Ministers’ speeches

10 November 202118:23

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei following a meeting of the collegiums of the Russian and Belarusian foreign ministries, Moscow, November 10, 2021

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Ladies and gentlemen,

The meeting of the collegiums of the foreign ministries of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus is an annual event. As is customary, these meetings have busy schedules and are held in the form of open and candid discussions with a focus on assessing current developments and analysing our performance as it applies to implementing the Programme of Coordinated Actions in the outgoing year and our goals in light of the decisions made by our respective presidents at the Supreme State Council and the decisions approved by the Cabinet of Ministers of the Union State. Clearly, this year our discussions focused on the historic (I don’t hesitate to use the word) decisions signed by the presidents of Russia and Belarus on November 4 as part of a meeting of the Supreme State Council. This also includes the main areas of our continued efforts to implement the Union Treaty, 28 union programmes, the military doctrine, and the migration policy concept. In one way or another, these areas touch upon the foreign ministries’ activities. All of them need strong foreign policy information support and other kinds of support. Today, we agreed on specific steps that will help us achieve these goals in the most effective manner.

We talked about our work at international human rights organisations. We are in agreement that there must not be any double standards, and there can be no “teachers” or “students” in this area. The politicisation of human rights is absolutely unacceptable.

We noted that our Western partners, who are so fond of lecturing everyone on human rights and many other matters, have much less to say when it comes to meeting universal norms for socioeconomic rights. They never stop harping on political rights, as defined by their own not very sound interpretation.

We discussed the need to expand the cooperation of post-Soviet integration associations with the UN, including in the context of the resolutions adopted at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, namely, Cooperation between the CSTO and the UN and Cooperation between the UN and the CIS. We agreed on specific actions which will facilitate our progress towards this end.

We have done one more important thing today and that is signing the Plan of Consultations for 2022, which includes over 30 specific events, primarily, consultations on a variety of our foreign policy activities and our foreign policy coordination. We agreed that this coordination will continue and become deeper both at the UN and the Organisation for the Security and Co-operation in Europe, and in our joint approaches to Brussels and Washington’s unfriendly activities towards Belarus and Russia. We have grounds to believe that the ongoing policy for containing our countries and NATO's practical moves to bring military infrastructure closer to the Union State’s borders reveal the long-term strategy of this military-political bloc. We have a shared position, which our respective presidents have stated more than once, on how we will react to this kind of unfriendly actions that violate all previous agreements.

I would like to once again thank Mr Makei and his team for the well-coordinated teamwork which will benefit our countries and peoples.

Question (addressed to both ministers): The Union of Russia and Belarus will turn 22 this year. What does this union mean to ordinary people? What do new integration programmes, uniform taxes, pensions and petrol prices have to offer them?

Sergey Lavrov: I could go on and on about it. In 1999, when we signed the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State of Russia and Belarus, our countries entered a qualitatively new phase of integration, different from the type of integration that the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire had. This phase involves moving toward the integration of two sovereign and independent states.

Everything that is being done to implement the Union Treaty, including the pivotal decisions signed on November 4, is aimed at facilitating our tasks in the international arena (just what we focused on in our discussion today), but mainly at improving the wellbeing of our citizens through economic and social development.

Vladimir Makei mentioned the issue of equal rights. Indeed, many things that have become commonplace now were decided in the context of establishing and developing the Union State. Currently, citizens of Russia and Belarus have equal rights in healthcare, social security, pensions, education, freedom of travel and employment.

As we deepen our integration, further questions arise, requiring solutions in terms of upholding the equal rights of Belarusians and Russians. In 2015 the Permanent Committee of the Union State set up a special working group, which keeps an eye out for additional topics as they arise and takes relevant decisions. We talked about it at the meetings of the collegiums. Chair of the Permanent Committee and State Secretary of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev took part in our work. This working group will continue its activities.

Speaking of the questions that you mentioned, pensions and energy prices are tied to our integration processes. As President Putin noted at the meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State, today we are able to regulate energy prices for Belarus within the Union State so that they can be much more beneficial than the market average. Our immediate activities will be aimed at implementing such items of the union programmes as uniform policy in occupational safety, social security and pensions. There are plans to adopt an integrated system of administering indirect taxes and establish a joint advisory authority on tax issues. This will harmonise matters and help improve the wellbeing of our citizens. 

Question (to Vladimir Makei): Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said Vienna will host an international conference on Belarusian issues. He noted that it is inappropriate to talk to Minsk in the language of sanctions alone. Does this mean that our Western partners are seeking an opportunity for talks? What is this initiative about? Will current authorities from the Republic of Belarus attend this conference?

Sergey Lavrov (after Vladimir Makei): I would like to support this statement. Maybe the Austrian Chancellor was guided by the best intentions when he urged his colleagues not to talk to Minsk in the language of sanctions alone and to start a dialogue, but this is not the way to initiate a dialogue.

As Mr Makei noted, and with good reason, this initiative implied a feeling of superiority that has spread to all members of the Western community, be it the European Union, NATO or other sub-regional blocs. This superiority complex is unacceptable in relations between sovereign states. The EU should respect the opinions of all members of the international community in line with the UN Charter and abstain from interference in the internal affairs of any state.

Question (to both ministers): Does Minsk need Russia’s mediation in developing a dialogue on migrants and sanctions with Warsaw, Vilnius and Brussels? Have the Lithuanian and Polish authorities officially or unofficially addressed Moscow and Minsk with a request to discuss the migration crisis?

Sergey Lavrov (answers after Vladimir Makei): Neither Poles, nor Lithuanians, nor anyone else has asked us about possible mediation or participation in these talks. They don’t address anyone for any reason. They simply enjoy being tough when making loud statements like this, accusing Belarus and Russia (as the countries “behind these developments”). I believe this is an expression of what we just talked about – a feeling of one’s own superiority and impunity across the board.

At this stage of the border situation, Belarus has repeatedly suggested holding consultations, coming to terms and resolving these issues in accordance with international humanitarian law, but this is not mentioned in public rhetoric at all. A proposal by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to start consultations immediately after the Ryanair incident was rejected as well. Nobody wanted to hear it. There is no other way but to talk and decide what has really happened with the facts in hand. But this is what our European partners are like. They should probably look at themselves first since there is a lot to see there.

Question: Following up on the idea you have repeatedly voiced today about the unacceptable politicisation of the human rights issue, what is your response to the UN Secretary-General’s recently published report in which he accuses the Belarusian authorities of persecuting their own nationals for cooperating with UN human rights agencies?

Sergey Lavrov: This is a source of serious concern for us. It is outrageous. I hope in the future the UN Secretary-General will read the papers he is given to sign.

This is a situation that was caused by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that is implementing human rights projects in different countries, including the Republic of Belarus, with funds coming from the Russian Federation’s voluntary contribution.  

It suddenly transpired during talks with UN representatives in Minsk that the office transferred the funds that were supposed to be spent on holding human rights seminars and conferences to the attorneys of people accused of taking part in illegal demonstrations and protests. There is no need to explain that this runs directly counter to the goals for which Russia made its voluntary contribution.

We demanded explanations from representatives of this office when we learned about these facts. None have been forthcoming, but we were told that Belarusian representatives were supposedly contacted. But the way that this embarrassing episode was completely distorted and turned on its head in the report by the UN Secretary-General is simply shocking.

Since our funds were involved, we delivered a demarche to the UN Secretariat in New York, including Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris. She told us that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet was personally dealing with this issue. We are not satisfied by this. This is an obvious thing and easy to understand but they are trying to backpedal on this issue. We are looking forward to the Secretariat and the UN Secretary-General taking clear steps in response to this outrage.

This is yet another example of how the West is trying to literally privatise secretariats of international agencies, crudely violating the rules written for international officials, including the UN Secretary-General and his employees, in the UN Charter and relevant administrative documents.

Meanwhile, there are things that are much more important for human rights defence. We told Ms Brands Kehris that for many years we have failed to receive a sensible response to our numerous questions about the fate of so-called “non-citizens” in Latvia and Estonia or about the flagrant violations of the rights of ethnic minorities, primarily Russian speakers, inside the EU, in its member countries. 

Question (for both ministers): Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki called Warsaw security forces on the border with Belarus “the first frontline.” A military expert also says the situation on the border is the gravest since 1939. How relevant are such parallels? If Poland is really waging war or preparing for one, then who is it fighting?

Sergey Lavrov: I have already mentioned that the use of historical examples and historical parallels can be seen more often in the discourse of our Western colleagues now. At the same time, they always use what I would call “clipping tactics.”

If Polish military experts say the situation reminds them of 1939, then why not 1938? Perhaps that year would also remind them of something, for example, like dividing Czechoslovakia?

I believe such parallels are absolutely irrelevant. They reflect the shallow thinking of the people that voice them, especially if these people hold power. They only mean one thing: the most recent EU members continue to drive Europe, as part of the European Union and NATO, towards escalating confrontation with Belarus and Russia.

I hope responsible Europeans, especially the “Euro grandees”, show some will and refuse to allow themselves to be dragged into a dangerous spiral.




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