Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference on the results of Russian diplomacy in 2020, Moscow, January 18, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,
This is our traditional news conference on the foreign policy outcomes of 2020. It is traditional, but remote. We opted for a format that was widely used over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions imposed in almost all countries, including Russia.
Despite the pandemic, our Ministry kept in close contact with you and your colleagues at all levels. I myself had the pleasure of speaking to you following talks, which did take place several times in Moscow, and will continue to do so. I also spoke to you in a video format. My deputies regularly talk with agencies. The Ministry’s official spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, conducts regular weekly briefings and, in between them, interacts with most of you. I am sure you are aware of the facts and information about what Russian foreign policy is currently promoting in the international arena.
The pandemic has dealt a severe blow to all forms of communication, particularly contacts between people in culture, research, sports and tourism. This caused major shifts in public consciousness in many countries. We know this from daily reports coming from European and other countries. In Russia, we are also trying to minimise the inconveniences caused by objective sanitary restrictions on everyday life. However, certain and not too positive changes are still being felt. You are probably following the discussion focusing on Russia’s epidemiological policy, including the Sputnik V vaccine, EpiVacCorona and the third vaccine, which is on its way.
We reiterate what President of Russia Vladimir Putin said in August 2020 when announcing the registration of the world's first coronavirus vaccine: we are wide open to cooperation in these matters. We had a positive response to the proposals that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) had made to its foreign partners with regard to organising licensed production. This topic is being discussed with our colleagues in Asia, the Arab East, Africa and Latin America. Not long ago, President Putin and Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel also briefly discussed the prospects for Russian-German and Russian-European cooperation in producing and improving vaccines. I think this is the right path to take based on the desire to consolidate our efforts and the solidarity of humankind. Unfortunately, not everywhere and not always has this quest for solidarity and joint work manifested itself during the pandemic. Some of our Western colleagues, primarily the United States and its closest allies, tried to take advantage of the situation and to ratchet up pressure, blackmail, ultimatums and illegitimate actions while introducing unilateral restrictions and other forms of interference in the internal affairs of many countries, including our closest neighbour Belarus.
The West unanimously ignored the calls by the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to suspend, at least for the duration of the pandemic, unilateral and illegitimate sanctions regarding the supply of medications, food and equipment needed to fight the virus while Russia was ready to back up this approach. President Putin put forward a parallel initiative during the G20 summit to create green corridors in the economy that are free from sanctions and other artificial barriers. Unfortunately, these sensible appeals - both ours and those of the UN leaders - were left hanging in the air.
Last year we observed the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, the birth of the United Nations and the entry into force of its Charter. Against the backdrop of these anniversaries, we are very concerned about the continuous arrogant actions of the United States and most of its Western allies, which are aimed at undermining international security, which is based on the UN, its Charter and its agencies and replacing the traditional norms and standards of international law with a “rules-based international order.”
Some exclusive mechanisms – groups of so-called co-thinkers began to be set up in this context outside the UN and its universal agencies. These narrow groups are trying to impose their decisions on all members of the international community. One of the manifestations of these rules on which the West would like to establish a new international order is the concept of multilateralism, which our German and French colleagues have started promoting in the past two years. The descriptions of this concept in the public statements of the German and French foreign ministers make it very clear that the EU wants to present itself and everything it does as a foreign policy ideal. The EU views the establishment of specific rules as its exclusive right in the belief that all others must follow these standards. Examples are many.
The EU has held special events on cybersecurity, freedom of the media and international humanitarian law outside UN agencies. These events have been attended by several dozen countries. Holding them outside the UN framework is very indicative. It is based on the understanding that in the UN the advocates of this concept will have to meet people with somewhat different views on ensuring cybersecurity, freedom of the media, especially in today’s world, and on how to ensure the equal application of the standards of international humanitarian law. In my opinion, unless I am convinced of the opposite, these are apprehensions of competition and the understanding that in today’s world the West can no longer dictate its own orders to others as it has over the last five centuries. History is moving forward, it is developing. This has nothing to do with ideology. This is just a statement of fact. It is necessary to consider the views of the countries that now have a much greater weight in the world arena (completely incomparable with that of the colonial era) and the countries that want to preserve their civilisational identity and that do not see in the West the ideals for their societies. Tolerance of diversity is another characteristic that the West is losing very quickly.
There are situations where half a dozen people that have created their own technological empires do not even want to know what rights they have in their own states. They determine their rights themselves proceeding from so-called corporate standards and completely ignore the constitutions of their states. We have seen this clearly in the US and this is a source of deep concern. Much has been said about this recently in television reports and special analytical materials. We are not pleased by the attempts of the Western elites to find external enemies to resolve their internal political problems. They find these enemies in Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. The list of these countries is well known.
We all see the response to the news of Alexey Navalny’s return to the Russian Federation. Carbon-copy comments on this event are coming in one after another. They are full of joy because they allow Western politicians to think that in this way they can divert public attention away from the deepest crisis of the liberal development model.
I am convinced that it is necessary not to seek outside excuses to justify one’s own actions or sidetrack attention from one’s deepest problems and crises. On the contrary, it is essential to play an honest game and look for opportunities to resolve domestic problems via fair and equitable international cooperation. No one can expect to resolve its own problems outside multilateral formats any longer.
Russia strives to act as constructively as possible in the international arena. We are convinced that we must sit down and discuss all existing grievances rather than wrangle with each other. We have always been ready to do so: back when Russia was accused of “interference” in the US elections, in Barcelona, during Brexit, the Skripal case, the Malaysian Boeing, which was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014, and with regard to Alexey Navalny. I can later cite in more detail the arguments that you are well aware of. In every above case and in other cases where we were accused of something specific, we have never been given evidence that would corroborate these unfounded accusations. We've only heard “highly likely,” “no one else has these motives” or “only you have such capabilities, so you are guilty, so we don’t need to prove anything.” They just don't provide the facts, which is what decent people always do in order to justify their discussions.
We are interested in addressing problems through a dialogue. However, “forcing a closed door” that the West keeps “under lock and key” is beneath our dignity. Your governments are well aware of our proposals that we have made repeatedly, starting with the dialogue on strategic offensive arms, arms control and nonproliferation to interaction on cybersecurity and non-deployment of weapons in space. There are many such areas. For each of them, Russia has proposals for establishing honest cooperation on key threats that are common to all countries around the world instead of using these threats to achieve unilateral geopolitical advantages by means of unscrupulous competition. President Putin’s initiative to hold a summit of the five UN Security Council permanent members is a manifestation of such a desire to start a dialogue. All other leaders of the Group of Five responded positively to this proposal. Unfortunately, the pandemic made holding such a meeting impossible. We are convinced that the leaders must meet in person. We hope this summit will take place the epidemic situation permitting.
With regard to promoting a positive agenda, we invite our Western partners to return to common sense and to consider under the UN umbrella their ideas on cyber security, freedom of the media and many other problems that they are trying to resolve among themselves.
We will introduce similar approaches in other organisations of which Russia is a member, including the SCO, BRICS, the CSTO, the CIS and the EAEU.
President Putin’s initiative, which we are promoting, is to form the Greater Eurasian Partnership that is open to all Eurasian countries without exception by way of an equal collective dialogue. This covers the EU countries along with the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN members. Generally speaking, it covers countries that are not part of any regional organisations, but are located in Eurasia. I would like to note the importance of the G20, an association that unites the Western G7, which is no longer able to overcome global challenges all by itself. The G20 also brings together the BRICS countries and the like-minded nations which share our common philosophy: to say no to confrontation and to address existing problems on a balance of interests.
Today we will discuss ongoing conflicts as well. We are working with other countries to advance a settlement in Syria, to break the deadlock of the intra-Libyan conflict that erupted after NATO countries’ aggression had undermined the Libyan statehood almost 10 years ago.
We will also talk about other hot spots in the Middle East and North Africa, primarily the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which they are undeservedly trying to put on the back burner.
Quite recently, we released a multi-page document on the main foreign policy results of 2020. It contains a lot of hard facts. I hope you have had a chance to read it.
Today, we will focus on challenges facing the world which quickly change our daily lives.
Question: In what direction are relations between Russia and Italy developing, especially in the coronavirus pandemic year?
Sergey Lavrov: Relations between Russia and Italy are good. Italy is one of those EU countries that follow the discipline and principles of solidarity in the EU, but that still do not consider it appropriate to take an aggressive position against the Russian Federation. Conscientiously, in joining the consensus on certain sanctions, Italy does not consider them to be effective tools for influencing anyone, in this case the Russian Federation. Not without objections from Brussels, Italy insists on its right to develop bilateral relations with Russia and does so sincerely. This policy reflects a correct understanding of the national interests of the Italian Republic, the interests of its business and its citizens seeking to continue humanitarian, sport, cultural and other contacts between people.
We have a good tradition with Italy with our cross cultural years. They are dedicated to topics that interest citizens of both countries, primarily in areas of culture, language, literature and regional contacts. This is a very good tradition. It actually helps respond to the needs of people and businesses, which is important.
Russia and Italy have a 2+2 mechanism where the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries meet and review the key issues in the world, in the Euro-Atlantic area and other regions where both Italy and the Russian Federation have interests.
Information on the specific events we held last year and what are scheduled for the future is available in the Results of Foreign Policy Activities in 2020. All this is described in detail there.
Question: I am one of the seven journalists in Latvia who were detained in December by local security service officers for cooperation with Sputnik Latvia and the Baltnews agency. In December, they carried out a search of our office and took away our office equipment, computers and dictaphones, bringing criminal charges against us over the violation of international sanctions. During the six weeks that have passed since then we have not heard of any reaction from international human right organisations to this out of the ordinary event, to put it mildly, including from the leaders who yesterday vehemently reacted to the detention of Alexey Navalny only five minutes after it happened.
Why do you think international officials say nothing about this outrageous, in my view, incident – the detention of seven journalists in Latvia? Can the Russian Foreign Ministry throw its weight behind the journalists representing Russian media abroad?
Sergey Lavrov: We are doing our best. I do not use these words to give you the runaround. We are really taking important measures. We discuss this issue at the meetings I hold weekly with my deputies and Foreign Ministry Collegium members. Not only must we voice our disapproval of a flagrant violation of the national law and international commitments like this, but we must also resort to international mechanisms. We spoke about this incident at the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. We will continue this work.
Whenever we have incontestable and hard facts that freedom of the media has been flagrantly violated coupled with threats to bring criminal charges, the mechanisms existing in the UN human rights formats – and there are plenty of speakers there reporting on various aspects of human rights violations; they have the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media – cannot justify what they are doing to you. Quite a few incidents like this happen now and then in the neighbouring Baltic States. Usually, they write letters to us. But we want to use mechanisms provided for in relevant conventions that require that a country in question rectify this type of violation. These mechanisms must – pardon me for the parlance that is not altogether diplomatic – put a squeeze on the violator until things are put right. Our colleagues at multilateral institutions show much less zeal seeking to establish the truth when it comes to a Russian-language media outlet. Although in the case of Latvia, Russian is a native tongue, as about half of the population in this country – no less than 40 percent – think in Russian and use this language in their daily life. One should have a very specific political orientation to want to show complete disrespect to one’s own compatriots in this way.
We will continue to seek reasonable actions from international agencies, but at the same time we want to involve NGOs in these efforts. They have every reason to appeal to the courts, but a denial in a court allows them to address the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It has dealt a few times with the subject of the media. Such precedents did not exist before but they have been created in connection with Western reproaches concerning the Russian media. So at this point the ECHR has to consider a situation that does not allow for any dual interpretation. It is so obvious, and I don’t think the court should take a long time to pass a ruling.
At the same time, we are working and will continue working with international lawyers. We will also use the Russian Fund for the Support and Protection of the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad that is willing to help journalists among others.
I confirm our support for Sputnik and not just because it’s a Russian media outlet. Citizens of any country, including Latvia, have the right to alternative information sources. Access to information is provided for by the numerous decisions of the OSCE. It is guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This principle of access to information was recently trampled underfoot in the United States to the accompaniment of perplexed silence or indistinct comments by US allies. Now attempts are being made to hush it all up by saying that Donald Trump’s Facebook account has been restored (but not his Tweeter account). But this is not about Trump but about the big failure of the state to comply with its commitments to ensure access to information. They said it was not the US Government that has shut out all those that were recognised by these platforms as sources of unreliable information. After all, corporations have not signed any pacts. All this comes “straight from the devil.” The Pacts and top-level decisions of the OSCE, which the West never tires of quoting (at least this was the case until recently), oblige the state to ensure free access to information for every person on its territory. So, Sputnik enjoys our full support. I know it is also popular with my Western colleagues. They consider media like Sputnik and RT important because their views differ from the common opinion that is being imposed by the Western media at every more or less important instance.
To be continued...