Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s press conference on the telephone conversation with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell

Submitted on Wed, 06/17/2020 - 09:48

As part of our regular political dialogue with the European Union, today we held an hour and a half discussion with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

We discussed a broad range of international issues in detail.  

Reviewing the current deadlock in a settlement in the Middle East, we emphasised the need to step up the consolidated efforts of the international community for the resumption of direct talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis under UN aegis as soon as possible. These talks must be used to resolve the issues of final status and to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. The situation has considerably deteriorated of late.

We reaffirmed the commonality of our positions with the EU to the effect that the plan on annexing part of Palestinian lands on the West Bank of the Jordan River will threaten the prospects for a two-state solution of the Palestinian-Israeli problem and could provoke a new and dangerous cycle of violence in the region.

We agreed to continue coordinating our approaches because Russia and the EU are participants in the quartet of international mediators. We will work with our partners in the UN to this end as well. We will bring home our view on this issue to the US and Israel.

We emphasised the need to stop hostilities in Libya as soon as possible. We supported the start of a constructive dialogue with the participation of all political forces as soon as possible. Many initiatives have been made recently in this respect. I am referring to the Berlin conference and the ideas expressed by the Speaker of the Parliament in Tobruk, Aguila Saleh.

Regarding Syria, we reiterated that there is no alternative to a political settlement of the crisis within the framework of the process launched under UN aegis. This process must be conducted by the Syrians themselves with assistance from the UN, as is envisaged in Security Council Resolution 2254.

We also emphasised the issue of providing humanitarian aid to everyone who needs it in Syria without any discrimination, politicisation or any preconditions. Western aid is mostly delivered to refugees outside Syria, which is unlikely to create conditions for returning them back home as soon as possible, or to those who are staying in the regions that are not controlled by the Syrian Government.

On June 30, the EU plans to hold a videoconference on humanitarian assistance to Syrians. We have been invited and plan to take part in that event. We have expressed regret once again that the Syrian side, that is, the legitimate Damascus Government, has not been invited to this conference, which is not the first such event to be held by the EU.    

We held an in-depth discussion on the Iranian nuclear programme. We pointed out the commitment of Russia and the EU to ensuring a sustainable and comprehensive implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). We exchanged views on the difficult processes underway within the framework of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna, as well as in New York, where our American colleagues are trying to promote solutions that contradict all the agreements reached within the JCPOA and approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

We also discussed the crisis in Ukraine, noting that there is no alternative to the Minsk Package of Measures and practical efforts to implement it. For our part, we pointed out that these agreements must be honoured by all sides in full and consistently, which includes, first of all, the development of a direct and stable dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk.

We also talked about the situation in the Western Balkans, including in light of my upcoming visit to Serbia. We reaffirmed Russia’s principled approach that the regional countries must not be forced to choose between the West and Russia.

All of us would like the policy of all European countries to be multidirectional and equally open to dialogue with all those who are ready to talk on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.

We highlighted the importance of implementing the agreements reached between Belgrade and Pristina many years ago with the mediation of the EU, the agreements that have, regrettably, come to a standstill.

It turned out that we hold similar views on the efforts to promote a nationwide dialogue in Venezuela. Europe and Russia have attended a recent conference in the so-called Stockholm format organised by Sweden.

And lastly, we discussed a number of issues related to current relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union. We told the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, that we know about the EU plans to make a strategic analysis of its relations with Russia. We confirmed our interest in developing contacts and reaffirmed the invitation sent to Mr Borrell to visit Russia as soon as the coronavirus situation allows.         

Question: Kiev keeps saying that the Minsk agreements are not binding and should be revised or even terminated. Did you discuss this matter with Josep Borrell? Is the EU ready to help convince Kiev to stop making such statements?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, as I have already mentioned, we discussed the matter of Ukraine. It was not a detailed discussion. The EU is not party to the process that was launched to settle the internal Ukrainian crisis. But EU countries – France and Germany – are involved in it. We are aware that Berlin and Paris inform their EU partners, including the service led by Josep Borrell, about their views on the matter.

Of course, we attracted the attention of our dialogue partners to the statements made in Kiev not by those who have no authority, but by representatives of the Government and the President, and even by the Ukrainian President himself.  These statement vary from calls to preserve the Minsk agreements as the main reason for the Western sanctions against Russia (you should be aware of our comments on these calls) to the claims that the Minsk agreements are a sign of goodwill and hence do not impose any obligations on Ukraine, or are even void, as Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Reznikov has said recently. This is definitely rather alarming.

We urged our European colleagues to take this into account when talking with Kiev, especially in light of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, which is scheduled for an update and renewal. I believe that Ukraine’s attitude to its international obligations should become part of a detailed review of the implementation of the Association Agreement, including in light of the Ukrainian authorities’ attitude to the rights of national minorities.

I focused attention on this matter this today, reminding our colleagues that a number of laws recently adopted in Ukraine curtail the legitimate rights of the national minorities that are guaranteed by international conventions and the Ukrainian Constitution, primarily their education and language rights. I pointed out that the other national minorities – Hungarians, Bulgarians and Romanians – have also expressed dissatisfaction with these laws. The Ukrainian authorities responded to the concerns of European countries at some stage, saying that an exception could be made for the national minorities that use EU languages. I directly asked Mr Borrell if such exceptions had been made for EU languages and whether this would satisfy Brussels and the other European countries and the EU as a whole, so that they would stop demanding respect for the rights of all national minorities, including primarily Russian speakers. The answer was in the negative. He said that the EU would not take a selective attitude to the rights of national minorities in Ukraine or any other country. This position deserves respect. It is the only possible position if the problem of national minorities is addressed on the basis of international law.

Question: On June 11, the Latvian Saeima (parliament) adopted amendments to the Electronic Mass Media Law, which has introduced language quotas. Will this affect access to Russian language media?

Sergey Lavrov: This fits in with the logic we are discussing now as well. We have been alarmed by the adoption in the final reading of the amendments to the Electronic Mass Media Law. We know that these amendments were actively promoted by the radical forces. They insisted on the adoption of language quotas on television, openly saying that they want to limit legitimate access to Russian language information.

As far as I understand, 80 percent of television programmes must be in EU languages, with the 20 percent quota for all the other national minority languages in Latvia. Since 40 percent of people in Latvia speak Russian, this amounts to open discrimination. I am sure that the EU must analyse these decisions and make its position public. At the very least, we have asked Josep Borrell to do this, expressing the hope that the statements that are made regularly in Brussels on the need to ensure high democratic standards regarding access to information will not remain mere words.

Question: What does Moscow think about the US initiative to hold talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on June 27?

Sergey Lavrov: We take it as an initiative addressed to Belgrade and Pristina. We have heard US representatives say that Belgrade and Pristina accepted an American invitation to sit down and talk. Our delegation will be in Belgrade on a visit two days from now. We hope to be able to discuss the practical steps of the countries that offer their intermediary services and how these steps are taken by the Serbian leadership. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly pointed out, including during his meetings with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, that Russia will support the agreements that Serbia and the Serbian people will find acceptable for a Kosovo settlement. We will be operating on this premise. There are quite a few intermediaries involved in this process. I would very much like the possible agreements between Belgrade and Pristina not to follow the fate of the agreements reached between them with the mediation of Brussels, which I already mentioned to Josep Borrell today. I’m talking about the agreements dating back over five years ago to create a commonwealth of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo, which were fairly successful in ensuring the Serbian minority’s rights in that Serbian land. These agreements remain on paper just like the agreements on a trial of the Kosovo Liberation Army militants in connection with the charges listed in the famous Dick Marty’s report on illegal trade in human organs. The court was set up with a huge delay and never got to work. So, we will base our approach to prospective agreements not only on how they look on paper, but also on how they are carried out in real life.

Question: Russia raised the question of lifting sanctions during the pandemic, but it didn’t work. Did you discuss sanctions with Mr Borrell today? Is there any hope that, perhaps, during the strategic review of the revision of our relations, the EU will be willing to revise the sanctions, to lift or to ease them? Is Russia ready to scale down its counter-sanctions and on what terms?

Sergey Lavrov: We do not discuss sanctions with those who imposed them. That was their idea. So, it’s up to them to decide if they work for them. We learned our lessons a long time ago. What the West did in 2014 and later, when these sanctions were extended, showed us that we should rely on ourselves in all key areas that matter for our people and our state, which we are now doing in order not to be dependent on our partners who have shown their unreliability.

With regard to references to our call to relax the sanctions pressure in connection with the coronavirus outbreak, the facts were clearly distorted. I have observed on many occasions that the Western media immediately construed our position as a call to lift sanctions against Russia. We didn’t mean that. We were talking about lifting the sanctions imposed on the countries that were hit hardest by the pandemic. Unilateral illegitimate sanctions during the pandemic look inhumane. We were talking about the unilateral sanctions imposed by the West (primarily the United States) on Iran, Venezuela, Syria and North Korea. That's what we were talking about. We weren’t asking for lifting the sanctions  imposed on Russia. We will cope with this problem ourselves.

Question: The inter-Korean liaison office in the common industrial zone in Kaesong was blown up on Thursday. What can you say about this? What should Seoul and Pyongyang, and possibly the entire international community, do to prevent further escalation between South Korea and the DPRK?

Sergey Lavrov: Russia shares a border with the Korean Peninsula. That alone, not to mention our historical ties with the Korean people, makes us interested in maintaining and consolidating lasting peace and stability on this peninsula. Based on these principled approaches, we advocate the promotion of the intra-Korean dialogue in the interest of normalising relations between the two Korean states, the North and the South, and resolving the entire gamut of problems in this region exclusively by peaceful diplomatic means.

Russia’s earlier initiatives aim to achieve these goals. They remain on the table. Our Chinese friends and we put them forward in recent years. I’m talking about the road map and the action plan for a comprehensive settlement on the Korean Peninsula. We are using these initiatives to take specific and necessary steps designed to remove the existing intra-Korean contradictions. We will continue to follow this approach and to promote intra-Korean contacts and agreements.

Question: How does Moscow evaluate US President Donald Trump’s decision to reduce the US contingent in Germany? Many American congressmen have dubbed it a “gift” to Russia. Is there any way we can agree with this view?

Sergey Lavrov: We would not like to express our own assessment of something that concerns relations between the United States and Germany. We are witnessing a discussion on this score, including the partial pullout of US troops from Germany. German officials are making statements, and there is a discussion in the German Parliament. This is a topic I would not like to comment on.

All I can say though is we support a resumption of a normal  dialogue in the military sphere with all members of the North Atlantic Alliance, in order to be able to comprehensively consider the entire range of issues related to military-political security on the European continent, and even in a wider context – in the Euro-Atlantic area, based on an objective analysis, an assessment of the existing risks and threats.

Our proposals to reduce tensions on the Russia-NATO line of contact are well known. We have handed them to both the United States and NATO. We have not yet received answers to them. So they remain on the table. When NATO is ready, we will be willing to take concrete de-escalation steps.

Question: As you know, Tokyo decided to halt the deployment of the US missile defence system. Could this decision have a positive impact on further Russian-Japanese negotiations, including on a peace treaty?

Sergey Lavrov: I did not understand from the statements made by Japanese officials, including Defence Minister Taro Kono, whether a decision had actually been made to discontinue the deployment of that missile defence system. The Japanese must first decide where they stand in their contacts with the Americans. Again, this is a matter of their bilateral relations. Another thing is that to a certain extent, it affects the general military-political situation in Northeast Asia. The explanations presented at the time they decided on the deployment of those anti-ballistic systems indicated that the move had a certain aim (if I express myself diplomatically).

Here, as in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic area, we consider it important to develop a dialogue on reasonable sufficiency regarding any weapons the countries in the region deploy on their territory and, even more so, on others’ territory. The six-party format for the Korean Peninsula talks, in addition to discussions on the nuclear matters, included a working group (which is formally still active) to strengthen peace and security in Northeast Asia. Russia coordinated that group. With the recent developments in the region, I would say it is time to think about resuming its activities.

But again, we have not seen any concrete decisions on the missile defence system that Japan planned to purchase from the United States. During our discussions of the peace treaty agenda with our Japanese colleagues, based on the principles approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Sinzo Abe, we do highlight the aspects that are related to Japan’s military-political alliance with the United States and the risks posed to the Russian Federation as a result of such an alliance between Japan and a country that has officially declared Russia its adversary. But we would like to clarify the situation before deciding whether it requires any steps on our part.