“Talks on a new Russia-EU agreement productive”

The seventh round of talks on a new partnership agreement between Moscow and the EU has proven productive, according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko.

At a weekly media briefing on Friday, he told journalists the next round of negotiations would take place in February.

Other issues he touched upon include, among others, the results of the climate summit in Copenhagen, the visit of the NATO Secretary-General to Russia, and the outcome of hearings on the declaration of independence by Kosovo.

RT presents the full transcript of Nesterenko’s briefing on December 18, 2009.

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

We’re continuing with our weekly briefings at the Russian Foreign Ministry. I’d like to start with the meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. It took place on Dec. 10, 2009, and it was timed to coincide with a memorable date in Russian-Belarusian relations, the 10th anniversary of singing the Treaty Establishing the Union State. On the occasion of the anniversary, the parties adopted a joint declaration which reflects both the main results of the past decade and goals for the future development of the Union State. Also, the parties signed an agreement on developing military and technical co-operation and an agreement to establish cultural and information centres.

The meeting saw a detailed discussion of integrative co-operation, primarily in the trade, economic and financial areas. Also, the parties discussed their co-operation in international politics and the military-technical sphere and equal rights for Russian and Belarusian citizens. Also, they adopted the Union State budget for 2010. In addition, the Supreme State Council made a decision on Union State literature and arts awards for 2009 and 2010.

The atmosphere at the meeting was business-like and constructive. Following the meeting, the presidents of Russia and Belarus held a joint press conference for the media, which I’m sure you know about.

On Dec. 11, the EurAsEC Interstate Council met in St. Petersburg. It was attended by the heads of government. This organ is at the same time the Supreme Body of the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin headed the Russian delegation.

The key element of the St. Petersburg forum was a meeting of the prime ministers of the three states, who discussed and made decisions necessary to launch, on January 1, 2010, the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia within the EurAsEC framework.

At the meeting of the Supreme Body of the Customs Union, the prime ministers of Customs Union member-states signed a number of international documents to create conditions for free movement of goods within the Customs Union. These documents concern regulations for charging indirect export and import taxes, the sphere of technical regulation, the application of sanitary, veterinary and phytosanitary measures in the Customs Union, as well as systems for transmitting statistical data on external and mutual trade to the Customs Statistics Centre of the Customs Union Commission.

The Supreme Body of the Customs Union at the level of the heads of government determined that the Russian side (more specifically, Russia’s Federal Customs Service) would maintain commodity classification for the Customs Union’s external economic activities in a manner prescribed by the Customs Union Commission.

Another step was made to ensure the next phase of integration after the Customs Union, that is, the establishment of a common economic space. Proceeding from the need to complete the formation of the common economic space between Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia in a period from 12 to 24 months, the heads of government prepared a plan for the establishment of the common economic space. The plan is expected to be approved at the forthcoming meeting of the presidents of the three countries to be held in Almaty tomorrow.

At a meeting attended by all five of the EurAsEC countries, Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin, who is the chairman of the EurAsEC Council for Financial and Economic Policy, updated the members of the EurAsEC Interstate Council on the implementation of joint measures to overcome the consequences of the global financial crisis in EurAsEC countries.

Also, EurAsEC prime ministers discussed the establishment of the Eurasian Innovative System and adopted its concept. It will contribute to developing national innovative systems by integrating their scientific and technological potential, promoting co-operation in innovations and applying high technology in the EurAsEC.

The parties made a decision to implement a Belarus-initiated interstate targeted program, called Innovative Biotechnologies, in 2011-2015. It will become an instrument for implementing the strategy and developing priority areas in science, technology and engineering in the member states; it will also contribute to the co-ordination of interstate and inter-industry ties in developing biotechnologies and the production of biological products and, consequently, to stable growth of economic efficiency, the improvement of living standards and the prosperity of the populations of participating countries.

The heads of government discussed member-states’ co-operation in education. They signed a co-operation agreement that will provide a legal foundation for EurAsEC member-states’ interaction in this area.

The parties coordinated and adopted the following concepts: the EurAsEC food security concept; the concept of an interstate database of migrant workers in EurAsEC states; the concept of an interstate targeted programme for the revegetation of EurAsEC territories affected by uranium production and the concept of the system of informational and methodological support for uniform export control in EurAsEC states.

The EurAsEC Interstate Council decided to set up a regional EurAsEC Association of accreditation bodies to coordinate their activities to achieve international recognition for EurAsEC certification bodies and test laboratories and bring the national accreditation systems of EurAsEC member-states in line with international requirements and recommendations, as well as universally accepted international practice.

The next meeting of the EurAsEC Interstate Council at the level of prime ministers will be held in Moscow on May 21, 2010.

Upcoming Informal Meeting of the Heads of the Customs Union Member-States as part of the Eurasia Economic Co-operation

On Dec. 19, the presidents of Customs Union states will meet in Almaty. They are expected to discuss issues of crucial importance for the further development of integration processes in the EurAsEC.

On the results of the working visit of the President of the Croatian Republic Stjepan Mesic to Moscow

The President of the Republic of Croatia, Stjepan Mesic, paid a working visit to Moscow on Dec. 13-14. He met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Also, the Croatian leader gave a lecture as part of the Golden Collection project organised by the International Affairs magazine.

The presidents of the two countries examined the state and prospects of the development of Russian-Croatian relations. They noted that a solid basis provided by bilateral treaties and the fact that both countries are interested in maintaining an open, intensive political dialogue and expanding mutually beneficial co-operation in various areas ensure their further development. They expressed their satisfaction over the signs of increasing activity in bilateral relations in 2009.

The presidents pointed out the need to implement the existing agreements as soon as possible, especially in trade and economic ties. They agreed that moving on to a brand new level of energy partnership would be particularly important in that respect.

They exchanged views on urgent international issues. They confirmed the similarity of their standings on a number of key global and European problems.

During the meeting between Vladimir Putin and the Croatian president, they discussed in detail some important issues of trade and economic co-operation between Russia and Croatia, especially those of energy, infrastructure and the diversification of trade. They emphasised the importance of providing a favourable atmosphere and the same conditions for Russian investors in Croatia as for other companies.

They noted the need to use more effectively the capabilities of the Russian-Croatian intergovernmental commission for trade, economic, scientific and technical co-operation. They stated mutual interest in strengthening the legal basis for bilateral relations.

On the Results of a Working Visit to Russia of the Prime Minister of Vietnam, Mr. Nguyễn TấN DŨNG.

The prime minister of Vietnam, Mr Nguyen Tan Dung, paid a working visit to Russia on Dec. 14-15 at the invitation of the Russian prime minister. He was received by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He also held talks with Vladimir Putin, during which they discussed in detail measures to advance the Russian-Vietnamese strategic partnership in promising areas of interaction, primarily in the oil and gas industry, in the energy sector, including the peaceful use of atomic energy, and in the military-technical sphere.

During his stay in Moscow, Nguyen Tan Dung visited the “NPO Mashinostroyeniya” defence company and the Russian Research Centre “Kurchatov Institute.” He met with the heads of several leading Russian companies and took part in the opening ceremony of the VRB Moscow Bank, a subsidiary of the Vietnamese-Russian Joint Bank.

During talks and conversations, the Vietnamese prime minister and the Russian leaders noted progressive developments in bilateral relations in recent years and considerable potential for expanding the interaction of the two countries in trade, economic, scientific, technological and humanitarian spheres.

The parties reaffirmed their determination to consistently strengthen Russian-Vietnamese partnership in a wide range of areas and stressed their adherence to further co-ordination of efforts in the international arena, primarily interaction in regional organisations like the APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and co-operation between Russia and the Association of the Southeast Asian States (ASEAN), in which Vietnam will hold the presidency in 2010, with an aim to hold the second Russia-ASEAN summit in Hanoi next year.

A substantial package of documents, including agreements and contracts between Russian and Vietnamese companies, was signed. The results of the discussion of the Russian-Vietnamese agenda and tasks for the future are reflected in a memorandum signed by the Russian and Vietnamese prime ministers.

On results of the working visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, Murray MCCULLY, to the Russian Federation (December, 16-17, 2009)

On Dec. 17, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, held negotiations with the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Murray McCully, who came to Moscow on a working visit. The talks were substantive and covered a wide range of issues on the bilateral and international agenda. The ministers noted the successful development of ties between Russia and New Zealand, including a political dialogue, and expressed satisfaction on the achieved level of mutual understanding and interaction, both on the bilateral basis and in multilateral forums. They pointed out our countries have good opportunities to further deepen their co-operation, primarily in trade, economy and investment. For more information, visit the Foreign Ministry website.

On Results of the Visit to Moscow of NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

As you know, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is chairing the Russia-NATO Council, paid a working visit to Moscow on Dec. 15-17.

The NATO secretary-general was received by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Mr Fogh Rasmussen held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and met with Nikolay Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, Sergey Mironov, chairman of the Russian Federal Assembly’s Federation Council, and Boris Gryzlov, chairman of the Russian Federal Assembly’s State Duma. Also, the alliance’s secretary-general gave a speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. It was titled ‘Russia and NATO: Partners for the Future.’

The meetings and talks dwelt on a wide range of issues in Russia-NATO relations, including such controversial issues as NATO expansion, the situation with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and NATO bringing its military infrastructure closer to our borders. At the same time, the parties discussed ways to rebuild trust after a pause in our relations caused by last August’s events in the South Caucasus.

Special attention was paid to stepping up co-operation in the interests of strengthening trust and stability, increasing the predictability of a political-military situation in the Euro-Atlantic zone and working out more effective responses to security challenges that are common for Russia and NATO. An exchange of views was held on proposals by the Russian president to perfect the Euro-Atlantic security architecture in compliance with the principle of the indivisibility of security reaffirmed in the 2002 Rome Declaration.

The parties expressed their satisfaction with the results of the meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia-NATO Council member-states that was held in Brussels on Dec. 4 and with the important documents, which it endorsed, on improvement of the Council’s work and the start of joint overviews of the 21st-century challenges, as well as a working program of the Russia-NATO Council for 2010. The Council discussed specific areas and projects of practical interaction in the fight against terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery, drug trafficking, piracy and the consequences of natural and man-made disasters.

Co-operation in Afghanistan, including the use of Russian transport planes for transit, was another important topic for discussion. The sides discussed possibilities for expanding a project of the Russia-NATO Council for training anti-drug personnel for Afghanistan and the Central Asian states, which is already being successfully implemented.

The NATO secretary-general shared concrete views and ideas on possible Russian assistance in the delivery of helicopters, spare parts and fuel and the training of pilots and policemen in addition to the contribution that Russia is already making to the solution of the Afghan problem.

The Russian side stressed the need to carry out more thorough actions by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in fighting the drug threat, establish practical interaction in this sphere between NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and increase Russia’s participation in various formats in Brussels where Afghanistan-related problems are discussed.

On Visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov to Egypt

On Dec. 20-21, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Egypt. During his stay in Cairo, the minister will be received by the Egyptian President, Mr Mubarak. He will also hold negotiations with his colleague, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, and will meet with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Mr Amr Moussa.

This visit follows the official visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Egypt in June of this year, during which the Treaty on Strategic Partnership between Russia and Egypt was signed. The negotiations between Minister Lavrov and the Egyptian leadership will seek further implementation of the agreements reached at this summit regarding further development of the co-operation between our countries, primarily in regional affairs, and stepping up bilateral co-operation in different fields.

Central to the upcoming negotiations in Cairo will be Middle East issues, primarily the Arab-Israeli settlement. The way the situation is unfolding and the strong efforts made by Russia and Egypt regarding this issue require constant co-ordination of these efforts to improve the Palestinian-Israeli situation and to re-launch the peace process in general. Moscow highly appreciates the efforts made by the Egyptian leadership to overcome division among Palestinians.

During the visit to the headquarters of the Arab League, the Russian foreign minister and the secretary-general of the Arab League will sign a memorandum on establishing a Russian-Arab Co-operation Forum. This document is expected to raise the co-operation between Russia and the Arab League states to a higher and more advanced level.

On the upcoming visit of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to the Republic of Uzbekistan

After visiting Egypt, the Russian Foreign Minister will pay an official visit to the Republic of Uzbekistan on Dec. 21-22. The purpose of the visit is to have a thorough exchange of views with the Uzbek side at the top and high levels on the entire scope of bilateral ties between Russia and Uzbekistan in the context of the upcoming Russian-Uzbek summit which is planned for the beginning of next year in Moscow.

The agenda of the upcoming meetings and negotiations in Uzbekistan includes, among other things, the exchange of opinions on co-operation between the sides during Uzbekistan’s chairmanship in the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, on Russia’s chairmanship in the CIS next year, and on the situation in Afghanistan. The issues of maintaining the regional security and stability and interaction of the two countries within the UN, OSCE, CIS, CSTO and SCO are also expected to be discussed.

Russian-Uzbek relations have been steadily developing in many areas. The political dialogue at the top and high levels has been regularly maintained. As you may remember, the Russian president paid an official visit to the Republic of Uzbekistan on Jan. 22-23 of this year. Dmitry Medvedev and Islam Karimov have met on a number of occasions this year during the meetings of the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO.

A Program of co-operation between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Uzbek Foreign Ministry for 2010 is expected to be signed in Uzbekistan’s capital after the negotiations.

On participation of the Russian delegation in the work of the UN Climate Change Conference

On participation of the Russian delegation in the work of the UN Climate Change Conference, which is currently taking place in Copenhagen. According to reports from Copenhagen, the progress on approving the text of the UN Climate Change Conference’s final documents has been quite slow. After almost two weeks of experts’ work, the representatives of developed and developing countries have not reached a consensus on the key parameters of the future post-Kyoto regime for the international co-operation on tackling global climate change.

During the negotiations, the Russian delegation focused its efforts on reaching a broad consensus in order to make the new climate regime comprehensive in terms of contents and universal in terms of participants. We are convinced that the main outcome of the Conference should be an ambitious political agreement as a foundation for a future legally binding document that would determine further measures of international co-operation on reducing the anthropogenic burden on the planet’s climate system.

Yesterday, the top-level segment of the Conference started. More than 110 heads of state and of government arrived in Copenhagen to participate in it. As you know, President Dmitry Medvedev is heading the Russian delegation at the Climate Change Summit.

By the end of today, world leaders are expected to coordinate the Conference’s final documents in the form of a package of politically weighty decisions. It is crucial that this document would reflect the individual quantified commitments of developed countries, as well as measurable, accountable and verifiable actions of developing countries. It should also include an action plan, ‘a road map,’ that would determine the content and the schedule of further negotiations for coordinating key elements of the future agreement. The countries’ commitments in the new agreement should take into account a fair and proportionate burden on their local economies and particular features of each country.

Russia is going to determine an economically and technologically realistic benchmark for greenhouse gas emission cuts compared to the 1990 baseline. We are ready to make this commitment in a legally binding international treaty, provided all other major countries also make legally binding commitments under the new regime.

On results of the presidential elections in Abkhazia

I was asked the following question: How does the Russian Foreign Ministry assess the results of the presidential elections in Abkhazia?

As you know, last Saturday, on Dec. 12, the Republic of Abkhazia held presidential elections for the first time since the independent state of Abkhazia was established and recognised by the Russian Federation as well as a number of other countries.

The current president, Sergey Bagapsh, was one of five candidates on the ballot. He won a decisive victory in the first round, getting approximately 60% of votes. More than 60,000 out of 101,756 voters voted for him. His nearest rival, Mr Khadzhimba, received approximately 15.5% of the vote. Thus, Sergey Bagapsh was re-elected as the president of the Republic of Abkhazia for his second term.

On Dec. 14, the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, sent his congratulations to the Abkhazian president-elect. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin too congratulated Sergey Bagapsh over the phone.

The fact that Sergey Bagapsh was re-elected and the trust that the Abkhazian people have shown him demonstrate that the Abkhazian people support his policy of building an independent and democratic state under the rule of law, strengthening its security and restoring its economic potential.

International observers from the Russian Central Election Commission, the Russian Federal Assembly and various Russian and international non-governmental organisations that monitored the election spoke highly of its compliance with democratic standards and stated the absence of any serious violations that could have influenced people’s choice.

Now that Russian-Abkhazian relations have moved to a new level and we are consistently and actively building the legal basis for our relations, we are certain that traditionally friendly contacts, constructive and mutually beneficial co-operation and truly brotherly ties between our nations will continue to steadily improve and expand for the good of Russia and Abkhazia and for peace and stability in the South Caucasus.

On recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the Republic of Nauru.

Before the briefing I received the following question: What could you say about the incoming reports on recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the Republic of Nauru?

Indeed, on Dec. 15-16 the small island state of Nauru signed a treaty with the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia on establishing diplomatic relations. This step by our Pacific partners further strengthens the positions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in terms of international law. It will also help expand the scope of international contacts of the young republics and enhance stability in the South Caucasus.

Of course, we had been informed of the upcoming recognition. We consider it a normal sovereign choice by every state. The Nauru delegation, headed by the minister for foreign affairs, trade and finance, Mr Keke, visited Moscow on their way to Tskhinval and Sukhum. During their meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the parties discussed opportunities for developing bilateral relations. For more information, go to the Foreign Ministry website.

On 20th anniversary of Russia-EU relations

On Dec. 18, 1989, the USSR and the European Communities signed the trade, commercial and economic co-operation agreement. This event can be deemed as a starting point of our country’s official relations with the European Union, which, according to the Lisbon Treaty that came into effect on Dec. 1, is a legal successor of the European Community. Thus, the relations between Russia and the EU started exactly 20 years ago.

An Agreement on Partnership and Co-operation between the Russian Federation and the European Union was signed in 1994 and came into effect in 1997. Since then, this partnership has reached a new, high, strategic level. The EU has become Russia’s most crucial partner in trade and international affairs. We are bound together by mutual economic complementariness and by common responsibility for stability in the European continent and for solving today’s global problems, such as overcoming the consequences of the global currency, financial and economic crisis and preventing climate change.

Since 2005, Russia and the EU have been actively co-operating in forming four “common spaces”: common economic space; common space of freedom, security and justice; common space of external security; and common space of research and education, including cultural aspects.

In 2008, work was started on a new framework agreement between Russia and the EU that will make our strategic partnership more specific and create efficient mechanisms for its implementation. At the moment, the parties have had seven rounds of talks which helped make a substantial progress in coordinating a number of provisions of the future document.

The 24th Russia-EU summit held in Stockholm on Nov. 18 provided a further impetus for co-operation. The parties reaffirmed their readiness to move towards visa-free travelling regulations and a new, more reliable, equitable and effective basis for co-operation in energy and providing energy security, as well as actively seek to improve European security architecture. The issues of “partnership for modernisation” are becoming the focal point of the Russia-EU co-operation.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Russia-EU relations, on Dec. 17, the Permanent Representation Office of Russia at the EU in Brussels held a reception for employees of the European Commission, the General Secretariat of the EU Council and other agencies of the EU taking part in the interaction with the Russian side, as well as representatives from the EU member-states’ missions.

On results of the seventh round of talks on a new Russia-EU agreement

I would also like to draw your attention to the plenary session held in Brussels on Dec. 16 to summarise the work within the seventh round of talks on the new framework agreement between Russia and the EU which I have just mentioned. The parties believe the seventh round was productive. The number of provisions of the future document, where we either have a high level of mutual understanding or have coordinated the text, is increasing. Work on some sections of the agreement is moving on in a generally balanced manner. Remaining differences in approaches and interpretations are caused by objective difficulties and the comprehensive nature of the document.

The next round of talks is going to be held in late February and early March next year, which is in keeping with the earlier agreed timeline for the negotiating process.

For more details concerning the results of the seventh round, please go to the Russian Foreign Ministry website.

On the situation around settling the Nuclear Programme of the Korean Peninsula

On resolving the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula. We are pleased to note the gradual improvement of the situation with the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula.

First of all, the positive impetus that our Chinese partners provided when State Councilor Dai Bingguo and State Council Premier Wen Jiabao visited Pyongyang in September and October 2008 has been carried on. Following a recent visit of the US Special Representative for North Korea policy, Stephen Bosworth, the sides confirmed their common understanding of the importance of the six-party talks and, which is apparently most important, of the need to implement the framework agreement, i.e., the joint declaration of Sep. 19, 2005. As you may remember, according to the document, the DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and nuclear programmes and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.

It’s true there are yet many sensitive problems pending which requires that the sides exert flexibility, patience and the capacity to find an optimal balance of interests that would consider not only the needs for regional security, but also common responsibility in the context of improving the regime of global nuclear non-proliferation. Most importantly, though, nobody questions the fact that there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic settlement within the six-party process.

Russia, for its part, is making active efforts for the six-party talks to resume. On Dec. 14, consultations were held at the Russian Foreign Ministry with Mr Bosworth. Yesterday, the head of the South Korean delegation at the six-party talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Wi Sung-lac, visited Moscow to hold consultations with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Borodavkin.

The parties had a thorough exchange of views on the prospects of resolving the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula through political and diplomatic means and noted with satisfaction that the situation was gradually leaning towards the resumption of negotiations. It was particularly noted that, as a result of the recent contacts with representatives of North Korea, the need to implement the Joint Declaration of Sep. 19, 2005, mentioned earlier, was confirmed. In this declaration, I repeat, the DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and nuclear programmes and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.

In the context of the task to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula, the sides expressed their common understanding of the importance of forming multilateral security institutions in the region that would be based on the principle of equal security of all the states there. Russia reaffirmed its commitment to continue working in the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism Working Group, which it chairs, following the resumption of the six-party talks.

Just to remind you, the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula was discussed at a meeting between North Korean and Chinese partners. Contacts with partners from Japan are maintained, too.

We proceed from the belief that formation in the region of mutual security institutions that would be based on the principle of equal security for all the parties is a major prerequisite and component of the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. As you know, Russia chairs the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism Working Group at the six-party talks. We are ready to continue the work following the resumption of the negotiating process on the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula in general.

On the outcome of hearings held at the United Nations International Court of Justice in the Hague on the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo

I was asked the following question: How would you comment on the outcome of hearings held at the UN International Court in The Hague on the legitimacy of unilateral declaration of independence by the provisional self-government bodies in Kosovo and its compliance with international law?

On Dec. 11, the United Nations International Court in The Hague ended hearings into the Kosovo independence case.

Representatives of 14 states and the Kosovo delegation supported the unilateral proclamation of Kosovo’s independence, while another 14 countries, including Russia, voted against.

The main arguments presented by the advocates of Kosovo’s independence came down to the fact that declarations of independence as such, just like separations from the “mother” state, are not regulated by international law and, consequently, the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo doesn’t contradict international law. UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosovo doesn’t rule out the province’s independence, and if all the chances to reach an agreement have been exhausted, then secession is the only viable option.

The opponents of Kosovo’s unilaterally proclaimed independence firmly defended their position. First of all, they claimed that under international law the principle of self-determination of peoples didn’t give the right to the population of Kosovo to separate from Serbia. Even if, theoretically, there could be talk about “secession for the sake of salvation”, that could only be in 1999 but not in 2008. Second, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 fixed the presumption of Serbia’s territorial integrity and inadmissibility of unilateral actions for the final settlement of the Kosovo problem. Third, there was an argument that the provisional self-government bodies in Kosovo had exceeded their powers.

The UN Court will analyze the positions of states on the Kosovo issue. Their written comments were submitted to the Court in April and July this year; all oral statements were made at the hearings in December.

Based on all this, the Court will give its advisory opinion. It will not be legally binding for states but will be used as an authoritative source on the norms of international law. The conclusion on the Kosovo case shouldn’t be expected earlier than in March 2010.

On detention of a Russian citizen by Georgian border guards

I was asked the following question: How could you comment on the media reports about the detention of Madina Makhmadova, a Russian citizen, by Georgian border guards?

We took notice of the reports fact that Madina Makhmadova, a citizen of the Russian Federation, had been detained by the Georgian border guards at the Sarpi checkpoint when she was crossing the Turkish-Georgian border. Our consular officers in Tbilisi are now looking into the situation. We will inform you about the outcome.

On demolition of the WW2 memorial in Kutaisi

There is another situation involving Georgia. We’re receiving information from the Georgian town of Kutaisi about the start of the demolition of a WW2 memorial.

We consider such actions by the current Georgian rulers as a demonstration of disrespect to the heroic acts of all those who faced death while fighting fascism and defending their land. This is also an attempt to commit to oblivion hundreds of thousands of sons and daughters of Georgia, who selflessly fought at the front line shoulder to shoulder with other people from sister nations and sacrificed their lives. What we have here is an act of sheer cynicism towards the veterans on the threshold of celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory.

Russia shares the resentment of the Georgian community and veteran associations about the demolition of the memorial.

On the conference on “the new architecture of the European Security”

On Dec. 9, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko spoke at the conference “Towards a new European Security architecture” in London. The conference was organised by the London International Institute for Strategic Studies, together with the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, the Valday discussion club and RIA Novosti. Representatives of Russian, American and British governments, international organisations, experts and political analysts participated in the conference. They discussed the issues of improving the European security architecture and the draft of the European Security Treaty suggested by Russia.

As the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister pointed out, “a broad international consensus is being formed in favour of actually starting to really move in the direction of a more just security system, which would meet the aspirations of everyone and which would create more favourable conditions for joining forces on a truly collective basis to solve tasks common for all of us.” He also specified the key spheres of the European security architecture, in which progress can be made in order to work out a common agenda on security issues. This would include the principles that regulate relationships between states in the area of security, i.e. respect for territorial integrity, sovereignty, inviolability of borders and non-use of force. This also includes arms control and confidence-building measures; establishing co-operation between all the organisations and factors that operate within the sphere of Euro-Atlantic security; development of common approaches to conflict settlement and ways of countering global security threats.

Russian and Western experts agreed that the Russian initiative is the basis for developing a constructive dialogue on security issues, which is becoming more structured, to a large extent due to the re-assessment of values. There is an increasing understanding of the fact that current decision-making mechanisms, as well as the security system as such, are in need of reforms.

The full text of the speech is available on the RIA Novosti website.

On Dec. 17, a ceremony dedicated to Russia’s beginning sponsorship of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) took place in Bangkok. Russian representatives gave a symbolic check for $1.2 million to the ESCAP executive secretary, Ms. Heyzer.

According to a decision made by the Russian government, our country is providing ESCAP with voluntary donations of $1.2 million a year in 2009 and 2010.

On Germany’s visa regulations in relation to children of divorced parents

The Russian Foreign Ministry took notice of the article called ‘The Berlin Wall’ in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper of Dec. 16, 2009. It said that the German embassy was stiffening visa requirements for under-age children of divorced parents traveling to Germany to re-unite with one of their parents. The Russian Foreign Ministry has been receiving complaints from Russian citizens about this new visa requirement introduced by the German embassy. We think it is regrettable that new obstacles are placed in the way of personal ties in Europe.

We requested an explanation of the German side, considering the questionable legitimacy of the requirement for depriving the other parent, in case they stay in Russia, of their parental rights by a court decision as a prerequisite for issuing a visa. We will be pressing the German side for a mutually acceptable settlement of this issue in line with applicable rules of international law. We will be guided, first of all, by the interests of protecting children’s rights as well as humanitarian considerations.

On Mr Hobert’s case

Following the commentary from the Russian Foreign Ministry voiced at the previous briefing on the so-called Hobert case (Mr Hobert is a former teacher at the school with the German embassy, who was “sentenced” by the Court of Munster to one year of suspended imprisonment, one-month suspension of his driving license and 5,000 Euros in fine for causing a road accident in Moscow on Nov. 30, 2008, that killed Russian citizens Andrey Kamynin and Aleksandr Yevteyev), some media responded to the legal and moral aspects of the situation when an immunity from criminal prosecution the German teacher had enjoyed in Russia practically turned into a guarantee of impunity in Germany.

We hail the diligence of the journalists and the public opinion to understand the circumstances of the case and to lend at least verbal support to the victims’ relatives who defend their right for just legal proceedings in their difficult relations with the German justice system. We are convinced that this injustice should remain in the focus of the public until it is removed. As the newspaper Vremya Novostey put it, it is time to raise the alarm which is the task of the “fourth power”. At the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry has paid, and will pay, utmost attention to a just settlement of the consequences of this tragedy in the interests of the victims’ families and relatives. Any assertions to the contrary are not true.

The disappointment over the ruling of the German court was great and unanimous in our country. We also expected the lawyers of the victims to do more. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to his German counterpart, Vice-Chancellor Westerwelle at the talks in Moscow on Nov. 20 that the German court’s ruling was unacceptable to us. Following the understandings reached in Moscow, on Dec. 10 Mr Lavrov sent a message to Mr Westerwelle to draw his attention to the case, which is so important for Russia, once again.

We proceed from the belief that although the ruling of the Court of Munster on the Hobert case is deemed as final by the German side, there has not yet been a just consideration of the case that would take into account the interests of the Russian citizens who fell victims. Therefore, it is yet premature to write this off the agenda of Russian-German relations.

On the Assault on Russian Political Analyst Knyazev in Bishkek

On Dec. 9, Doctor of History Aleksandr Knyazev, a well-known political analyst, professor of the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, a citizen of the Russian Federation, was attacked in Bishkek.

We cannot but pay attention to the fact that this is not the first case. Mr Knyazev has been assaulted earlier, in November 2007.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has contacted the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry and asked for its assistance to make sure the investigation of this crime is thorough, comprehensive and unbiased.

On the situation with the Sahrawi activist, Aminetu Haidar

I was asked how the Russian Foreign Ministry could comment on the situation with the Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar.

Moscow has been closely following the situation with the Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar, who was on a hunger strike in the territory of Spain (the Canary Islands) for over a month. According to the media, early on Dec. 18 she was taken to El Aaiun, the central city of Western Sahara, by a special aircraft, and ended her hunger strike.

Russia shared the concern of the international community regarding her health. We are now satisfied with the settlement of the problem, which considered its humanitarian aspect and was achieved in contact with all the countries affected or involved.

That said, we consider it important to continue the negotiations under the UN Secretary General’s guidance in order to achieve a just, long-term and mutually acceptable political solution to the problem of Western Sahara. As you know, this was confirmed by Resolution 1871, which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council on April 30 of this year and in which it is emphasised that progress in the negotiations would provide a positive impact on all aspects of the quality of life for the people of Western Sahara.

On the opening of the monument to Soviet volunteer pilots in Spain

On Dec. 12, at the cemetery in Santa Cruz de la Zarza (Toledo province, Spain), there was an opening ceremony of a monument at the place where Soviet military pilots, who died during the civil war of 1936-1939, are buried. Two squadrons of Soviet ground attack aircraft were based at an airfield outside the town during that period.

The monument was erected by the Russian Embassy to Spain and funded by the Russian government. The proposal to have such a monument came from the town’s administration and from its residents. The main reason for it is that the local people remember warmly our pilots, who were very friendly with them in those difficult times and saved the lives of some of them.

We think the fact that the Spaniards agreed to erect the monument is a good example of careful and responsible attitude to our common history and an expression of friendship and mutual affection traditionally uniting the peoples of our countries.

On opening of the Russian Centre of Science in Culture in Jordan

Finally, I’d like to inform you that on Dec. 16, 2009, there was an opening ceremony of the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in the capital of Jordan, Amman. The Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Amman will be the seventh office of Rossotrudnichestvo in Arab countries. Currently, there are Russian Centres of Science and Culture operating in Egypt (Cairo and Alexandria), Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon and Syria.

I’m finished and ready to take your question.

Question: I have two questions. Today’s media has been discussing the detention of the cargo plane with illegal arms. How could the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on this situation? And second: What is happening with signing of the new START treaty?

Answer: Both issues are very important. On the first question, we closely follow the situation with the detention of the plane, which, according to the information provided by the Thai authorities, was on its way from North Korea to a third country with a large run of illegal arms and explosives on board. According to some unofficial information received, and I stress that it’s the unofficial information which we can neither confirm nor deny, this was a Georgian plane that was headed to Ukraine. I will say that suspicions regarding involvement of those states in illegal arms trade can’t but raise significant concern due to reasons well-known to all.

We are satisfied to see that, as this case showed, the sanctions imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1874 that prohibit the export of arms from the DPRK, have been efficiently implemented. We are convinced that any attempts to ship military products from this country in violation of the current regime of sanctions will be stopped by the international community.

We assume that after a thorough and unbiased investigation the Thai authorities will send a report to the UN Sanctions Committee established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1718.

Regarding the work on START: In keeping with the instructions given by the Russian and the US presidents to prepare the treaty as soon as possible, negotiations are being held in a non-stop mode, including weekends. The negotiating teams have done a lot of work, as we told you at our past briefings. We expect the remaining issues to be settled in the nearest future, perhaps even in several hours.

The negotiations and prospects of singing the treaty are to be discussed during today’s meeting of the Russian and the US presidents in Copenhagen.

Just a few minutes before the briefing, I saw a report by the Interfax news agency that the negotiating parties in Geneva have generally completed their work on the new Russian-American START treaty. We hope this report will be confirmed through official channels. We will keep you informed.

Question: How can Russian Foreign Minister comment on the statement of the head of MI-6, in which he accused Russia of uncooperative actions which forced the Western countries to start a war in Iraq?

Answer: We’ve certainly paid attention to these statements. You must be referring to the statement made by Mr John Sawers, which is perplexing, to say the least. This reminds the proverb about “laying your own fault at someone else’s door.”

The so-called “smart sanctions” proposed by the British in the summer of 2001 wouldn’t have led to any substantial improvement of the catastrophic state that the Iraqi people were in. They basically were aimed at perpetuating the sanctions regime under the pretext that Iraq allegedly continued its work on the forbidden programs developing weapons of mass destruction.

When the Iraqi issue was discussed in the UN Security Council, we time and again said that the Council shouldn’t be led by the unverified reports about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when making decisions on new sanctions against that country. We have emphasised time and again – including at the highest level – that Russia doesn’t have verified information about Iraq having nuclear weapons.

Instead, Russia suggested resolving the problem substantively; namely, it suggested sending UN inspectors to Iraq and then making decisions based on the results of their work.

But Moscow’s opinion was ignored by the American and British governments. Our warning on the inevitability of drastic consequences of the war in Iraq, which, on top of it all, was launched in violation of Security Council resolutions, was not heard either.

As for the economic interests of Russia which, quoting the statement you’ve referred to, ‘derailed the peaceful resolution of the Iraqi problem,’ unquote; we, in turn, would like to ask Mr. Sawers this question: what were the real interests of the Coalition Forces allies when they started the war in Iraq? You can see it for yourselves daily on television and in various international media.

Question: According to Oleg Belyakov, co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission from the Transdniester side, Moldovan border guards and officials have been taking passports away from Russian and Ukrainian citizens crossing the Transdniester-Moldova border if they live in Transdniester without a Moldovan residence permit and prosecute them for an administrative offence. How can the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on this? Are you planning on resolving this issue?

Answer: We will certainly comment on this issue as soon as we get complete information on it. We saw these reports. At present, our embassy to Moldova is looking into the circumstances of this problem. I believe we will comment on this issue in the nearest future, after we get a complete picture.