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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions during a meeting with students and professors of Academy of Public Administration under the President of Belarus, Minsk, May 29, 2018

Mr Palchik,

Colleagues, friends,

Thank you for the opportunity to make a speech at the Academy of Public Administration under the President of Belarus, one of the leading educational and research institutions in your country. We know about the significance that President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko personally attaches to it, regarding it as a true foundry of highly professional and initiative promising staff worthy of the highest posts. In Russia, we also give special attention to preparing the so-called “social lifts” and to finding the most talented and active young people loyal to their country.

I would like to congratulate Rector Gennady Palchik on his appointment to this responsible post, just a week ago, I believe. I am convinced that his experience will steer the Academy to success in its work and in addressing the large-scale tasks that were set before it.    

We also hope that cooperation between the Academy and the educational institutions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia – the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and the Diplomatic Academy – will continue. For many years, they have maintained constructive ties that mutually enrich their students and professors and help cement friendly ties between our allied states.

My meetings with Belarusian youth are already becoming a good tradition, which testifies to a high level of trust and mutual understanding between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. We are reliable allies and strategic partners. Our relations are truly comprehensive; something that I once again made sure of today during an hour-long conversation with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and in-depth talks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus with Minister Vladimir Makei.      

We are closely cooperating within the Union State, and our clear joint priority is to strengthen it. The concrete methods of enhancing its efficiency have been formalised in a new document, the Priority Guidelines for Union State Development in 2018−2022. We expect this ambitious document to be approved at the next meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State. The guidelines cover the entire range of bilateral cooperation issues, from the creation of a common legal space, including the coordinated mutual adjustment of our laws, to economic, humanitarian and other exchanges.  We also closely interact in other multilateral organisations, primarily the EAEU, the CSTO, the CIS and, of course, the UN, the OSCE and recently the SCO, where Belarus received observer status two and a half years ago, which means that it can participate in many practical areas of SCO operations, in particular, the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS).

Our diplomatic services are contributing to the strengthening of the Russian-Belarusian alliance and strategic partnership. Our interaction in international affairs is based on the biannual Programmes of Coordinated Foreign Policy Actions. The latest programme was adopted for 2018−2019 at the joint meeting of the Collegiums of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Russia and Belarus held in November 2017. Although we are already working to implement this programme, it will be submitted for approval to our presidents at the next meeting of the Supreme State Council. We use these programme provisions to coordinate our positions on critically important current issues and to take practical action to implement our coordinated decisions. Evidence of our trust-based dialogue is the regular meetings, which are held annually, as well as the annual exchanges of visits by the foreign ministers of Russia and Belarus.

This foreign policy coordination is especially important in the current conditions. The global situation remains complicated and does not appear to be improving. Deep changes are ongoing in the world order, and in the process the Western countries, which dominated global development for centuries, are ceding their positions due to the rise and growth of new influential international players, including in Asia and Latin America. These countries, with their growing economies and strong financial means, are becoming aware of their ability to exert political influence on global processes. Of course, abandoning the world order where the West set the tune for the past four or five centuries is very painful for our Western partners. But it is an objective process that you cannot do anything about, and so we must accept it as a fact of life and join this inevitable natural process.

We must begin to respect the fact that people in different countries want to live their own way according to their traditions and choose their own development models that depend on their identity, history and values. In the current situation, we often derive from the fact that once-popular ultra-liberal values are not necessarily applicable universally, as they used to be presented until recently. For example, if you take purchasing power parity, then China is already on top in the world, economically, while it is not at all committed to the principles of liberal economic development. It combines market mechanisms with government regulation. Therefore, looking at China’s successes, as well as at India and many other countries we define as emerging economies, all these values require a rethinking.

Complicated processes are underway in the European Union. The economic weight of Europe, its specific and relative weight in the world economy is decreasing due to the processes I have been talking about. Controversial processes are unfolding in the EU. There are varying perspectives on where to go now; one way is to create the united states of Europe that orthodox Marxists had dreamed of, to establish a single budget, to have one finance minister and many other things typical of a centralised state, as France seems to lean towards. On the other hand, there are many countries in the EU that do not want to lose their national identity, their distinct image, history or traditions. We, in any case, are watching this with great attention, because the EU remains, despite the restrictions, limitations, and half the trade compared to a few years ago – still remains Russia’s largest trade partner, if we take the EU as an association. We are certainly interested in the EU remaining a cohesive, strong, and united group based on the genuine national interests of all the peoples that are part of this association, and a predictable independent foreign policy partner. Although it does not seem to be free to show that independence very much; we can talk about this in more detail in the question and answer session.

Regardless of whether the EU moves in one direction or whether it will have an independent future, a polycentric and multipolar world order is an objective reality. There is no escaping this rather slow process that continues to develop. New types of associations based on a balance of interests, rather than on bending to the will of various leader countries, are becoming more influential in the world. I am talking about the SCO that I mentioned, and BRICS. The G20 discusses more and more key issues on which global development depends. The BRICS states and their supporters draft consensus-based agreements with western G7 on an equal footing. I believe this format is very promising because no one can dictate anything to the others in the G20 format. Nor is it possible to present any ultimatums, and the concerned parties have to come to terms. Indeed, they have to come to terms in line with a balance of interests and without the “either/or” logic. The latter implies that any specific country must accept its partner’s demands or face possible sanctions.

While watching the logic of foreign-policy ultimatums, we get the impression that someone might profit by creating chaos in various parts of the world in the hope that such chaos will end up being controlled by its creators. We can see the consequences of this approach in the Middle East and North Africa, in Iraq, Libya, and a similar attempt in the Syrian Arab Republic, which was thwarted. This region is not the only testing site for such geopolitical engineering. NATO’s eastward expansion is an established fact. This expansion continues even though Soviet leaders received solemn assurances that this would not happen. This expansion has already dismantled the European security system and created new demarcation lines on the continent. We are particularly alarmed by NATO’s heightened military activity and its expanding military infrastructure in direct proximity to the borders of our states.

Of course, we have responded appropriately to this. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko have repeatedly noted this. Russia and Belarus aim to implement the principle of equal and inpisible security, proclaimed in 1990 by the leaders of the OSCE countries at their summit. Today, our Western partners do not want to make this principle legally binding or translate it into reality.

We continue to advocate the creation of a common peaceful and prosperous economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vlapostok. We call for abandoning zero sum games when our neighbours or any other countries are faced with a false choice between joining our side or the other side. This fallacious logic has provoked a deep crisis in Ukraine, splitting Ukrainian society and leading to bloody internal strife and an economic crisis.

It is clear that the conflict in Ukraine can be only settled politically through voluntary and full compliance with a vital document that was coordinated barely a hundred metres from where we are meeting today in February 2015, following nearly 17-hour-long talks between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany. There is no alternative to this document, yet we do not see any desire on the part of the Kiev authorities to implement its part of the commitments (I can speak in greater detail about this during the question and answer session). I would like to mention the so-called law on the reintegration of Donbass, which stipulates the use of the army to “restore order” in the territory of the self-proclaimed republics, which would derail the Minsk Agreements. The same goes for the notorious Law on Education, which infringes on minority language rights of the Russian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Polish speakers. We are deeply concerned about the Ukrainian authorities’ conniving indifference to the sway of nationalist and neo-Nazi sentiments.

We urge the Normandy format countries, primarily Germany and France, to put pressure on the Ukrainian side to encourage our neighbours to start implementing in full and as soon as possible the commitments they assumed in Minsk three years ago. A special role in this belongs to Washington due to its strong influence on the developments in Ukraine, in which the United States often intervenes.

We were surprised by the Europeans’ hasty surrender to US dictate when they sacrificed their trade and economic ties with Russia. The Americans are not sustaining any damage from this. Russian-US trade has been growing sustainably all these years, though not rapidly, whereas many European countries have sustained great damage, losing many jobs and major investments. On the other hand, our falling trade with the majority of European countries has bounced back over the past 18 months. We are doing our best to promote this trend. In particular, we discussed this during the recent meetings of President of Russia Vladimir Putin with Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and President of France Emmanuel Macron.

We hope that the EU will muster the political will to abandon policy of the lowest common denominator with regard to Russia. They do have the principle of solidarity, but it stipulates consensus approaches. A consensus is like meeting each other halfway between extreme positions. As of now, their policy towards Russia is dictated by the Russophobic minority in the EU who are abusing the solidarity principle to maintain the anti-Russia sentiments in the EU.

We see how London played a particularly negative role, literally, sweet-talking most of the EU countries with the Skripal case scam. It accused Russia, baselessly and indiscriminately, when the investigation had not even begun yet, and is not completed still, and then persuaded all the EU countries, still without presenting the facts, to join in the expulsion of diplomats, promising that the facts will be presented later. But later it turns out that all these facts have collapsed like a house of cards.

I have already said that some of our European partners have recently demonstrated not just interest, but even a readiness to return to common sense; it was said at the high-level talks I mentioned earlier, and during Bulgarian President Rumen Radev’s visit to the Russian Federation. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has also reiterated that European security issues cannot be solved without Russia. The most important thing now is to finally complement the right words and approaches with practical action so that we all are able to focus on building a common constructive space.

Russia, like Belarus, is open to honest, equitable cooperation with all who are willing to work on this basis. Today, the energetic development of various integration processes is becoming a sign of the times. We are pleased that Russia and Belarus are in synch with this global trend.

Together with Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, our countries are engaged in setting up the Eurasian Economic Union. It has achieved serious success over the last three years – there is a common market, freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour, and coordinated and unified policies in key sectors of the economy. Thanks to close cooperation, the EAEU member countries are now on a path of stable economic growth. We have an extensive agenda and plans to advance integration through 2025.

The EAEU members have a common understanding of the need to strengthen the association’s external ties. In 2016, we entered into a FTA with Vietnam, an agreement on trade and economic cooperation with China and a temporary FTA with Iran. Negotiations on preferential agreements with Israel, Serbia, and Singapore are up and running. Similar consultations will soon start on the preparation of negotiations with Egypt, India, with the countries of South America, and the African Union. All these moves are the necessary prerequisites to realising President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to establish the Greater Eurasia partnership from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, primarily by combining the potential of the EAEU member countries, the SCO and ASEAN, while also leaving the door open for EU members because this is about our common, vast continent. Moreover, all these integration associations never take unilateral decisions before relevant discussions on global platforms. They do not try to impose their approaches on the rest of the world. We are interested in the EU joining these processes as well.

The first contacts between the EAEU Commission and the European Commission have already taken place. Although they were not at the highest level, and focused on the issues related to technical regulations and phytosanitary standards, nevertheless, it is a practical dialogue which we support and consider it important to begin contacts at the highest political level in the future.

Friends, it is obvious that the world is at the crossroads. To counterbalance the confrontational course, both Russia and Belarus are working on the harmonisation and democratisation of interstate communication and strengthening of its legal multilateral foundation. We will continue to work on this proactively. This was confirmed again by President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the 2018 St Petersburg International Economic Forum. We will promote the positive agenda aimed at uniting all countries, rather than isolation and disengagement. We are going to work with our allies, and the Republic of Belarus is our main ally and a strategic partner. I am sure that we will boost the traditionally close and effective foreign political coordination in the interests of our countries and peoples.

Question: I would like to raise the issue of innovations. We are living in the age of innovations, and they are an essential prerequisite for the development of the government management system. Managers today must be competent in increasing the productivity of their workforce, so that they will be responsible not only for their own work, but for the entire sector. What innovations in management do you consider to be the most efficient?

Sergey Lavrov: If I were minister of communications and digital economy (digitalisation is now a key priority of our Government), I would use professional language to explain how digital technologies and other innovations can be used to improve the quality of government management. Since I am the foreign minister, I can say that we use digital technologies. We are present on social networks and our websites are highly popular. Of course, we take part in the e-government programme, which is being introduced at the national level.

I can add that as a diplomat, I will be irreverent and say that in foreign policy, no technology (and we do need to introduce it nevertheless) can replace real/life, face-to-face contacts. It is possible, of course, to improve instant messaging, when you send a request and your partners reply by email, but it will not replace real-life communication, when you look your partner in the eye and see whether he really believes what he says or he is testing you or has some other position. It is only possible to understand your limits in this area of foreign policy through face-to-face contacts.

Therefore, in short, proceeding from my work and position, I encourage all advanced technologies, but we should never abandon real-life communication.

Question: Based on your longtime administrative experience, what are the most important qualities of an efficient manager?

Sergey Lavrov: Returning to my answer to your first question, we have a unique management system where it is not possible to issue instructions and delegate responsibilities for every situation. We have federal targeted programmes for the industry, transport and trade sectors. These programmes stipulate essential quantitative indicators that must be attained. We cannot use similar bureaucratic methods planning our foreign policy activities. For example, one can aim to produce a certain amount of pig iron or aluminium. And how can we calculate the number of agreements and treaties that have to be signed with neighbouring countries. We are not the only party to this process. We have to deal with other partners who do not obey our demands and decisions. As far as the most important aspects of the Foreign Ministry’s management system are concerned, our senior officials have to trust their subordinates, delegate their powers and decentralise operations in various regions and countries. But they should not try and control everything because this is impossible. We need to accumulate specific knowledge and work experience in certain regions, and we need to understand local traditions. Working in Africa is not the same as working in Europe. Asia is a far cry from Latin America, and so on and so forth. Most importantly, it is necessary to demand extremely meticulous reports about specific achievements and setbacks, as well as explanations and analytical materials from employees, while delegating responsibility, the right to make decisions or prepare proposals to middle rank professionals (younger diplomats should gain experience first). If something does not work out because of the partner’s position, what should be done to merge his and your points of view? Or perhaps you should modify your approach? One can discuss this process for hours on end. But, first of all, this is inpidual work based on the general foreign policy strategy set by the President of Russia, which is then translated into practical directives regarding every aspect of work.

Question: How can issues of secure and stable internet be resolved in the current situation with resource and management distribution?

Sergey Lavrov: I want to answer right away that it is difficult. For more than ten years, in the International Telecommunication Union, a specialised institution within the United Nations, there have been talks about internet governance. For obvious reasons, the United States is not particularly interested in these discussions and, therefore, it has not come to anything specific in terms of cybersecurity, cybercrime and common rules of conduct in cyberspace.

We are actively promoting two initiatives. One is a draft resolution of the UN General Assembly that was initiated by SCO member states for the purpose of developing rules of responsible conduct in the information environment for all countries by inviting them to sign common rules of conduct. The second initiative is a draft international convention on combating cybercrime. In both cases we are supported by the absolute majority of countries but there are several Western parties who are looking for stumbling blocks everywhere although we are open for the most extensive and constructive dialogue.

For example, the United States accuses us of interfering with the election, abuse of the internet, social media, as well as other cybercrimes. Long before it all started, back when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were in the administration, Americans rejected our proposals to form a permanent bilateral working group on cybersecurity and cybercrime that would allow professionals to deal with any concerns raised by either party against the other. After that, we agreed with them last March to have a meeting involving representatives of not only the foreign ministries of both countries but other relevant ministries and security forces on cybersecurity. At the last minute, they simply did not arrive in Geneva which was selected as the meeting place.

Recently our German partners refused to hold a bilateral meeting of the working group on information security and combatting information crime after agreeing to do it because they got a report on an alleged attack on the German Federal Foreign Office and the German Federal Ministry of Defence websites by hackers called Snake. When I asked my counterpart, the new Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, why the talks were cancelled, he replied that they could not conduct talks right after we attacked them. I said that I had never heard about this Snake group and asked for evidence. All this resembles the Skripal case, the chemical attack near Damascus and the case of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing, which are also good examples of a verdict being issued before the investigation is finished. These are the conditions in which we have to work.

Coming back to what I said from this platform, the EU’s stance, including such reputable countries as Germany, is formed by Russophobic sentiments of a very aggressive minority, and it serves the interests of Washington’s anti-Russian campaign more than it does the EU’s interests. The initiatives that we are talking about follow up on our work in the UN on international security of all countries in the information space that we have been doing for ten years or so. Two groups of government experts prepared good recommendations. We are greatly interested in continuing these efforts although lately we have seen that the United States does not really want to reach a consensus in this matter and consensus is very important for progress. This brings us back to who governs the internet and how, and whether anybody is interested in demonopolising this area.

Question: First of all, I would like to thank you for this meeting. It is an invaluable experience for us as future professionals in foreign policy.

It was mentioned here that during the recent Minsk Dialogue Forum some Ukrainian experts predicted that Russian-Ukrainian relations would remain difficult for the next 50 years. What do you think about the future of Russian-Ukrainian relations?

Sergey Lavrov: If it depended on us, these relations would have never plunged so low. I would like to say once again that nobody has cancelled the norms and principles of international law. Many peculiar things happened following the coup in Ukraine. All of us remember how US State Department officials distributed cookies on Maidan Square and how EU representatives visited Ukraine. There are videos showing official representatives of the opposition bringing weapons to the square, and much more. At the same time, while the confrontation on Maidan continued week after week, the Berkut special police were not allowed to use weapons.

We saw recently how demonstrations are dispersed in some other countries, where the police acted roughly and even used live ammunition in some cases. The Berkut police were prohibited from using weapons. At the same time, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking on behalf of the bloc’s countries, publicly urged President Viktor Yanukovych not to use the army against the people. And Yanukovych never ordered this.

Immediately after the coup, the new authorities adopted a law – it was not signed though – that restricted the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine. The new leader of the putschists refused to sign it, but the intentions of the new authorities were clear from that document. People in Crimea and eastern Ukraine were alarmed. People in eastern Ukraine said they did not recognise the coup especially because of its openly anti-Russia sentiment, which continues. They asked to be left alone for a while so they could sort out the situation. They did not attack anyone, yet they were condemned as terrorists and an anti-terrorist operation was launched against them. When the decision [to launch the anti-terrorist operation] was announced, the NATO countries represented by Mr Rasmussen, who is now an adviser to President Poroshenko, did not appeal to the new authorities not to use the army against the people, as they did in the case of President Yanukovych, but said they should use proportionate force against the terrorists. You can see the difference.

There is one more thing we should take into account when considering the possibility of normalising relations with Ukraine. When the document on settling the crisis was coordinated – it was subsequently signed by President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders Arseny Yatsenyuk, Vladimir Klitschko and someone else and countersigned by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France, President Barack Obama phoned President Vladimir Putin to ask him not to discourage Yanukovych from signing the document in which he surrendered his powers as the supreme commander-in-chief, pledged to use exclusively police and OMON forces to guard government buildings and agreed to hold early elections in 2014. The Americans sensed that this was going too far and asked President Putin not to discourage Yanukovych from signing that document. We did not discourage him. President Putin said that it was the sovereign right of Viktor Yanukovych as the legitimate president of Ukraine to sign or not to sign it. Yanukovych signed it and left for Kharkov the next morning. The opposition immediately seized government buildings, the presidential residence and the parliament. We called on France, Poland and Germany to bear witness to this. They replied that the president was not in the capital, and that he had fled the country.

First, however you look at that situation, Yanukovych was still in the country (he went to Kharkov for a conference of his party). Second, the document which the opposition trampled underfoot was not about Yanukovych and his future. It said at the very beginning that the signatories, seeking to overcome the crisis, had agreed to form a government of national unity and accord, which would prepare an early election. As soon as the putschists seized power, Arseny Yatsenyuk delivered a speech on Maidan, asking the people to congratulate him on creating “a government of winners.” Do you see the difference between a government of accord and a government of winners? It shows that they had pided the country into friends and foes as soon as the first day of the coup. Nobody called us to say that the process had noseped despite the urge to support it. Nobody did anything at all. And now when we remind them of this, they say there was nothing they could have done.

We also remind them about other things. A coup was staged at approximately the same time in Yemen, whose President Mansour Hadi fled the country and now lives in Saudi Arabia. Ever since then, the international community, including our Western friends – France, Poland and Germany, has been demanding that President Mansour Hadi return to Yemen. We ask about the difference in these approaches. When the Ukrainian president left Kiev, the agreement he signed with the opposition was declared invalid, whereas in the case of Yemen they urge the president to return to the country so that a solution to the crisis could be negotiated. This is an obvious case of double standards.

As for Crimea, this is what the young people who had seized power in Kiev said about it. For example, Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh said in late February, which is immediately after the Maidan events, that there is no place for Russians in Crimea, that Russians would never think and talk like Ukrainians or honour the new Ukrainian heroes such as Bandera or Shukhevich. Yarosh organised the so-called “friendship trains” to Crimea. Several dozen or several hundred people attempted to seize the Supreme Council of Crimea – you can watch it on the internet. At this point, the Crimeans made their choice under the principles of international law.

Ask the British what they think about the referendum held in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) in 2013. They will tell you that the people of the Falkland Islands voted freely to remain a British territory in full compliance with the principle of self-determination. This is exactly what the UN Charter says. And you know what happened when the Crimeans applied this principle: the facts were distorted and [we were] demonised.

We appreciate Belarus and those countries that do not allow approval of the decisions on the international arena that are clearly aimed at speculating on the Crimea theme. Our Ukrainian neighbours are attempting to do this even in UNESCO, where they allege that the Crimean Tatars are well-nigh incarcerated in underground dungeons and tortured on the daily basis. Anyone wishing to attend to this can go to Crimea any time. Many do as much.

But when representatives of the Council of Europe, who visited Crimea on a special mission, accepted an important principle, they should certainly enter it only from the Russian Federation. There is the Council of Europe and other OSCE mechanisms, but they say they must enter from Ukrainian territory. We reply to them: Why? What I mean is that they consider sending a political signal that they entered from Ukraine and that Crimea is Ukrainian, etc., as more important than seeing what is going on in Crimea. So, there are double standards everywhere and they will continue.

I began by saying that the first thing the new Ukrainian authorities did after the coup was pass a law restricting the Russian language. Now the circle has been closed: the Verkhovna Rada approved the Law On Education that encroaches on the language rights of all ethnic minorities – Russians, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians and Poles. This is a very serious matter. Moreover, Kiev is clearly attempting to drag it out. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe passed a critical judgement against this law, recommending the deletion or at least a strong reformulation of one article in this law. But now the Ukrainians are trying to come to terms with the EU countries on some exceptions from the law. In fact, this amounts to language genocide against Russian. They are implying that they will engineer something with regard to the EU countries’ languages without modifying the law. And then the law will affect the Russian language alone. In parallel with passing this law, they repealed the Law on the Foundations of the Language Policy, which guaranteed the minorities at the regional level to be able to use their native language. The Minsk Agreements say that the territory of Donbass held by the self-proclaimed republics will have special status, one of the main components of which is the right to use the Russian language. How can we now say that Ukraine is committed to the Minsk Agreements?

We have no shortage of goodwill. In the course of the numerous meetings in the Normandy format at the top and ministerial levels, we repeatedly displayed our willingness to implement the Minsk Agreements with some flexibly. Right now, the Germans want to bring together the Normandy Four foreign ministers. In 2016, we agreed at the presidential level that we would move in parallel, addressing security problems and promoting the political reforms as envisaged by the Minsk Package of Measures.

In 2016, the Normandy Four leaders assembled in Berlin and agreed that it was necessary to expedite the disengagement of both heavy weapons and the combat units themselves. Looking at the map, they personally chose three locations: Zolotoye, Pokrovskoye, and Stanitsa Luganskaya. The disengagement was carried out in no time at Zolotoye and Pokrovskoye, whereas at Stanitsa Luganskaya the Ukrainian Government has been demanding, for 18 months, that the disengagement should begin only after a week of complete silence without a shot fired. The OSCE Mission that monitors the process reported on 21 occasions, during these 18 months, that Stanitsa Luganskaya had been absolutely quiet for a week or even longer. But the Ukrainian representatives said: “These are your statistics; we have recorded several shots.” This has become sheer mockery. Ukrainian forces have returned to both Pokrovskoye and Zolotoye after the successful implementation of the relevant agreements and there is a real build-up of forces and assets in progress along the line of contact. Facts like bellicose statements by Ukrainian leaders, including Arsen Avakov, the reformatting of the so-called antiterrorist operation pursued by the Joint Force whose commander said that the Ukrainian armed forces would solve the problem of the Minsk Agreements, and so on, are falling on the deaf ears of our Western colleagues, who for all intents and purposes understand that President Poroshenko is using them and feels impunity because he is the henchman of those who have declared him and present-day Ukraine a model of democracy. The fact that they are ignoring IMF and Western recommendations is brushed aside.           

Regarding the political implications, the so-called Frank-Walter Steinmeier formula has been discussed since 2015. What is this about? The Minsk Agreements provide for passing a law “on the special status of Donbass,” which was drafted long ago. It should enter into force, and elections also have to be held. In October 2015, President Petr Poroshenko visited Paris. While replying to a question about Ukraine’s reluctance to pass this law on special status, he said that he did not want to grant special status to this region until he knew the outcome of the elections. It appears that this logic is understandable because anyone casting a ballot wants to know how much authority a given candidate will have. All right, we were flexible on this issue as well, and this is a good example. Then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested a compromise during that summit in Paris. He suggested temporarily enacting the law after the polling stations close, and he called for permanently enacting it after the OSCE issued its final report confirming election returns. This process usually takes two months, and everyone agreed. Experts immediately tried to formalise this approach at the Contact Group and in the Normandy format talks. The Ukrainian representatives emphatically refused.

In 2016, the leaders of the four countries met once again in Berlin, and Russian President Vladimir Putin drew attention to this issue. Ukrainian president Petr Poroshenko said the law should be enacted in full after the OSCE issued its official report on election returns, but what if the report stated that the elections were unfair. President of Russia Vladimir Putin said that this was implied. He suggested discussing everything in the smallest detail. He also suggested that the law temporarily enter into force on election day, and that it be permanently enacted after the OSCE issued its report, provided that the document confirmed the free and fair nature of the elections. President Poroshenko agreed.

But they still refused to formalise this concept. I am confident that any subsequent ministerial meeting would only be a caricature unless we pass these two litmus tests, and unless we resolve the situation around Stanitsa-Luganskaya and the Frank-Walter Steinmeier formula, because the Presidents’ direct instructions have been ignored for three, and two and half years, respectively.

At the same time, we have never called for suspending relations with Ukraine. We realise that a major part of Ukraine’s population find it important to maintain ties with Russia, and one family can have members in both countries. Ukrainians live in Russia, and Russians live in Ukraine. And, of course, millions of Ukrainians work in Russia. So when we see this Russophobic sensation, and when we hear demands that diplomatic relations be severed with Russia, and that Ukraine withdraw from all intra-CIS agreements, including those of concern to common people (pensions, social security and more), this simply shows that they are trying to win the West’s sympathies. They are using this anti-Russian campaign to compensate for their inability and reluctance to implement reforms being demanded by the West. I have no other explanation.

I will not comment on the speculation that 50 years is not enough to mend relations. You see, people are much wiser than forecasters.

Question: How can the balance of freedom of expression in the media and the restrictions of hostile foreign propaganda be ensured, given the current disagreement in practice and in international commitments?

Sergey Lavrov: We just talked about Ukraine. All Russian media sources have practically been shut down or banned there; journalists are being expelled and banned from entering; the unacceptable cases where journalists die from actions that cause many questions are being investigated halfheartedly. Yet we do not take any retaliatory measures against Ukrainian or other journalists. We were forced to categorise certain US media as foreign agents after our RT and Sputnik were labelled as such. But even that in no way limits their ability to work in the Russian Federation. Certain Ukrainian journalists talk tough about what is happening in Russia, moreover, they sound aggressive at news conferences when they are invited. We do not shut anyone out from communication with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or deny accreditation at the Ministry. Therefore, I would not talk about “propaganda.” Signs of propaganda are probably always present, but this should not be the focus of those who regulate the mass media.

International covenants on human rights, in particular political and civil rights, include a provision that is legally binding and requires all of the signatories (us as well) to ensure freedom of speech and freedom of expression, except in cases that affect national security, or the physical and moral health of society. Of course, this can be interpreted in different ways. If people take seriously their duties, then it is possible to ensure the freedom of mass media, while identifying cases that might carry a threat to their country’s security, a threat to its moral values – there are such cases. And terrorists use the web. This is a difficult question. I am not a professional, but I am sure that professionals should find an opportunity to minimise the risks of terrorists using social networks and other digital technologies while not infringing on people’s right to freedom of communication.

It is acceptable, and it is a necessity to do what is being done to prevent the use of social networks by pedophiles, when same-sex values ​​are being preached and bluntly imposed. We will make every effort to ensure that our Orthodox Christian values ​​are shielded from these kinds of threats. I am sure that here we are on the same track.



Building of the Russian Embassy in Kingston


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