Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint press conference following talks with Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of Austria Sebastian Kurz, Moscow, May 5, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are satisfied with the talks with Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Austria Sebastian Kurz. They were constructive and substantive.
Relations between our countries have traditionally been characterised by mutual respect and consideration of each other's interests. Despite the difficult situation in Europe, the Russian-Austrian political dialogue continues. In 2014, President Putin went to Vienna on an official visit. Today, we discussed the implementation of the agreements that were signed then. Parliament-to-parliament and region-to-region contacts and cooperation between our respective agencies, including the ministries of foreign affairs, are expanding.
We are interested in restoring the positive dynamics of our trade, which is in decline. We are confident that the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation should play a role in this process. Our contacts may become re-invigorated by the Russian-Austrian Business Council. According to Mr Kurz, on May 4, he met with Austrian businessmen working in Russia who are interested in boosting these relations and who wish to continue this work.
We noted the success of the 2013-2015 cross-culture seasons between Russia and Austria. We highly praised the bilateral commission of historians, whose regular meeting this July will focus on the 200th anniversary of the Congress of Vienna. We welcome the upcoming publication of the revised edition of The Book of Memory, prepared by Austrian research activists, which contains information about 80,000 Soviet citizens who died in Austria. Such efforts are particularly important during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory. We see this as a tribute to Soviet soldiers who made a decisive contribution to liberating Europe and the world from Nazism. Today we also remember that the victory paved the way for the revival of the Austrian state. The month of May marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the State Treaty for the re-establishment of an independent and democratic Austria, the historical significance of which has been borne out by time.
With regard to international issues, we focused particularly on the situation in Ukraine. Our position is based on the absolute need to comply strictly with all, without exception, provisions of the Minsk Agreements of February 12. Of course, this work cannot be effective or provide results without direct dialogue between Kiev and Donetsk and Lugansk, or without resolving the acute humanitarian problems in Donbass. Russia operates on the premise that the crisis is unlikely to be resolved through the laws adopted by Kiev, including the "de-communisation" and the glorification of Nazi collaborators, which distorts the history of World War II, the history of the Ukrainian state and causes just indignation in Europe.
We exchanged views on the prospects of relations between Russia and the European Union. We believe that politics should not interfere with the economy, and that relations should develop on the basis of properly understood natural interests of the EU member states. We are pleased to note that such approaches are shared by many politicians in Europe, including Austria, as well as the business community. We are confident that if we rely on the principles of equality, mutual respect and consideration for each other's interests, any and all problems in relations between Russia and the European Union can be resolved.
We have received a positive response from our Austrian colleagues with regard to the importance of starting the work to harmonise the processes of integration in the European and Eurasian spaces with an eye to forming, in the long term, a common economic and cultural space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. We see in this the role that could be played by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is designed to do all it can to ensure that there are no military-political, economic or cultural dividing lines in Europe or the Euro-Atlantic area.
Next year, Austria will join the OSCE Troika, and in 2017 it will become the OSCE chair. In this context, we look forward to establishing close cooperation in order to coordinate and exchange views about our approach to promoting cooperation within the OSCE's area of responsibility.
We are conducting an exchange of views with our Austrian counterparts in Austria’s Foreign Ministry regarding various crises in the Middle East and North Africa that are increasingly associated with the growing threats affecting, among others the European continent, and the interests of the EU and Russia.
Overall, we are satisfied with the outcome of the talks, which confirmed the willingness and interest in promoting our cooperation.
Question: Is Russia hoping for Austria’s influence in relaxing or lifting the EU sanctions?
Sergey Lavrov: We are not expressing any hopes. We must keep working and rely not on hopes and estimates but on reality, that is, we have to become self-sufficient in the areas that we have been dependent on interaction with our foreign partners until now. It’s not isolation or attempts to become an autarky. We have to do this because we can’t be dependent on supplies of particular components and technology in those sectors of the economy that are required for the accelerated and hi-tech development of the country. This isn’t acceptable for us anymore. However, if the EU doesn’t extend the unilateral sanctions – which have never been legitimate and are obviously counter-productive – we will be able to continue our cooperation based on, as I said, an assessment of the reliability of our partners in their obligations. The current position of the EU is unacceptable. They have publicly declared that in this case, politics must prevail over the economy. And this comes from the party that has always touted their free market world and has been against interference with its operation.
Let me repeat, I did not discuss any hopes with my counterpart MrKurz. I did not make any requests. Some other EU countries sometimes tried to engage us into a discussion of what they expect in exchange for lifting the sanctions. We will not do this. It was not our decision and it is not up to us to cancel it. More than that, we won’t chase someone to ask for favours. We only hope that when the current term of sanctions expires (this summer, if I’m not mistaken) and in all other cases, the EU members will be motivated by their national interests more than anything else. That’s it.
Question (addressed to Sebastian Kurz): Can the EU sectoral sanctions be extended even if partial progress on the Minsk Agreements is achieved before July of this year? What will Austria’s stance on the issue be like?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Sebastian Kurz): We discussed this topic primarily in the context of the EU-imposed correlation between the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and the lifting of sanctions, as MrKurz has just said. We are interested in this, not because we’d like to persuade our European partners not to extend the sanctions but because we’d like to know what position the EU is taking with regard to Ukrainian crisis settlement and the Minsk Agreements themselves. It follows from the position, which has just been confirmed by my counterpart Sebastian Kurz,that Brussels and, accordingly, other EU capitals proceed from the assumption that the Minsk Agreements should be implemented by Russia alone. The European Union keeps silent on what is in store for Ukraine if the Minsk Agreements continue to be sabotaged. It also kept silent on February 21, 2014, when the Ukrainian opposition carried out a coup d’etat, breaching their commitments witnessed by three foreign ministers of major European countries. The Ukrainian opposition was allowed to do that, because it wanted to join Europe. The Kiev authorities, who came to power as a result of a coup d’etat, were allowed to disregard yet another obligation, one assumed in Genevaon April 17, 2014, whereby the new Ukrainian authorities committed themselves to immediately launch a constitutional reform with the participation of all regions and political forces in the country. Today – and I don’t want to believe this –there are certain signs indicating that someone inside the EU would like the European Union to allow the Ukrainian authorities to disregard the Minsk Agreements as well.
Shelling has resumed in recent days. Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz and I talked about the reports submitted by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, which we trust and support and would welcome its expansion. We regard the Mission as an objective source of information on what is going on “on the ground.” We see as unacceptable the Ukrainian authorities’ attempts to interfere with its operations, accusing it of bias or insisting that Russian nationals on its staff should be discriminated against as to their access to some or other facilities in territories covered by the OSCE mandate.
We are seeking objectivity and never hide our views on violations of the Minsk Agreements committed by either side. Yes, the shelling has resumed, but now that its intensity has become threatening, does anyone have any doubts left as to the source of this violence? Russian journalists are working there – unlike journalists from other European countries whose media representatives turn up from time to time. There are OSCE observers’ reports, but there is also the following objective fact, which I asked my counterpart to take into accounttoday. Imagine the line of contact in southeastern Ukraine: the self-proclaimed republics lie to the east, while to the west are the territories controlled by the Ukrainian authorities, or at least controlled in theory, because there are so-called volunteer battalions that reportedly obey – or maybe don’t obey – the Interior Ministry or the Ministry of Defence. There is no clarity on this point.
Make a mental picture of this line and compare it with what you saw over the past year. Whereisthecivilianinfrastructuredestroyed?To the west or to the east of this line? Where do we hear the sad daily newsof civilian casualties? Almost 100 percent of that – the destruction of the civilian infrastructure and civilian deaths – is observed to the east of the disengagement line. On the western side, that is, the territory controlled by the Ukrainian forces, there are regular army and volunteer casualty reports after the resumption of violence. And this is the answer to the question as to who is bombing or is aiming at whom. I was referring to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
Mr Kurz will be in Kiev tomorrow; we have discussed in detail the entire list of the Minsk commitments and have presented our arguments which unequivocally prove that Kiev is unwilling to implement the Agreements, primarily because of its reluctance to launch a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk, although this dialogue is directly stipulated by the Minsk Agreements. I hope that our Austrian colleagues will draw the attention of their interlocutors from the Ukrainian leadership to these obligations during their upcoming talks in Kiev. I also hope that the European Union, given primarily the role of Germany and France as guarantors, along with Russia, of the Minsk Agreements, will after all raise its voice and will stop pretending that the Minsk Agreements have been written solely so that all their articles without exception should be implemented by Russia alone. I don’t think this is absolutely right.
We also talked about the investigation into various crimes that had been committed in Ukraine. I’ve mentioned the journalists working in the conflict zone at the risk to their life. One of the news stories the other day was dedicated to the tragedy in Odessa on May 2, 2014. European media gave little coverage tothe event. The Euronews channel, which I often quote because Russia is one of its shareholders, broadcast an amazing and very brief report devoted to the anniversary of the Odessa tragedy. The report said that Odessa was marking the anniversary of clashes between supporters and opponents of Euromaidan, which resulted in civilian casualties. Then in a 15-second flash a woman dropped a politically correct phrase: “We are all for Europe; don’t interfere!” Next a man was given another 15 seconds to say: “We’re against the ‘Maidan’ because we don’t want our nation to be split apart.” That was all! They simply said that there were casualties as a result of clashes between supporters and opponents of Euromaidan. Not a word about the fact that these people were burned alive and that they were shot at point blank when they were attempting to jump from the burning building’s windows! As if it were an accidental episode in the whole story.
I hope that this will be brought to the notice of our Ukrainian colleagues as well. I am referring to the need for a full-scale, open, and unbiased investigationof all crimes committed since the so-called Maidan snipers’ case, as well as the events in Odessa, Mariupol, and the crash of the Malaysian Boeing. I didn’t have the time to tell MrKurz that we still lack confirmation thatthe transcripts of radio exchanges between Ukrainian air controllers and aircraft performing flights over Ukraine were made public and handed over to the international commission of investigation. This is a very serious issue. I hope that our European colleagues will urge the Ukrainian partners to ensure full cooperation in all these areas, as they have long and repeatedly promised.
Question: The Iranian nuclear settlement deadline is less than two months away. At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad JavadZarif says that no deadline is sacred. What is Russia’s position? Could the talks be extended?
Sergey Lavrov: With regard to Iran, we are absolutely confident that the talks are moving in the right direction. The political framework is being filled with concrete legal and technical texts on all aspects regarding both Iran’s obligations and the lifting of sanctions. Right now I have no reason to make any forecasts to the effect that the deadline – June 30 – agreed by the P5+1 and Iran – will have to be extended. Of course, we are prioritising the quality of agreements rather than some artificial deadline.
Question: Many heads of state refused to accept Russia’s invitation to come to Moscow for the celebration of the anniversary of Victory [in the Great Patriotic War]. What conclusions have you drawn? Are you disappointed?
Sergey Lavrov: We have repeatedly discussed this topic in public. In the first place, it is our holiday. It is a great holiday of our nation – the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. We regularly sent invitations to our friends. An invitation is not a draft notice. If someone cannot accept it, we regard this with understanding. Let me repeat: It’s our holiday and we will always be glad to welcome those who want to share it with us. If someone has different plans, we’ll accept this with understanding, too.
Question: How can you comment on the fact that the Ukrainian armed forces become increasingly active on the eve of each planned meeting of the Contact Group for conflict settlement in southeastern Ukraine?
Sergey Lavrov: Regrettably, this can hardly be interpreted in any way other than an attempt to undermine the Minsk Agreements. We already discussed this earlier today. I don’t know the reason. Maybe they feel that while the war is on no one will urge the implementation of the socioeconomic plans geared to the solution of the internal Ukrainian problems. Maybe they fear that the volunteer battalions will head for Kiev once the war is over. These are predictions made by different political scientists and analysts. This tendency does exist and it gives cause for concern.
We proceed from the assumption that the Minsk Agreements are obligations undertaken by Ukraine, Lugansk and Donetsk. These agreements were sponsored by Russia, Germany and France and supported by the EU, the US and other countries, and they should be meticulously implemented. I won’t repeat every word of what I said answering the previous question. It is enough to read this crucial document and compare the commitments it contains for the Ukrainian leadership with what it is doing or not doing in practice.
I hope that additional steps will be taken to ensure progress in implementing the Minsk Package of Measures for the Settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, as the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and France and the German Chancellor agreed during their recent telephone conversation. This is what the Russian proposal to create working subgroups within the Contact Group aims to achieve. The Contact Group itself will hold a conference in Minsk tomorrow, to be followed by the first meeting of four subgroups on security, the political process, the economy and humanitarian aspects of the crisis. This is very important and should move forward in parallel. The economic blockadeis no longer acceptable, and the Europeans know as much. It is essential to resume social payments and bank services – and France and Germany pledged to help in this regard in the relevant articles of the Minsk Agreements – and to energise the political process, including the constitutional reform. Steps should be taken immediately to decentralise, including with regard to the self-proclaimed Lugansk and Donetsk republics. We hope that the current efforts to re-enforce the ceasefire regime will also yield positive results and we will possibly hear some news after tomorrow’s meeting in Minsk.