarity.
Question: The impeachment procedure will likely begin in the US Senate on Tuesday. Many people in the West say this will weaken US support for Ukraine and strengthen Russia’s position. What is your opinion?
Sergey Lavrov: This is your impeachment. You are an American and should know better.
Question: You said in October 2019 that BRICS was the embodiment of multipolar diplomacy. What key goals were attained last year? And, can you say a few words about the 2020 goals?
Sergey Lavrov: I will not waste time on this now. This is about facts. Our programme has been posted on Russia’s BRICS presidency website. We can send out more copies, if needed. We have prepared answers to frequently asked questions about the organisation. We will post them on the website, and you will be able to go there. The plans for our presidency include over 100 events. Many of them will be held not only in Moscow and St Petersburg, but in other cities as well. For example, ministerial meetings are to be held in the Urals. I believe this is a good idea. The crown event of Russia’s presidency, the BRICS summit, will be held in St Petersburg in the latter half of July. We are preparing for it now.
Question: The Latvian parliament yesterday accused Russia of falsifying WWII history. It is a fact, however, that history is most often falsified in the Baltic countries. The worst part is that international organisations believe them. As a result, we have scandalous documents like last year’s resolution by the European Parliament that casts equal blame for the war on the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. How could we allow this to happen? What can Russia do to protect its interests and historical truth? What steps should it take?
Sergey Lavrov: How did we allow neo-Nazism to flourish in the EU? Because we cannot use force to influence the situation. But we can and have been criticising the EU for this. Unfortunately, they look away and avoid discussing the matter. At best, they talk about the importance of respecting freedom of opinion and expression. This is why they abstain every year during the UN General Assembly vote when we submit a resolution on combating the glorification of Nazism and preventing the revival of any form of xenophobia. By the way, the US and the Ukrainians both vote against this, which is not surprising either. Americans do not want to see any restrictions on their actions, and Ukrainians, if they support our resolution, will be unable to stand up against the neo-Nazi radicals who are strengthening their influence in Ukraine.
But I cannot agree that international organisations are supporting them, as you say. The international organisation I have mentioned – the UN General Assembly – adopts a resolution renouncing neo-Nazism and the glorification of Nazi criminals by an overwhelming majority of 130-140 votes every year. The European Parliament is an international but not a global organisation. Many events are taking place at the European Parliament, as well as at the EU, at the initiative of a minority and they are explained by the rules of consensus and the need to respect the opinions of others. However, this is an aggressive minority. You were correct that the Baltic and several other countries are playing first fiddle in this.
As for the facts provided by President Putin in his speech at the informal CIS summit held in St Petersburg in December 2019, the reaction to them showed that the cap fits. You may remember that President Putin said he was writing an article based entirely on facts and new data from the Russian archives. By the way, yesterday the Defence Ministry published declassified archive documents about who liberated Warsaw and how it was done. The Polish diplomats said they would like to make use of President Putin’s idea and browse the archives. Timing is everything, as they say. The archive materials are available, and it would be very interesting to hear what the Polish side says after studying them. There will be more attempts to slander Russia by falsifying the results and causes of WWII and to use these lies to weaken Russia’s position on the international stage.
An international event will be held in Jerusalem for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which President Putin will attend. We know for a fact that our Polish colleagues – President Andrzej Duda said he would not attend the event, possibly because President Putin would – have been trying to convince their Western colleagues (the event will be attended by US officials and some European leaders) to put forth the Polish view on Russia’s attitude to WWII. This is going outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour, considering the event they want this to take place at.
Question: Kazakhstan conducted several special operations to return some 600 citizens from Syria, including 400 children. More recently another operation resulted in bringing about 14 children from Iraq after their relations with relatives from Kazakhstan were established through DNA tests. How do you assess Kazakhstan’s efforts to bring its citizens home from that region?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe these are actions that any sovereign state has the right to take in order to fulfil its obligations to its citizens. We are dealing with the same issues. Our military, special services, the Commissioner for Children’s Rights are working to return our children from Iraq and Syria. We have exchanged experience with our colleagues in Kazakhstan. I was in Uzbekistan yesterday. Our Uzbek friends are also rescuing their citizens, at least the wives and children. The fighters are a separate issue. I have already touched on the problem now emerging in eastern Syria, where militants are escaping from detention camps. In most cases, those women had been drugged, meaning they had not travelled to those places of their own free will. The children are definitely innocent. I certainly want them to return to their normal environment and grow up to be normal people, not under the influence of radical terrorist ideas.
Question: Do you think the Polish authorities’ actions in cemeteries are appropriate? Specifically, I mean the demolition of monuments by bulldozers? Ex-President of Poland Lech Walesa said in an interview with Channel One he would visit Russia. What do you think about the possibility of Nobel Prize winner Lech Walesa replacing the current President of Poland Andrzej Duda?
Sergey Lavrov: Concerning their treatment of the monuments, I have already briefly discussed the topic of the outcome of World War II. I am confident that we need to rely on, and stick to, historical facts. We are always open to dialogue based on archival documents. For a long time, Poland and Russia had a system of bilateral mechanisms and communication channels, including the Strategic Committee led by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, with the participation of many other government departments.
That system involved a group of historians who studied difficult issues from the past, but always built their positions on proven facts. Some time ago, this group prepared a book on a certain stage in our relations, on our shared history with Poland. Cooperative articles were written on a number of episodes from that period; on those where historians’ opinions differed, Polish and Russian views were laid out separately.
I believe this should resume, and should not be linked to any attempt to turn history into propaganda. As our Polish colleagues demolish monuments, they also state their position arguing that Poland never agreed to maintain the monuments that are not in cemeteries. They are ready to protect only memorials at gravesites. This is a small-minded approach. If we use it, we will lose our sense of decency. We are talking about people who died, who gave their lives, the most precious thing they had, for the liberation of Europe. So I fully share the position of those (including President of the Czech Republic Milos Zeman) who condemn the destruction of the monuments from that war.
As for Lech Walesa, he is a respected person and known as a completely independent politician. He has his own opinion, which he does not hesitate to express and defend. If he is interested in coming to Russia, that’s up to him. We will be happy to help make his stay here as comfortable as we can. As for meetings at the political level, this question is not for me.
Question: What do you think about Russian-German relations after Chancellor Merkel’s recent visit? Was there a breakthrough? This was her first visit to Moscow in five years.
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think contact between President Putin and Chancellor Merkel need to be aimed at some kind of a breakthrough at this point. They regularly meet on the sidelines of various events (there was a meeting in Paris recently before the Chancellor arrived in Moscow) and talks over the phone. These are working, substantive and pragmatic relations. No one is trying to convince the other party that someone is wrong and that ideological differences must be resolved before anything else can be done.
We understand there are sanctions. Unfortunately, Germany adopted this policy following the coup in Ukraine, which took place in a situation where Berlin's position was ignored and the putschists regarded it as a nonentity. After all, Germany guaranteed the agreement that the putschists trampled on. I have already mentioned this. Unfortunately, along with some other European countries, Germany then simply shrugged and spread its hands in a helpless gesture and put up with the illegal acts committed against its will and the provisions of the document that it signed. It began to look into the Ukraine crisis from the point in time where Russia responded to the will of the residents of Crimea, and Crimea rejoined Russia following the referendum. Our Western colleagues count from here. The way this coup occurred and the way its leaders immediately passed a law repealing the rights of the Russian-speaking people and the putschists from national-radical organisations demanded that the Russians “get out” of Crimea - none of that “counts,” but was “before.” The West only got upset when the Crimeans did what they dreamed of during the decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union. That’s the problem.
Merkel’s visit was not anything extraordinary. Our German colleagues were especially interested in the success of the Berlin Conference on Libya, and focused a lot on this. Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel spent about an hour talking face to face. Meanwhile, we spoke with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his staff. Of course, they talked about the economy and energy, including Nord Stream. All of that was mentioned in the opening remarks, during the news conference and in the answers to questions. I believe this was a normal, solid working visit. This is what the pragmatism of our relations with Germany is all about.
Question: Regarding Iran, you criticised the United States and three European countries a lot, but didn’t mention what Russia can do now to prevent the further escalation of the conflict with Iran?
Sergey Lavrov: I hope you are following our remarks and initiatives. We believe what is happening to the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA) is untenable. The plan was for Iran to limit its nuclear programme to certain variables with regard to enrichment, the amount of heavy water available at each particular moment and enriched uranium reserves (about 4 percent). Iran assumed commitments that call for more than universal non-proliferation agreements, requirements and IAEA documents. In response to what it will accomplish beyond its usual international commitments, it promised to see restrictions on trade with Iran removed (the West did not agree to provide real favourable terms and conditions). This wasn’t delivered, either. The United States made it illegal for everyone to trade with Iran, and is threatening with sanctions. The Europeans did some tough talking and even said they would create a mechanism for trading with Iran bypassing the dollar and the United States. This was created more than a year ago and is called INSTEX and is used exclusively for servicing transactions involving solely humanitarian goods that are not subject to US sanctions. They said that subsequently, when the mechanism becomes operational, it would apply to servicing trade in other goods, including oil, as well, which is of paramount importance for Iran. For over a year, this mechanism has not been used for a single transaction. One was started, but never finished. It involves medicines worth $10 million. You be the judge of what kind of a drop it is in the ocean.
When Iran says it will “suspend” the implementation of its voluntary commitments, we, of course, believe that this does not help the cause, but gives the Americans a reason to further aggravate the situation. But we see the reason Iran is forced to act this way. It is not saying no to everything else that is mandatory for all states parties to the INF Treaty. We believe that the Europeans should and can do much more.
There is a problem stemming from private business solutions. You cannot force a private company to trade at a loss. If a company has interests and investments directly related to the use of the dollar in the United States or elsewhere, the company itself must decide on where it is going to operate. We understand what kind of a solution that may be. But there are companies that do not have any commitments or interests in a territory that US lawmakers can somehow limit or squeeze.
The question of what we should do next is being discussed literally now. Our deputy foreign ministers are in constant contact with the European Foreign Service that coordinates the JCPOA. I think we will need to hold a meeting soon to figure out what’s going on and who thinks what. Our partners, the so-called Western Troika (Great Britain, France and Germany), assure us that their actions, criticism and demands on Iran are designed solely to save the JCPOA, nothing else. At about the same time that we saw these assurances coming from the three capitals, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed repealing the deal concluded by former President Obama and concluding another one that suits the current President, Donald Trump. Then they tried to disavow everything, but as you know the spoken word takes flight. Regarding what we will do next, I think we need to hold a meeting of political directors of the remaining JCPOA members, including the European troika, and Russia, China and of course Iran, sit down and have a candid conversation.
Question: A new Government is being formed in Russia. Will you keep the post of foreign minister? Do you want to?
Sergey Lavrov: You have probably been working as a journalist for a long time, and understand everything. See, everyone is laughing. Three days ago I was asked to become acting foreign minister, and I am doing this.
Question: What is your impression of your meeting with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi? Have you come to an agreement on trading in national currencies?
Sergey Lavrov: We did not discuss this during my meeting with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. We have mechanisms for servicing our foreign trade and economic ties, which are the responsibility of the Intergovernmental Commission. It meets quite often; the next meeting will take place this year.
We mostly discussed political issues on our agenda, such as our cooperation within the SCO and BRICS, especially in light of Russia’s presidency of these two groups this year. We also talked about developments in the Asian-Pacific Region, including the introduction of a new term, the Indo-Pacific. We used to have the Asian-Pacific Region, but our American colleagues are promoting the Indo-Pacific. They are promoting the Indo-Pacific Strategy now just as they introduced the term “rules-based order” in the past.
We did not discuss our attitude to the term, name or concept, but the attitude of Russia and India to the development of relations on a multilateral basis in our common region. We have almost identical approaches to this. Neither India, nor Russia supports the attempts to use the concept of the Indo-Pacific Strategy to create confrontational configurations in this region. We believe that we must continue to cooperate based on the multilateral organisations that have been created on the initiative of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). They include the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the meeting of ASEAN defence ministers and dialogue partners (ADMM-Plus). Another important mechanism is the East Asia Summit (EAS), where we can discuss absolutely any issue without exception. In this context, it was very useful for us to see that the positions of Russia and India are nearly identical.
The problem of terms is another matter. I have raised this question with our American and Japanese colleagues, and we can also ask the Australians (the concept is mostly promoted by the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea) whether the replacement of the term “Asian-Pacific” with “Indo-Pacific” means that East Africa will be involved in this new cooperation process. The answer is “No.” Or does this mean that the Persian Gulf will become party to these discussions because it is an extension of the Indian Ocean? No again. It turns out that the participants are the same as in the Asian-Pacific region but some of them would like to draw dividing lines. This is what it is all about. Those who are advocating this concept make no secret of this. It was very important for me to establish that our Indian friends are fully aware of this.
Question: What is Russia’s opinion on the numerous attempts to discuss Kashmir at the UN Security Council?
Sergey Lavrov: We have always believed that the Kashmir problem should be settled through direct talks between India and Pakistan in accordance with the declarations and decision these two countries have adopted. We also adhere to this position when it is proposed that the Kashmir problem be discussed at the UN.
Question: How will the crisis between Iran and the United States affect the peace process in Afghanistan?
Sergey Lavrov: I think the aggravation of relations between Iran and the United States will probably not be conducive to resolving any crisis in the region, but only increase tensions. The tragedy with the Ukrainian plane is a serious wake-up call and signal to start de-escalation rather than engage in constant threats and military flights in this region.
In practical terms, we know that the United States is one of the main players in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. It leads an entire coalition, has its troops deployed in Afghanistan and has resumed talks with the Taliban. We support this. We believe it is critical to reach an agreement, which will allow talks to begin between all the Afghans. After all, this pre-requisite advanced by the Taliban was accepted. We are trying to help this process. In parallel with our own contacts with the Taliban, who we are encouraging to agree on things and start a direct dialogue with other political forces in Afghanistan, we have a tripartite channel of communication with the Americans and the Chinese, which was recently joined by Pakistan. We believe it would be the right thing to do, if Iran joined the United States, China, Russia and Pakistan in their informal exchanges about how to promote a settlement. In principle, this is possible. As I understand, what stands in the way is the anti-Iranian slant of the US policy and Iran’s reluctance in this situation to talk with the Americans and help them resolve particular issues.
From all points of view, it is nevertheless necessary to de-escalate relations between the United States and Iran, but this will require state wisdom. These relations are unlikely move away from the dangerous line if Washington continues to publicly blame Iran for all the region’s sins. Whatever country you take, Iran is to blame for everything. Everywhere you look, Washington is demanding that Iran stop developing ties and exerting influence. This is unrealistic. All countries in this and other regions have their interests. They project them onto their friends and neighbours. Most importantly, these interests should be advanced legitimately. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Look at the illegal presence of the antiterrorist coalition in eastern Syria, which, in fact, contributes to fuelling the separatist sentiment. This is actually a serious problem. So, it’s best for everyone to sit down and talk.
As you may be aware, Iran first proposed to conclude a non-aggression pact between Iran and the Arab countries of the Gulf, and then came up with the Hormuz Peace Initiative to cooperate on ensuring security in these waters. We practice a similar approach. I have already mentioned in my opening remarks that we have put forward a Concept of Collective Security in the Gulf and adjacent areas. We have in mind not only the need to gather all the Gulf coastal countries, Arabs and Iranians at one table, but also to reinforce their efforts with the participation of external players. I mean the League of Arab States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the European Union. I think that this configuration can be used to launch the work of a conference on security and trust in this region. If this process can be started, other countries in the region could join it later, more broadly, other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
Unfortunately, the differences between individual Arab countries of the Gulf and the Iranians are too deep. In our contacts with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Iranians themselves, we want them to start a dialogue among themselves. There seems to be an understanding of this, but so far we have not been able to convince our friends to begin this work.
Question: I have a question about the Ukrainian Boeing. It was widely discussed last week. The Iranian and Russian approaches were compared in connection with the MH17 flight, and not in a completely favourable way. Do you agree with Margarita Simonyan that in this case Iran acted “like a real man” unlike other countries, including Russia?
I wanted to ask about the Foreign Ministry’s position that it made public last week. Until recently, various representatives of the Ministry said it was Western misinformation. Although in fact there was a lot of evidence, and even without access to intelligence it could be seen with the naked eye that something had happened at an altitude of 2,500 metres. It turned out that this was not true. Do you see any reason to apologise to the families of the people who died?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not recall the Foreign Ministry officially saying that the version that the plane was shot down was misinformation. You can refute me if you have facts.
Question: I think your deputy Sergey Ryabkov provided the comment.
Sergey Lavrov: We did not and could not have made any official statements. We only wanted the truth to be established. As, in fact, we want to establish the truth with regard to the Malaysian Boeing. Answering the previous question, I mentioned the tragedy with the Ukrainian plane in connection with escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran. I don’t want to justify anyone. This was a human error. I think everyone has already realised that it was unintentional. The surviving families are entitled to claim compensation. I think Iran will look into these claims. They admitted that it happened by mistake. I do not want to convince anyone that this could not have happened. Of course, I would like this not to have happened. But, in an unprecedented operation that undermined and called into question all the conceivable norms of international law, the Americans destroyed the commander of the Quds special forces of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, General Qasem Soleimani. The Iranians responded. As we later found out, they notified Iraq before responding. There are many media reports that the Americans were duly notified, made note of it and took it for granted. But there’s information that after this attack the Iranians were expecting another US attack. They did not know in what form, but there were at least six F-35 fighters in the airspace right on the Iranian border. This information is subject to double-checking, but I want to emphasise the nervousness that is always part of such situations.
With regard to Iran’s approach and Russia’s approach, frankly, I do not understand what difference you are talking about. Once again, I want to emphasise that we, as in the case of the Ukrainian Boeing, want to have clarity with regard to the Malaysian Boeing. Let me remind you of some things that our colleagues, in particular, the Dutch, are trying not to mention. First, Russia co-sponsored UNSC Resolution 2166, which contained requirements to ensure an investigation in strict accordance with the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. I will not provide examples of the rules that should have been complied with, but they have not been respected. Among other things, UNSCR 2166 required that the investigators report regularly to the UNSC. Not a single report was filed. A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed consisting of Ukraine, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Malaysia, whose Boeing was downed, was not invited. It was invited only three months later to participate in a criminal investigation team, even though it was already part of the technical team. By the way, if they had complaints against us, they could have invited us to join the JIT. No one wanted us there, but we actively cooperated nonetheless: we did everything the Netherlands-created JIT requested at any particular moment. We even gave full-scale demonstrations. Almaz-Antey Concern, which produces the Buk air defence system which was allegedly used in the shooting down of this plane, showed how this could occur in a real-life situation. They provided primary radar data. To our question about the data from the Ukrainian radars, we received the strange answer that they were not available. Then someone said that the radars had been turned off accidentally. All the radars in Ukraine that were observing this part of the airspace were “turned off” at some point, the same way the video surveillance was turned off in the morning when the Skripals were found on a park bench. It’s just that a camera that was watching their house was turned off and then turned on. There’s no answer to the question as to why the conversations between the Ukrainian dispatchers on that day were not published in full. Now, five years after the crash some recordings of the telephone conversations between Russian representatives, representatives of Donbass, have been published. It took them five years to locate telephone records. What about the Ukrainian air traffic controllers? There’s no need to make any efforts to get them. These records must be made public. They just don’t want to. This begs the question: where is the data from the US satellites? It was mentioned that they exist.
The most interesting part is that when Malaysia was not invited to participate in this investigation right from the outset, the four countries that formed a group with Ukraine (they did not mention it, but we know it for certain) initially agreed among themselves that any information that went outside should be approved by all four members of this group, including Ukraine. When the Dutch MPs asked their government why Ukraine was never asked about the reasons for not closing the airspace, the Dutch government remained silent. There are many such questions. When the Dutch investigation, despite the fact that we provided everything we could in response to their requests, publicly declared (my colleague Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok also did this) that Russia did not cooperate with the investigation, we showed them what we did and asked why they had made such statements. Do you know the answer? "Russia has not cooperated because it has not admitted its guilt."
Australia and the Netherlands suggested that we hold consultations. We agreed with the understanding that we would consider all matters of interest to us, and this was agreed upon. In addition, we would answer their questions. But we wanted to discuss everything I have just mentioned with them. They shunned these discussions and tried to present things as a state of affairs in which the investigation was not finished, and we were the culprits and, they say, let's start talking about compensation. Is that what “real men” do or what? Not sure? I don’t think so.
So, when they approach this matter, the Skripals or chemical weapons in Syria exclusively from the “highly likely” standpoint, this is the very same story with which we started our conversation today, where instead of international law they make up the rules that are good only for them and force others to believe in them.
Maria Zakharova: If I may, since Sergey Ryabkov was quoted incorrectly, I will cite his words, because otherwise we will provide an excuse for incorrect interpretations.
Sergey Lavrov: Lies, let me put it bluntly.
Maria Zakharova: On January 10, Sergey Ryabkov literally stated the following in Tokyo, I quote: “I’m deeply convinced that it is impossible to try to score political points using this terrible human tragedy. We need to let the experts analyse the situation and draw their conclusions. Starting any kind of games here is, at least, unseemly.” Here’s another direct quote: “There’s no reason to make any loud statements at this point.” End of quote.
Question: The New START Treaty is set to expire in February 2021. President Vladimir Putin and you are saying that no messages are forthcoming from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and that it is still unclear whether the Treaty will be extended or not. But everything changes. Quite possibly, Russia is ever more persistently sending messages to Washington that it is high time to address this matter.
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, I discussed this during my first trip to Washington in 2017 and also in December 2019. Yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov also discussed this matter with US Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Christopher Ford. The US side is not providing any final response and is trying to suspend discussion of the issue. In suspending the matter, they are constantly introducing the subject of involving the People’s Republic of China in these talks, although we have explained our position so many times. The President of Russia has repeatedly noted that we will take part in any specific multilateral negotiating process if all the parties to this process agree. We would also take part, if the Americans believe that it is pointless to continue this process without the PRC, and if China also wants this. But the People’s Republic of China has made numerous official statements that it will not take part in such talks, explaining this by the fact that the structure of the Chinese nuclear forces differs drastically from that of the United States and the Russian Federation. We have stated that we respect this position of the PRC, and that we will not force China to change it. Why should they do this, and how can we force them to change their position? For some reason, the United States is convinced that we should undertake to talk China into responding to the US proposal. I believe that this proposal is incomprehensible. The United States boasts highly efficient channels for dialogue with China, and they have just concluded a trade agreement.
Therefore I will once again reaffirm the fact that we completely respect the position of the PRC. We will take part in any multilateral configuration of talks, if everyone coordinates it. But this takes time, and if, in principle, political conditions become ripe, and if the concerned parties are ready for this multilateral process, then the talks themselves would take months, and the New START Treaty is set to expire within a year, in February 2021. President Vladimir Putin proposed to President Donald Trump and to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo [when he visited Sochi in May 2019] to agree to extend this Treaty, to say the least, so that there would be some insurance policy in place, while they were trying to launch a new multilateral negotiating process. This is our position, and it remains in force. We suggest extending the New START Treaty without any preconditions, and the President of Russia reaffirmed this once again at a meeting with top leaders of the Russian Armed Forces in the autumn of 2019. I hope that the Americans have heard us. We have discussed this many times, but we have not received any clear and understandable messages from them so far.
Question: As you know, Russia will hold the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2021-2023. How are we preparing for it? What is the role of our northern Arctic regions, in particular, Yamal? Do you think our Arctic agenda is effective?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe we have a packed Arctic agenda. It is the result of the efforts of a large inter-departmental team. It reflects our interests regarding security, navigation, the economy, energy, environmental protection and the rights of indigenous people. Indigenous peoples take part in the Arctic Council’s activities. There is a special format. They regularly attend and speak at ministerial sessions. Essentially, the Arctic Council is one of the few institutions that, so far, is not associated with ideology or policy. The council makes very important decisions on cooperation in emergency situations, in particular, perish the thought, in the event of an oil spill, and also on scientific cooperation, the regulation of fishing in the Arctic Ocean and many other decisions. There is no reason for bringing military working methods to the Arctic. In this connection, we do not believe it is right to try to draw NATO into this high-latitude region but we are in favour of resuming the previous practice where the chiefs of staff of the armed forces from the member countries of the Arctic Council met only to ensure the required level of confidence. We suggest that meetings like these be resumed, beginning, probably, with expert consultations.
The Arctic Council is carrying out its activities. Our agenda will ensure continuity. Currently, Iceland holds the chairmanship of the council. We maintain regular contact with the minister and we will continue to meet. As 2021 draws near, a specific agenda will be formulated to seamlessly continue the processes coordinated by all council members regarding the economy, climate protection, environmental protection in general, and, of course, the processes aimed at making the living conditions of indigenous peoples as comfortable as possible.
Question: First of all, on behalf of myself and the Sputnik team working in Estonia, I would like to thank the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Russian Embassy in Estonia and personally Maria Zakharova for the support you provided to the Sputnik team in Estonia when we were going through hard times. I would like to remind my colleagues here that the Estonian authorities plan to bring criminal charges against the Sputnik employees in Estonia. We may be sentenced to five years in prison for working with the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency. So, to avoid imprisonment, the majority of our employees had to terminate their employment contracts from January 1. However, we hope to continue to get assistance from the Foreign Ministry.
Yesterday, during the discussion of the outrageous situation with Russian journalists, your Estonian counterpart Urmas Reinsalu said that – I am quoting him – it has to do with the need to enhance the defence of Europe and defend freedom in Europe. That is, if we go to prison, Europe will be free. Please comment on this situation.
Do you think, given this rhetoric and, to put it mildly, the undiplomatic statements regarding Russia that were made not only by Estonian government members but the President of Estonia as well, that President Vladimir Putin will attend the Finno-Ugric Congress in Estonia this year at the invitation of [Estonian President] Kersti Kaljulaid? Did you receive an invitation from Urmas Reinsalu to take part in the celebration of the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Tartu?
Sergey Lavrov: You provided facts that hardly require in-depth comment. As for the concrete actions against Sputnik, I think they are outrageous. As things stand, we are requesting a response from the OSCE every day. The Council of Europe came up with a statement that more or less denounced these actions. We want to draw the Council of Europe’s attention to the fact that it is their members who are speaking on the issues that fly in the face of the European values they preach. The fact that the European Union is swallowing this, unable as it is to do anything about it, is another blot on the European Union’s reputation. We have already seen plenty of these blots. I have already mentioned what caused the Ukrainian crisis.
I am also worried by the enviable perseverance with which the leading countries of the European Union, in particular, our French colleagues, are promoting initiatives to classify the media, identifying them as either a media outlet or a propaganda tool. I think these two things are of the same ilk, I mean, what is happening to you in real life and what is now being formulated as a concept by high-ranking officials.
As for Estonian statements and speeches, my colleague has said many times that a border treaty will not be ratified because it revokes the Treaty of Tartu and that the Pechory District must be returned to Estonia. As for the Estonian President, she asked for a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow and he met with her. It seemed to me that she adequately assessed the situation when she said that we were neighbours and that, of course, we had disagreements but we had to remain good neighbours. Something must have happened to her after she returned to her country. It is sad, because we have never tried to avoid cooperation with our colleagues. Our only requirement and a requirement of international law is that they put an end to the infamous phenomenon of statelessness, which is another blot on the European Union’s reputation. Some positive trends in this field are emerging as they have started to grant citizenship to people by virtue of them being born in the country. However, they have still a long way to go before getting to the standards that agree with European values.