Abstract: This is Russia’s statements on the North Korea missile crisis, talks with China in drafting a treaty against the deployment of weapons in outer space and updates on Ukraine and Crimea. Russia’s statement on North Korea is that it urges all parties in the situation to cool down and to stop all confrontational activities. It also urges the US to tone down rhetoric of threatening military force against North Korea.
Question: Before the New Year the leaders of Russia and China announced that they would like to continue cooperating in international affairs. Could you name the main international issues on which Russia could maintain effective cooperation with China this year?
Sergey Lavrov: I am very grateful that you were given the floor second because you raised the subject that I did not mention when answering the first question about what keeps us busiest.
Of course, the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula is one of the most serious items on the international agenda. Russia and China are actively cooperating on this track. As you know we have a joint initiative with China on transitioning from confrontation to political settlement of the problem that has arisen on the Korean Peninsula. To begin with, we suggest that everybody calm down and freeze all confrontational activities, primarily those linked with military undertakings, whether missile launches, nuclear weapons tests or large-scale exercises that the United States has been holding in this region with the Republic of Korea and later on also with Japan. When these activities are frozen and a moratorium on hostile, confrontational steps enters in force, we will actively support direct contacts between the main stakeholders. Speaking about the nuclear issue, these are primarily Pyongyang and Washington but we will be ready to accompany their bilateral dialogue also in the framework of the six-party process with the participation of Russia, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. This is probably the most important issue on the bilateral agenda that Russia and China are now working to resolve.
I must say that the work on this issue is difficult. I have already said that the United States is almost openly talking about the inevitability of a military solution although everyone understands the disastrous consequences of such a venture. When there were conditions for transitioning to dialogue, provocative actions were undertaken in the vast majority of cases – increasingly large-scale military exercises around North Korea, which provoked another round of tensions. We have a joint roadmap with China and we will actively promote it.
We are also cooperating on the problem posed by the Syrian settlement process. Our Chinese colleagues occupy the same positions as the Russian Federation. I am referring to the need for an exclusively political settlement on the basis of the resolutions of the UN Security Council, which provide for political dialogue without preconditions and with the participation of the full spectrum of Syrian society – both the Government and all key elements of the opposition representing the diversity of political, ethnic and religious groups in Syria.
We have one more highly important joint initiative with China on the draft treaty on the non-deployment of weapons in outer space. It was submitted at the UN Disarmament Conference several years ago. Regrettably, this treaty has not yet been discussed due to the US position. All other countries understand the urgency of this problem but the United States continues nurturing plans to militarise outer space, I mean the deployment of weapons in outer space, which will, naturally, have very adverse consequences for problems of international security. Incidentally, speaking about the Disarmament Conference, China was our co-author in the drafting of another major document – the convention on the suppression of acts of chemical and biological terrorism. This draft is also being hindered by the United States, much to my surprise.
The intensive process of consolidating integration efforts is underway in Eurasia. China has the One Belt One Road initiative. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping agreed to work toward conjoining Eurasian integration and the One Belt One Road initiative. The members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are elaborating a treaty on trade and economic cooperation with China. In parallel, the EAEU and the SCO are maintaining contacts that ASEAN countries are welcome to join. Many ASEAN countries have already signed free trade area agreements with the EAEU or are negotiating them. What President Vladimir Putin called “the greater Eurasia project” is a very promising initiative. Needless to say, it will be necessary to take into account a large number of specific factors because too many economic interests overlap at this point. This is a winning initiative because it is based on reality. It is not being implemented via the initial formation of some framework and subsequent transition to practical action. Here is an illuminating example: pavement being laid in lawns in England. They first look where it is convenient for people to walk and then put down concrete or pave. Our processes that we call by the common name of the “greater Eurasia project” are proceeding in the same way.
I could probably spend a long time listing the joint initiatives that Russia and China are undertaking in the international arena. But for the sake of brevity I wanted to highlight these major issues.
Question: In 1998, Russia ratified the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Ukraine. The Russian Foreign Ministry made a real effort to have the treaty signed. Since 2014, the treaty has ceased to be realistic. What are you going to do about it, given that it is automatically extended for 10 years unless it is terminated? Will the treaty be automatically extended or will it be terminated? If there is no decision as yet, what would you advise your leadership to do as an expert on international affairs?
Sergey Lavrov: How can I advise anyone on this if I do not know what advice I should give? State Duma Deputy Konstantin Zatulin brought up this subject in public just the other day. He noted that one of the treaty’s key articles, the one about the mutual respect of Russia and Ukraine’s territorial integrity, was irrelevant now after the free expression of Crimeans’ will. By virtue of their referendum people in Crimea achieved independence and joined the Russian Federation of their own free will.
You know, this does not sound relevant to me. International legal documents are important but these matters are handled by legal experts. I believe that at a political level we continue to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine within the boundaries that took shape after the referendum in Crimea and its reunification with the Russian Federation. We have many times answered legal questions, including those about the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which was also recently brought up. Under this memorandum, Ukraine refused to have nuclear weapons while Russia, the United States and Britain pledged not to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine. Let me remind you that we neither used nor threatened to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, so there was no violation of the Budapest Memorandum. At the same time Ukraine reaffirmed in a separate statement its commitment not to stir up anti-Russian, neo-Nazi and xenophobic sentiments. What happened after Maidan was a flagrant violation of these obligations by our Ukrainian neighbours.
I assure you that, in political terms, we are interested in that, as recently Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated yet again, that the Minsk Agreements are implemented in full, without any exceptions. This fits in with our position based on full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within the existing boundaries that took shape after the referendum in Crimea, which was held in full compliance with international law.
Question: The treaty refers to the boundaries that existed in 1998. Is it necessary to adopt an updated document?
Sergey Lavrov: This topic that you are touching upon is diverting our attention away from the actual theme. The real matter here is that Ukraine signed the Minsk Agreements, which have nothing to do with the Crimea issue. These agreements must be implemented. If we now instead of making the Ukrainian leaders do, at last, what they promised to do and what was later formalised in a UN Security Council decision, start mulling over how this or that line of the treaty should be read, we, as it seems to me, will only give them an excuse to further drag their feet when it comes to the fulfilment of this very important document, which, I would like to point out once again, was unanimously approved by the UN Security Council. Our Western colleagues in both Europe and the United States – we know this from our talks with them – fully understand the tactics of the incumbent Ukrainian leaders regarding the Minsk Agreements. They are well aware that our Ukrainian neighbours are still trying to provoke the use of force in this stand-off in order to divert attention away from the fact they are deliberately not fulfilling the Minsk Package of Measures. Let us not theorise now – I do not want this to be seen as a lack of respect for international law. Utter disregard for it was demonstrated by those who incited, organised and supported Maidan. After all, I will remind you that in February 2014, former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, together with the opposition leaders reached an agreement, which was certified by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France. A day later the opposition scrapped the agreement. It turns out that those who on behalf of the EU signed this agreement had deceived the Ukrainian people because the agreement provided for the creation of a government of national accord but, instead, a “government of winners”, as it was named by Arseny Yatsenyuk, was formed. Just one day later, if I may refresh your memories, a congress of people’s deputies of the Southeast [of Ukraine] and Crimea was held in Kharkov, with the deputies having been elected in compliance with the Ukrainian Constitution. They decided to take control of their regions until law and order were restored in Ukraine. They did not use force against the putschists but on February 23 the putschists approved a language law. Although it was not enacted, its message was clear to everybody – it was an absolutely anti-Russian and, essentially, a Russophobic law.
A short time after this, on February 26,the putschists – those who had seized power in Kiev – directly authorised the use of force by the Right Sector, as well as such organisations as Hizb ut-Tahrir and a Wahhabite group to take the Crimean Supreme Council building by storm. Many tend to forget about this now. All this happened within five days of the European grandees’ failure to persuade members of the opposition to deliver what they signed up to on February 20. Only after that all processes were triggered. They all started when the use of force against the Crimean Supreme Council was authorised and it immediately became crystal clear that the Crimeans had nothing to do with these illegitimate authorities. This was also a violation of international law, including the Budapest Memorandum I mentioned earlier on, under which Ukraine undertook not to support xenophobic sentiments.
We entirely support [the rule of] international law but, first of all, we want all those who initiate the demolition of international legal documents to come to and behave accordingly.