Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s comments following talks with Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

Submitted on Fri, 07/03/2015 - 22:00

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn, Moscow, July 3, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have held useful and constructive talks in keeping with the way our dialogue with Luxembourg has always been.

Luxembourg is our longtime partner and a major foreign investor in Russia. We noted the ongoing interest of the business communities of both countries in deepening our cooperation. We welcome the active work of Luxembourg’s industry flagships, such as Paul Wurth in metallurgy, and Guardian Industries, on the Russian market. Recently, Accumalux Russia – a high-tech joint venture – was created in Togliatti. We agreed that we will promote and maintain the interests of our respective business communities in harmonising and implementing new projects.

We enjoy good cooperation in the financial sector.

The contacts between Luxembourg and Russia’s regions, first and foremost the Moscow and Kaluga regions, are expanding. We have good contacts in the sphere of research and education; a cultural exchange programme for the next three years is in the works and will soon be completed.

To our mutual regret, the overall relationship between Russia and the European Union and unilateral sanctions against Russia aren’t helpful for trade and economic ties. Trade between Russia and Luxembourg in January-April 2015 is down more than 30 percent. Exports from Luxembourg to Russia were hit hard. We want to stop these negative trends and to restore positive growth.

We agreed that it’s important to step up the work of the Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation between Russia and the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union. We have reached a preliminary agreement to prepare its next 10th session for the first quarter of 2016.

We had an in-depth discussion of relations between Russia and the European Union, given that Luxembourg assumed the presidency of the EU Council for the next six months on July 1. We hope that our colleagues from Luxembourg will contribute to improving the situation in Europe and overcoming the decline in the Russia-EU dialogue.

We believe that in the current situation, it is particularly important to erase the dividing lines in Europe and strengthen the atmosphere of mutual understanding. In this regard, we talked about the prospects of harmonising European and Eurasian integration processes in order to eventually form a common economic and cultural space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. As you are aware, the goals of promoting relations between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union were confirmed in the Declaration of the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, which was signed in Minsk on February 12, to support the Minsk agreements regarding the settlement of the Ukraine crisis.

For obvious reasons, we focused on this crisis. We and our colleagues from Luxembourg agree that all provisions of the Minsk agreements must be complied with and that there’s no alternative. We stressed that the most important component of progress in this area is to establish a direct and mutually respectful dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, without which there can be no sustainable political settlement or resolution of other problems that need to be resolved in accordance with the package of measures of February 12.

We had a detailed exchange of views on what’s happening now in the context of the Ukraine settlement. The Russian side is deeply concerned about the inability or unwillingness of the Kiev authorities to fulfil their obligations and agree procedures for local elections with Donetsk and Lugansk, or invite representatives of the self-proclaimed republics to draft a new constitution.

We are concerned that the draft constitution, which was prepared without their involvement, does not include a single provision of the Minsk agreements. It doesn’t include the task of ensuring permanent special status of these territories, decentralising powers in accordance with the list that was produced in full in the Minsk document of February 12.

We expressed, to put it mildly, our surprise at the position of the European Union, which, after deciding to extend its unilateral sanctions, said that they may be revised, if Russia complies with the Minsk agreements. The European Union hasn’t required Kiev to implement the Minsk agreements, even though the vast majority of provisions in this document are about proactive steps to be taken precisely by the Kiev authorities. Ironically, the more Kiev torpedoes the Minsk agreements (which is what it is actively doing), the more Russia will be blamed. I think that this approach is already clear to all. This is an absurd position.

We hope that our contacts with our European colleagues (Germany and France who are members of the Normandy format), today's talks, as well as getting familiar with the actual political process under the Minsk agreements, will enable our partners to form a more objective picture and take the necessary steps to influence the Kiev authorities so that they do not shirk their responsibilities.

We believe that an important role in supporting and promoting the implementation of the Minsk-2 agreements shall be played by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine. In general, it deserves high praise. I would like the mission to focus not only on monitoring in the ​​contact zone, but also other provisions of its mandate, including monitoring human rights across Ukraine, as well as the areas listed in the SMM mandate.

We have shared interests with the European Union in countering the terrorist threat. ISIS is growing dangerously in the Middle East, taking over large swathes of territory in many countries. All those who understand the importance of fighting terrorism must unite their efforts. We believe that this can be used as a basis for more effective political solutions in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and the entire region.

We are sympathetic to EU’s concerns that our colleague outlined today regarding the influx of illegal migrants from Africa, primarily through Libya, to the EU. We are aware of the plans being developed in the EU to counter this threat and to curb this criminal enterprise of transporting illegal migrants. We presume that the plans being developed in the EU will fully comply with international law, and will be reviewed by the UN Security Council if they involve any enforcement actions.

Overall, I’m pleased with our talks. I always appreciate the candid and open nature of the dialogue with my colleague and longtime friend. I thank him for today’s talks.

Question (addressed to Jean Asselborn): As we were told in the Finnish Foreign Ministry, Helsinki consulted its EU partners before barring the EU-blacklisted members of the Russian delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly from entering Finland. Has Finland asked the opinion of Luxembourg that holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union? Could you please comment on Russia’s statement that descried this step as a violation of Finland’s international commitments?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Jean Asselborn): I am surprised that our Luxembourg colleagues were not asked about this. We inquired about this and were told that all EU members were asked about this and only three EU newcomers answered “no”. We believe the EU has nothing to do with this. Finland invited delegations to the session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly as a member of the OSCE rather than the EU. So, all other members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly accepted Finland’s invitation to conduct the session in Helsinki. Therefore, Finland did not fulfil its commitments as a host of an international event and was simply impolite.

You quoted a statement of our Foreign Ministry about Finland violating its international commitments. This is true. But apart from these commitments Finland has also violated the EU decision that unilaterally imposed sanctions on some Russian politicians, including MPs. This decision contains a caveat that sanctions do not apply if these politicians are taking part in events of international organisations, and visas must be issued. The OSCE is directly mentioned among the organisations listed as an exception in this context. Our Finnish colleagues are trying to claim that the OSCE is mentioned but its Parliamentary Assembly is not. I think this is ridiculous and even insulting to the OSCE’s parliamentary body.

Question: It seems that all decisions made by Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko, including the failure to grant a special status to Donbass, are at variance with the Minsk agreements. It seems that Kiev is simply giving up on all of these agreements. What do you think about this?

Sergey Lavrov: Today we have informed our Luxembourg guests in detail about our fact-based assessment of Kiev’s failure to comply with the Minsk agreements. I’m referring to the special status of Donbass, the holding of elections by agreement with Donetsk and Lugansk, the implementation of constitutional reforms (again by agreement with these self-proclaimed republics), the lifting of the economic blockade from which ordinary people are suffering, and the commitment to declare an amnesty for all participants in the events in Ukraine’s southeast. This is an alarming situation because it testifies to the trend of the Ukrainian authorities regularly demonstrating their inability to negotiate, beginning with the coup d’etat.

On February 21, 2014 then President Viktor Yanukovych reached an agreement with the opposition leaders that now represent Ukraine’s government. This agreement was not just violated – it was torn into pieces on the morning of the day after its signing, when the coup d’etat was staged. Later on our Western colleagues, including those who witnessed the conclusion of this agreement, made a helpless gesture, saying that “the train had departed” and we should all face the new reality. The minister-level meeting in Geneva involving Russia, the United States, the EU and Ukraine took place on April 17, 2014. The participants adopted a statement demanding the immediate start of a national dialogue with a view to reforming the constitution with the participation of all Ukraine’s regions. Nothing happened, and later we were told that the situation had changed after the presidential and then the parliamentary elections. We were asked to think of what to do next. The Minsk agreements were concluded in September 2014. Finally, on February 12 of this year a package of measures for a settlement in Ukraine was elaborated on the basis of the Minsk agreements. As distinct from all other documents, it was endorsed by a UN Security Council resolution. Please note that de facto it has acquired the power of international law.

During the course of contacts with the partners in the Normandy Four and some of our other partners that are interested in the status of the settlement in Ukraine, I get the impression that some of them are tempted to revise the Minsk-2 agreements. They reason that, well, the Ukrainian authorities have carried out a kind of a constitutional reform (true, without the involvement of Donetsk and Lugansk but the reform was still implemented), and Kiev is ready to fulfil its promise on elections as well (also without the participation of Donetsk and Lugansk but local elections were still conducted).

I have warned our Western colleagues in Europe and US State Secretary John Kerry when we met that this is unacceptable. The Minsk package cannot be broken apart. This is what it’s called in English – a “package of measures.” Any attempts to tear from it one aspect that would suit the Ukrainian authorities and forget about those elements that balance out the interests of the sides and ensure the lawful interests of Donetsk and Lugansk will not be accepted. We are asking our Western colleagues not to create a situation where they can claim that Minsk-2 has been exhausted and now the Ukrainian authorities are facing objective difficulties, so let’s meet again and come up with a Minsk-3 that will consider new developments because new realities are emerging over time. We will adamantly insist on fair play rather the usual attitude as regards the implementation of the February 12 Minsk package of measures that was approved by a UN Security Council resolution.

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Jean Asselborn): This is exactly what I was saying, and this is what my warning was about. I’m aware that the Ukrainian constitution is being drafted in cooperation with the Venice Commission. The Venice Commission is not mentioned in Minsk agreements. What these agreements say instead is that the constitution must be drafted in coordination with Donetsk and Lugansk. This corroborates my words and concerns that someone out there will be tempted to pretend that the Minsk agreements are being implemented, albeit in a modified form, with the blessing of the Venice Commission. I reiterate: the key to success in resolving the Ukraine crisis is direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. That’s not because we want it to be so, but because this commitment is part of the UN Security Council resolution. Of course, if, in addition to everything that needs to be done under Minsk-2, the Venice Commission makes a contribution, it will be a great accomplishment.

Question: While in Moscow, Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil el-Arabi said that the Arab League is forming a joint force from among the majority of Arab countries to fight the “Islamic State” (ISIS). Was this issue discussed with Russia, and how does it resonate with President Putin’s idea of creating a coalition to fight ISIS that would include Syria? Can constructive Syrian opposition forces participate in the antiterrorist coalition alongside the Syrian government?

Sergey Lavrov: The initiative of creating a collective force of the Arab countries has been discussed for a long time now. This idea was put forward by our Egyptian colleagues, and it is now being discussed in the Arab League. If this organisation believes that there are ways to improve the effectiveness of the joint fight against the terrorist threat, we will only welcome it. When such entities are created, and if they need any kind of support from us, especially political, legal, or maybe in the UN Security Council, we will, of course, provide it to them.

With regard to how this idea could work with the Russian President’s initiative regarding the formation of a united front against ISIS and other terrorist groups, President Putin suggested that all countries in the region should pool their resources. This applies to Syria as well, both the Syrian army and the Syrian opposition, including armed opposition forces, which stand for the preservation of a sovereign, territorially integral and secular Syria, which is not subject to any manifestations of extremism and provides equal rights to all ethnic and religious groups. This also applies to the Syrian Kurds and other countries in the region, such as Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Russia is not imposing any schemes. We just see that the disagreements between a number of states in the region distract them from their primary task which is fighting terrorism. These disagreements can wait; they are not a priority, because the pace at which ISIS is branching out and its influence spreading demands that we focus on the primary task which is to stop this terrorist entity in its tracks and prevent it from creating a “Caliphate,” which is the terrorists’ goal. Therefore, we are open to discussions and consultations with the countries of the region, and with other states which may be helpful in fighting terrorism. Of course, we will primarily rely on the Middle East and North Africa and their choice of the forms and methods that they believe are most appropriate and effective.

Question: Does Russia plan to provide assistance to Greece, including financial?

Sergey Lavrov: Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has already answered this question. I believe what he said was that we have received no such requests.