Russia concerned about Georgian border activities – Lavrov

“Not simple, and at times – dramatic” – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sums up the year 2008 at a news conference on the results of Russian foreign policy.

“The world entered the year 2009 accompanied by the combat operation in the Gaza Strip and with artificially created problems of gas supply to Europe,” Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.

He stressed that the world problems nowadays cannot be settled through the use of force or illegal methods, adding that “there should be no room for national egoism.”

Russia – US relations

The minister expressed hope for changes for the better in Russia–U.S. relations once Barack Obama’s administration comes into power.

“We are certainly ready for any scenario,” he said. “But, like a large number of other countries, we have serious hopes that changes for the better will take place in the policy of the United States, including Washington's policy in the international arena.”

“We are prepared for such changes and hope for close cooperation,” the Foreign Minister added.

Lavrov expressed hope that the new U.S. administration will not see the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO as a priority.

The Russian minister said that tackling the financial crisis will probably be more important for the United States than the geopolitical project that would “undermine stability” and “create tension” in the area.

He said that he believes Russia and the U.S. need an agenda that would unite them, rather than divide.

Caucasus concerns

The Russian minister has also touched upon the situation with Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, stressing that Georgia should fulfill its obligations in accordance with the plan by Medvedev and Sarkozy.

He expressed Russia’s concern at the buildup of Georgian forces near its borders with the South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

EU monitors working in areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been reporting a buildup of Georgian military units and special forces near the borders with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and our 'technical devices' have also recorded this,” he said.

Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow insists on the criminal prosecution of those “responsible for giving orders to attack Tskhinval.”

“I can assure you that we are not forgetting this subject,” he stressed.

Lavrov has also stressed that the recognition of Kosovo’s independence is drastically different from that of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“In Kosovo’s case Belgrade never violated resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council accepted by the sides of the conflict, while Tbilisi constantly violated its obligations on peace agreements accepted after its failed attempt to conquer South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the early 90s,” Sergey Lavrov said.

He closely watches the situation in the Caucasus and receives daily reports on the region. The minister also noted that both Russia and international monitoring bodies are seeing increasing numbers of Georgian troops on the borders with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and that it’s an alarming sign.

The Russian minister has urged OSCE presence in the South Ossetia, saying that Russia will support it.

Russia-Ukraine gas conflict

In regards to the longest gas supply crisis in history, Sergey Lavrov said that moving towards market principles in foreign policy is a healthy tendency that “will make the basis for real collaboration stronger and will make integration processes more effective”.

Russia’s foreign policy is based on legitimate interests. The country wants to collaborate with others without confrontations and on an international legal basis, and also on market principles, he added. “This also concerns the problem that was created by Ukraine in supplying gas to Europe. The President and Prime Minister are doing everything possible to find a way out of this situation with gas supplies to Europe and with absolute respect to the existing agreements and contracts. Most western partners understand well that Russia today has clear foreign policy based on clear interests, legitimate interests.”

“Everyone wanted market relations, now we live with market relations, and need to play according to the rules of the market,” he noted.

Russia hopes that all parties interested in the resolution of the current gas conflict will take part in the ‘gas summit’ planned for January 17 in Moscow. Members of the European Union and other countries affected by the shut-off, like Serbia, are invited.

When asked about alternative routes to deliver Russian gas to European consumers, Lavrov said the pipeline projects South Stream and North Stream will be finished in due time, and no financial crisis will interrupt the construction.

Russia in Iraq

Russia’s presence in Iraq was also discussed. Currently there are a number of contracts including those of oil extraction in West Qurna Phase 2.

“We are constantly in touch with Iraqi authorities. Our business circles, foreign ministry delegations and other ministries’ representatives visit Iraq regularly”, the minister said. “We see there’s a mutual interest with our Iraqi partners to develop trade and economic collaboration. We want the contracts signed with our companies to be respected.”

Russia and Iraq have a long history of collaboration, and not just in economic terms. From the Soviet times Iraqi specialists received higher education in Russian universities.