Excerpts from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to questions at the opening of the Russian-German summer school in Yekaterinburg

Submitted on Tue, 08/16/2016 - 16:31

Excerpts from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to questions at the opening of the Russian-German summer school “Ways of Developing the Energy Sector: Modern Challenges”, Yekaterinburg , August 15, 2016

Question: I’d like to ask you about a promising project that is being developed by Russia and Germany in the energy area, Nord Stream 2. Given that there were some difficulties with Poland in the course of this project, can you comment on its current status and prospects for development?

Sergey Lavrov: There are some behind-the-scenes discussions regarding the Nord Stream 2 project. Some oppose increasing the stability of European energy supplies through cooperating with Russia. I won’t go into details; perhaps you follow the related news. Both we and our European partners, who are engaged in this project jointly with Gazprom, are convinced that it will diversify gas supply routes to the European market and generally fit into the European gas infrastructure development programme that exists in the EU and meets its main objective: the creation of an energy union, a unified and open gas market in Europe. The project will certainly help fulfil the agreements that were reached at the Climate Conference in Paris regarding emissions reduction. This is especially important when, for example, Germany’s principled decision was to abandon nuclear energy, so it will center on coal, if not gas.

I’m aware that the share of coal in Germany’s energy mix will increase, but this may not be very good for the environment. I believe that Germany appreciated the role of Nord Stream as a feasible supplier of pollution-free fuel. This is confirmed by the fact that, as I already mentioned, the project also includes Wintershall, E.ON, OMV, Shell and ENGIE, in addition to Gazprom. Many other European companies are seeking a contract for laying the sea part of the pipeline. And the project could be of interest to the Baltic region if they want to take part.

We don’t want to politicise the process, while our Polish partners explicitly say that they oppose any increased dependence on Russia. But dependence is mutual. Many European countries depend on our gas, and we have never let anybody down. We did have difficulties with transit, but Nord Stream will help resolve all these issues. This gas pipeline will supply gas directly to EU countries, bypassing transit countries. I believe that common sense, economy and economic reason will prevail over politics. Although we know that there are activists in Germany who make public statements that when German companies complain about the negative effect of the sanctions against Russia, some politicians reply that the economy should be sacrificed for the sake of politics in this case. They were making such statements a couple of years ago. I believe that this unconstructive approach, which hurts Germany itself, will be replaced by common sense.

Question (to both ministers): You have already partially answered the question about your vision of the relations between Russia and Germany, and the EU as a whole. What would you do to further improve these relations and what stands in the way?

Sergey Lavrov: I think that this topic goes far beyond the Ukraine crisis. As I have already said, the Ukraine crisis is merely a consequence of system-wide issues that have been accumulating in Europe. Russia had attempted to resolve those issues through dialogue based on equality and mutually respect. We emphasised the importance of making the next step that would build upon the documents mentioned by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, including the Charter of Paris for a New Europe and even the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. These documents profess the principle of equal and indivisible security, stating that no party should reinforce its own security to the detriment of the others. Strangely, this principle never became translated into concrete action. It turned out that it is very hard to enforce any commitments unless they are binding. It is for this reason that in 2008 Russia proposed signing a European security treaty for the Euro-Atlantic region that would enshrine into international law the political obligations to refrain from strengthening security to the detriment of others. It was also expected to articulate procedures that any party could rely on, if its security is infringed upon. We faced a categorical refusal. By the way, we were told that only NATO members can obtain legally binding security guarantees. This confirmed NATO’s choice of a quite arrogant and confrontational line to keep expanding indefinitely without regard for anything so as to impress on non-NATO countries that only by joining the North Atlantic Alliance will they receive security guarantees. This notion is totally wrong. For instance, when in 2004 the Baltic states were frantic to join NATO, and our western partners told us that as soon as they become NATO members, all their phobias regarding Russia will calm down, since they will feel protected, taking into account their “historical hardships”, so their accession would benefit all, these promises have never materialised.

When the Baltic states became NATO members, they evolved into the main Russophobes who, together with some other countries within the Alliance, represent an aggressive minority, and the rest of the Euro-Atlantic group have to follow their lead for the sake of consensus or solidarity or for whatever other reason. They act in the EU in a similar fashion. In 2008, Bucharest hosted a Russia-NATO Council meeting. It was in early April. Russia was represented by President Vladimir Putin, who back then was completing his second presidential term. The NATO Summit that took place there at the same time resolved to open NATO ranks to Georgia and Ukraine. As you probably remember, just a few months later, Mikheil Saakashvili, having lost the ground under his feet, engaged in a reckless undertaking. He attacked the people of South Ossetia, who back then were Georgian citizens, and he attacked the peacekeepers stationed there under the mandate of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. I have little doubt that Mikheil Saakashvili’s move and his hopes for impunity were a direct consequence of the official statement by the NATO Summit on accepting Georgia and Ukraine into the Alliance in the future.

The same goes for those behind the February 2014 unconstitutional coup in Ukraine. It happened on the following day after the same people signed an agreement in the presence of and with input from Germany, France and Poland, fully backed by NATO and the West in general. If anybody wants to prove the contrary, I have already given an example. Why was Europe silent after the government coup that happened on the following morning after the signing of an agreement between then-President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition, even though the EU was supposed to guarantee its execution? This means that they placed their bets on these people. These are the double standards, when someone has the right to carry out a government coup, while others don’t, and the coup is called a “triumph of democracy over an authoritarian regime.”

That said, let me return to building relations. As I’ve already said, it was not Russia who suspended the Russia-NATO Council. By the way, after Mikheil Saakashvili invaded South Ossetia with his army, it was Russia who proposed convening the Russia-NATO Council in order to understand what was going on. Condoleezza Rice, who served as US Secretary of State at the time, said she opposed convening a Russia-NATO Council meeting, accusing Russia of an aggression against Georgia. However, the European Union later commissioned a fact-finding mission report by an international commission chaired by Heidi Tagliavini, which made an unequivocal conclusion as to who started the war. The Russia-NATO Council was suspended in 2008, but by autumn or early winter of the same year our western colleagues acknowledged that it had been a mistake. We adopted solemn declarations professing that the Russia-NATO Council should operate in any weather, especially during crises, when we should look each other in the eye and talk instead of yelling at one another from different sides of the fence. The same mistake was repeated now. The Russia-NATO Council has been suspended. The fact that a couple of embassy-level meetings were held doesn’t change much. NATO is not willing to discuss restoring relations. By the way, at the last meeting Russia transmitted to NATO a specific proposal to restore military cooperation, focused on confidence-building measures in this area.

The fact that relations with the European Union became frozen was not our fault either. Summits were cancelled, as were the regular meetings of the Permanent Partnership Council, where Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy met every six months to review all areas of cooperation across sectors and make recommendations for the summits. Incidentally, that practice was discontinued long before the Ukrainian events, when Catherine Ashton was High Commissioner. She never paid due attention to this work. We did meet to discuss individual crises, but the review function, the system-forming mechanism was not working due to the lack of interest on the part of the European Union. Then there was an attempt to rectify the situation. In 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel formulated the so-called Meseberg initiative, which stipulated the creation of a real foreign and defence policy coordinating mechanism between Russia and the European Union. Germany then said the mechanism would be put into action if the "five plus two" Transnistria talks were resumed. We persuaded the Transnistria negotiators who were pulling out of this format to change their position and the talks resumed. Yet, no one bothered to even set up a committee to develop the Meseberg initiative, because the European Union said they knew nothing about Germany’s agreements. It was an awkward situation. That was in 2010, and the Ukrainian crisis was years away. But that is the European Union’s policy line, to act as leaders, while we have to do what they see fit; that attitude always showed. Unfortunately, all attempts to establish a more or less equal dialogue on politics and security, including, as I said, those made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, never worked out, breaking against the rule of solidarity which exists in the European Union.

I mentioned the 2008 NATO summit, and the Russia-NATO Council summit. During the Ukrainian events, our western colleagues often issued triumphant comments that said Russia had long been plotting them and they knew it, because at the Bucharest Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Ukraine as an artificial state. I was there, I heard what Mr Putin said, so this interpretation of his words is a lie. He made a very simple and obvious point, calling our NATO partners (that was at a time when NATO statements designated Georgia and Ukraine as aspirant members) to draw attention to the fact that Ukraine’s complicated historical emergence generated a very delicate combination of cultures, languages, ethnic groups, and nationalities. He warned against tearing Ukraine apart, because everyone knew that the eastern regions of Ukraine simply would not hear about joining NATO. That's all he said. The North Atlantic Alliance did exactly the opposite.

Now, as we see the tragedy unfolding in Donbass, I hope we will achieve abidance by the Minsk Agreements, as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. Russia will dutifully walk its path, and will try to persuade the DNR and LNR to take a constructive attitude. Since the Kiev authorities declared the day of creation of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army as the new Ukrainian Army Day and announced that Stepan Bandera’s and Roman Shukhevych’s birthdays would be celebrated as national holidays, anyone who has even the slightest understanding of politics and knows anything about Ukraine, must be wondering how these holidays (Ukrainian Insurgent Army Day, Bandera and Shukhevych’s birthdays) will be celebrated in Donetsk, Lugansk and other cities in eastern Ukraine. That's who is splitting the country.

And the last thing I want to say. Regardless of some issues, we remain very important partners. The European Union in general remains Russia’s foremost economic and trade partner. We are the EU’s fourth most important trade partner. Although the trade indices have dropped significantly recently they still remain quite substantial. I have reason to assume that the situation will start to change soon. I mentioned Nord Stream 2 as an example, in response to the question from the young woman from the Moscow Institute of International Relations. While not disregarding the EU’s energy policy, which is to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas completely, Nord Stream 2 does, to a large extent, slow down the implementation of this policy. The fact that Nord Stream has the most outspoken backing of five major European companies and the fact that Western governments, including Germany which confirmed its support, let commercial and economic interests prevail over politics gives me hope that we will eventually steer away from ideology-driven decisions and gradually restore all cooperation mechanisms. Here is what would be of interest to you. I said that suspended Russia-EU collaborative mechanisms included the energy dialogue. Over a year ago, in January, Maros Sefcovic, Vice-President of the European Commission, who is in charge of the energy sector, made an offer to our Minister of Energy Alexander Novak to resume the full-scale energy dialogue. He was talking about gas, oil, electricity and other resources. We agreed. However, when we asked about the specifics – when, where and at what level the EU deems it possible to have a meeting – nothing happened. The energy dialogue has not resumed yet. Therefore, I expect that you will give us all a very good example.

Source: MFA of Russia