Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions during a joint news conference with OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier, Moscow, April 25, 2017
I have held talks with OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier and his delegation. OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier has come to Moscow to attend the sixth Moscow International Security Conference sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Defence. We welcome this opportunity to hold a detailed exchange of views on current issues on the OSCE agenda.
We began by both condemning the cynical act that led to the death of an OSCE monitor, a US citizen working with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). Two other monitors were wounded.
We strongly believe that measures to properly protect the SMM staff should be tightened. To achieve this, work should be stepped up within the Trilateral Contact Group and the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC), which has been established at the request of President Poroshenko of Ukraine and includes Russian and Ukrainian military officers. We strongly believe that it is important for the OSCE SMM to enhance coordination with the parties to the conflict on both sides of the line of contact.
We have discussed how to ensure an impartial, objective and transparent investigation and how OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier will take prompt action in this connection. We proceed from the assumption that the investigation should involve, along with the OSCE SMM, representatives of the Trilateral Contact Group and the JCCC that I have mentioned, as well as the authorities of Ukraine and the Lugansk People’s Republic.
Russia appreciates the OSCE’s contribution to the effort to overcome the Ukrainian conflict. This is not the only conflict on its agenda. We see the OSCE’s desire to help solve the problems in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, and its positive involvement in the Geneva discussions on security and stability in the South Caucasus. In all these areas, there are very complex obstacles to progress towards a settlement, but at least the “outside players” intend to create the conditions necessary for the parties involved to search for compromises.
Russia consistently advocates strengthening the OSCE and enhancing its role in the Euro-Atlantic region and in the international arena as a whole. We are convinced that strengthening security and trust in the OSCE’s area of responsibility and erasing divides there are absolute priorities. In this regard, I would like to note the importance of implementing the agreements reached at the last 2010 OSCE Summit in Astana to create “a true community with united and indivisible security” in the OSCE space. We also would like to see the OSCE concern itself more with aligning the integration processes underway in Eurasia, within the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), certainly with the participation of countries that have joined neither of the two.
We are satisfied with our cooperation with the OSCE Secretariat. We would like Russian citizens to contribute to its effective work in full conformity with the principles of impartiality and neutrality, on which OSCE activities are based in line with the Organisation’s mandate.
We are supportive of the OSCE’s increased focus on countering terrorism, drug trafficking, and cybercrime. We took note of the productive activities of the Office for Combating Transnational Threats created with the support of Russia. We believe we could create − within it − a separate unit for combating drugs. Thismatter is relevant for all European countries and the majority of the OSCE members.
As you may be aware, Russia is in favour of continuing the work to improve the OSCE, to develop its Charter, and to redress the imbalances that persist in its individual bodies. We want to make sure that the attention that goes into the three baskets (security, economy and the environment, and the humanitarian sphere) is distributed evenly between them without any excessive focus going into any of the three.
We note the importance of the OSCE’s external relations with its partners outside the Euro-Atlantic region, which include organisations with the participation of the Russian Federation, primarily, the CSTO, the CIS and the SCO, whose members are also members of the OSCE.
Today, OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier visited the CSTO headquarters. We welcome our cooperation, including in the area of providing assistance to the Central Asian countries with an eye towards enhancing their ability to combat modern threats.
We reviewed the activities of specialised OSCE institutions, such as the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and field missions. We operate on the premise that all OSCE executive entities need to act in strict accordance with their mandates, in the interests and in accordance with the requests of the host states, as enshrined in the fundamental documents of the Organisation.
We welcomed OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier’s initiative to hold OSCE Security Days. This is a very useful format which makes it possible to put together the positions of official delegations, experts and researchers, and representatives of civil society. We consider it a very useful addition to our common efforts to strengthen mutual understanding and establish an equitable and mutually respectful dialogue on a wide range of security issues.
We agreed to maintain contacts on all the matters discussed today. As I mentioned earlier, we will take part together in the Moscow Conference on International Security tomorrow.
Question: Is lack of respect for the mission the main reason for Sunday’s tragedy?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Lamberto Zannier): I do not see a connection either between what the parties think about the SMM or how much respect they have for it, and what happened on Sunday. Most importantly, there must be an impartial, open, and transparent investigation with the participation of those who enjoy appropriate authority in their mandates. This is the Special Monitoring Mission itself, the Contact Group, and the Joint Centre on Control and Coordination. Of course, they must interact with the Kiev and Lugansk authorities.
The SMM publishes a weekly table of violations of OSCE obligations committed by the sides. As Mr Zannier said, both sides impose restrictions on the freedom of movement of the OSCE, and commit violations concerning storing heavy weapons in warehouses. Most often, the absence of such heavy weapons in places where they are supposed to be, is observed in the Ukrainian army.
We are not trying to figure out who is cooperating with the SMM and how. One thing is clear: the SMM observers must enjoy unconditional safety. First, it is important to ensure coordination of the mission with those who control the territory on either side of the contact line. The mission is likewise interested in working with the JCCC, which is staffed with Russian and Ukrainian officers. We are convinced that it is important in all respects to have individual regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions represented in this centre. Third, the investigation, which must absolutely be carried out, must be based on the facts. Only the experts can determine what happened there. It is important to find out whether it was a leftover mine, or a radio controlled land mine. If there was malicious intent, the perpetrators must be held accountable.
Question: Following the incident with the SMM vehicle, President Poroshenko of Ukraine said the issue of sending UN peacekeepers to Donbass should be revisited. Do you think it should be discussed now?
Sergey Lavrov: President Poroshenko makes a lot of statements. It is hard for me to comment on them. All of them are designed to evade responsibility for signing the Minsk Agreements. Nothing of what the Ukrainian government was supposed to do has been done under various pretexts. Any incident – long before even an attempt is made to look into it – will be used to divert attention from the Minsk Agreements. They say absolutely nothing about any peacekeepers but they support the SMM’s role. This does not mean that there can be no further agreements. However, such agreements, especially those involving the deployment of peacekeepers, require the consent of all parties to the conflict. So Mr Poroshenko should talk to Donetsk and Lugansk, as he is bound to do under the Minsk Agreements, which he constantly avoids.
Question: Yesterday, several US officials, including the country’s top military command, once again criticised Russia for allegedly supplying arms to the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. They directly accused Russia of providing arms and said they were ready to stand up to it. Could you comment on these statements? Could these accusations be connected to the surge in the Taliban’s activity in Afghanistan and the intensification of their operations against US and Afghan forces, which were provoked by the Americans with the help of the “Mother of All Bombs”?
Sergey Lavrov: These are unprofessional, groundless assertions. Whatever might be said about Russia these days, nobody has presented a shred of evidence to back them up. I am confident that those in the US who are paid to provide the country’s leadership with reliable intelligence know very well that this is a lie. I am also sure that these people know who is arming and supporting ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, in the north of which ISIS has already struck root. I believe they also know that. If this is not simply a lack of professionalism, then perhaps it is an attempt to divert attention from plans to change course regarding a settlement in Syria. Over the past few days there have been growing suspicions to that effect. We are aware of the attempts by some of our colleagues to bury the UN Security Council resolution on a political settlement in Syria based on an intra-Syrian dialogue and to get back to the old topic of regime change. Naturally, we’ll oppose them. I’m sure that that UN Security Council will not deviate from its firm position, as enshrined in Resolution 2254.
Regarding the statements by US officials, they not only allege that we are arming the Taliban (this is simply untethered from what any objective reading of the information would support), but also that we in principle are for dialogue with the Taliban. It may be recalled that under former president Barack Obama, the US maintained contact with the Taliban secretly, in circumvention of the principles established by the UN Security Council at the request of the Afghan government for the Taliban’s participation in a national dialogue. These principles were very simple: first, putting and end to hostilities and contacts with terrorist organisations; second, reaffirming respect for the constitution of Afghanistan. When the Taliban opened their office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, the US got in contact with the Taliban without any preconditions. They also did a lot of other things.
Today, we are advocating one simple idea: getting the Taliban involved in a national dialogue based on the principles approved by the UN Security Council at the request of the Afghan government: cease hostilities, renounce terrorism and respect the constitution.
Just yesterday, the US, through one of its representatives, said that it is also willing to accept the Taliban’s participation in the national dialogue if the Taliban puts an end to the violence and renounces terrorism. The US representative did not mention respect for the Afghan constitution as a precondition. You can draw your own conclusions. I am convinced that without dialogue between the government and the Taliban on the basis of these principles, there is little reason to expect national reconciliation in Afghanistan. This is what we want – for Afghanistan to stop being a source of terrorist and drug trafficking threats, which dramatically increased during the many years that the NATO mission was present there and now that a new NATO mission is there.
It is wrong to lay the blame at someone else's door. It is necessary for everybody to unite and help the Afghans establish their national reconciliation dialogue on the basis of the principles enshrined in the UN Security Council resolution.
Two weeks ago, an international meeting on Afghanistan took place in Moscow with the participation of the Afghan government and neighbouring countries. We invited US representatives to that meeting. They refused to attend, claiming that their policy toward Afghanistan has not been formulated yet. It would seem that if it is in the process of being formulated, it is just the right time to sit and listen to what people involved in a settlement in Afghanistan have to say. However, the US chose not to send its representatives to Moscow. It seems that this is also part of its strategy – trying to blame Washington’s failures in Afghanistan on Russia. This is not what partners should do and it is especially incomprehensible why [they] are now trying to whitewash the mistakes made by the NATO mission under the Obama administration. This is strange.
Question: Could you confirm today’s media report that Russia has restarted the memorandum on preventing incidents in Syrian airspace at the request of the US?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the question about the memorandum, it should be addressed to the military, as it was signed between the defence ministries. The Russian Aerospace Forces and the US Air Force as part of the US-led coalition are working there and the question about what they are doing to prevent incidents should be addressed to the militaries. I assure you that our group, the Russian Aerospace Forces are taking all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our service personnel.
Question: As we know, you have already seen the show Optimists that will be aired on the Rossia 1 network. How accurately does it capture the “thaw” atmosphere? What thoughts or memories did it provoke?
Sergey Lavrov: I’m not that old. In the early 1960s I was still in primary school. However, my mother told me about the “thaw.”
Yesterday, I watched the first few episodes – not from beginning to end but in fits and starts. It is a very interesting genre and it has an exciting plot. As for plausibility, I will say that a diplomat’s work is in fact not so exotic and does not involve everyday adventures like those shown in the first two parts. On the other hand, I understand that what the writers want to show about the diplomatic profession is not the protagonist and his partners actually sitting and writing papers or talking in a language incomprehensible to the average person. That would have been a little boring.
I think the show is interesting. Let’s hope that despite the artistic license it will help anyone interested in a career in diplomacy to make up their mind.