Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, Moscow, October 31, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held constructive, substantive and very detailed talks with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger. This is his second visit to Moscow this year. We welcome the regular nature of our contacts.
Russia has reaffirmed its position. We consistently stand for enhancing the OSCE’s authority in European and global affairs. The organisation is designed to be a platform for mutually respectful dialogue to work out collective responses to threats and challenges which are common for all Euro-Atlantic countries and beyond. Unfortunately, the way the OSCE’s uniting potential has been currently used is far below its capacity.
We shared the opinion that the OSCE can make a significant contribution, provided the OSCE member states have the political will, to the challenging and currently stagnant process of re-establishing trust in the Euro-Atlantic region. We are also confident that the strategic goal of implementing the 2010 Astana Summit agreements on building the comprehensive and indivisible security community in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia should remain in focus. It fits perfectly with the Russian initiative to support the establishment of the Greater Eurasian Partnership joined by all nations and organisations on our enormous common continent.
We discussed the preparations for the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Bratislava on December 5-6. The Russian side confirmed its readiness to work constructively on draft decisions in the three dimensions of OSCE activity in the sense that they should be based on addressing Russia’s priorities. Naturally, when we talk about the need to address our priorities we mean that we are also ready to take our partners’ positions into account, because the OSCE can only operate on the basis of consensus.
Russia will propose a draft declaration for the Bratislava OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting, which we prepared with our CSTO allies, on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, and also draft decisions on current issues of anti-terror, countering the drug threat, the need to ensure free access to information for the public and journalists. Our last year’s draft decision on protecting language, education and other rights of ethnic minorities remains on the table. We reminded OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger yet again that, unfortunately, in the past five years the OSCE member states failed to adopt declarations on fighting anti-Christian and anti-Muslim discrimination.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Charter for European Security and the Platform for Co-Operative Security. They were adopted at the summit in Istanbul in 1999. We deem it important to envision the adoption of a document at the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting that would reaffirm the principles stated in those documents: indivisible security and the need to establish partnership not only within the OSCE but also between all regional and subregional organisations.
We discussed the prospects for political settlement in southeast Ukraine in the context of our traditional support for the OSCE’s role in implementing the Minsk Agreements, which have no alternative in overcoming that crisis. We shared opinions on ways to increase the effectiveness of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. We supported the role the OSCE plays in the Contact Group, including in political issues.
As you are aware, Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk have recently signed the Steinmeier formula. There is certainly a lot to be done in order to resolve the remaining issues of the complete disengagement of forces and hardware, the amnesty, re-establishment of economic ties, lifting the blockade announced by the Petr Poroshenko regime, and the final approval of the processes of granting a special status to some districts in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions and stating this status in the Ukrainian Constitution in accordance with the Minsk Agreements.
We uphold the OSCE activity in the Transnistrian settlement, as well as in searching for agreements on Nagorno-Karabakh. We note the Organisation’s crucial role in the Geneva Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus.
We also spoke today about the challenges facing the OSCE in view of the complicated situation persisting in the Balkans.
We discussed the activities of the OSCE specialised institutions, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the work of the High Commissioner on National Minorities and the OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media. We believe that the Representative on the Freedom of the Media should act in an impartial and transparent manner in strict compliance with the approved mandate.
Overall, I think the talks were very useful. We will continue our discussions during a working lunch. I believe OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger and his team are moving successfully towards the OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava. We will try to ensure that the member countries focus on looking for a consensus on all the items on the agenda.
Question (for Sergey Lavrov and Thomas Greminger): What do you think about the prospects for humanitarian measures between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, in part, an exchange of detainees and improving their conditions? Do you know who would be exchanged? What do you think about the situation with this settlement, considering that loud, if not provocative statements continue to be made? Armenian Defence Minister Davit Tonoyan said the other day that the Karabakh issue has been resolved.
Sergey Lavrov: Russia is one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. Last April I discussed various humanitarian measures at the meeting with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Moscow, so I will be the first to answer your question.
Indeed, last April Moscow hosted a meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan with the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group – Russia, the United States and France. We had a very good, informal discussion that mapped out prospects for a broad range of humanitarian and confidence-building measures in parallel with an analysis of potential future approaches to the political dialogue on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. At that time we discussed, in part, the exchange of detainees and bodies of those killed, as you mentioned, and reciprocal trips by journalists with a view to reducing tensions, at least slightly, and promoting an atmosphere of confidence.
As for the journalists, maybe Mr Greminger can add something – this dialogue is conducted with the mediation of the OSCE Secretariat. There is hope.
The situation with detainees is less optimistic but we believe it is necessary to move forward on this. Needless to say, emotional statements made by both sides are not helpful. In this respect, it is important to use this situation to create a more positive atmosphere at the OSCE Permanent Council, which is scheduled for the first ten days of November. This is the main task now.
I agree with you. Statements to the effect that the Karabakh problem may only be resolved in one way, and not any other, are not helpful. The co-chairs must continue their efforts so as to bring the positions of the sides closer to reach a compromise.
Question (to Thomas Greminger): The disengagement of forces on the contact line in southeastern Ukraine has begun, but the Armed Forces of Ukraine continue the shelling, which threatens to thwart this whole undertaking. At the meeting with President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky, the armed nationalists made it clear that they would not leave the line. How can this problem be resolved in the OSCE’s opinion? What are the latest reports from your mission on the site?
Sergey Lavrov (adds after Thomas Greminger): I would like to recall that President of Russia Vladimir Putin talked about this at yesterday’s news conference in Budapest. The agreement on the disengagement of forces and hardware in just three pilot locations – Stanitsa Luganskaya, Petrovskoye and Zolotoye – was reached more than three years ago at the Normandy format summit in Berlin. During the years since, under the Poroshenko regime, one got the impression that in reality the aim was not to disengage anything but to fool the international community. He kept inventing artificial pretexts that delayed the beginning of the first steps on the disengagement of forces and hardware. The situation really changed with the advent of President Vladimir Zelensky. By the way, Zelensky said recently that continued progress on the disengagement of forces and weapons would make it possible to hold a Normandy format summit. Let me repeat that the main thing is to ensure security at the contact line rather than hold a summit for the sake of summit. This is our position and we fully support these words.
Disengagement took place in Stanitsa Luganskaya, although not at once and it was not easy. Disengagement of forces and hardware was launched in Zolotoye. Indeed, national battalions, the so-called paramilitary troops that consist of ultra-radicals, declare that they will never leave and will not allow the Armed Forces of Ukraine to leave. We hope that Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky will ensure the fulfilment of his orders as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
Petrovskoye is the third pilot region. It has just been announced that the Contact Group came to terms on the disengagement of forces and weapons on November 4. We are moving in the right direction. But, first all these actions must be carried out to the end, and second, let me recall that these are just three small locations whereas we want to achieve the disengagement of forces and hardware on the entire contact line and to put an end to ceasefire violations.
Today, OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger and I discussed the statistics that are distributed by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. Violations by the Armed Forces of Ukraine exceed by several times similar actions by the DPR and the LPR. The statistics on those who initiate this shelling are also pretty much the same.
Question (to Sergey Lavrov): Yesterday, the Danish government finally gave the go-ahead to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Can this be regarded as a political signal, a step towards dialogue with Russia, or is it just a pragmatic approach to the issue?
Sergey Lavrov: I think this is, above all, a responsible approach. Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a news conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that this decision was prompted by the interests of Europe. Denmark as a European country has joined the consensus that has long been formed on Nord Stream 2 as a project to increase the energy security of European countries. If someone really wants to see some political signal, probably that signal might be that economic and commercial projects should be free from any politicisation and should not become pawns in geopolitical games.
Question: Yesterday, the official Syrian media reported clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops in the province of Al-Hasakah. At the same time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not rule out the possibility of expanding the security zone. How does Moscow assess the development of this situation?
Sergey Lavrov: When major agreements are implemented, things are not always smooth on the ground. I have not heard any confirmation of any serious clashes between the Syrian and Turkish military in that particular area where the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of October 22 is being implemented. We have heard President Erdogan’s statement; to the best of my knowledge, he said he was waiting for the implementation of the October 22 agreements, not that he was expanding the security zone and that was final. One hundred and fifty hours just expired yesterday – the deadline set for Kurdish self-defence units to move 30 kilometres away from the Syrian-Turkish border, and the Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of Opposing Sides said the condition was met. So we rely on this. As far as I know, our Turkish colleagues have not made any statements to the contrary. Matters are being taken care of quite effectively on the ground. Our military is certainly in contact with the Syrian military, as we jointly control the 30-kilometre strip spanning two areas of the Syrian-Turkish border, as well as with their Turkish colleagues, as our military police will patrol the 10-kilometre strip south of the Syrian-Turkish border with them.