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Ladies and gentlemen,
I fully share what my colleague and friend, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei, has said about the special importance of our allied relations.
The Republic of Belarus is our closest ally and a strategic partner. Evidence of this is a unique structure called the Union State, which our presidents and governments have been working to strengthen, and we have discussed this in detail today.
We make a foreign policy contribution to these efforts, meaning work on the Programme of Coordinated Foreign Policy Actions, which is adopted every two years. We adopted such a programme for the current and next year in November 2017. It is being implemented, although it will only be officially and formally adopted at the upcoming meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State.
We have just signed an intergovernmental agreement on the procedure for entering our countries for large sports events, under which foreign nationals and stateless persons will have visa-free transit via Belarus for FIFA World Cup matches in Russia this year and visa-free transit via Russia for the Second European Games in Belarus next year. This document is not only of practical importance for the fans of the sports events I have mentioned but are also a major step towards a common visa space. Today we spoke in detail about our movement towards signing a comprehensive intergovernmental document regarding this and mapped out the practical steps we need to take.
We discussed our ties in a variety of spheres, including trade, the economy, culture and humanitarian cooperation. We attach much significance to the development of interregional cooperation, in particular, preparations for the Fifth Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions, which will be held in Mogilev in the autumn.
We talked about the operation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and its ties with a growing number of foreign partners. Interest for this organisation is growing. While talking about the CIS, we discussed the activity of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).
We held an in-depth discussion on the situation in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic region. We have similar views on the development of equal and mutually beneficial ties with the EU, including within the framework of dialogue with NATO. However, we are alarmed by NATO’s growing activity, which we recently noticed in direct proximity to our borders, primarily in the Baltic countries and Poland. The positions of Russia and Belarus on this score have not changed, as we reaffirmed today at a meeting with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. The unilateral development of military infrastructure and unilateral deployment of weapons and forces close to our borders are destructive; they are damaging trust and mutual understanding in Europe and splitting the European security space. We have agreed to continue to try to normalise our relations with these organisations in keeping with the political documents that were adopted at the top level at the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, primarily within the framework of the OSCE.
On the regional level, we discussed the importance of the full implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures for the settlement of the internal Ukrainian crisis. We are concerned about the repeated attempts and use of military force, including in the context of the amendments adopted by Kiev on the issue of reintegration, which we in Russia see as contrary to the Minsk Package of Measures, as well as the termination of the Law on the Principles of the State Language Policy and the adoption of the Law on Education.
We have exchanged opinions on the situation around various crises in the Middle East and North Africa. These include the Syrian peace settlement, the Iranian nuclear programme and related developments, and the state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula in the context of the latest changes in relations between South Korea and North Korea, as well as those between North Korea and the United States. We are interested in untying this knot of conflict as soon as possible. We aim to do this through the denuclearisation of the entire Korean Peninsula and by providing security guarantees to North Korea and to all countries in this important region of the world that must become a zone of peace, stability and security for all states in Northeast Asia.
We have agreed on how to continue our close and well-coordinated participation in the activities of the UN, the OSCE and the SCO, where Belarus has observer status and is becoming actively involved in various processes within the SCO.
We have also discussed preparations for the next joint meeting of our Ministries’ Collegiums, scheduled to be held this coming autumn. We have agreed on the meeting’s agenda in general terms, and I believe we will finally approve it in the near future.
This does not end the programme of my visit to Minsk. Today, I am to speak before the faculty and students of the Belarusian Presidential Academy of Public Administration. I am very grateful for this invitation, and I will be happy to meet with our colleagues.
In conclusion, I would like to once again thank our hospitable hosts for organising this event which, as usual, is superb. We traditionally feel at home in Minsk. I hope you feel the same when you come to Moscow.
Question: Recently President Vladimir Putin met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. Is it realistic to expect any positive developments in Russia’s relations with the West since they influence the entire situation in the region, including Belarus?
Sergey Lavrov: If this depended on us the answer would be unequivocally positive. We are not interested in confrontation and think that the West’s position towards Russia is artificial. We are witnessing how a relative minority in the West, albeit fairly aggressive and Russophobic, are exploiting and abusing the EU’s principles of solidarity and consensus, and are trying to drag constructive-minded states into a policy of confrontation towards Russia. One of their methods is competing to outdo one another in Russophobia to draw the attention of their senior comrades to their own problems.
The case of the Skripals is a good example. It is falling to pieces for lack of any evidence or confirmation. The same pattern is visible in other cases, such as the announcement by the Netherlands that at the current stage of the investigation into the Malaysian Boeing crash it is already possible to conclude that Russia was involved and that its BUK system entered Ukrainian territory from Russia and then returned. The documented evidence proving that it is at least inappropriate to make such statements at the current stage is being rejected. This applies to the results of the field tests that were forwarded to the investigators by the Almaz-Antei concern, the producer of BUK systems and the initial data from our radars according to which the missile could not have been launched from the site pointed to by the investigators. All this evidence was ignored. It was alleged without any grounds that the radar simply failed to detect the missile because it flew very fast. Experts can only smile when they hear such statements.
This is an interesting moment – it was stated at the news conference on this human tragedy, the crash of the Malaysian Boeing, that the investigation is far from being completed and the process of identifying the culprits is ongoing. Nevertheless, even at this stage Russia is supposed to agree to start talks on the amount of compensation with Australia and the Netherlands. This is exactly the same logic that was used with the Skripals when Russia’s involvement was described as “highly likely” – so admit your guilt and in the meantime we will continue the investigation that has not been completed up to this day. It is too tempting to play on Russophobic attitudes in order to pert the attention of their own population at home and the world public from domestic issues (I am referring to Brexit, for one). However, this is not at all the line that is required in international relations today. It is sad to see someone try to play up to those that are escalating the confrontation from across the ocean. We can hardly do anything about this apart from our firm line of upholding our interests, as well as truth and justice in international relations, countering double standards and reaffirming our willingness to conduct an equitable, mutually respectful dialogue on all issues without exception.
We felt that serious, reputable European countries, including Germany, France, and Italy, understand that the current atmosphere is abnormal and that “dripping water wears away a stone” and “time is a healer.” There are many similar proverbs. I am sure that ultimately the need to come to terms rather than dictate one’s own terms will prevail in the minds and practical actions of Western politicians.
Question: Have you discussed the unified position of Russia and Belarus on Ukraine, which previously declared that it is recalling its representatives from the CIS statutory bodies? How can this affect the future of the CIS?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Vladimir Makei): I fully agree with what Mr Makei said and support his assessments. It is Ukraine’s sovereign right to decide in which alliances it takes part. The CIS is one such group. Ukraine should take a decision, as Mr Makei just said, on how and how seriously this or that move in the CIS will affect its own citizens. There is nothing we can do about it. Judging by Ukraine’s moves, sometimes common sense and concern for its own citizens become hostage to its Russophobic policy. They make statements about the need to break off diplomatic relations. Without any concern for those millions of Ukrainians who work in Russia, they also talk about withdrawing from the CIS. If you want out, go. If every action taken in relation to this or that situation where Russia is involved is viewed through an anti-Russian, Russophobic prism, we can hardly do anything here either. We will be interested in interacting with all the countries that established the CIS, because the solution to numerous problems concerning the life and work of our citizens directly depends on constructive interaction.
Question: The SCO summit will take place a week from now. How do you see the development of this organisation? What areas of cooperation are priorities for our countries?
Sergey Lavrov: The SCO is growing and consolidating. This will be the first summit with India and Pakistan attending as full members. This is substantial, major progress of integration within this multifunctional association, which primarily deals with stability and security, new challenges and threats, and creating conditions for the development of economic, humanitarian, cultural and educational cooperation.
One of the most important results of the past summit that took place in Kazakhstan was the signing of the Convention on Countering Extremism, which very clearly defined the leading role and responsibility of countries in the fight against extremism and other threats and challenges. As a follow-up on that Convention, one of the most important results of the Qingdao meeting should be the adoption of the Programme of Action for Combating Extremism, Separatism and Terrorism. Current economic issues will also be considered.
There are also serious reasons in favour of expanding cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the SCO and the ASEAN member countries. We are talking about the so-called Greater Eurasia project, which resonates with the initiatives China promotes in its One Belt One Road project. As we see it, the Greater Eurasia project with the active involvement of the SCO should be based on reality, on the specific interests of countries that see their interest in participating in these processes. Ideally, it should embrace the entire Eurasian continent. At least the doors remain open for cooperation with the EU countries as well.
We will welcome the Republic of Belarus, which is now an observer in the SCO, to participate in various projects implemented by that Organisation, including through its regional antiterrorist structure. This is an issue that worries us all. There is ample evidence that the international terrorist alliance that is now fighting in the Middle East and North Africa and comprises citizens of many countries, including people from the CIS, is now scattering to other parts of the world, including Asia and Central Asia, in anticipation of defeat. This, as you know, comes very close to our common borders. There are a number of important tasks that the SCO helps fulfill. We are glad that Belarus will actively participate in this work.
Building of the Russian Embassy in Kingston