Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei, Moscow, June 18, 2021
Yesterday and today we held detailed talks on the entire range of issues pertaining to Russian-Belarusian relations. We pointed out the joint focus on fulfilling the tasks set to us by our presidents. This year, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko had three in-person meetings. Four contacts were held at the level of the heads of government, and other meetings were held between the heads of various departments. Taken together, this constitutes the traditionally solid fabric of our strategic partnership and alliance.
I would also like to mention the 60th session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union State of Russia and Belarus held the other day. One more important event, the 8th Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions, is scheduled to take place in late June in the Moscow Region.
On June 22, we will mark the 80th anniversary of the start of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. The list of special events planned for this occasion includes a meeting in the Brest Fortress, where an international forum of Russian compatriots will be held simultaneously. We are grateful to our Belarusian friends, who are helping us to organise this forum.
We have noted that we are working to boost our interaction in an extremely complicated situation. Serious external pressure is being put on both countries based on illegal unilateral “containment tools.” A hybrid information warfare is being used against us, with sanctions and dirty information attacks. You are aware of how this happens. I will not cite any facts now, because you know them very well.
In light of this openly aggressive policy pursued by our Western colleagues, we have agreed to coordinate our efforts to strengthen the national sovereignty of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus and to ensure our states’ national security through joint activities based on international law.
We are grateful to Vladimir Makei for updating us on the progress of the constitutional reform in the Republic of Belarus. He emphasised that an inclusive nationwide dialogue, which is underway, also involves representatives of the constructive opposition. He also outlined the timeframe of this process. We hope that this process will ultimately bring about normalisation in Belarus and will put an end to the ongoing speculations about it.
We noted that work is continuing in our bilateral relations, above all under the direct guidance of our prime ministers and upon our president’s instructions, to enhance the efficiency of integration within the framework of the Union State and, of course, as part of our involvement in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). We expect to be able to report to our presidents on progress in this sphere in the near future.
We agreed to continue working together against the novel coronavirus infection. We are supplying our Belarusian friends with the latest medications and test kits. We agreed to launch the manufacturing – the process is already underway – of the Sputnik V vaccine in Belarus with the monthly capacity of up to 500,000 doses. This will give our friends and neighbours a big boost in this sphere.
We share the opinion that once the epidemiological situation normalises, transport links between Russia and Belarus can be fully restored. Today our airlines make 10 flights every week. Railway communication has resumed between us. As the situation returns to normal, we will resume traditional full-scale traffic in the direct interests of our people, businesses and societies.
We touched upon several sensitive issues. Vladimir Makei updated us on the situation with Russian citizens Sofia Sapega and Yegor Dudnikov, who have been detained in Belarus. The Russian Embassy in Minsk is closely monitoring this matter. As far as we know, the Foundation for Supporting and Protecting the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad is helping our citizens’ families pay for their lawyers. There are no problems with consular access. We hope that this problem will be settled soon.
We agreed to build up our interaction in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), where Belarus is holding the rotating chairmanship now, as well as in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the EAEU.
We exchanged views on the development of our close coordination on the UN and OSCE agenda and in international human rights organisations. We talked about the contacts Belarus is developing with the Council of Europe (CoE) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). When speaking about the OSCE, we emphasised the importance of its efforts to settle the Ukrainian crisis and, most importantly, to ensure the implementation of the Minsk agreements. We reaffirmed our full commitment and support for the contribution being made by the Republic of Belarus through the provision of the Minsk platform to the Trilateral Contact Group.
We expressed concern over the EU’s policy towards our countries, which cannot be considered constructive, considering its “push back, contain and engage” provisions. This is a kind of mental stratification and can hardly be regarded as a sound policy.
We spoke about NATO’s actions, that the alliance is trying to aggravate the situation on our common European continent. We assessed the ongoing NATO military exercise, Defender Europe 2021, as a demonstration of the alliance’s aggressive intentions. This was also discussed during our contacts with our American colleagues.
We placed great emphasis on the strategic stability agenda. We updated our friends on the discussion of these issues, which took place during the Geneva summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden. Today we examined such practical aspects of this topic as the future of intermediate and shorter-range missiles, taking into account that the United States has withdrawn from the treaty prohibiting the deployment of such ground-based weapon systems. Therefore, Russia had to do the same. We also discussed the situation around the Open Skies Treaty (TOS) in the same vein. Since the United States decided not to return to this treaty, we are going to notify the treaty depositories that Russia is also withdrawing from it. Belarus and Russia are the same group in the TOS. Our friends must now decide on their next steps. We will support them and will continue to closely coordinate all our actions in this respect for the sake of strengthening the Union State’s security.
We have agreed to promote, both bilaterally and in the CIS bodies and multilateral organisations, including the UN, such topical issues as strengthening international information security, fighting cybercrime and streamlining biological security-related activities. There is still very little transparency there. We have relevant proposals that we will strongly promote.
In November 2021, the Russian and Belarusian Foreign Ministries will hold a joint meeting of the collegiums. We are preparing another two-year programme of coordinated foreign policy actions for this annual event, which will be submitted later for approval by the heads of state.
Question: The day before yesterday, you attended the talks between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden. Judging by some comments, the issue of Belarus was also reviewed there. Could you give us some details? What was said in this respect?
Sergey Lavrov: The issue of Belarus was mentioned but not as an individual topic but in the context of conceptual discussions between the presidents. They were conceptual but very specific in practical terms. I will explain what I mean. Every nation has its own history, culture, traditions and values. This was recognised. They should be accepted as a fact of life if not respected. This is a fact of the modern world, which reflects its diversity. It is no longer possible to tar everyone with the same brush. This is common knowledge.
It is necessary to consider this diversity, these national features, the national values gained through suffering by our predecessors over the centuries, in drafting and harmonising approaches to deep-seeded and still obscure changes that are taking place in international life. They have embraced the modern world and do not pass by any country, no matter whether it calls itself liberal, democratic or something else.
This understanding was reflected in the brief mention of the situation in the Republic of Belarus. It was confirmed that it is necessary to be guided by international law, the UN Charter, the principle of sovereign equality of states and respect for the right of nations to determine their destiny without outside interference.
The conversation took place in this vein but, as I said, it concerned more than one country. It seemed very useful to me.
Question: Does the return of the US and Russian ambassadors to Moscow and Washington, respectively, mean fundamental changes in the bilateral diplomatic crisis? Or is it just the first, insignificant step? What should be the next step in this case and who should take it?
Sergey Lavrov: The return of the ambassadors is primarily a symbolic gesture. It is an important step but still symbolic. That said, it has meaning because the presence of ambassadors (rather than their deputies) in the capitals always makes it possible to conduct talks a bit more actively because ambassadors have full powers vested in them by their presidents.
This is largely a symbolic gesture but it is important enough and creates the conditions for starting to talk about logjams made by the Americans after US President Barack Obama, being discontent with the election results in 2016, deprived us of six properties. Up to now we are not even allowed to see what is happening there, which is contrary to all diplomatic conventions and American laws. Then many of our employees were expelled in groups. Of course, we took tit-for-tat measures.
Everything is possible. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden agreed that it is necessary to regulate these problems in some way. This will be possible only in one case – if we draft synchronous steps that would be comparable, if we simultaneously resolve the issues of our presence in the United States and the American diplomatic and other presence in the Russian Federation.
I read comments by US officials on the Geneva talks, including the participants in the summit. They are trying to claim that they said it is necessary to return personnel to ensure the work of the embassy, compel Russia to reply to the accusations of hacking the US infrastructure, and force the release of the Americans that are serving prison terms. This is not the approach that the presidents spoke about. I would like those who make such comments on the summit to hear what I say. It is not a one-way street. It would be wrong for the Americans to think that if the ambassadors are returned, Russia will do everything the US wants, and then they will probably discuss diplomats, cyberattacks and convicts.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin unequivocally supported the proposal of US President Joe Biden to resolve these problems on a mutually acceptable basis. This is the only way to move forward.
I believe, if the logic expressed by the presidents in Geneva prevails among the bureaucrats, we will achieve results.
Question: Could you comment on the potential appearance of Turkish military bases in Azerbaijan, considering that Turkey is a NATO member?
Sergey Lavrov: We do not comment on rumours.