Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his answers to media questions during a news conference following the meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine

Submitted on Sun, 08/17/2014 - 22:00

Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his answers to media questions during a news conference following the meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, Berlin, August 18, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have had a busy day of talks at the level of the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. The meeting lasted about five hours. The talks were attended by the ministers alone. There were no assistants in the room. We have discussed the whole range of problems now facing Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and noted certain progress in a number of areas that we have been discussing for a while now.

This is primarily true of the recently achieved consensus favouring the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people in southeastern Ukraine. We stated that all the questions, largely artificial, that were posed with regard to the Russian initiative to send about 300 lorries with humanitarian aid, have been removed. All the issues have been agreed upon with the Ukrainian side and the International Committee of the Red Cross. I hope that in the near future humanitarian aid will come to those who need it. I will note parenthetically that as soon as the excitement around this Russian initiative subsided and all the trumped-up suspicions were dispelled, foreign media lost interest in it altogether. Since then, I have not seen once any report on humanitarian aid on any Western TV channel.

I believe that humanitarian issues must bring all of us together. We agreed to use this hard-gained experience in providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine from Russia in the future, as well, because, unfortunately, the people in southeastern Ukraine will likely need more of it.

The second area where we have also noted progress is ensuring proper border control. The bulk of responsibility for secure borders lies with the respective states. Russia is fully responsible for what is happening on our side of the border and for preventing illegal crossings into Ukraine. Ukraine bears the same responsibility with regard to its territory and its side of the border.

However, as you may be aware, as a gesture of goodwill, some time ago the Russian side invited OSCE observers to the border crossings that are controlled by self-defense forces on the Ukrainian side. The observers are doing their work and sending their reports to the OSCE headquarters in Vienna describing what they see. No illegal crossings have been spotted over the about three weeks of their mission at the border. What they see and report back to Vienna (the observers’ missives are available to see) is an increasing flow of refugees from Ukraine, consisting primarily of women, children and the elderly. This is a separate problem faced by the Russian Federation, in particular, the Rostov Region and several other neighbouring regions.

With regard to secure border control, we have an understanding that the presence of OSCE observers on the Russian side is an important contribution to our joint efforts. In addition, if our Ukrainian colleagues do not have sufficient capacity, the country is hosting a special OSCE monitoring mission that has been authorized to stay there for another six months and whose numbers can be increased to 500 people or more, if need be. So far, the 400-strong mission (so, there is room to expand) has been operating in accordance with the mandate approved long ago by the OSCE Permanent Council and is eligible to be equipped adequately to perform its work. Now, there is talk that the mission may use drones to monitor the Ukrainian side of the border from Ukrainian airspace. We support such an approach: the more effective the mission, the better.

We noted definite progress in sending humanitarian aid and monitoring compliance with border crossing regulations. We cannot yet report on positive results with regard to the ceasefire and political process.

Clearly, the ceasefire is the most urgent task. People are dying every day, and civilian infrastructure is being destroyed every day as well. Interestingly, when we stepped up the talks on providing Russian humanitarian relief aid to Ukraine and were discussing specific routes and delivery times, the intensity of the strikes and the shellings of Lugansk and its suburbs by the Ukrainian forces have increased dramatically. They targeted specifically places where the humanitarian aid was supposed to be delivered and will be delivered.

We have reaffirmed Russia's position, whereby the ceasefire, as has been stated on many occasions, must be unconditional. Unfortunately, our Ukrainian colleagues continue to put forward a variety of rather vague terms and conditions, including, as they put it, ensuring the “tightness” of the borders. As I already mentioned, we have nothing against border control being maximally effective, and we are doing our best to achieve this goal. I hope that Ukraine can be as effective as possible in doing what they need to do. The OSCE mission is working in Ukraine, which, as I mentioned, is providing help to the Ukrainian government and may further be provided with the necessary equipment.

We believe that the ceasefire should be unconditional. We have agreed on this on many occasions, including in Geneva on 17 April and in Berlin on 2 July. By the way, the Berlin Declaration of 2 July included deploying OSCE observers and Ukrainian border guards at Russian checkpoints, but only during a ceasefire. As a gesture of good will, we went as far as deploying the OSCE observers, even in the absence of a ceasefire agreement, thus fully holding to our end of the commitments included in the Berlin Declaration. Unfortunately, the ceasefire, which primarily depends on the Ukrainian side, has not been implemented.

A ceasefire is a two-way street. Our colleagues from Kiev are complaining that the self-defence fighters are not communicating with them. It’s difficult to be in contact when you're being bombed relentlessly, as is the case in Lugansk. Our Western colleagues who have direct influence on Kiev have work to do in this department.

Unfortunately, the United States was not represented at the meeting in Berlin. However, we are also sending a strong signal to our partners in Washington to exert influence on the Kiev authorities to help bring this fratricidal war to an end, and begin negotiations.

The negotiations process is another issue that is being discussed and, as is the case with the ceasefire, has bumped up against attempts to avoid the existing agreements set forth in the Geneva Declaration of 17 April, namely, to immediately initiate constitutional reforms, including a broad-based nationwide dialogue with the participation of all regions and all political forces in Ukraine. Please note that this was back on 17 April. This call and the agreement between Russia, the European Union, the United States and Ukraine meant that the process should start immediately.

Again, we were not able to reach any substantial agreements in this area. Importantly, no one objected to confirming the Geneva Declaration during the meeting of foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. I believe that this in itself is a good achievement. Of course, it’s sad that confirming a consensus that was reached several months ago has to be considered an achievement. In fact, it really is a positive event, since until recently, as I pointed out to my colleagues from the European Union yesterday, no one in Europe was willing to even mention the Geneva Declaration.

Several documents adopted by the Council of Europe focus on the EU's total commitment to the so-called Poroshenko peace plan. We asked why the Geneva Declaration is not mentioned at all. All EU countries without exception (and we asked every one of them) assured us that they remain committed to the Geneva document. If that is the case, why then is the European Union shy to acknowledge it? Yesterday, we sought to have the understanding of the relevance of the Geneva Declaration put on paper. None of my colleagues had any objections.

My final point now is that we have covered the issue of negotiability fairly extensively. I cited the example of the Geneva Declaration and the paragraph about the immediate start of negotiations with the participation of all Ukrainian regions. This hasn’t been done. The Berlin Declaration mentioned implementing a cease-fire and deploying Russian observers at the border crossings that are controlled by the self-defence fighters on the Ukrainian side during the ceasefire. We have honoured our commitments, but the ceasefire is nowhere in sight. I can give you many such examples.

Yesterday, I told my colleagues that we can go back to square one, that is, to the time when, following the acute phase of the crisis on Maidan, a Ukrainian settlement agreement was signed on 21 February between those in power at the time and the then opposition (which is now the coalition that runs Ukraine, including Arkady Yatsenyuk, Oleg Tyagnibok and Vitaly Klichko). This agreement was also signed by the foreign ministers of Germany and France with whom I met yesterday, as well as the foreign minister of Poland. Much has been said about this agreement.

Our Western partners are trying to justify the failure of the Kiev authorities to follow it by alleging that President Viktor Yanukovych had “disappeared.” Regardless of whether or not he disappeared (even though Viktor Yanukovych did not disappear), the argument about the need to start off by creating a government of national unity which would prepare constitutional reform and use this to hold elections was the key concept of the agreement of 21 February. The concept of national unity is the basis for everything else. It’s the first paragraph of that agreement (namely, that it will serve as a caretaker, but still be a national unity government) that everyone will rely on as a starting point.

The agreement was broken within two days of its signing. A coup ensued, and it was announced that a “government of victors” now reigned in Kiev. See the difference: national unity versus winners and losers. That's where the problem lies, which is causing further tragedies in Ukraine today. My partners and I have had a very frank conversation about this. I very much appreciate the fact that this conversation took place. None of my partners said yesterday that he was against national unity. If this is the case, then the call in the Geneva Declaration to immediately begin an inclusive constitutional national dialogue involving all regions and all political forces must be acted upon. This is the path towards national unity, not the decisions that the Verkhovna Rada makes regarding bans on professions, political parties, etc. That is the path to a national schism and a state crisis which is already fairly deep.

That's what we discussed yesterday. We agreed that we will continue to discuss these issues over the next few days (the ceasefire, the delivery of humanitarian relief aid, ensuring better border controls and preparing conditions for starting a political process), and will try to reach mutually acceptable formulations. Following the discussions, we will report back to the heads of our respective states and see how we can press ahead with our efforts to end the tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine.

Question: Following a recent conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Russia is supplying arms and training soldiers who are fighting in Ukraine. Such propaganda messages are constantly published in the German media. Did you bring up this issue at the meeting?

Sergey Lavrov: We haven’t discussed this issue specifically. I have already mentioned that, among other things, we have reviewed the situation on the border. We have reminded everyone of what exactly we are doing there. First, we are in charge of all that happens on our side of the border. Second, we have invited OSCE to deploy on our side its observers at the border crossings that are not controlled by the Ukrainian authorities on their side. In addition to the OSCE observers, Ukrainian border guards and customs officers are deployed at Russia’s Donetsk checkpoint. In order to have the humanitarian relief aid properly delivered to its destination, we are willing to let them stay there for a longer period. We are supportive of providing additional equipment, including drones, to the OSCE mission in Ukraine. There are no questions that we wouldn’t be eager to discuss.

Outright misinformation is regularly thrown in into the media space. I hope that as adults we can tell the truth from fiction. For example, following the talks between Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko and British Prime Minister David Cameron, media reported that the Ukrainian military bombed a military convoy that entered the territory of Ukraine from Russia. None of that ever happened, and we have already said everything we had to say on that. At about the same time, a Ukrainian military convoy made its way to the Lugansk Region clearly planning to cut off the route for the potential delivery of humanitarian aid and was destroyed by self-defence fighters. That's exactly what happened. If someone wants to portray this kind of events as “glorious successes” of the Ukrainian army, let them go ahead and do so, but please don’t make Russia a culprit in the process.

Question: Will there be any consultations with heads of state? What is the format of the next meeting?

Sergey Lavrov: What do heads of state have to do with this? We will report back to our leaders and update them on whether we have managed to reach some sort of common interpretation of things on paper. Again, yesterday we discussed all aspects of the crisis in Ukraine and have reached agreement on a number of provisions relating to humanitarian aid, the situation on the border, prospects for a ceasefire and preparing the ground for a national dialogue. We do not have any formulations yet. Within the next few days, my colleagues and I will discuss our chances to reach common agreement on paper, and will report on the results to our respective leaders. After that, we will decide on the format of our future work.

Question: A bevy of journalists went to this region to cover the humanitarian aid convoy. At the same time, there are numerous reports, including directly by our colleagues, about the Russian military moving along the border. They saw large numbers of military equipment and troops moving towards the Russian-Ukrainian border at different times of the day. Could you please comment on this? And one more question. OSCE representatives reported that they saw people in uniform, although unarmed, crossing the border. They are not sure if this is legitimate. Can there really be such incidents?

Sergey Lavrov: The OSCE representatives have every right to put this question directly to the Russian border guards at this checkpoint. They know each other, there are working there together, so there should be no problems with asking the border guards directly about anything they may be interested in.
With regard to weapons and military equipment on Russia’s territory, I reiterate that there is an ongoing war on the other side of the border, where they use artillery, aviation, multiple rocket launchers and, reportedly, ballistic missiles to shell Lugansk. All of this is unfolding within a few kilometres of the Russian border. There have been many instances where the shells flew into our territory. We don’t think that these were deliberate acts. Most likely, it was done by accident and due to poor training. Nevertheless, it has happened. There are casualties and damage to civilian property on the Russian side. As you may be aware, a couple of months ago Ukrainian armoured vehicles broke into our territory, clearly, “in the heat of the battle” without realising that they have crossed the border. You can’t be too careful in a situation like that. We must be vigilant.

Again, we have every right to take decisions on Russian territory that we believe are necessary to ensure our security. A real war is going on several kilometres, if not hundreds of metres, away from our border.

Question: The Right Sector issued an ultimatum to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. Who is in charge of the National Guard? Do the Kiev authorities have any influence on them?

Sergey Lavrov: The Kiev government has no control over numerous armed groups, in particular the Right Sector, which, according to our estimates, is what the National Guard is largely made of. The Right Sector’s move with regard to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry speaks for itself. The Kiev government does not control the oligarch-funded battalions, such as Azov, Dnepr, and so on, either. This is a big problem. That's why we do not just insist that the Kiev government opens, as agreed in Geneva in April, a national dialogue involving all the regions in order to show southeastern Ukraine that it is interested in national reconciliation; we also work with our Western colleagues, especially in Europe and the United States, who can actually exert influence on the armed formations that do not answer to the central government in Kiev.

We are aware that the West is capable of exerting such influence on them. We hope that the responsibility for what’s happening in Ukraine will be understood, and the necessary steps to impact those who do not want to end the war will be taken.

Question: Prior to the meeting, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Pavel Klimkin said in an interview that Ukraine had requested military assistance from NATO and the European Union. What’s your take on such a statement made right before the meeting and the fact of Ukraine making such a request?

Sergey Lavrov: My take on this is negative. This is contrary to all the agreements and understandings that have been reached regarding the need for a ceasefire and launching negotiations. As long as the Kiev authorities rely on a military solution and remain confident that in order to keep their top spots in Kiev they need a military victory over their own people, I do not believe there’s any hope for what we're trying to accomplish here.