16 february

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at the Munich Security Conference (Munich, February 16, 2019)

Sergey Lavrov: Today, the situation on the European continent and generally in the Euro-Atlantic region is, certainly, extremely tense. There appear ever more new rifts and the old ones grow deeper. I think that under these circumstances, it is relevant and even timely to turn to the European Home idea, no matter how strange this may sound in the current situation.

Many great modern day politicians realised the need for pooling the potentials of absolutely all European states. Let me mention Charles de Gaulle, who put forward the concept of Greater Europe fr om the Atlantic to the Urals, a peaceful Europe without divides or bloc confrontations, which, in his opinion, made Europe “artificial and barren.” Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Francois Mitterrand also spoke about the importance of the broadest possible partnership with Russia in the name of stability and security.

After the Cold War, these noble plans had every chance of being successfully implemented. But, regrettably, they still remain just good intentions. The choice has been made in favour of “NATO-centrism” and the “leader-wingman” logic. The illegal bombing attacks on Yugoslavia, its partition and the unilateral recognition of Kosovo independence, which recurved state borders on the continent for the first time after WWII, support for the armed coup in Kiev, the reckless expansion of NATO and the deployment of US ABM defences, the EU’s refusal to accept the reciprocal visa renunciation decision that had been coordinated between Moscow and Brussels, and the discrimination of Russian PACE deputies are like links in a chain. Let me add that Russia and the EU had officially approved roadmaps for forming four common spaces from economy and justice to science and education. To all intents and purposes, they have been forgotten and no one even recalls them, let alone work in these fields that, let me underscore, have been approved at the highest level. The same could be said about the commitment not to bolster up one’s security at the expense of others, which was approved at the top level in the OSCE and Russia-NATO Council documents. Not only has it been forgotten but it is also being grossly trampled upon.

So, what do we have as a result? A United Europe has not been built. The considerable potential of interaction between Russia and EU, its comparative advantage are not used. Problems that are of vital importance for all of us, from final extermination of terrorism to ensuring sustainable economic growth, are not being given fitting solutions.

While the Europeans have allowed themselves to be involved in a senseless confrontation with Russia and are sustaining billions in losses from the sanctions that have been handed down from overseas, the world continues to change rapidly. In practical terms, the EU no longer has the monopoly on the regional integration agenda. The balance of power is being modified on the huge Eurasian continent, primarily due to the new centres in the Asia Pacific region. The Eurasian Economic Uni on (EAEU) has become an inalienable part of the geopolitical landscape, as evidenced by both concrete results achieved by it and the desire demonstrated by dozens of states and associations to sign preferential agreements with the EAEU. The People’s Republic of China, which has been promoting the One Belt, One Road concept, is making its own contribution to upgrading Eurasia. There are relevant open integration projects on the SCO platform as well.

I am sure that integration processes must not be compounded with confrontation and rivalry. We see the possibility of combining our potentials, for implementing various multilateral projects and for searching together for new growth points. Efforts to create a common Eurasian space have been taken through the alignment of the EAEU with the Belt and Road initiative. Ties are getting ever stronger between the EAEU and ASEAN and between these two organisations and the SCO. These processes are logically developing in keeping with the initiative which President Vladimir Putin advanced several years ago in support of the Greater Eurasian Partnership as a broad integration contour based on the values of international law, openness and transparency.

The above shows that we have started working in deed, not in word, to ensure the indivisibility of economic development on our huge as well as extremely rich continent.  I believe that our European partners will benefit from joining this project. The creation of a common space from Lisbon to Vladivostok will enhance the competitiveness of all members in deed, not in word, especially in light of the increasingly egoistical behaviour of some countries on the global market and attempts to enforce their rules of the game on everyone everywhere in violation of the UN and WTO norms.

The technical matter of developing a stable dialogue between the European Commission and the Eurasian Economic Commission is long overdue. We are ready for this.

A growing economic connectivity in Eurasia could provide a solid foundation for the continent’s architecture of equal and indivisible security. I would like to remind you that we are yet to implement the commitment, which was adopted at the OSCE summit in Astana in 2010, to create a free, democratic, common and indivisible security community in the OSCE area.

Contrary to speculations, Russia is interested in a strong, independent and open European Union. President Putin spoke about this in November 2018, when he said that the EU’s striving for independence, self-sufficiency and sovereignty in defence and security is a natural and positive desire in the context of strengthening a multipolar world. It is another matter if the EU will be allowed to attain this goal.

The realities of the 21st century call for burying the remaining residues of colonial mentality and the philosophy of iron curtains and cordon sanitaire. The common European home needs serious repairs. The tasks we face are really huge. We can fulfil the jobs efficiently only together on a common basis. It has been suggested recently that work is more effective if it is not done on a common basis but through the so-called new multilateralism, which provides for creating special interest clubs. This would be a big step back from the goal we had in mind when we established the UN. It would amount to an attempt to replace a global organisation with clubs for the sel ect few. We have seen this before. No good will come of it.

Question: What are Russia’s expectations and approaches to extending the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START Treaty)?

Sergey Lavrov: President of Russia Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that we are ready to start talks on extending the New START Treaty. It only expires in 2021, but time quickly flies by. We suggested that together with our US colleagues we start a discussion, given our concerns linked to the US decision to rearm their submarines and heavy bombers with Tomahawk cruise missiles. The New START Treaty allows for this possibility, provided the other party to the Treaty regards these changes as technically reliable. To this very day, we haven’t received from the Americans any proposals on starting meaningful consultations. But we are not losing hope.

Question: Is there still a window of opportunity for an agreement on the INF Treaty?

Sergey Lavrov: There are windows or margins of opportunity, but keeping them open does not depend on us. We have proposed holding a normal professional dialogue, and we are still ready to do this. We need it to discuss the concerns we and the Americans have professionally and without undue emotions.

We have taken the first step by arranging a demonstration of the missile the Americans claim to be in violation of the INF Treaty. They refused to attend it. Out of all the NATO countries, only Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria attended the demonstration and the briefing. Those who attended the briefing say that it was organised professionally and was very convincing. Of course, some of those who boycotted that briefing could have asked additional questions if they had attended it. Our military were ready to answer them.

But as they say, love cannot be forced.

There must have been an order. We have no doubt that the United States ordered the NATO countries to boycott that event. Only three more or less independent members disobeyed that order.

I have said more than once that back in October US officials told us that what President Donald Trump said about withdrawing from the INF Treaty is final and not an invitation for dialogue. This is what they have told us. Rallying their allies to accuse us of destroying this vital agreement after saying that is quite unscrupulous.

Question: Will we be able to keep cooperating in the Arctic region, despite the deterioration of East-West relations? I mean Russia and Norway, Russia and Western countries?

Sergey Lavrov: Where Russia is concerned, the reply is an unequivocal “yes.” Of course, we are paying attention to NATO states’ increased activities in the region. We have discussed this with our Norwegian partners. We want to understand what objectives NATO is pursuing in the Arctic?

To listen to statements made by the British Secretary of Defence, Gavin Williamson, one gets the impression that no one but NATO has the right to interests anywhere except within its own borders.

We have repeatedly made various constructive proposals at the Arctic Council and other regional organisations. We are confident that cooperation in the Arctic does not require any military component. I hope that our partners agree with this approach.

Question: Since Russia is a guarantor of security in Syria, can you guarantee that the Assad regime will stop threatening the region and will end its atrocities against its own people?

Sergey Lavrov: No matter what I say in reply, you will write what you want. So, go on, write what you want.

Question: As for Idlib, how does Russia intend to rid the province of terrorists unless it launches a military offensive?

Sergey Lavrov: Where Idlib is concerned, Russia and Turkey, as you may know, signed a memorandum back in September, under which Turkey has assumed commitments to separate opposition groups cooperating with Ankara from Jabhat al-Nusra, now part of a wider terrorist coalition known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. But they have been unable to do that up to this day. Moreover, regrettably, the Nusra Front has imposed its control over 90 per cent of the de-escalation zone in Idlib.

Two days ago, the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran were meeting in Sochi and discussed this situation, along with other topics. They have reached an agreement that the Russian and Turkish military, with the Syrian government’s consent, will try to act step by step creating several joint patrolling areas within the de-escalation zone. We will wait and see how it works.

Addressing a news conference in Sochi President Putin said clearly that we could not put up with “this hotbed of terrorism” forever. How to solve this problem is a question we should put to the military. I am confident that they will do it differently from how the terrorists were being destroyed in Raqqa, wh ere bodies of peaceful civilians and mines are still lying in the open, with no one to attend to them. But it is the military that should draw up a plan in keeping with international humanitarian law requirements.

Of course, everyone can interpret international humanitarian law in his own way. As Belgrade was being bombed, the targets were a train moving on a bridge, or a television centre, and this was also regarded as normal. But we don’t intend to follow these sorts of international humanitarian law interpretations.

Question: Tension seems to be on the rise after the recent conflict in the Sea of Azov, or rather it’s a cinch that it is not receding. Could you briefly outline Russia’s position in the Black Sea region and on conflicts of this sort?

Sergey Lavrov: If you mean the incident involving the Ukrainian Navy’s ships, this was a stage-managed provocation; we have no doubt about this. Petr Poroshenko needed it for his personal aims in order to launch his presidential election campaign and represent it in a favourable light. This incident occurred after two similar Ukrainian Navy ships sailed through the Kerch Strait to the Sea of Azov without any hindrance in September 2018, because they followed security instructions. It is a narrow passage that requires pilotage support and all ships heading for the Sea of Azov request it. Those ships were obeying the security rules.

In November, the Ukrainian authorities needed a scandal and they got it. By the way – I am speaking for the benefit of those who still harbour illusions about Crimea – the Ukrainian vessels were detained in Russian territorial waters that had this status even before the referendum in Crimea.

Now let us focus on a more comprehensive approach to the security issue in the Black Sea region. Your question was about the EU’s perspective on this. Brussels has many regional initiatives, including in the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, Central Asia, and so on. We have nothing against it. The only thing of which we ask the EU is to pay due respect to the arrangements already existing in various regions, be it in the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, or any other region.

There are two mechanisms created by the littoral states in the Black Sea region: the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and Operation Black Sea Harmony initiated by Turkey and supported by all other countries in the region. It is clear what BSEC means. The case in point is economic cooperation. Black Sea Harmony is a joint operation mounted by the littoral navies to ensure legitimacy of shipping in the Black Sea.

I think that anyone wishing to contribute to stability in the Black Sea should respect the existing order. The EU has been invited and has BSEC observer status. They know only too well what things are like over there.