The year 2009 made the world realize we are all in the same boat – Lavrov

Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov has summed up the international developments that shaped 2009 in a news conference in Moscow.

Sergey Lavrov's media conference Part 1

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Sergey Lavrov's media conference Part 2

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Full version of Sergey Lavrov’s media briefing

Moscow’s assessment of global policy trends made last year proved to be mostly accurate, Lavrov said, with the world becoming more multipolar over 2009. Not everything was smooth, but the Foreign Ministry did its job on the international arena well.

He added that this year’s plan, as prepared by the ministry, will continue to pursue the goal set by President Medvedev, namely to support modernization of the country. This includes conflict resolution, crisis management, better protection of Russian business interests abroad, and humanitarian efforts.

Russia’s FM pointed out that the international events of 2009 led to a positive outcome and helped to form a uniting agenda for the world community.

Lavrov said that the common agenda included “nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, fighting international terrorism, drug trafficking, and piracy.”

New START

Lavrov also said that Russia favors a swift and fair new START treaty as it will contribute to the world’s strategic stability and security.

“Signing the new START treaty on the premise of equality and parity will contribute to serious changes for the better in the whole disarmament sphere,” Sergey Lavrov said.

In addition, he noted that Obama’s many-sided diplomacy has created favorable conditions for improving cooperation between the countries “on a pragmatic basis.”

Both Russia and the United States are defending their national security interests in the negotiations on the new START treaty, said Lavrov. It also has to be taken into account that the current talks are being held in a different environment than when the previous strategic arms limitation treaty was signed. The level of trust between Moscow and Washington has improved, for instance.

Some factors of the past are no longer present, like the ABM treaty, which prohibited the creation of national antiballistic missile systems. This means that the logic behind the replacement treaty has developed and additional consultations are needed to consider all the details of the new treaty. The next meeting on the issue will be held in a few days, when Chiefs of Staff of the two countries meet in Moscow.

Anti-missile defense

The foreign minister elaborated on Russia’s Gabala Radar and its possible role in a global system of missile risk assessment and control. Sergey Lavrov stressed that the missile security system, which is now being discussed by Moscow, Washington, and several other players is different in nature from what the US wanted to build during the Bush era. The old plans were based on the presumption that a missile threat was imminent, while now the parties agree on the need to objectively evaluate the risks. This evaluation may need data provided by different means, including those provided by the Azerbaijan-based Gabala Radar.

Lavrov commented on the news about Poland’s decision to deploy American air defense Patriot missiles near the Russian border. This issue is up to the two NATO allies – the US and Poland – the minister said. They know their reasons for this decision. And it’s up to them to clarify why they are taking such a move which gives the impression that Poland is building up defenses against Russia. As for Moscow’s reaction, the ministry needs more information on the issue from Warsaw and Washington before it can give a balanced and rational response.

European security – a test of trust

The Russian Foreign Minister also reiterated the need to bring together the entire “patchy” European security architecture.

The nature of Russia’s proposal for a reform of European security is simple and straightforward, Sergey Lavrov said. In the 1990s there were numerous declarations made by heads of states, which stated that security in Europe was indivisible and that no party would strengthen its own security at the expense of other nations. Moscow wants these declarations made into a legally binding international treaty.

If the declarations are sincere, then there is no obstacle for such a move, Lavrov stressed. For Russia it is a test of its trust for its Western partners, which will disperse concerns that have arisen after events which cast doubt on all the promises of a Europe without dividing lines voiced two decades ago. Legally binding commitments of that nature exist within the NATO framework, and Russia wants a similar mutual security system to include all European countries.

OSCE needs reform

Sergey Lavrov has once more reiterated that Russia wants to see the OSCE as a more effective organization.

“It is necessary to fill OSCE activities with practical content,” he said. “The OSCE will be able to function effectively when it turns into a real organization, which is the point of reforming it.”

The minister reminded that the members of Collective Security Treaty Organisation have already come up with the initiative.

“It is very important to adopt a charter on security and cooperation in Europe,” he said. “It is necessary to sign documents which establish rules of the functioning of all mechanisms, be it field missions, election observations or forming the budget.”

Middle East peace process

According to Sergey Lavrov, 2010 promises to be uneasy in terms of international affairs: “Conflicts, will not just suddenly disappear.”

In any conflict, the opinions of all sides should be considered, and that is the reason why Russia has had long relations with Hamas, the Russian FM said, answering a question regarding the invitation of the leadership of the movement to Moscow.

Our ties with Hamas will continue this year. This is very important now when the problem of Palestinian unity becomes more acute. We back Egypt’s efforts to support Hamas and we are going to convince our partners to avoid delays in reaching agreements put forward by Cairo,” the Russian FM explained.

He also said that only a unified Palestine can provide the optimal conditions to resume talks between Palestinian representatives and Israel under criteria approved by the UN.

“We think it is necessary to have a ministerial session of the Quartet as soon as possible because the Quartet has a special responsibility to implement the agreements achieved earlier,” Lavrov added.

Russia's stance on Iran

Sergey Lavrov underlined that the Russian Foreign Ministry works in close contact with the 3+3 working group on Iran, representatives of IAEA and with the Iranian leadership itself.

“Unfortunately, it appears that Iran does not see it possible to agree to the formula it has been offered concerning the production of nuclear fuel,” Lavrov said, but that means only that “more effort should be made on this issue.”

“Our task is absolutely transparent. We want the international community to have no doubts about the exclusively peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear programme. With such an understanding, nobody will question the right of Iran to use peaceful nuclear energy.”

Lavrov warned of the need to keep a cool head.

“If we pursue the logic of punishment for Iran, or if we choose to act like insulted parties – thinking we have proposed a solution, but they do not want to discuss our proposals – it will not be a very practical approach.”

Haiti earthquake

In light of recent events in Haiti, Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is calling for the establishment of a global natural disaster early warning network.

“Natural disasters require that we finally unite and set up a truly global network which would allow us to prevent such catastrophes. Russia made such proposals several years ago, when a devastating tsunami hit Southeast Asia. They were being discussed for some time, but then everyone quieted down,” he said.

Moscow does not overdramatize the US decision to send its troops to Haiti as part of the relief effort, the Russian Foreign Minister said. A humanitarian crisis of this scale can benefit from the aid of the military, since they can provide it faster and more efficient in certain circumstances. He also stressed that the effort to help the quake-devastated nation should adhere to international standards and regulations and should be safeguarded from abuse.

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Russian-Ukrainian relations

Answering a question on how Russian-Ukrainian relations may change in 2010, Sergey Lavrov expressed hope that the new Ukrainian leadership that will emerge after the second round of the current presidential election will be less ideologically oriented in its approach to bilateral relations and the relationship between the two countries will become more dynamic.

“I do hope that these expectations come through and we don’t have much time to wait,” Lavrov said.

Both Sergey Lavrov and President Dmitry Medvedev have given instructions to the new ambassador of Russia to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, who is preparing for his trip to Kiev.

“As for our ambassador’s credentials, Russia has always observed the protocol traditions of diplomacy, and I assure you that we will continue to do so.”

Russian–Georgian relations

As for the future of Russian–Georgian relations, Sergey Lavrov explained that since the war of August 2008, Russia’s recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was the only means of ensuring the security of the two states and to protect the people of these countries because “we know the habits of Mr. Saakashvili,” said Lavrov.

“We, Russia, on August 13 [2008], offered ourselves to discuss in the international format the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This indicates that we had no plans to occupy Georgian territory or to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia unilaterally,” Lavrov recalled, but Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili rejected the proposal.

“We know perfectly well what methods Mr. Saakashvili uses to restore the so-called constitutional order: killing people he considered citizens of his own state, killing peacekeepers that were operating under a mandate signed by the Georgian president.”

At the same time, Lavrov said that Russia fully respects and recognizes Georgia’s territorial integrity – “within the borders Mr. Saakashvili defined for his state.”

Contacts with Georgian opposition leaders have never been stopped, Lavrov stressed, because Moscow considers it "important to listen to those who are ready to talk with the Russian Federation, not just with those who order the killing of citizens.”

As for official contacts, Russia “is not to blame for the fact that our official diplomatic contacts are very scarce.”

Latvia's inertia of the past

The Russian minister has also elaborated on Russian–Latvian relations.

“We are keen on having Russian-Latvian relations develop, we are neighbours and we have a lot of common interests,” Lavrov said.

The minister pointed out that it is important that the countries’ shared interests were not “marred” with artificial phobias, ideological prejudices and the inertia of the past.

Lavrov noted some relics of the past that are stalling the countries’ relations progress. He said that Latvia is solving the issue of its Russian speaking population’s rights “unexceptionally slowly.”

“I am sure that it is not the problem of Russian–Latvian relations, but rather the problem of the Latvian sovereign independent state itself. It is also a problem of the European Union, considering the significance the EU gives to the spread of the highest standards of human rights not only on the territory of its members but also on the territory of the counties outside the union,” he added.

Lavrov also pointed out that Latvia’s awarding of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili the highest Latvian order “Cross of Recognition” has not contributed to warmer Russian–Latvian relations.

“Of course, when a top Latvian award is given to a person who had given orders to kill Russian peace keepers and kill civilians, it does not add positive emotions in regards to reinforcing our cooperation,” he said.

Lavrov noted that attempts to glorify Nazi collaborators still occur in Latvia. “We see that Latvian authorities are trying to distance themselves from those attempts,” said the Russian Foreign Minister, adding that it is not the right way to deal with the situation.

“Fascism and its ideology contradict all the fundamental principles of contemporary Europe, be it the international convention of the Council of Europe, the decisions and principles of the OSCE and the UN, or the principles of the European Union.”

Complicated issues of history with Poland

Sergey Lavrov said that the Russian Federation is interested in rendering assistance to Poland in its plans to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn tragedy.

The 1940 execution of several thousand Polish officers and soldiers remains one of the most sensitive issues in relations between the two countries. Lavrov added that the countries have a shared understanding of how to tackle complicated issues of their common history.

“Our dialogue, which was initiated by President Dmitry Medvedev, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, is bringing results,” he said.

Lavrov pointed out that the sides share a common interest in solving the complicated issues of a shared history and preventing them from stalling the development of their relations.

CIS prospects

The last year confirmed that all members of the CIS really need this organization, stated Lavrov, as all the countries of the commonwealth faced the aftermath of the global financial downturn, forcing its members to be “more active in establishing cooperation in various areas and forms.”

“We established a new mechanism of permanent consultations among Finance Ministers of CIS countries. We also worked out a crisis management programme to tackle the aftermath of the crisis,” informed Lavrov.

Three members of the CIS – Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus – have signed the necessary documents for the Customs Union to come into action in the beginning of 2010. All its mechanisms will be launched very shortly and “no doubt, within the timeline” said Lavrov.

The next step will be further integration of the three countries into a common economic space, Lavrov said.

The issue of Kosovo

Territorial conflicts were also one of the hot topics at Friday’s news conference. Speaking about Kosovo, Lavrov said he believes it is possible to resume negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade.

“In my opinion, the UN Secretary General must be guided with UN Security Council resolutions, and Resolution 1244 is basic for Kosovo. I am confident of the possibility to resume negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina in the case of goodwill,” Lavrov said. “Sponsors of Pristina should not ban the negotiations; on the contrary, they should encourage a normal dialogue with Belgrade.”

“We are alarmed by the way the situation has been developing in the region,” he added. “Kosovo Albanians and Pristina are trying to do all they can to make the operation of the UN mission in Kosovo more difficult, while the UN is now the only legitimate force there. Russia encourages those who are able to influence Pristina to prevent them from doing so.”

Russia’s stance on Nagorno-Karabakh

Answering the question of an Azeri journalist on whether the right to territorial identity of the Nagorno-Karabakh people, who have already declared their self-determination within the Armenian state, could be above and more important than the principle of territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Foreign Minister Lavrov pointed out that there is no hierarchy of the key principles in international relations. The only attempt to interpret the principle of self-determination in the context of the principle of territorial integrity was made in 1970 in a declaration of the UN General Assembly, Lavrov reminded.

The declaration said that “the respect of the territorial integrity of a state presupposes the authorities’ obligation to provide by peaceful means the rights of the people living on the territory of this state including their right to self-determination,” Lavrov explained, adding that this idea was seriously violated by Georgia’s President Saakashvili in August 2008.

In other words, Russia’s stance on the issue is that one principle of international relations cannot be above the other, Lavrov stressed.

Dialogue on human rights

“Russia advocates any dialogue regarding human rights to contribute to the improvement in this sphere”, said Sergey Lavrov.

“Promoting people’s social and economic rights helps to solve the problems of society in a more effective manner,” the Foreign Minister added, “But it also gives an individual the opportunity to fully realize civil and political rights. There are some cases when human rights are used as leverage in order to force a partner into making concessions. Making human rights a tool in such a speculative game is not quite fair.”

“The more developed the society is, the more it demands from itself in regards to treating its citizens,” said Sergey Lavrov. He also mentioned the problems that persist in the EU, such as migrant workers, non-citizenship and religious tolerance, naming them unprecedented and anomalous for the European Union.

Energy cooperation

Lavrov also elaborated on South Stream and Burgas–Alexandroupolis energy projects. He said that Russia is currently working on both of these significant undertakings.

“It is known that the South Stream project is progressing,” the Russian minister said. “More and more questions that need to be solved are finding positive solutions.”

Sergey Lavrov added that the work on Burgas–Alexandroupolis is continuing with the Greek and Bulgarian partners.

“It is important here that each participant country has confirmed its interest,” he said. “We see the practical sense and economic viability of this project also, not only from the point of view of serving interests of participating countries, but also from the point of view of providing European security.”

The Russian minister added that he felt that there is “no weakening of interest to the energy part of the partnership from the two countries” during his visit to Greece.