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Monday, 17-06-2019
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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and replies to media questions during a joint news conference following talks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Berlin, September 14, 2018

Mr Minister, Heiko,

First of all, I’d like to thank you for the invitation to visit Berlin.

By tradition our dialogue is regular and intensive. I would like to emphasise the trust between us. This visit is timed to coincide with the closing ceremony for the Russia-Germany cross year of regional and municipal partnerships.  Foreign Minister Maas and I agree that this initiative was successful and helped to promote mutual understanding and neighbourly relations and to develop practical cooperation at the level of contacts between cities, regions and civil societies.

We are not putting an end to the tradition of holding cross years. As my counterpart said, another initiative – the Year of Scientific and Educational Partnerships – will be launched in the near future. We agreed to do what we can to make this undertaking useful for our citizens and relevant research and educational institutions.

Germany is our important partner in Europe and the world. We share an interest in constructive joint work on all bilateral and international issues, including complicated issues.

We noted the positive dynamics in trade and economic cooperation and have agreed to actively support these processes and strengthen this important trend. We expressed approval of the performance of the Russian-German High-Level Interdepartmental Working Group on Strategic Cooperation in the Economy and Finance.

We discussed the practical aspects of issues linked with our energy cooperation and reaffirmed support for the commercial Nord Stream-2 project, the implementation of which will greatly enhance Europe’s energy security.

The Russian Seasons, which will open in Berlin in January, will be a landmark event in our humanitarian cooperation. We hope our German friends will find them interesting.

We welcomed the development of cooperation between our civil societies. I am referring to not only cross years but also to such structures as Petersburg Dialogue, Potsdam Meetings and the German-Russian Forum, where I addressed the German political and business circles today.

For our part, we stressed our interest in resuming in the near future the activities of another body – the Russian-German Interdepartmental High-Level Working Group on Security Policy, which has not been convened since 2012. Now our experts are preparing to resume its activities. I hope that the next meeting could take place in Berlin before the end of the year. This would be useful because today such joint efforts are gaining special significance against the background of major challenges and threats we both confront, primarily terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

As for our relations with the European Union, they leave much to be desired. The same can be said about our contacts with NATO, which have practically been frozen across the board. We expressed our well-known concern about the Alliance’s tack of exacerbating tensions and building up military infrastructure near the Russian borders.

As my colleague said, we considered the situation in Ukraine in detail. We share the opinion that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements. A concrete discussion at the level of aides to the leaders of the Normandy Format countries is going on now to decide how to advance their practical implementation. I hope that progress will be possible in this format and in the Contact Group in the near future. I want to deliver a strong warning to those who are plotting a military scenario. This would be a catastrophe for the Ukrainian people because it could undermine Ukrainian statehood in a very real way. No one is allowed to wage war on their own citizens.

We also focused on the developments in Syria. On the whole the situation there is improving. Almost all of the territory in Syria has been freed from terrorists. The last hot spot remains in the Idlib Governorate. Today we spoke in detail about how we should act in the region with regard to the requirements of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and agreements on the de-escalation principles in this and other Syrian districts. The goal is, first of all, to continue the uncompromising fight against terrorists, to make the reasonable moderate opposition separate from Jabhat al-Nusra and the like, and to do everything to minimise civilians being put at risk.

We informed our German colleagues about the discussion of these matters at the recent summit held with the leaders of the Astana trio in Tehran and how we are preparing for another meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan which will take place next week. The Syrian settlement will be one of the most important subjects for discussion.

We also emphasised that at the moment, it is most important to create conditions for refugees to return back home, to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure and the economy, as well as social institutions. We informed the Germans about the steps the Russian Federation is taking in cooperation with the Syrian government in order to create these conditions and make them understandable for the refugees who want to return. All this, of course, will facilitate the reinstatement of a sustainable political process with regard to the results achieved as part of the Astana trio in support of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the role of the UN in a political settlement, as well as with regard to the results of the Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue that took place in January 2018 in Sochi. Congress participants agreed to establish a constitutional committee with support of UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, with whom Russia, Iran and Turkey – being the Astana guarantors – are constantly in touch (the latest contact took place earlier this week).

We, of course, are monitoring the situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the nuclear programme of Iran since the US has left unilaterally left it.

We are jointly concerned that the total failure of this agreement might have serious consequences, including for the stability in the Middle East and for the regime of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, we, our German and European colleagues, and China and Iran will strive to preserve this crucial multilateral agreement.

At the beginning of the UN General Assembly session in New York, a meeting between foreign ministers of the action plan member states will take place, and we will see what measures are being taken to preserve the agreement.

Tonight we will continue to discuss other international matters.

Again I would like to thank German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for the invitation to visit Berlin today.

Question (for Sergey Lavrov): What do you see as a solution to film director Oleg Sentsov’s problem, to prevent the worst, his death?

Question (for Heiko Maas): Germany was very indecisive in the Litvinenko case. In the Skripals’ case, do you and the British government have evidence of Russia’s alleged responsibility? 

Sergey Lavrov: As concerns the case of Oleg Sentsov who was convicted for plotting a terrorist attack and explosions in Crimea which was not denied by the Ukrainian officials, we have repeatedly informed the public about the progress, including information about his health. He is under constant medical supervision. This is a purely humanitarian matter. Russia has legislative procedures applicable in such cases. Everybody who is concerned with his fate is aware of this. Particularly, President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed this at a recent meeting in Meseberg. 

Since your question for German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas concerns accusations against Russia, I also have to say a few words. It is not only in the Litvinenko case and in the Skripal case but also the deaths of other Russian nationals in London, including Nikolai Glushkov’s death just recently, that there is no evidence for any reasonable consideration and discussion. The “highly likely” principle does not work here although our British colleagues use it solely to throw mud at Russia and turn all their European partners against us. This is happening during Brexit, therefore, these efforts made by London are increasingly intensive.

I would like to stress once again that both in the cases of Alexander Litvinenko and the Skripals, since the very beginning we requested that certain procedures sould be enforced through the official channels under our bilateral convention with the United Kingdom, the conventions of the Council of Europe and, in the case of the Skripals, also the Chemical Weapons Convention. All our official inquiries received run-around replies, if not only verbal comments, that came down to the claim that we are to blame and the only thing we are requested to do is to explain how we did this − whether we were ordered to do it or it was a result of misunderstanding. It is pointless to have a serious conversation at such a level.

Today we confirmed it to our German partners that we had not seen any evidence and I really doubt that the British provided their NATO and EU allies with anything beyond what they publicly use for unsubstantiated accusations.

We are still ready for a serious conversation based on international law rather than the “highly likely” principle which has already become a household name. 

Question: What do you think about statements made by several European officials who qualified the upcoming operation in Idlib involving the Syrian army and the Russian Aerospace Forces as a war crime?

Sergey Lavrov: I have not heard about this although I suppose it is possible considering the pressuring rhetoric around the situation in Idlib. We experienced something similar during the liberation of East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta although much less intense. There was no humanitarian catastrophe although, of course, there were civilian casualties, which is, unfortunately, inevitable. Hundreds of thousands of people who left East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta during the operation are now coming back. I hope they will settle down with the support of the international community and this support is indeed necessary, including to ensure that refugees start coming back home from Europe.

As concerns war crimes, there are procedures established by international humanitarian law and they must be observed. We always follow international humanitarian law when conducting operations that involve military action. Let me remind you that Russian troops are in Syria, a UN member, at the request of its legitimate government and the UNSC resolutions have repeatedly confirmed respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We are ready to discuss any situations but in a specific and constructive manner rather than using the “highly likely” rhetoric that collects some arguments to further justify unlawful actions as it happened last July when, before OCPW inspectors reached Eastern Ghouta, the area was bombed under a provocative pretext, which everybody saw in the footage − hosing down children and other staged nonsense.

We are ready for a constructive talk. If anybody has serious matters to solve, we need to sit and discuss them instead of making new threatening statements that only build up confrontation and help with nothing.

Question: Today many Western publications carried the same headline: “Two Russian spies detained in the Netherlands.” It was reported that two Russian citizens were detained. For some reason they were not put under arrest but were immediately deported to Russia. Judging by these publications, this happened in the spring, maybe even in March but it was published only today, right after the interview of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Can you comment on the reaction to the interview of our two citizens? Do you know anything about this? Can you comment on Britain’s strong reaction to the same interview yesterday?

Sergey Lavrov: It is hard for me to assess London’s recent actions. They are beyond logic because the country that boasts of being law abiding and positions itself as a model legal system, acts outside the law and is engaged in adverse activities, that is, loudspeaker diplomacy. Not a single fact has been conveyed to us via official channels in line with international law – just groundless accusations with a demand that we admit our guilt. The threats that the entire civilised world will rise against Russia are not serious.

You mentioned the report that somewhere in the Netherlands two spies were arrested and deported to Russia with the assistance of Swiss and British citizens. I cannot even imagine that such an event in which experts from three Western states took part could be ignored by the media. If we can get the facts we will be able to comment on them in a more meaningful way.

There appeared a report the other day that a diplomat of the Russian Embassy was recruited in April in Rome and nicknamed Apollo by Britain’s MI6, apparently with account for the role assigned to him by this service. The Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson commented on this yesterday. We did not lose any employees in Rome. None of our staff have disappeared. We won’t consider such stories seriously, nor this striving to make the media a tool of unseemly policy.

As for Boshirov and Petrov, they were identified by Britain in April, as it transpired. Therefore, it is necessary to ask the Brits why this was done so obscurely and why no facts were quoted except the CCTV tapes. Let me emphasise that our proposal to use existing Moscow-London mechanisms on rendering legal aid on criminal cases remains valid. If there is no response to this, we have every reason to believe that there have been no crimes that are being ascribed to our citizens by these ladies and gentlemen.

Question: The West is concerned that there will be a huge loss of civilian lives before the forthcoming onslaught in Idlib. Does Russia foresee the creation of protective zones for refugees in Idlib? Maybe under Turkey’s supervision?

Sergey Lavrov: We are actively working with our Turkish partners to resolve the situation in Idlib in full conformity with the agreements that were concluded there during the creation of the de-escalation zone in this area. These agreements provide for the announcement of a truce with one very important exception - there is no truce, no ceasefire as regards terrorists. This is fixed in the agreements on the de-escalation zone and in the UN Security Council resolutions and should be carried out.

In parallel, as I have already emphasised, together with our Turkish partners that have a constructive approach to this issue, we are facilitating local agreements between units of the moderate opposition and the government troops as was done in other de-escalation zones. We are facilitating the formation of humanitarian corridors and safe zones for civilians. Let me recall that we acted in the same way helping the Syrian army during the liberation of Eastern Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta. I do not want to make comparisons but to paint a complete picture let me recall that there were no local conciliations, and nobody even tried to establish safety or humanitarian corridors when the Air Force of the US coalition bombed Raqqa and Mosul. What happened and is still happening in Raqqa is a humanitarian catastrophe. But this is not talked about for reasons I don’t understand. Maybe this is not politically correct. As for Idlib, let me stress that all of these measures are being taken. There are instructions from President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They will meet next week to discuss the situation in detail.



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