Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Denmark Jeppe Kofod, October 9, 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have held talks with Foreign Minister of Denmark Jeppe Kofod. We have many urgent issues on our bilateral agenda, including some that have piled up since our last meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September 2019.
We noted that relations between Russia and Denmark have a long tradition of neighbourly ties and mutual respect. They have never been marred by war or conflict since the Treaty of Love and Friendship was signed in 1493. The permanent Russian diplomatic mission opened as early as 1700 and became a full embassy in 1893. This is one of the oldest diplomatic, contractual relations that the Russian Federation has with a foreign partner.
Regrettably, we have to state that our political dialogue has been less regular in the last few years. There have been no heads of state and government meetings since 2011, and the considerable potential of inter-parliamentary cooperation is not being used. Today, we agreed it would be good to restore contacts between our MPs and between different departments, which are currently, in fact, somewhat “frozen” and not just due to the coronavirus infection.
We were pleased to note that the dialogue between our foreign ministries has not been interrupted at the levels of deputy ministers, or territorial departments and units responsible for regional and international issues.
We used to have sizable trade volumes but this has been dropping since last year. This year, the situation was made worse by the coronavirus, of course. But there are positive signs as well. Danish companies working in Russia – there are about ten of them – actively localise their production on our territory. This includes Carlsberg, Rockwool, Novo Nordisk, Danfoss, Grundfos, and Idavang. Other companies that are not yet represented in our country are interested in doing business in Russia. We welcome this.
We agreed on the need, epidemiological situation permitting, to convene the Russian-Danish Intergovernmental Council for Economic Cooperation. The last session took place in Moscow in February 2018, and the next one is scheduled to be held in Copenhagen. I hope it will be good for developing practical steps aimed at restoring the uptrend in trade and considering other avenues for deepening mutually beneficial economic and investment cooperation.
We are grateful to our Danish colleagues for agreeing to establish the post of Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation in Greenland. A prospective candidate has been approved. We are now in the process of completing the formalities.
We also welcome positive developments in the cultural area. Our partners have responded to our proposal to hold a large-scale project entitled “Russian Seasons” in Denmark in 2022 to present Russian culture to the Danish public. A similar programme has already been implemented in a number of other EU countries.
Our cooperation in education is going well with 22 Russian universities participating in various international events hosted by their Danish colleagues. More than 20 Russian regions also cooperate with partners in Denmark.
In general, if our Danish colleagues are open to cooperation, we are ready to promote cooperation across all areas.
We covered in detail the regional and international agendas. In 2021, Russia will chair the Arctic Council. We focused on this common region of ours.
We also talked about security in the Baltic Sea region. We drew our partners’ attention to the unsettling increase in NATO military activity in the immediate vicinity of Russian borders. We emphasised that we do not see in this part of Europe, as, in fact, in Europe in general, any problems that call for a military solution. We reaffirmed that we stand against confrontation and for the establishment of a constructive dialogue, including between the military departments and the military in general, both as part of bilateral relations and as part of interaction between Russia and NATO. We noted the numerous proposals seeking to normalise the situation and to build confidence in our common region that Russia has sent to NATO, including proposals to move the exercises away from the contact line between Russia and NATO countries, as well as an agreement to decide on a minimum distance, which must always be respected by the navy and the air force. We have not received any response from NATO to these constructive proposals so far.
We also reminded our Danish colleagues that we have long been proposing to conclude with them a bilateral intergovernmental agreement on the prevention of incidents at sea covering the maritime space between our countries and the airspace above these waters. We hope that, like our other neighbours with whom we have concluded such agreements, Denmark will consider our proposal, which will undoubtedly help improve trust between our states.
We discussed the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Here, we have a common position that this must be overcome by way of implementing the Minsk agreements in full and in the form in which they were approved by the UN Security Council. In this regard, we drew our colleagues’ attention to the statements coming from Kiev at the highest level about the need to revise and rewrite the Minsk agreements, both in substance and in terms of the sequence of actions. This is unacceptable. We expect our European colleagues, primarily France and Germany, as co-sponsors of the Minsk Package of Measures, not to let such provocative statements go without a tough public response.
We also talked about other international and regional issues. We will continue this discussion over a working breakfast, which we will have as soon as we finish the news conference.
I think we had a very productive conversation. I am grateful to my colleague for this, and I now call on him to speak to us.
Question: What does Russia have to say about the position of the Western countries, including Denmark, on the election in Belarus?
Sergey Lavrov: I think their position is somewhat discrepant. It is not easy for the EU to formulate common evaluations that are published.
We see (and this is no secret, it is taking place before our eyes) that by and large there are two conflicting trends. The first one is being fueled in every way by the countries that are direct neighbours of Belarus, primarily, Lithuania and Poland. They have taken an aggressive position, appealing to the past when there was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. These countries are obviously tempted to reclaim additional geopolitical space. They are doing this by attempting to prevent Belarus from staying with Russia. Belarus has to be pulled away from Russia. But, as far as I know, they are in the minority in the EU.
The other trend is promoted by responsible, serious states. They believe that the EU must not repeat the mistakes made in Ukraine, including the last mistake in 2014. This is fueled, in part, by the understanding of what I said in my opening remarks, notably, that the Ukrainian leaders do not want, and probably cannot fulfill the Minsk agreements signed with the active involvement of EU leaders – Germany and France. These two approaches clash; they are not compatible, and this is why the EU comes up with well-rounded general statements that make the existence of the still silent majority between these two approaches obvious. This majority is very reluctant to burn the bridges and make statements that will not turn into actions later on.
As President of Russia Vladimir Putin said, the initiative made by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to conduct constitutional reform, is a good opportunity for launching a nationwide dialogue, during which all strata of Belarusian society can agree on how to develop their state further.
Question (translated from English): I would like to ask you to speak in more detail about Russian-Danish relations in the context of incidents in the Baltic Sea, violations of airspace and the participation of Danish ships in exercises in the Barents Sea?
Sergey Lavrov: I can confirm what I have already said. We are interested in a stable and safe situation on our border with all neighbours, including Denmark.
Incidents occur. We remember the uproar in August when we were accused because a Russian warplane violated Danish airspace for a few minutes. Let me repeat that our military strictly follows international standards. To avoid misunderstandings, we suggested to our Danish neighbours signing an agreement on preventing unintentional incidents on and over the high seas. If such an agreement were concluded we would have a mechanism for responding to any concerns and suspicions on either side. Let me emphasise that we have such agreements with all our neighbours in the Barents Sea except Denmark. We also have with all of our neighbours, including Norway, Sweden and Finland, stable mechanisms for military contact.
We have made this proposal to Denmark many times. Our Danish colleagues are still thinking about it. We talked about this today. I think that if there is sincere interest in deescalating tensions and overcoming confrontational trends in the atmosphere of our ties, it is necessary to be guided by specific actions. We haven’t seen many actions, including by NATO. We suggested a package of measures on reducing tensions to NATO, which include military exercises and maintaining certain distances between warships and warplanes and the use of military aircraft transponders. However, NATO turned this down pointblank. We have nothing to hide. Several balls are in our neighbour’s court. We are waiting for a response.
Question (translated from English): Could you comment on the request for an honorary consulate in Nuuk?
Sergey Lavrov: You are asking what explains our request for Denmark to agree to the appointment of an honorary Russian consul in Greenland? This is a strange question to me.
We are neighbours. We want to cooperate. We have fairly stable economic and cultural ties with the Faroe Islands and Greenland. The Danish leaders are well aware of this. The fact that our request to support the nominated Honorary Consul in Greenland was fulfilled rather promptly shows Copenhagen’s interest in developing our relations. We appreciate this.
Question (translated from English): You talk about trust between Russia and the EU, but the EU is expected to come up with new sanctions against Russia in connection with Alexey Navalny’s poisoning. Where will this take bilateral relations in your opinion?
Sergey Lavrov: Relations between Russia and the EU are rapidly degrading. We are seeing how the well-known fairly aggressive Russophobic minority is being supplemented by the attempts of serious, old European countries, including Germany, to lead this movement, so to speak. We are upset about this, but there is nothing we can do about it.
Our position is open and honest. All these years we have been telling the EU that we didn’t understand the reasons that have prompted them to throw out cooperation mechanisms since 2014. I’m referring to summits, sessions of the Permanent Partnership Council (PPC), and some 20-odd sectoral dialogues. All this was our agenda, the fabric of our cooperation. Or take four common spaces, the Partnership for Modernisation and many other things.
The EU severed all these ties after France, Germany and Poland mediated in Ukraine in February 2014. They reached an agreement that was signed by then President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. France, Germany and Poland affixed their signatures to this agreement to put the EU’s entire authority on the scales just to find out on the following day that the opposition broke off this agreement, not giving a damn about the commitments assumed by the three European countries and, hence, the EU as a whole. The EU did not say a word to denounce this action. In effect, it supported this move although, having staged an anti-constitutional state coup, the new authorities immediately declared their intention to pursue an anti-Russia policy. They announced the need to cancel the laws that guaranteed the rights to use the Russian language and the need to expell Russians from Crimea. The EU accepted all this tacitly, to say the least. Due to its own inability to stop the abuse of its reputation, the EU imposed sanctions against us just because we supported justice and those who refused to accept the anti-constitutional coup in Ukraine and Crimea. The sanctions against us were introduced and all channels of cooperation were suspended for this reason.
We are hearing announcements, threats and warnings to the effect that the Foreign Affairs Council will introduce sanctions on Monday. Certain characters to be punished for poisoning Alexei Navalny are already being mentioned.
We are no longer surprised by the fact that the EU acts arbitrarily. We are required to conduct an investigation. No facts are provided to us. Claiming that this case is no longer bilateral, but international, Germany sent it to the OPCW. “They told them everything, they know everything there.” We file an inquiry with that organisation. First, they lied to us that Germany’s request had not been received and later admitted that it had. They reviewed the request for a month. In the end, they released a fairly short and dry statement to the effect that the discovered substance looked like something. They did not say “Novichok,” but the agent is not on the list of banned substances. When we asked if they could clarify what they had found and where the results of the analysis were, we were told that the request came from Germany, so this is a “German case,” and we need to “go to the Germans.” We went back to the Germans, and again, round and round the story goes.
Our colleague mentioned many times the need to respect international law during our talks today and here now. We completely agree with that. Unfortunately, Germany neglects its obligations under international law. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has sent four inquiries in accordance with the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. Under this convention, these inquiries must be acted upon. Instead, what we hear are excuses and absurd claims that Russia should investigate this crime itself. We cannot investigate a case in which we have no facts.
Our investigating authorities have interviewed about 200 witnesses. They could not get a clear answer from the people who burst into the hotel room in Tomsk after Mr Navalny checked out. There are no explanations as to why they took things from the room, which, as far as I know, were later quietly sent to Germany and are now being touted as proof that the poisoning had taken place. If this is material evidence, then it is all the more important that we investigate this matter together. But to do so, we need the facts that the Germans flat out refuse to provide.
We proposed working together, but our initiative was arrogantly dismissed. We are very worried about the resurgence of arrogance in Germany. This is a bad thing. We hope the sensible voices that can be heard in the FRG will prevail, and Germany will act responsibly.
We have filed an official inquiry with the OPCW. If they are unable to show us what they did in response to Germany’s request, we ourselves filed an inquiry with them. We invited their experts to come here, sit with us and sort out the facts that we have on our hands. We cannot do more physically. We need interaction.
The fact that sanctions will be imposed without any proof and even without completing the investigation, which Germany and other European countries insist upon, and which we cannot carry out without their assistance, does not surprise us. We saw a similar approach a couple of years ago on the poisoning in Salisbury. By the way, just like Navalny, the Skripals are doing fine. Both are alive and in good health. They just don’t let them appear in public, just like Navalny. Back then, sanctions were imposed without any effort to establish the truth. The British authorities said it was “highly likely,” that there were serious reasons to believe that this was done by the Russians. This assumption was used to push the overwhelming majority of EU members to expel Russian diplomats. The Americans were also misled as to how many diplomats Europe would send home. I’m sure you remember this. Since then, I have repeatedly asked my European colleagues in one-on-one conversations (I will not give any names, but I have talked to several people) whether the British gave them anything confidentially besides their publicly released “highly likely” statement. They told me no, they didn’t show them anything, but promised to complete the probe soon and share the facts. I took the trouble of revisiting this issue on a later occasion and asked the same colleagues from Europe, “Did you get anything from London?” They looked down and said: “No, nothing so far.” I’m sure that most likely it will be the same scenario this time, which continues to cause more questions than we can answer.
If those who loudly accuse us and demand that the guilty be punished continue to operate on the premise that they are civilised countries – Germany, France, Sweden, the whole EU – and you don’t believe what we are saying, I’d be remiss not to point out that no one should talk to Russia or any other state, for that matter, in this tone of voice. This is nothing short of megalomania and total disrespect for the people they call partners.