Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and German Steinmeier made statements in Yekaterinburg
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speak to the press after their meeting in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following a meeting with Foreign Minister of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Yekaterinburg, August 15, 2016
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have just completed our joint programme in Yekaterinburg with the Foreign Minister of Germany and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
We discussed primarily international issues, giving special attention to the developments in Ukraine. It has to be said that these developments are a matter of grave concern. We discussed objectives aimed at promoting the settlement of this crisis by synchronising initiatives to implement the Minsk agreements in order to ensure regional security and advance the political process and reforms.
We have also looked at the prospects and possibilities for reviving dialogue in the Normandy format, which, as you know, could not have been unaffected by the recent incursion into Crimea of Ukrainian commandos, which cost the lives of Russian servicemen.
We discussed ways to end provocations in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine and facilitate a settlement by enhancing security and strengthening the OSCE mission’s monitoring of the safety zone and locations where heavy weapons are stored, as well as promote direct dialogue between the Kiev authorities and representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk in keeping with the Package of Measures as approved in Minsk in February 2015.
The second item that was high on our agenda was Syria. We still believe that we should prevent international terrorist groups from gaining the upper hand there and create conditions for genuine negotiations between all sides in Syria and under UN leadership, as required by the UN Security Council resolution to this effect. Of course, all this requires strengthening the ceasefire regime. One of the most urgent goals is to resolve the humanitarian issues in many parts of Syria, including Aleppo.
We have informed our German friends of the steps Russia has been taking in its contacts with the US. As you know, Russia and the US are co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) that also includes Germany. Russia strongly believes that one of the main objectives that has long been viewed as pressing, but has yet to be achieved, is separating moderate opposition forces from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. The latter has recently rebranded itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which did nothing to change the nature of this group. We are also concerned about the fact that many moderate opposition activists are coordinating their actions with these terrorists with increased frequency.
As I already said, we discussed the situation in Aleppo. We hope that the joint efforts of Russia, the United States and other Western countries, other countries in the region and the UN will help us ease civilians’ plight and not allow the militants who are in control of part of the city and the region to dictate their terms.
I would like to say that we appreciate the role of Germany’s OSCE chairmanship this year, including such aspects of it as the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. In general, we support the agenda put forward by Germany during its OSCE chairmanship as part of preparations for the next Foreign Ministers Council meeting that will take place in Germany in December this year.
We brought up a number of issues which are on our bilateral agenda. We discussed the development of our relations in this, speaking honestly, complicated period in political, cultural, humanitarian, historical and memorial areas. It is important because we, our German colleagues and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pay great attention to resolving issues, particularly humanitarian ones, remaining from World War Two. We have a number of very useful joint projects, including the support of former concentration camp prisoners and work to find out what happened to [many] Russian and German prisoners of war and interned people. I would like to repeat that this is important for consolidating the public’s sentiments in both countries where, of course, people are in favour of historical reconciliation between our countries.
We agreed to encourage contacts between the ministries and regions of the Russian Federation and the state of the Federal Republic of Germany. I believe that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s interest in the work in Russian regions should receive full support.
Question: A week after the events in Crimea we still know very little about what happened except for the information from Russian intelligence, which is the only source. What information does the German Government have? What details can Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov mention?
Sergey Lavrov: I understand everyone always wants to have more sources of information so as to compare the facts and make the picture more objective. I hope the German media are interested not only in Crimea but also other issues as regards Russia’s actions in different circumstances and its domestic situation. It is always good to have many sources of information.
Indeed, we are not concealing what we know. You said you don’t know anything except for what was provided by the Russian side. We presented the individuals who were detained, their testimonies, their depots in Crimea with arms, ammunition and other devices that are usually used by suicide bombers. All these facts were broadcast by our television, as I mentioned today to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. I am confident that German Ambassador to the Russian Federation Rüdiger von Fritsch-Seerhausen, who is present here, and his staff monitor these materials and probably consider them in their reports to the German Foreign Ministry.
Naturally, we cannot show everything but we can supplement what you see on television – irrefutable evidence that this was an act of subversion that the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate has long planned to destabilise Russian Crimea. We are ready to present other facts in addition to those that were made public to our Western partners who are seriously interested in preventing such incidents in the future. It is necessary to exert pressure on Kiev to this end. Ukraine has its Supreme Commander-in-Chief, who is in charge of the Defence Ministry and all of its departments. This is just stating the obvious.
We appreciate Germany’s interest – confirmed today by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – in preventing such incidents in the future. However, regardless of how our Western partners will work with their friends in Kiev, we are doing all we can on instructions from President Vladimir Putin to nip such incursions into our territory in the bud.
Question: How likely is it that Russia and Ukraine will sever diplomatic relations?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think this is a situation where anyone is interested in breaking off diplomatic relations. That would be an extreme measure. I think the main goal now is to avoid succumbing to emotions or taking extreme courses of action but to work for stabilisation in a restrained and consistent manner. As I said, we will and are already doing this in Crimea regardless of what conclusions our Western partners and colleagues in Kiev will draw from the events of ten days ago.
I am in favour of focusing efforts on returning to the sequencing and the substance of the Minsk agreements in all aspects of the situation – security and political settlement. I am referring to Eastern Ukraine rather than Crimea. Germany and Foreign Minister Steinmeier personally have done very much for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Last year’s summit of the Normandy Four in Paris produced the “Steinmeier formula”. The German Foreign Minister suggested finding generally acceptable ways of essentially granting special status to Donbass – a task set by the Minsk agreements. We enthusiastically supported this idea. Regrettably, now the implementation of this formula is being impeded by the authorities in Kiev that are again trying to revise the Minsk agreements.
I do not favour steps that will generate a lot of media attention but will hardly facilitate the implementation of the tasks that we all have agreed upon and that we all want to see translated into reality.
To be continued…
“The main issue is not that there’s anyone unwilling to alleviate the humanitarian situation, but it is of utmost importance that terrorists would not be getting reinforced with militants, guns and munition supplies under the humanitarian aid disguise,” Lavrov said
“The main results of those pauses was an insignificant relief in the humanitarian situation, while terrorists added 7,000 people to their ranks, not to mention huge amounts of arms and munitions they received,” he said.
Russia ready to provide more evidence of Ukrainian incursions into Crimea
As tensions have increased around Crimea in recent days, Lavrov said he does not believe that raising the stakes in Russia-Ukraine relations would help reconciliation.
“I do not think we are in a situation when someone is interested in breaking diplomatic relations. These are extreme measures,” he noted.
Russia has “serious concerns” over recent developments in Ukraine, per se, Lavrov said, while proposing that both Russia and Germany unite their efforts to resolve the conflict and “synchronize steps” to implement the Minsk agreement, “including in political process and political reform [in Ukraine].”
Lavrov said that “NATO’s policy to move eastward at any cost deepens division lines in Europe.”
Russia’s top diplomat said the bloc seems to be unwilling to restore dialogue with Moscow. “The Russia-NATO Council [format] is frozen. The fact that a couple of ambassadorial meetings took place changed nothing. NATO does not want to discuss restoring relations.”
He stressed that it was not Russia that had decided to break ties, adding that “our Western colleagues have admitted that it was a mistake.”
Lavrov said Russia is determined to revive dialogue, even on its own: “At the Russia-NATO Council meeting last month, we came up with specific proposals to restore military cooperation, first of all, and to build trust in that regard.”
He was optimistic about Russia’s relations with the EU.
“Europe is becoming increasingly confident that there is no alternative to normalization of relations [between Russia and the EU] and reviving cooperation mechanisms,” he said.
The Russia’s foreign minister also noted that “Germany is our key partner, not only in European affairs, but also in tackling the global challenges of today, including conflict resolution, combatting international terrorism, and extremism.”