Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at the joint news conference following talks with President of Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina) Milorad Dodik, Banja Luka, September 21, 2018
Esteemed Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,
It is very pleasant to be in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This morning we worked in Sarajevo, and just now have had very good talks in Banja Luka.
When discussing Russia’s relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik and I concentrated on relations with Republika Srpska.
We wish to develop our ties in every area, including the economic, trade, investment, humanitarian, cultural and education areas. The growth in trade between Russia and Bosnia and Herzegovina is largely determined by our trade with Republika Srpska, including the increased exports of its fruits and vegetables to Russia. Today, we discussed in detail ways to help settle the issues that will make it possible to export meat and dairy products from Republika Srpska to Russia.
We are grateful to the leaders of Republika Srpska for their invariable support of Russian companies operating in that country. These are primarily subsidiaries of Zarubezhneft – the Srpski Brod Oil Refinery, the Modrica Oil Refinery and the network of Nestro Petrol stations.
Gazprom has been directly supplying Republika Srpska with Russian gas for several years. Last December, Gazprom LNG signed an agreement with GAS-RES to establish a joint venture to build an LNG plant near the city of Zvornik. We hope that this liquefied natural gas will be in demand not only in Republika Srpska but also in neighbouring Serbia.
Republika Srpska is actively developing ties with various Russian regions. St Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko visited recently to discuss promising economic and humanitarian projects.
We appreciate the attention paid by the leaders of Republika Srpska to the consolidation of contacts between our peoples that are linked by the bonds of friendship and historical roots.
I am very grateful to our friends here for their support of the initiative to build a Russian Orthodox Church in memory of the family of Tsar Nicholas II in the centre of Banja Luka. It will be a key element of the future Russian-Serbian cultural centre.
This caring attitude towards our common glorious history is also manifest in the fact that the Immortal Regiment march has been held on May 9 in Republika Srpska as in the Russian Federation for a second year.
We also discussed regional affairs. As for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia is firmly committed to the Dayton agreements and objects to any attempts to revise them. Any reforms are only possible by the agreement of two equitable entities and all three constitutional nations. We invariably note the commitment of Republika Srpska and personally President Milorad Dodik to the Dayton agreements. We discussed this with members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo earlier today.
We consider absolutely timely, if not overdue, the task of liberating Bosnia and Herzegovina from the manifestations of external control and finally turning it into an independent and sovereign state that decides its own destiny.
Our positions coincide fully on other persisting problems in the Balkans: in Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. We are confident that these issues should be settled on the basis of mutual agreement of the parties involved fully in keeping with the opinions of the population in these countries. The policy of some external actors who are attempting to make the Balkan region’s people face the choice – either they are with the West or with Russia – is absolutely unacceptable. I already spoke about this in Sarajevo but let me reiterate that Russia co-authored the Dayton Agreement and UNSC Resolution 1244 on Kosovo settlement, alongside with Europe and the United States. We see no reasons to stop this interaction and turn the Balkans again into a point of contention between Russia and our Western colleagues.
I would like to once again thank President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik and all his colleagues for hospitality, for their very warm welcome and constructive talks.
Question: How would you comment on the West’s statement regarding Russia’s influence in the Balkans, especially in Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that the President of Republika Srpska is a Russian man, even though we are perfectly aware that throughout all those years Russia has been very clear about the need to comply with the Dayton Agreement?
Sergey Lavrov (answering after Milorad Dodik): As to my response to your question, I agree with what President Dodik has just said. We have always been honest in our foreign policy. If we agree to something, we always observe our obligations. It fully applies to our stance on the Dayton Agreement. We are not trying to change it; we are not trying to preserve elements of protectorate over Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the contrary, at all forums, including the UN Security Council and the Peace Implementation Council, we stand up for Dayton Agreement’s basic principles, namely the constitutional equality of the two entities and the three peoples under the constitution. According to the Dayton Agreement, Bosnia and Herzegovina was recognised to be an independent sovereign state. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a UN Security Council member for more than 15 years. I think it is unacceptable at the current historical stage that the Office of the High Representative still exists here appointed by the West, which can annul any agreements between the three constitutional peoples.
As to the other Balkan countries (and you asked about what I think in general of the West’s position regarding Russia’s influence in the Balkans), I can say the following. A very ambiguous situation emerged in Macedonia after signing the Prespa Agreement, whose legality is questioned by many political forces in Macedonia. A referendum is pending, as you know. I invite you to look at the media and social networks, the internet to see what Russian thinks about it. We do not say anything that could be interpreted as campaigning for a particular voting. At the same time, look at the number of Western visitors that have been to Macedonia in the past month: heads of many leading European countries, US administration representatives. They are not shy in their public speeches in Skopje to campaign for voting in favour of the Prespa Agreement at the referendum. If that is not interference in internal affairs, then I do not know what could be called such interference.
You probably noted the early September statement by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, who said that the Balkans are a EU territory and nobody else should try to meddle there. We do not object in any way to the striving of the Balkan countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, to join the EU. But such arrogant great-power chauvinist statements do no credit to the EU. Such a position contradicts the natural right of all the Balkan states not only to strive to join the EU but also to develop relations with other countries that meet the interests of those respective states.
Question: Can Russia really leave the Council of Europe?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia wants to remain in the Council of Europe as it was at the time when we joined it. I mean the Council of Europe which had it written in its founding document, the Charter, that each country has equal rights in all its structures. No member of the Council of Europe can be discriminated against in any of the Council’s bodies. We are ready to keep on working in that Council of Europe. All the rest depends on the members of that organisation.