Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Deputy Prime Minister – Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Nur-Sultan, April 8, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
We had very constructive and fruitful talks with Deputy Prime Minister – Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Mukhtar Tleuberdi. I would like to use this occasion to once again thank our Kazakh friends for the warm welcome and hospitality. We maintain relations of strategic partnership and alliance. We regularly compare our views on the extensive common agenda, in accordance with the instructions of our presidents.
Some time ago, on September 9, 2020, we met in Moscow to coordinate our efforts during a meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers.
Today we had a detailed discussion on a number of subjects of mutual interest, primarily the upcoming events to be held at the high and top levels, including preparations for the 17th Russia-Kazakhstan Interregional Cooperation Forum, which, we hope, will be attended by our heads of state.
We expressed a high opinion of contacts maintained between our governments, parliaments and federal executive authorities, as well as between our regions and territories, primarily border ones.
We expressed satisfaction with our coordinated efforts to fight the coronavirus infection. The joint production of the Sputnik V vaccine has been launched within a matter of several months at the Karaganda pharmaceutical complex. We continue to provide the necessary components to Kazakhstan. We are very pleased that the people of Kazakhstan have high confidence in the Russian vaccine.
I reaffirmed Russia’s readiness to enrol Kazakh students (about 66,000 of them are studying in Russia), who can resume in-person studies at Russian universities. The education of approximately half, or more precisely 31,000 of them, is being financed from the Russian budget. Today we discussed ways to make the return of students as comfortable as possible, using both ground transportation and the resumed flights. We are interested in increasing the number of flights as soon as the epidemiological situation allows it.
Russia is the largest trade partner of Kazakhstan, accounting for some 20 percent of Kazakhstan’s foreign trade. We noted with satisfaction that our joint efforts helped prevent a dramatic decline in mutual trade that only decreased by 4.7 percent in 2020, to $19 billion, which is a great deal.
We believe that our mutual trade will resume growth through the active combined efforts of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation at the level of deputy prime ministers. Our trade in chemical products and agricultural raw materials increased last year. This is proof that positive results can be achieved through combined efforts within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union.We welcomed the gradual restoration of trade and economic exchanges facilitated by the efforts of the intergovernmental commission. Despite the pandemic, a number of lucrative projects have been implemented including the construction of Kamaz factories in Kostanay, the launch of Eurochem chemical facilities in the Zhambyl Region, and a tire production project with Russia’s Tatneft in the Karaganda Region. We considered new formats and fields for industry cooperation. There are good prospects when it comes to industry, agriculture, renewable energy, banking and digital technology.
In June 2020, the Baikonur Cosmodrome marked its 65th anniversary. On October 4, 2021,the anniversary of the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite, we will pay tribute to the successes achieved by our joint efforts in peaceful space exploration. Our bilateral agenda now includes initiatives aimed at creating Kazakhstan's own space potential and at providing services to third countries using the launch site for commercial purposes. We also agreed on how we will celebrate the anniversary of Yury Gagarin’s flight into space.
We have a common stance with regard to the unfolding of integration processes in our common geopolitical landscape, the Eurasian space.
We expressed support for our Kazakh friends’ priorities and, in general, for their work as part of their chairmanship in the Eurasian Economic Union. We agreed to continue close coordination at other regional and international platforms such as the CIS, CSTO, SCO, as well as at the UN, OSCE and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). We praised the effective dialogue that we recently launched in the Central Asian Five plus Russia format at the level of foreign ministers. We coordinated our preparations for the fourth meeting of the C5+1 mechanism in the foreseeable future. We plan to consider the progress on implementing the statement made by foreign ministers of the Central Asian states and the Russian Federation on strategic fields of cooperation adopted at the previous meeting, on October 15, 2020.
We also discussed cooperation in the Caspian Sea region, including in the context of the preparations for the sixth Caspian summit to be held in Turkmenistan. The second Caspian Economic Forum is scheduled for August 12, in Moscow. We agreed that the joint effort of the five littoral states contributes to ensuring regional security, strengthening transport connectivity, protecting the environment, and developing tourism and scientific research ties.
We are expecting that the Islamic Republic of Iran will complete the procedure for the ratification of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, a treaty signed three years ago at the Fifth Caspian Summit in Aktau, as soon as possible. After that, this important document will come into force and will strengthen the foundations of our cooperation in the region of the Caspian Sea.
Question: On Wednesday, Defence News reported that the United States had sent a diplomatic note to its partners in late March. The document says that Washington’s return to the Open Skies Treaty, which Russia allegedly continues to violate, will send the wrong message to Moscow and undermine the US position on arms control. What do you have say about this? Do you think the United States will return to the treaty?
Sergey Lavrov: I didn’t see this note. We haven’t received any notes, although we sent out diplomatic notes officially notifying everyone that we were starting the procedure for withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, since we were not given guarantees that, with the United States out of the treaty, the Europeans would keep the data obtained during the flights over Russia’s territory to themselves. We asked them to confirm that they would not make that data available to the United States, and to acknowledge the fact that Russian observation flights, in keeping with the OST, would take place, including over areas that are home to US military bases in Western European NATO countries. This fully complies with the treaty.
They gave an evasive answer. They said that the treaty already provides that the observation data can only be transferred to member states, and there is no need to re-affirm what is already included in a legal document. We asked them to do so for one simple reason: we know for a fact that the Americans, during all the months following their announcement about withdrawal from the treaty, were trying to talk their allies into making a commitment to transfer such data to them secretly. So, we needed an additional guarantee which they failed to provide.
We announced the beginning of preparations for the procedure for leaving the OST. In telephone conversations between President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden, as well as in my contacts with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, we said that we had heard the new administration’s statements to the effect that they were considering the possibility of returning to the treaty. We also let them know that if such a decision was made, we would respond constructively and reconsider our plan to leave the OST after the United States left. We also told them that we would not wait indefinitely for them to decide. We understand that the new administration needs time to settle in, but everyone is aware of the treaty’s details, and there is nothing new to it. We expressed hope that the United States would clarify its position promptly.
Off the top of my head, all I can say about what you have just cited, “Washington’s return to the Open Skies Treaty, which Russia allegedly continues to violate, will send the wrong message to Moscow and undermine the US position on arms control” is that if returning to the treaty would undermine the United States’ position in the area of arms control, then it does not want arms control in the first place. Like any other reasonable person, I can’t reach any other conclusion. So, we do not have any idea whether the Americans will return to the treaty or not. But we hope that this matter will be sorted out soon. We have set the procedures in motion. We cannot wait indefinitely.
Question: Bloomberg reported, citing sources, that the Biden administration has completed an overview of Russia’s hostile actions, such as meddling in elections and hacker attacks, and is currently exploring the possibility of expelling Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions on persons affiliated with top Russian officials. Can you comment on this? Will Russia retaliate?
Sergey Lavrov: It is difficult to say anything about this. We will respond to unfriendly steps, no question about it. I have to see concrete decisions. No announcement has been made. I read reports that the US administration had completed a review of Russia’s hostile actions. They did so surprisingly quickly. Usually, we are accused of so many sins that it takes them more than a couple of weeks, or even months, to do the job.
Perhaps, they will use other kinds of “punishment” on us. Clearly, because the United States is no longer part of the Open Skies Treaty, their hands are now untied, and their staff is now ready for new assignments. A special representative has been appointed to terminate the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline construction project. He will just cruise around and browbeat everyone. This kind of diplomacy goes beyond gunboat diplomacy. This is a new kind of diplomacy based on sanctions tools.
But this political course is facing more and more criticism in the United States. Even a pro-Washington entity like the Atlantic Council, a non-governmental organisation, is publishing materials criticising the absolutely dead-end (and perhaps even obtuse) US policy towards Russia, which is barren if you think about the goals announced back when the sanctions were imposed. This situation has arisen many times. These actions prove only one thing to us: we must rely on ourselves, because neither the United States, nor its allies are reliable partners. When it comes to areas that are crucial for Russia, we cannot rely on their mood swings or which side of the bed they get out of in the morning.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price put out statements to the effect that sanctions would be imposed, but Washington is interested in having stable and predictable relations with Russia. This doesn’t sound convincing. We will wait for concrete action.
Question (to both ministers): In Russia, COVID-certificates will be bound to foreign travel passports. Kazakhstan will also adopt electronic vaccination passports. Are there any plans to introduce a single vaccination passport in the EAEU countries? If not, will such passports of the EAEU member states be mutually recognised?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Mukhtar Tleuberdi): Our sanitary authorities are dealing with this issue. They understand the epidemiological situation and its evolution better than we do. However, there has been talk of vaccination passports for quite a long time. Initially, it started in the EU and then such discussion gave rise to controversial comments because it cannot be allowed (and I agree with this) that vaccination passports impinge on human rights, including the right to movement. Such ideas were initially discussed in the EU.
Now, this discussion is taking on a more reasonable configuration, but the question remains. As my colleague said just now, in the EAEU framework we have to work out common rules that would not limit the right to movement. Vaccination passports (or whatever would be a better term for them) should have only one objective: to show the document holder’s health status. I will say it again – sanitary authorities are working on it. As they arrive at shared conclusions, the transport authorities will step in because this issue mainly concerns movement and travel.
Question (for both ministers): It is taking the European regulator much more than a month to register Sputnik V. Is it possible to create an international mechanism, for example, at the WHO, so as to avoid procrastination and to have common criteria?
Has the pandemic affected the development of cooperation and the pace of integration processes between Russia and Kazakhstan?
Sergey Lavrov: I would not like to make any critical statements today. When the West claims that Russia and China are waging a hybrid “vaccine war” or that they are using their vaccines as a geopolitical tool, this is really sad. This is a reflection of the problems to do with vaccination in the West, including in the EU. We never make critical statements unreasonably, and we never rejoice at their misfortunes, including when it comes to vaccines. Our media only repost and report what the EU media write about. This is the only thing they do regarding this. If you believe that our citizens are not entitled to know what Western news agencies tell their audiences, this is not right.
As for Sputnik, the situation is not clear to us. During his conversation with European leaders, including President of the European Council Charles Michel, President Vladimir Putin provided concrete information regarding the day we submitted registration applications, who did this and the persons to whom we sent them, as well as when we provided additional documents.
We know that the EU has its own rules, customs and traditions, and we must accept this as a fact of life. We want to cooperate. People in Europe are dissatisfied with the fact that the registration of Sputnik V is taking such a long time at the European Medicines Agency. Deputy Prime Minister of Slovakia Richard Sulik mentioned this, and the sentiments are similar in Hungary, Italy and many other countries.
We only want humankind to come together against this evil. When President Putin announced last August that Russia had created the world’s first vaccine, he added that we invite all sides to broad international cooperation. We did not have any “vaccine war” in mind. Our President spoke about cooperation and the rallying of efforts. Judging by the reaction of our Western colleagues, they see the situation in a different light. We are collaborating with those who want this, who care for the health of their people. These are Kazakhstan, China, India, Belarus and many other countries.
Question: Victory Day is just around the corner. Do you know if the traditional parade will be held on Red Square this year? If so, will foreign leaders, including from Kazakhstan, be invited to attend it?
Sergey Lavrov: The President’s press secretary made a statement regarding this only yesterday. He said the parade would be held as usual. Since this is not a round anniversary, we do not plan, so far, to invite foreign leaders to the event. This is what the Kremlin has said. I believe that, if you are interested in this particular subject, you have probably read this news. It is available on all the social networks.