Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s comments following talks with José Manuel García-Margallo, Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Minister of Spain

Submitted on Tue, 03/10/2015 - 00:00

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation José Manuel García-Margallo of Spain, Moscow, March 10, 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

The talks with my Spanish colleague were held in a constructive atmosphere.

Spain is an old and reliable partner of Russia. Of course, our bilateral relations have been complicated by the crisis in Russia-EU relations related to developments in Ukraine and Brussels’ position on this issue. We have suspended cooperation in a number of vital spheres. Our trade has seriously declined and tourism has also been affected by this situation, although tourism has recently become a hallmark of Russian-Spanish relations.

We share the view that the current situation must be overcome and bilateral dialogue must be stepped up in various spheres. We have agreed to reinvigorate the Russian-Spanish interdepartmental working group on new threats and challenges, which is scheduled to meet soon. Recent tragic events in many countries have highlighted the need to redouble our efforts against terrorism and extremism. We hope that the revival of this working group will help our progress along this path.

We noted the progress made in the development of the contractual basis of relations between our two countries. Russia has completed the ratification of the Treaty on Cooperation in Adoption of Children, which will provide comprehensive protection of the rights and interests of Russian children in Spanish adoptive families. We have completed preparations for signing an agreement to simplify the entry, stay and departure of Russian and Spanish crews of air carriers that make flights to our countries, which will facilitate ties between Russian and Spanish citizens.

We have agreed to accelerate the signing of an agreement on the mutual recognition and exchange of national driver licences, which is a vital factor of the tourism industry, and an agreement on the mutual recognition of university and other academic degrees. We are completing work on a memorandum of mutual understanding on lowering international roaming prices. As you know, this is important for communication between our citizens and for developing ties between them.

We are satisfied with preparations for holding the Year of Russian Language and Literature in Spain and the Year of Spanish Language and Literature in Russia in 2015-2016 and the Russian-Spanish Year of Tourism scheduled for 2016-2017. We have agreed to take all the necessary measures to implement these projects, which include a multitude of highly interesting events and will facilitate mutual understanding between the two nations.

We have discussed the situation in Europe and issues pertaining to current Russia-EU and Russia-NATO relations. We reaffirmed our position that increased military activity near Russia’s borders will not help restore confidence in the Euro-Atlantic region. We will have to take adequate measures in response to these developments. We are convinced that problems should be addressed through dialogue based on equality and mutual respect and aimed at implementing the principle of indivisible security, where one’s own security does not come at the expense of others. Our NATO partners have been avoiding the codification of this political principle for many years.

We have discussed the situation in Ukraine. At this stage we have a shared understanding of our goal, which involves, above all, fully observing the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements signed in Minsk on February 12, and strictly following the sequence of steps prescribed by this document. These include resolving the worst humanitarian issues, lifting the economic blockade of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, staging municipal elections, giving special status to these two regions and organising constitutional reform. Russia and Spain share the view that the Ukrainian crisis cannot be resolved by military force, and political dialogue remains the only acceptable solution.

We compared notes on other international issues, in particular, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, including Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. We have the shared opinion that the international community needs to promote national dialogue, reconciliation and accord in those countries while at the same time consistently fighting any manifestations of terrorism and extremism. I expect that Moscow and Madrid will intensively discuss and coordinate efforts on these and other issues, all the more so since Spain will be joining the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member for 2015-2016.

Question: Did you discuss the possibility of easing the Russian food embargo on Spanish products, using the arrangement now being discussed with regard to Greece and Bulgaria?

Sergey Lavrov: No, we didn’t.

Question (to Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo): Mutual mistrust has been growing between Russia and the EU over the past year. Is there a way to resume cooperation? What steps are needed for this?

How long can the sanctions remain in effect, and how could they influence the growing distrust?

Sergey Lavrov (adding on to Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo’s answer): It is essential to “separate the wheat from the chaff” and look at the basic interests of the EU countries and Europe in general. It is important that no one tries to interfere with these interests.

EU Council President Donald Tusk recently met with US President Barack Obama, whose press office then said, if I remember correctly, that the European Union cannot make decisions on Russia as fast as the US would like them to because there are 28 members there and they need to find consensus. We are certainly aware of this, and this is true for any international alliance. But when an EU leader says, as though apologetically, that they are failing to act on Russia as fast as the US wants, this is somewhat strange. I would say the EU members might need to use their agreement-reaching process to work out some guidelines for the Brussels officials who make statements on behalf of 28 nations.

For now, it looks like the EU bureaucracy in Brussels is deliberately escalating the confrontation with Russia, often trying to pretend that no progress is being made in fulfilling the military clauses of the Minsk agreements. This delays the implementation of the political clauses and, at the same time, hampers the normalisation of EU-Russia relations, something many countries advocate, including Spain.

Mr Garcia-Margallo and I discussed Spain’s foreign political strategy adopted at the end of last year, which directly stipulates the need to institutionalise the relations between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, including a free trade zone. The document also calls for resuming the visa-free travel talks. We support all of these initiatives, based on the assumption that each EU country’s national strategy will be taken into account when working out common approaches for all the members. I would welcome a situation where each EU member country is guided by its national interests.

The Minister and I also discussed the possibilities for resuming the work of the Russian-Spanish Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation. Mr Garcia-Margallo will also meet with Energy Minister Alexander Novak, who co-chairs the commission. The commission will meet this afternoon. I think it may also discuss the possibilities for reversing the trade reduction trend as well as Spanish and Russian business interests in the continuation of joint projects. The commission members could probably discuss the situation, for which we are not to blame, with EU agricultural exports suffering from Russia’s inevitable response to the EU sanctions.

Question (addressed to both ministers): The Ukrainian crisis is the main driver of the mistrust between Russia and the EU. In some quarters of the EU, Crimea’s recent accession to Russia is seen as unconstitutional. Could Russia file a suit in the UN International Court in The Hague and is it something worth doing?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after José Manuel García-Margallo): We have consistently advocated respect for international law as regards all goals and principles of the UN Charter, which have equal status and none of which takes precedence according to numerous expert interpretations of international law. They can only be considered in their totality. The right of nations to self-determination and territorial integrity are enshrined in the UN Charter, including the need to respect the right of nations to self-determination while also ensuring the territorial integrity of states.

As for international law and the attention it has received recently because of Crimea, we would like to see our Western partners show the same zeal toward other recent cases from modern history. I’m referring to the bombing of Yugoslavia, a member of the OSCE, by other members of this organisation, and the unilateral proclamation of Kosovo’s independence without a referendum (nobody made any fuss or even asked why there was no referendum). I am also referring to the attack on Iraq under absolutely far-fetched pretexts and to the crude abuse of the UN Security Council mandate in Libya – now there are attempts to put back together this state that has been destroyed, and everyone is thinking about how to prevent the collapse of other states in the region.

Spain’s position on the unilateral proclamation of Kosovo’s independence is well known and we share it. Mr Garcia-Margallo and I agreed today that historians should study all these facts, whereas we must engage in real, practical politics. However, we will get nowhere if we forget why these or other events that crudely undermined international law took place. We must remember them.

As for the 1994 Budapest memorandum, by signing it Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom made a legally binding commitment not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine. This commitment was assumed in exchange for Ukraine voluntarily relinquishing nuclear arsenals of the former Soviet Union. Neither Russia nor other signatories of the memorandum have made any other commitments, not to mention that this document does not oblige us to accept the anti-constitutional coup d’état and the actions of Ukrainian radicals that undermined the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state. For those who have forgotten, the first, instinctive action of the new authorities that came to power as a result of this coup was to rescind the status of Russian and other languages of ethnic minorities in Ukraine. In the process they trampled on the February 21, 2014 agreement to resolve the political crisis in Ukraine, which was sanctioned by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland. This law was not signed later on but the aftertaste remained. The plans and intentions of the new authorities were obvious to all.

Hypothetically, it would be interesting to see what France would do if Switzerland revoked the status of the French language, or how the Netherlands would react if Belgium did the same for Dutch. The answer is obvious, all the more so since the effort to revoke the status of the languages of ethnic minorities, including Russian, was accompanied in Ukraine by overtly anti-Russian statements by the Maidan leaders. Dmitry Yarosh, who was running the Maidan show with his strongmen and commandos, said in late February that a Russian will never accept Ukrainian culture or glorify Stepan Bandera or convert to Greek Catholicism. He concluded that since Russians cannot change they should either be driven out of Crimea or destroyed. This statement did not elicit a reaction from our well-informed partners, including those who witnessed the signing of the February 21, 2014 agreement (its first point was a commitment to establish a government of national unity, not a government of Russophobes).

I’d like all of you to read the interview that President Vladimir Putin gave for a film that will soon be released. In it Mr Putin explains candidly and in detail what happened in Crimea and the surrounding circumstances. I hope our partners will still draw a lesson from their laissez-faire attitude to the aforementioned agreement.

Question (to both ministers): Was a possible UN Security Council decision to send a military mission to Libya discussed today? What’s the likelihood of this scenario?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after José Manuel García-Margallo): We welcome the efforts aimed at advancing national reconciliation and harmony in Libya and related steps being taken to promote dialogue between the legitimate government and parliament in Tobruq and representatives of the Islamist organisations based in Tripoli, where they have formed a government and parliament of their own (the General National Congress).

We support the efforts of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Libya Bernadino Leon of Spain, and the efforts of regional countries – Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and others – seeking to move this process to a political track.

At the same time, we believe that parallel efforts are needed to deal with terrorists and extremists who have captured a sizable portion of Libyan territory, including oil facilities that provide a large source of funding for the activities of terrorist groups, including the Islamic State group, whose representatives have already appeared in Libya and several other countries of the region in addition to Iraq and Syria. What is needed here is to find the right balance, combining a policy of supporting the political process with efforts aimed at curbing terrorist activities in Libya.

There is also the initiative from Egypt, which was submitted to the UN Security Council and which we welcomed and are ready to use as the basis for discussing steps that can be authorised by the UN Security Council to strengthen efforts to counter the terrorist threat emanating from Libya. At least, that’s the approach that every country should follow, if it respects the UN Charter and the norms and principles it contains. In my opinion, it’s important that the same be done by member countries of the anti-terrorist coalition formed by the US, which is striking terrorist targets in Iraq with the consent of the Iraqi government, and also in Syria, but without the consent of the Syrian government. I am convinced that the fight against terrorism must be rooted in international law. There must be no by-passing the UN Security Council in this respect.

We agreed with our Spanish colleagues to continue consultations on Libya, including with a view to advancing the political process, and to resume work in our joint interdepartmental group on combating terrorism.

Question (addressed to José Manuel García-Margallo): What are the chances that the EU sanctions will be lifted in July if the Minsk Agreements are observed?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after José Manuel García-Margallo): We did not discuss the sanctions. They were not our choice, and we are not going to try to persuade or ask our European friends for anything. Time takes care of everything. Mr Garcia-Margallo spoke about the way sanctions are perceived in Europe.

They are not doing anyone any good. Because all of this is related to the efforts to resolve the Ukraine crisis, I would like to draw your attention to what was agreed in Minsk on February 12, and to reiterate that concrete steps were formulated there that all parties to the conflict – Kiev, Donetsk, and Lugansk – are to take, as well as the sequence of these steps.

I noted that the communiqué released after a recent video conference by US, German, French, British and Italian leaders and European Council President Donald Tusk stresses the need to honour the Minsk agreements in full. This is also our position. I hope that when the respected leaders of the Western world review the implementation of these agreements they will take these facts into account: The day after February 12, the Kiev authorities said that they had not assumed any obligations in Minsk with regard to granting an amnesty to the participants in the events in southeastern Ukraine, nor had they assumed any political or legal obligations to take Donetsk and Lugansk’s positions into consideration in carrying out constitutional reform. This is a complete distortion of what was written in black and white and signed by the representatives of Kiev.

Now we hear that Verkhovna Rada has issued a statement to the effect that it will not cooperate with representatives of the self-proclaimed republics to hold local elections, even though the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements of February 12 states in no uncertain terms that these elections are to be held with the consent of the territories on which the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics were proclaimed.

The Kiev authorities categorically refuse to honour yet another point that was agreed in Minsk and then reaffirmed at a meeting of the Normandy Four foreign ministers in Paris on February 24, specifically the immediate establishment, within the framework of the Contact Group, of working subgroups on the constitutional process, humanitarian and economic issues, the holding of elections and so on and so forth. Furthermore, the Kiev authorities are attempting to impede the work of the Contact Group, presumably in a bid to ratchet up tension and call into question the implementation of the military provisions of the Minsk Agreements and drag their feet on the implementation of the political reforms which the Kiev authorities have signed on to. This begs the question: Are our Western colleagues unable to see all this? It is essential to draw their attention to the fact that full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, which they call for, is in fact being blocked by the Kiev authorities.

I don’t know what tools the Americans and Europeans have to pressure Kiev. Perhaps they should use their preferred mechanism – sanctions – to force the Kiev authorities to deliver on what they have agreed and what all our Western colleagues are demanding.