Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions at the Munich Security Conference (Munich, February 16, 2019)
Question: Does the common position of most European countries on the recognition of the self-proclaimed President Juan Guaido indicate that the current norms of international law are no longer operating? Was Venezuela mentioned in your conversations with your colleagues, and if so, in what context?
Sergey Lavrov: Venezuela was among the issues discussed with almost all of the partners I had bilateral meetings with (about twenty).
We view the position of the United States and those European countries that have put forward an ultimatum to the legitimate President as manifestations of the very trend that we have already spoken about more than once – when Western countries realise that it is difficult to impose their unilateral agenda on others in a multipolar format, they begin to look for ways to bypass universal institutions such as the UN. They are trying to replace the very essence of international law with certain invented arrangements which they call the “rules-based order.” It is now firmly established in their vocabulary. If guided by the international law, in particular, the UN Charter, the Venezuelan crisis would qualify as that country’s internal affair and the international community would be obliged to urge Venezuelans to find a solution themselves. Uruguay, Mexico, the Caribbean Community countries, Russia, China, Iran, Bolivia and many others have supported this. Yet, this interpretation apparently does not fit with the plan already conceived for the Venezuelan state. Therefore, instead of applying international law and the UN Charter, they put forward some rules they want to use to solve this problem, forcing the legally-elected President to agree to early elections. At the same time, Juan Guaido has been proclaimed acting president by external players, again in accordance with the rules invented by the West.
I would say the lawless nature of everything that is happening is obvious even to my Western European colleagues, who were reluctant to discuss this topic.
Question: Yesterday, Senator Lindsey Graham told the session that President Donald Trump was going to establish a buffer zone in northern Syria with the help of European allies. What is Russia’s position on this matter?
Sergey Lavrov: I find it hard to comment on Mr Graham or anyone else’s statements regarding President Trump’s intention to create buffer zones in northern Syria. The US leader has announced that they are withdrawing fr om Syria. Later his staff declared that this was not quite so: they might be pulling out but not entirely; perhaps they would be replaced there by some private military company, or the French, or the British…
In my opinion, everyone should be guided by the agreements developed within the Astana format. The participants at the Sochi meeting discussed security both on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and on the Turkey-Syria border, among other things. All the presidents agreed that there was the 1998 Adana Agreement between Syria and Turkey, whereby security cooperation principles were established for use on their joint border, the principles of which are in force to this day. Among other things, they provide for joint actions against terrorist threats. This is what I would advise you to be guided by.
I think that various plans by countries having no legitimate right to be in Syria, the more so plans to involve even more illegitimate players, do not help the matter.
Question: A BBC producer has published the results of a six-month investigation, saying that he can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged. In other words, the West is coming around to see that provocations have been staged against Russia and the Syrian government. What do you think about this? Is it true that the West is coming to see the truth and is changing its attitude?
Sergey Lavrov: I think the West knew this from the very beginning, because it were certain Western countries that staged these provocations, including with the help of the notorious White Helmets, a presumably humanitarian organisation that is headed by a former MI-6 agent.
By the way, our Western colleagues have not resettled all of their wards from Jordan yet. They have asked Jordan to shelter the White Helmets for some time, but the deadline is long past and they are still in Jordan. They have probably seen whom they have given shelter to and that these guys, if they are resettled in the West, can potentially act in Western countries the way they had been trained to act. I think that those of our Western partners who were not involved in these provocations are aware of the absurdity of the accusations.
It is good that there are honest journalists in this world. By the way, he [the BBC producer] did not say that no chemical substances were used in Douma. He says he “can prove without a doubt” that sarin was not used in Douma. This is true. As for the possible use of chlorine, he proposed waiting for the OPCW to prove chlorine or otherwise. Regrettably, the OPCW’s investigation is taking suspiciously long. First of all, it took a long time to convince its experts to visit the suspected attack site, and now they have spent months there investigating it.
The UK journalist has pointed out clearly that the investigation of the Douma Hospital footage shows that the scene was staged. In fact, our military also said that the militants could use chlorine for a provocation. It should be clear to everyone that the hospital scene was staged. It is notable that what the [Western] journalist has said so openly, is being frowned upon in the West.
Question: Have you harmonised positions at a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono? What are the biggest obstacles standing in the way of signing a peace treaty? Can they be removed in time for the G20 summit?
Sergey Lavrov: We in Russia do not set any deadlines for this. We calmly explain to our Japanese colleagues that nothing of this kind can be planned. We want to proceed from the 1956 Declaration, just as our leaders agreed in Singapore at the end of last year. This implies that the first step must be to sign a peace treaty. According to the Russian stand, which is public knowledge, this means that there is no alternative for our Japanese neighbours’ recognition of the results of WWII, including Russia’s sovereignty over all the Kuril Islands, including the four islands of the Lesser Kuril Chain.
We have agreed on the steps we would take next. We have deputies who are responsible for this between ministerial meetings, as instructed by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They will hold talks in the next few weeks. Based on the outcome of this meeting, we will set the date for a ministerial meeting in Japan.
At the same time, we maintain dialogue at the level of first deputy ministers. Their next meeting is scheduled to take place on April 2. In addition to this, our deputy ministers will meet to discuss regional security and our mutual concerns about threats in Northeast Asia.
Question: This year we are marking the fifth anniversary of the Crimean Spring and reviewing our integration into Russia. What can you tell us about the diplomatic work?
Sergey Lavrov: Our diplomatic work consists first of all in making our partners understand reality. Not much is required for that; just go there and see everything with your own eyes, like when the representatives from public organisations and political parties from Europe went for the referendum on their own initiative. It is true that there were no official OSCE missions, but there were a lot of foreigners who saw everything first hand. They saw it and said it was impossible to fake anything. So we are eager to persuade anyone who is preoccupied with Crimea to go there and see if allegations of a human rights nightmare or a humanitarian crisis are true.
A cathedral mosque is being built in Simferopol for the first time in Crimean history. This did not happen under Soviet rule nor during the years when Crimea was part of Ukraine. We have been accused of discriminating
against Crimean Tatars even though the Crimean Tatar language has become an official language, another thing that didn’t happen under Ukraine.
We welcome everyone there. However, many people ask about entering Crimea from Ukraine. We answer that in this case there is nothing to discuss because it means that they are not interested in life in Crimea but in politicising the issue. They want to show through their itinerary that they do not recognise the Crimean people’s choice.
Another practical aspect which comes to mind now is visa discrimination of Russian citizens living in Crimea because they are deprived of the right to get Schengen visas. Yesterday I met with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and other EU representatives to discuss this. This is pure discrimination for political reasons, a punishment for the free exercise of choice. Our colleagues have no argument against this, they look down and avoid the discussion. We will continue working on this and we will invite more international events to be held in Crimea.
Question: During the conference today it was mentioned that you are the most experienced participant in the Munich forum. We would like to know your opinion of this conference, since you have seen so many events like this. Is it easier now to come to agreement with partners on coordinated decisions or are participants’ attitudes towards Russia different this year?
Sergey Lavrov: We would even like to be a little more isolated because our talks lasted non-stop, over two dozen meetings. Our entire delegation was extremely busy. All of our discussions were constructive, even with politicians who at various times, when they speak in the European Parliament or at other venues, have expressed hard opinions about Russia. Everyone assured us that they want to normalise relations with Russia. But apparently they are guided by collusion and follow a policy charted by the EU under pressure from the aggressive Russophobic minority.
We patiently explain our willingness to resume relations on an equal basis and at a rate and to a degree that will suit our partners. We do not hold a grudge against anyone; we have simply understood as to whom we can rely on in developing our country and whom we cannot, including cases when someone decides to punish us for something else, like the Crimean Spring. But I’ll repeat that they do not respond in any way when I remind them that a few days after the coup, which was carried out by the opposition whom they supported, in violation of the guarantees given by France, Germany and Poland that there would be no backsliding on the agreements with Viktor Yanukovych, one of the Maidan leaders Dmitry Yarosh said that a Russian in Crimea would never think or talk in Ukrainian, nor would he respect Shukhevych, Bandera or any other neo-Nazis or their accomplices. So a Russian living in Crimea, as this Maidan leader who was very popular and influential at that time used to say, should either be eliminated or evicted. Those declarations and the “friendship trains” carrying armed thugs that he later sent to Crimea and the attempted attack on the Supreme Council of Crimea building caused an outburst of indignation from the Crimean people. When we explain all this and say that those people were responding to a racist threat, we get no response. I believe that indeed there are people who are ashamed of this attitude. But nothing can be done about it.
Regarding the conference in general, the audience are more eager to listen. Patience always pays off. We are patient people, strategically as well. Still, there is another issue which had an effect on the overall atmosphere. It was reflected in a distributed report called The Great Puzzle. Supposedly, the puzzle is coming apart because there is no one to pick up the pieces. We can feel the confusion caused by what is going on, both concerning the threats to the world trade system and its openness that emerge almost on a daily basis, and unilateral enforcement measures and attempts to expand one jurisdiction’s laws exterritorialy to other countries. Certainly, Washington’s policy to disrupt the system of international arms control treaties also adds to the feeling of confusion.Everybody understands that this situation does not require an “anti-policy.” It is important to call all reasonable parties together and sit down at a table and find formats wh ere all the main players can be represented. In this respect, the G20 discussions will be very indicative. It will be interesting to see all this turn into specific documents and viewpoints. Official bodies will be working there, in Japan. Here we have political analysts or public officials in a private capacity.