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PRESS RELEASES AND NEWS

14.06.2019

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to questions at the Primakov Readings International Forum, June 11, 2019

1221-11-06-2019

Mr Dynkin,

Colleagues, Wolfgang (I am very happy to see Wolfgang Ischinger and other foreign friends here),

I would like to reaffirm our full support for this format which has become a tradition. It is called “The Primakov Readings.” The prestige of this forum is growing. In five years, it has become one of the most authoritative and representative international expert venues. I think this is only natural because in one way or other everything linked with Mr Primakov is simply “doomed” to succeed considering the wealthiest intellectual legacy left by this outstanding state and political figure and scholar.

The current Readings are taking place in the 90th birthday anniversary of Mr Primakov. A set of commemorative events approved by President of Russia Vladimir Putin are being held on this occasion. Naturally, the Foreign Ministry is involved. We are holding many events both in Russia and abroad, publishing themed collections of articles and memoirs by his colleagues and associates and holding roundtable discussions. At our initiative that was supported by President Putin, sculptor Georgy Frangulyan created a monument to Mr Primakov that will be installed in front of our ministry building.

Domestic diplomats especially appreciate Mr Primakov’s contribution to the creation of the conceptual foundation of Russia’s current foreign policy, consolidation of its international positions and comprehensive interpretation of the processes that are unfolding in the world, which are complicated and ambiguous. We all remember Mr Primakov’s foreign policy principles – self-sufficiency, independence, multi-vector approach, openness and predictability. All of these have been tested by time and are reflected in yet another version of the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation that was endorsed by President Putin.

It is worth recalling that, consistently defending national interests, Yevgeny Primakov was never an advocate of isolationism or confrontation. He always supported expanding intergovernmental cooperation to effectively solve the pressing problems of our time – in research, in intelligence, at the Ministry, and in the Government. He always promoted the idea that existing differences between individual world centres – and they probably will never be fully resolved – should not prevent them from combining efforts and potentials to thwart the common challenges of terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

This kind of philosophy of joint constructive work is especially relevant today, when the situation in the world remains tense and the challenges and threats are not subsiding. Unfortunately – this had to be reiterated more than once – the main obstacle to pooling efforts is the stubborn reluctance of a small group of Western states, led by the United States, to acknowledge the current international realities. President Vladimir Putin said in his Address to the Federal Assembly on February 20: “However, it seems that our partners fail to notice the depth and pace of change around the world and where it is headed. They continue with their destructive and clearly misguided policy. ”

Today, in an attempt to secure unilateral geopolitical advantages and preserve its status as the single decision-making centre – with the consent or direct support of its allies – the United States continues to deliver powerful blows to the international security architecture formed after World War II. It is working to undermine the arms control regimes or adjust them for its narrow selfish purposes, wreaking havoc and fuelling conflicts in various regions of the world. Examples are not hard to find – Washington’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty and from the Iranian nuclear deal under a far-fetched pretext, aggravating tensions in the Gulf zone, and trying to overthrow the legitimate government in Venezuela. Another example is its support for the former Kiev authorities in their stubborn unwillingness to fulfil their international obligations under the Minsk Package of Measures aimed at mitigating the devastating effects of the unconstitutional coup in February 2014.

Our Western colleagues have even gone so far as to encroach on key norms of international law, on the central, coordinating role of the UN in world affairs, imposing some rule-based order instead. They are creating an exclusive structure, with cronies meeting to make decisions in various fields, from chemical weapons to cyber threats and journalism, and trying to present these decisions as the opinion of the entire world community. I am not even talking about such vicious methods of unfair competition as unilateral economic sanctions, trade wars, or the extraterritorial application of national legislation. These actions clearly run counter to the World Trade Organisation requirements.

As a result, tensions and conflicts are increasing, while the level of strategic trust is decreasing. There are fewer opportunities for interstate cooperation, including in areas where it is needed badly and urgently. All this worries not only politicians, but also the expert community. We can see it.

At the same time, I am confident that this negative trend is not irreversible. To reverse it, it is necessary to remove ideology bias from foreign policy, to abandon the archaic methods of military-political, economic, and information deterrence, to stop reinventing the wheel, and to begin to make full use of the huge potential of universal mechanisms of global governance such as the UN and its Security Council, as well as the G20.

By the way, there have been quite a few occasions over the past few years, which were far from simple for the international community, when solidary actions by the international centres helped ease tension. Among these are the Russian-US agreements on the chemical demilitarisation of Syria and the coordination of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme by Russia, the United States, Europe and China, as well as efforts to promote positive dynamics around the Korean Peninsula. It is a different matter that many of these achievements have been subjected to severe trials and there have been attempts to revise or even cancel them. Rules are being changed not only during the game, but even when the game is over and its results, which suit all sides, are formalised by the UN Security Council. The deal-making skills of our Western partners, primarily the United States, are on the line.

The international community has not yet defeated international terrorism, including the very real threat coming from the foreign terrorist fighters who are on the move around the world. The challenges in the Middle East and North Africa are extremely serious. We must work together to strengthen the positive change in Syria, put an end to the drawn-out Libyan crisis and launch dialogue with all coastal states in the interests of stability in the Persian Gulf, as well as promote a stable and fair settlement of the chronic Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the generally accepted basis of international law formalised by UN decisions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Another crucial goal is to coordinate mutually acceptable approaches to cyber security and the regulation of projects designed to create artificial intelligence, which must not be allowed to escape human control.

But strategic stability and arms control still take the centre stage. Speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, President Putin highlighted the potential consequences of lifting all restrictions in the nuclear missile sphere. All Russian initiatives regarding this are still on the table. We have taken note of Washington’s proclaimed readiness for cooperation. Now we expect to see practical action. We expect words to be followed by deeds.

Colleagues,

The ongoing globalisation is increasing the interdependence and complementarity of the national economies and the unprecedented freedom of movement of the workforce, goods, capital and services. In this situation, it would be useless to try to play a zero-sum game, hoping to defeat your partner without sustaining any losses. As the saying goes, what goes around comes around. It is very difficult, and in the longer term impossible, to shield oneself from the boomerang of interdependence. Not surprisingly, forward-looking politicians have long proposed coordinating solutions that will benefit all sides, the so-called win-win solutions where there are no losers.

In this sense, practical efforts to harmonise integration projects should become a vital unifying element of the global agenda. Consistent efforts have been made to align our approaches to the EAEU development and China’s Belt and Road Initiative with the possibility of a Greater Eurasian Partnership as a broad contour of economic cooperation that is free of any barriers and based on the WTO standards and that takes into account the diversity of our patterns of socioeconomic development. We invite all countries in both Asia and Europe to join hands in the development of our huge common Eurasian continent. Importantly, the combination of our economic potentials will not only boost our citizens’ prosperity, but also help us lay the foundations of equal and indivisible security in Asia and the Euro-Atlantic in keeping with the 21st century realities and the declaration signed at the CSTO summit in Astana in December 2010.

Colleagues,

The only reasonable alternative to confrontation, which is damaging all sides, including the initiators of such confrontation, is the pooling of efforts by all active international players based on international law.

Yevgeny Primakov wrote in his book Russian Crossroads: Toward the New Millennium, “Russia must be seen as it actually is if the international community is to seize every opportunity to resolve the issues common to all of us in our turbulent world.”

Russia is an independent centre of global politics and a guarantor of cooperation with anyone who is ready to reciprocate. Russian diplomats will continue working to transform futile rivalry into constructive collaboration. These efforts also take into account Yevgeny Primakov’s legacy and his numerous seminal works.

Thank you.

Question: Honourable Foreign Minister, I wonder whether you have any comments on the recent speech to the graduating class at West Point in May by the Vice President of the United States, in which he told the graduating soldiers that sometime during their career they will fight on behalf of their country – and it will happen, he said – is that he will move to the sound of the guns, and he named certain places and certain countries or states that they would have to fight against. He said it could be in the Indo-Pacific against China; it could be in Europe against Russia, which seeks aggression, etc., etc. I wonder whether you have any comment on this. Thank you.

Sergey Lavrov: Thank you very much, Mr Ambassador. I am not familiar with these remarks by Mike Pence, even though I have heard a number of his other statements, including when he appointed the acting president of Venezuela and fired the sitting, legitimately elected president. But if he did say what you just quoted, I think there is no need to comment in detail, not in this circle of reasonable people, on such statements that directly incite such militaristic sentiment. In this regard, I will mention the latest reports by the Pentagon, including the Nuclear Posture Review.

Just recently, yesterday, I read a statement by the Pentagon’s leadership that a dialogue should be started with Russia, China and North Korea in order to reduce the risks of their unprovoked launch of military operations using nuclear weapons. This is coming from the military department of the country whose latest nuclear doctrine significantly reduced the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. That is why, as I said, we have repeatedly sent proposals to our American counterparts. This was done at the meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump, and at my meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and at meetings with Presidential Adviser on National Security John Bolton when he came here and had talks at the Security Council and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

We expect specific responses to all these proposals. I will not speak in detail about the proposals as they are being reviewed by the American side, but they cover the entire range of issues of strategic stability and control over nuclear and other strategic offensive and defensive weapons.

Politically though, of course, it is of fundamental importance that Russia and the United States calm down the rest of the world and adopt a joint declaration at the top level that a nuclear war cannot be won, and therefore it is unacceptable. The leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union expressed this stance twice, and we do not understand why this position cannot be reaffirmed under current conditions. Our proposals are under review by the American side.

Question: Minister Lavrov, I would like to ask you what will happen in Ukraine? All this mess… It has really deteriorated relations with Europe and America in the past few years. What do you think about events in Ukraine? What should be done to overcome this horrible situation as regards Ukraine?

Sergey Lavrov: President of Russia Vladimir Putin has expressed his opinion in this respect. I am referring to the new leadership in Ukraine. We are waiting for the announcement of its policy on all international issues because Ukraine’s partners are interested not only in the settlement there. We are waiting for a new team to be formed. As you know, for the time being all attention is focused on the preparations for the forthcoming parliamentary elections in July. The team as such has not yet been set up and the positions of the new Ukrainian leaders are not yet clear-cut.

As for the Ukrainian settlement, to make progress it is only necessary to do one thing: fulfil UN Security Council Resolution № 2202 that unanimously endorsed the Minsk agreements that describe in no uncertain terms what actions the parties of the conflict – Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk – should take and in what succession.

Ways of extricating the Minsk agreements from this deadlock were discussed at the highest level in the Normandy format twice – in 2015 and 2016. They primarily deadlocked because of the position occupied by President Poroshenko. Immediately after signing these agreements he began to appease radical nationalists who criticised them and proved unable to defend his signature as a politician and president of his country. He still intoned words about his commitment to these agreements but insisted that Russia should abide by them.

The EU found a very peculiar way of keeping the Minsk agreements afloat. It made a decision that still remains its mantra: the EU is eager to lift sanctions and will do this as soon as Russia fulfils the Minsk agreements. In this way the EU sent a signal to Poroshenko: Ignore the Minsk agreements and your desire for continued sanctions against Russia will materialise. This position is obvious to me and I am convinced it is obvious to all responsible politicians in Europe but it was so comfortable to hide behind this vague platform that was certainly imposed on the EU by the Russophobic minority.

I recently heard a statement by an adviser of President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky (I don’t remember who exactly that person was). Anyway, he spoke in the same vein: “The Minsk agreements are important because they ensure the preservation of anti-Russia sanctions.” This is why some forces in Kiev need the Minsk agreements but not to abide by them.  

Europe, primarily France and Germany as co-authors of the Minsk agreements, should and I hope do send the necessary signals to Kiev, all the more so since President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky had contacts with the German and French leaders in Berlin and Paris. The foreign ministers of Germany and France visited Kiev as well. I hope we as participants in the Normandy format will be told what the reaction was and what they discussed, all the more so since our partners again suggest holding a Normandy format summit. We are ready to meet in any configuration but it should not be forgotten that the Contact Group is a key mechanism for implementing the Minsk agreements. This is the only platform on which Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk work together with assistance from Russia and the OSCE. Without any agreement there, there will be no progress. The Normandy format cannot impose its decisions on anyone if the sides do not agree. Let me repeat that we should fulfil the agreements reached in the Normandy format if we respect it. In 2015, the sides accepted the so-called formula of then German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier because then President Poroshenko did not want to grant a special status to Donbass and sign a relevant law before the elections there. He explained his position in a fairly democratic manner. He said: “How can I give a special status to people whom I don’t know? When I know whom they elected, I will decide to grant them this status or not.”

As we see it, when people go to the ballot box in a democratic society, they usually know what powers those for whom they vote will have. Nevertheless, considering this stalemate, President Vladimir Putin agreed to the proposal made by Steinmeier: at first, the law on special status will enter into force on a preliminary basis on the election day and then it will permanently enter into force when the OSCE presents a final report on the results of the elections (which usually takes two months) on the understanding that the elections were free and fair. Everyone agreed.

After this we tried to put this formula down on paper in the most diverse configurations, including the summit in the Normandy format in Berlin in 2016. We wanted it to acquire a legal form and become a supplement to the Minsk agreements because it specified the sequence of actions and was a concession from Donetsk and Lugansk. We supported this approach. 

However, Ukrainian Government representatives flatly refuse to put it down on paper as a legal document supplementing the Minsk agreements. They do not want even to discuss it either in the Normandy format or the Contact Group. Apparently, we will not receive a clear-cut answer about the reasons.

The second agreement where a failure of implementation has also become manifest now is the Berlin agreement reached in October 2016, when the four leaders personally pointed on the map to the three pilot areas for the complete disengagement of forces and equipment. It concerned the withdrawal of everything rather than just heavy weapons.

One of the areas – Stanitsa Luganskaya – was mentioned quite recently at a regular meeting of the Contact Group. Let me remind you that the Ukrainian Government announced that it would be possible to work toward disengaging forces and equipment there only on the condition that there first be seven days of complete silence. Since then, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) reported 50 times or probably even 60 times today that nobody had opened fire for seven or more days. The Ukrainians said that these were OSCE statistics whereas they heard a couple of shots and therefore suggested resetting the clock on the seven days once again. If nobody saw anything, they would begin to disengage forces and equipment.

We were encouraged by the statements of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, when Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky asked him to return to the position of Ukraine’s representative in the Contact Group. He said he would promote the policy of President Zelensky for peace, cessation of war and violence and development of economic ties as required by the Minsk Agreements. This inspired optimism.

Following the Contact Group’s meeting on June 5, statements were made on an agreement to start disengaging forces and equipment in Stanitsa Luganskaya on June 10 and a ceasefire agreement to be signed at the regular meeting of the Contact Group on June 19. However, yesterday the Ukrainians answered in the negative when asked about starting to disengage forces and equipment because some explosion had occurred. Our representative in the Contact Group, Boris Gryzlov, commented on this situation. According to our information, this was a provocation staged by the Ukrainian military or by volunteer battalions. There are still many volunteer battalions there and they hardly can be said to report to anyone. If this is so, and judging by everything this was indeed a provocation, its only goal was to prevent the disengagement of forces and equipment in beleaguered Stanitsa Luganskaya once again.

I can speak at great length on this issue but everyone should be honest. All sides signed the Minsk Agreements. They make it clear what actions should be taken by the Government in Kiev, as well as by Donetsk and Lugansk (in the document they are referred to as separate districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions). It is impossible to lay the blame for the lack of progress with someone else.

As for your question whether it is possible to make a gesture that will start the process moving, we have already made so many positive gestures that any other normal partners would be more than happy to reciprocate.

I proceed from the premise that our Western partners have artificially created a crisis in relations with Russia by dirty means under the pretext of the events in Crimea and the east of Ukraine. This was an attempt to lay the blame for the catastrophe that took place in Ukraine in early 2014 on someone else and remove the guilt from the West.

You remember that France, Germany and Poland acted as witness to the agreement reached between Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition on February 21, 2014. This agreement was broken on the following morning. Neither European countries nor the United States whose leaders asked Moscow to persuade Yanukovych to support these agreements (and he signed them), none of our Western colleagues replied to our appeals to rein in the opposition and make it adhere to what it had signed and what had been witnessed by the esteemed EU leaders. This document was simply forgotten. They said that since Yanukovych left Kiev they are not responsible for anything. First, he left for Kharkov and was on the territory of his country as the legitimate president. Second, the agreement that was broken by the opposition with tacit Western support started with the talk of the need to establish a government of national unity. It was not about Yanukovych but about the ways of overcoming the crisis in which a national unity government was the first step.

Having staged a coup d’etat, the distinguished opposition members went to the Maidan and declared that they expect congratulations from the Maidan team since they established a “government of victors.” Consider the difference between a “national unity government” and a “government of victors.” The first resolution of this government was to abrogate the law that ensured the rights of the Russian language, Russians and other ethnic minorities. This law was not signed later on, but the instinctive signal of the new government was heard in the eastern areas of Ukraine and especially in Crimea.

One of the coup leaders Dmitry Yarosh, who is now a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada and will be reelected to the Ukrainian parliament in coalition with someone, said in public that Russian people will never understand Ukrainians and therefore Russians in Crimea should be destroyed because they will not speak Ukrainian and will not respect the memory of Ukrainian heroes, referring to pro-Nazi henchmen Shukhevich and Bandera. He sent the so-called “friendship trains” to Crimea in an attempt to seize the building of the Crimean parliament elected back in 2012.

Nobody wants to remember this and understand that Russians and Russian speakers simply said they do not want to accept a government that staged a coup and asked it to leave them alone and let them look around and understand what to do next. Instead, they were proclaimed terrorists. Do you have a single fact to support the claim that the east of Ukraine or Crimea attacked the rest of Ukrainian territory? Everything was the other way around. They began to be attacked: Lugansk was bombed by aircraft, people were burned alive in Odessa and a tragedy took place in Mariupol on May 9. Attacks were made on the east of Ukraine, on people who simply distanced themselves from those who staged the coup, Russophobes with radical nationalist beliefs, so as to be left in peace to decide how to live from now on. They were called terrorists and separatists and an anti-terrorist operation was launched against them.

Maybe I am too emotional and pay too much attention to detail but few people in Europe now remember all this. It has already been hammered into the public consciousness that Russia is an aggressor and an occupier and does not abide by the Minsk Agreements. This is very easy when some or other issue is presented on television with slogans that are immediately drummed into the minds of viewers.

I would very much prefer that we not expect gestures from each other but instead draft some common solutions and present them to the public, having discussed different issues in the Normandy and other formats, and not only Ukraine but also European security and other problems that concern us. I am convinced that only a search for consensus and compromise will open the way to settling all crises.

Consensus on the Ukrainian issue was achieved. We are ready to search for specific ways to implement it. But for this we need Europe to abandon its position of providing total cover for everything that Ukraine does. I am hoping that the new leadership in Kiev will use the chance it has been given by Ukrainian voters that are tired of this abnormal and unhealthy situation and that the parliamentary elections will confirm this as well.

 

To be continued...

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