Moscow, January 23, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen,
Talks with my Hungarian colleague, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto, were held in a business-like, constructive and friendly atmosphere and were very concrete.
Hungary is an old partner of Russia. Our bilateral relations are based on the principles of equality and respect for each other and our interests. Today we discussed the key aspects of these relations, including the upcoming contacts at the summit and various other levels. As you know, President of Russia Vladimir Putin will make a visit to Budapest in early February.
We have agreed to redouble our efforts to invigorate the nascent positive dynamics in bilateral trade. The Russian-Hungarian Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, which will hold a regular meeting in Moscow this year, is making a big contribution to this work. We hope that the commission co-chairs, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto and Russian Minister of Healthcare Veronika Skvortsova, will be able to report to President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban before their summit meeting in Budapest about the commission’s achievements following its meeting last year.
Our Hungarian partners have reaffirmed their resolve to continue working to expand the Paks nuclear power station project with Rosatom’s assistance. The bilateral agreements and contracts signed cover the station’s whole lifecycle from construction to fuel provision and technical maintenance. This is a strategic project in terms of scale and high technology used. We have also noted the successful implementation of other projects, such as the upgrade of cars running on the Budapest metro’s M3 (blue) line by Russia’s Metrovagonmash and several other signed agreements that are being implemented.
Our interregional ties are growing stronger. Last year, St Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, head of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov and head of Mordovia Vladimir Volkov visited Budapest. Many framework agreements and contracts were signed. Last October, Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos visited Moscow. In November, Budapest hosted a regular Russian-Hungarian economic forum sponsored by the International Investment Bank (IIB). We are now completing the interdepartmental coordination of cooperation agreements signed by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade with the Republic of Karelia and the Lipetsk and Samara regions of Russia. Considering these intense interregional contacts, we have decided to establish one more intergovernmental commission, this time on interregional cooperation. We are now preparing its constituent meeting.
We noted with satisfaction the strengthening of our cultural and humanitarian cooperation, including broader student exchanges and increased interest in learning the Russian language in Hungary and the Hungarian language in Russia.
Dialogue between our foreign ministries has been developing energetically. Last year, I met with Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto four times. Today we have approved a plan of consultations for this year and plan to sign it very soon.
We spent considerable time discussing the regional and global situation, including Europe. We talked about the unsatisfactory situation at the Russia-NATO Council and in Russia-EU relations. But we spoke also about the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, which is the source of the common threat of terrorism and the migration crisis. I believe that we hold similar views with Hungary on measures that should be taken to re-launch Russia’s cooperation with Europe and the United States in order to overcome this crisis. This also includes the situation in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and the Middle East and North Africa as a whole.
Speaking about Syria, my Hungarian colleague and I believe that the meeting between the Syrian Government and armed opposition, which began in Astana today, should become a major step towards settling the nearly six year crisis.
We also discussed the situation in Ukraine, reaffirming our belief that there is no alternative to the implementation of the February 12, 2015 Minsk Agreements. We indicated our concern over the recent statements by President of Ukraine Poroshenko, who said categorically that Ukraine would not approve the political reforms that are stipulated in the Minsk Package until all of its security provisions are implemented, including the reinstatement of full control of the border with Russia by the Ukrainian armed forces. He said they would not start implementing the political provisions otherwise. This directly contradicts the Minsk Agreements, which says that full control of the border with Russia is to be restored only after the implementation of the political provisions, which include an amnesty, the approval of a special status for Donbass and its formalisation in the constitution and local elections held under the OSCE monitoring. We hope that the EU countries that pledged to guarantee the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, which were signed by Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, will take note of this unacceptable statement by President Poroshenko, who is trying to evade his responsibilities.
The Hungarian minister and I also discussed issues related to the involvement of our countries in international events. We have reaffirmed our countries’ resolve to strengthen bilateral cooperation.
I am grateful to Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto for a very useful conversation.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Mr Szijjarto said that the global situation has changed, and that it could facilitate the improvement of Russian-Hungarian relations. Moscow was quite reserved about the prospects for relations when the US president was just elected. After Donald Trump took office, among his first statements was that ISIS should be wiped from the face of the Earth. What do you think about the prospects for the development of Russian-American relations?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking first): Today is actually the first working day of the new US administration. It was preceded by the inauguration. Donald Trump then spent several hours signing his first documents, and then there was the weekend. We are expecting official statements and positions regarding all the main international issues and the formation of Mr Trump’s Cabinet. The Senate has not yet approved the full range of officials engaged in foreign policy, including the Secretary of State.
Nevertheless, we are monitoring the situation in the United States and we see that we share common views on the foreign policy goals outlined by Mr Trump, which have a lot in common with President Vladimir Putin’s views on Russia’s foreign policy objectives.
First, this concerns the development of our own countries as the foundation of a successful foreign policy; the strengthening of our own country in the interests of its people. Second, Mr Trump apparently believes that policy on the global stage should be based not on ideology or on attempts to interfere in other countries’ affairs, but on promoting the core interests of America. The Russian Federation shares this position and applies it in its foreign policy as well. At the same time, the US President’s team emphasised that, while adamantly promoting their interests, they will respect the interests of other countries.
When these interests coincide, they will be ready to cooperate to achieve their objectives on the global stage together. The fight against ISIS, not a simulation but the fight to completely destroy this terrorist group, was considered a priority. Here is where the interests of Russia, the United States and many other countries including Hungary, coincide completely. I don’t know anyone who would deny that fighting terrorism should be our main priority. In this regard, we share common interests.
I would like to remind you that President Putin called for creating a comprehensive and truly global front in the fight against terrorism 18 months ago. This initiative still stands. We are willing to take into account the specific aspects of the fight against terrorism that Donald Trump and his administration might focus on. In short, there is a conceptual and practical basis for counterterrorism cooperation.
You can see every day that there are people in the United States, mostly Cold War veterans and neo-liberals from the political establishment, who want to hinder cooperation. They are acting not in the fundamental interests of the United States but based on their own vision of what other countries must do and how they must be dealt with from a position of strength. Moreover, these people suggest this not to promote the interests of their own country but to force these countries to adopt certain ideological precepts and neo-liberal or other values.
As you know, the outgoing Obama administration spent its last days in office trying to complicate Russian-US relations for the Trump administration as much as possible, placing red flags and landmines, which will seriously complicate normal interaction.
We know about these specifics of the US political system and so have no illusions. However, as President Putin said more than once, we are prepared to do our part to normalise relations with the United States. This can be only done based on equality and respect for each other and for mutual interests, as well as an effort to balance interests when pursuing common international goals, such as the fight against terrorism. As I said, I regard this as the key priority for Russia, the United States and the international community as a whole.
Question: I would like you to elaborate on the Syria talks in Astana. The talks were preceded by a long period of consultations with controversial statements from the parties about which of them would not negotiate and sit at the same table with which parties. Now we are seeing for the first time the armed opposition face-to-face with the Syrian Government delegation at the same table. How do you assess the ongoing process in Astana? What expectations does Moscow have for these talks? Is there a minimum plan and a maximum plan?
Sergey Lavrov: We stated from the outset that the Astana talks are meant to raise the Syria settlement process to a qualitatively new level, primarily by opening up a direct dialogue between the Government of Syria and, let me emphasise, the armed opposition. Until now that opposition used to stay behind the scenes in all the previous arrangements. Attempts to start an intra-Syrian dialogue only involved the political opposition which is largely made up of emigrants and is an external opposition. Finally, an agreement was reached, which is now being fulfilled in Astana, to engage in the process of deciding the future of Syria those who were resisting the Syrian Government with arms until December 29, when an agreement was signed on a ceasefire and on creating conditions for talks.
We worked actively to help reach those agreements alongside our Turkish colleagues with support from the Iranians. We are happy the talks began today despite negative predictions and attempts to derail the process. The talks started with a direct meeting between the Government and the opposition in the presence of guarantor nations Russia, Turkey and Iran, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and the US Ambassador to Kazakhstan as an observer. As you are aware, we have invited representatives of the new US President Donald Trump’s administration to this format. Given the short time since the administration took office, our US colleagues have asked us to treat them as an observer and delegated their Ambassador to Kazakhstan to the Astana meeting.
Attempts were made to prevent direct contacts of the Syrian Government with the armed opposition. As I have already mentioned, the attempts were thwarted, and such contacts did take place. The opening was in the form of a direct meeting of the Syrian Government and the Syrian opposition in the presence of external actors. Apart from that, attempts were also made to revise the agreement that the Government should meet with the signatories to the December 29 agreement, which is to say, with the armed opposition. There was maneuvering to substitute the delegation of the armed units of the Syrian opposition with the emigrant political opposition. We are not trying to exclude the political opposition from the process but we operated on the premise that Astana is designed to produce an agreement on the full-scale participation of the armed units in the process as well. This is crucial now. The subsequent rounds of intra-Syrian talks, including the ones to be held in Geneva, will definitely involve negotiations of the Syrian Government with all the opposition groups without exception: the “Riyadh,” “Moscow,” “Cairo” and other groups. A delegation of the armed opposition will now join those political opposition groups, and this will definitely make the talk between all the Syrians more substantive and more promising. This will completely correspond to the UNSC resolutions which call for an inclusive intra-Syrian process which should include the Government of Syria and the whole range of the opposition. Before the Astana meeting, this point had not been complied with, and attempts to involve the whole range of the opposition in the talks failed.
The opening ceremony is coming to a close in Astana, where representatives of both the Syrian Government and the opposition were sitting at the same table. After a short break, the delegations will begin working contacts. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will act as moderator with support from the Russian Federation. The Syrian Government’s contacts will also be assisted by Iran’s delegation, whereas Staffan de Mistura’s contacts with the armed opposition will be assisted by the Turkish delegation. I would like to take the opportunity to express appreciation to Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who responded to the request from Russia, Turkey and Iran and invited the talks to be held in his country’s capital. We are also grateful to our Kazakh friends, including the foreign minister, for their attention and efforts to help organise the talks and search for agreements on the substantive aspects of the talks that were just launched. I hope we are going to hear good news from Astana.