Ladies and gentlemen,
I believe we have held constructive, candid and useful talks. German Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel has visited Russia on many occasions, but this is his first time here in his new capacity as Foreign Minister. We are open to interacting with him in new formats.
We have reviewed the schedule of our upcoming political contacts and were pleased to note that they are returning to the degree of normalcy that was there earlier. We discussed the state of affairs in bilateral trade and our economic cooperation. We expressed satisfaction with the resumption of the activities, in autumn of 2016, of the Working Group on Strategic Issues of Economic and Financial Cooperation.
Contacts between the Russian leadership and the leaders of German companies operating in our country take place on a regular basis. I had a meeting with German businesses on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, held in Hamburg last month. Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel and I have a tradition of joint participation in the events organised by Russian and German businesspeople. We agreed to hold the next meeting in late June in Krasnodar, where a Russian-German conference of partner cities will be held.
Of course, we discussed international affairs, primarily, Ukraine, since Russia and Germany participate in the Normandy process and have co-authored, in conjunction with France and Ukraine, the Minsk document. We exchanged our views of the situation, which we share in general, as regards the main points. We believe it is necessary to eliminate ceasefire violations, and to comply with the Normandy format and the Contact Group agreements on removing heavy weapons, creating security zones and the inadmissibility of breaching the commitment to store heavy weapons in dedicated warehouses. Like Germany, we are in favour of strengthening the role and reinforcing capabilities of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. Russia is in favour of increasing the number of personnel as needed in order to ensure constant and round-the-clock monitoring of the situation on the contact line and at heavy weapons warehouses.
With regard to the political process, we are guided by the decisions of the Normandy format leaders adopted in October 2015 in Paris and in October 2016 in Berlin. Under these decisions, it is imperative to move in step as the sides try to fulfill their obligations in the sphere of security and the political sphere. Foreign policy advisers of the leaders of the Normandy Quartet are working on a road map to implement the Minsk agreements in order to formalise this synchronicity and agree on the appropriate steps. We expect this work to speed up, as it is currently being delayed. I do not want to point my finger at anyone, but we hear what our Ukrainian neighbours are saying, how bellicose the rhetoric coming from Kiev has become and how often the Ukrainian leadership tries to present the situation in such a way where only Russia must now comply with the Minsk agreements, while Ukraine has supposedly done its part of the deal.
We also listened to what our German colleagues had to say about the outcome of Foreign Minister Gabriel’s recent visit to Kiev and his trip to the contact line.
As far as I understand, we see eye to eye on the current blockade of Donbass organised by nationalistic, if not Nazi, battalions and the like, which we believe is unacceptable. We urge the Ukrainian leaders to use all their capabilities to end it.
We talked about Syria. We share the interest in seeing the Geneva process pick up its pace, become permanent and, most importantly, effective. The meetings in Astana held in February and early March will continue next week. According to our colleagues from the UN and all the countries that are members of the International Syria Support Group, they are quite useful. We hope that our coordinated moves on the Astana and Geneva platforms will help to simultaneously strengthen the ceasefire arrangements, including conducting investigations into violations and responding to them, and will allow us to move forward along the path of political settlement, in accordance with Resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council, which implies, of course, the need to step up efforts in the fight against terrorism and ensure greater coordination of all those who can contribute to fighting ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.
We regularly cooperate with our German colleagues on Afghanistan and the Libyan settlement. Since Germany currently presides over the G20, we have compared our notes on key agenda items of forthcoming G20 ministerial and presidential meetings.
We agreed to maintain a dialogue on all these issues. As I mentioned earlier, we will meet in Krasnodar in late June at the latest, if we don’t have an opportunity to do so before that.
Question (addressed to both ministers): Could you comment on Wikileaks’ latest revelations regarding the CIA’s sophisticated hacking capabilities? Documents suggest that US hackers working for the CIA have learned to hack into iPhone and Android operating systems and various messengers, and can intercept control systems used by cars and trucks and even spy on you through your switched-off TV. Do you plan to give up gadgets and other technical equipment, and does this information worry you?
Sergey Lavrov (speaks after Sigmar Gabriel): Concerning the suspicions that CIA hackers can hack not only into smartphones but also modern TV sets, I hear they can also hack into refrigerators. At least in order to cause problems in the power grid. I try not to take any phones with me into talks on sensitive issues. So far, it seems, I’ve managed not to get into any trouble.
As for the reports about the CIA’s hacking arsenal, we’ve seen and read them. It was mentioned that the number of hackers employed by the CIA is about 5,000. We’ve also read that the Consulate General in Frankfurt am Main has been used. I am proceeding based on media reports that experts believe this information is quite plausible. It seems that US administration officials are concerned by this leak (they consider it a leak, not just a fabrication) and will take corresponding measures to prevent any such leaks in the future.
As for facts, we have to take into account everything that becomes known. It was also reported that in addition to encouraging hacking contacts and penetrations, the CIA also accumulates technology and malware used by foreign hackers. In other words, they can get access to what is known as a “signature” or “fingerprints.” So, when we were accused of something, the “fingerprints” of Russian hackers were cited as evidence. Now it becomes known that the CIA can gain access to such “fingerprints” and then probably use them.
I wouldn’t talk about this in such detail if we did not regularly encounter allegations that our country is involved in hacking attacks and that we send out subversives. Some German media outlets reported that we send Chechen saboteurs to Germany, try to discredit the German leadership, influence the course of elections and so on. I’d like to say only one thing: all of these accusations are absolutely groundless. Our relations would only benefit if attempts to blame Russia for all troubles were abandoned.
We have never avoided any conversations. Today we reaffirmed to our German colleagues that if somebody in Germany (I mean official circles) has questions or suspicions about Russia’s actions or our involvement in a particular processes, you are most welcome. Give us concrete facts and we will be ready to discuss and deal with everything. So far we have seen no facts to back up these accusations. Although as far as I know, according to German media reports, an investigation into the allegations that we influenced or are influencing elections continued for a whole year. So far, no evidence has been produced, at least, according to German media reports.
Let’s live by facts, not rumours.
Question: How do you interpret the negative rhetoric about Russia coming from European capitals? Is this some kind of misunderstanding for you? How do you explain the growing negative perception of Russia in the world?
Sergey Lavrov: President Putin has on many occasions talked about the reasons for the rise in negative attitudes toward Russia in Western media. I also touched on this topic, including at the recently held Munich Security Conference. In short, it must have been accumulating for a while now, since the early 2000s when our Western partners began to realise that Russia will not blindly toe their line, and that Russia has its own, I underscore this, legitimate interests in the international arena, and that Russia is interested in finding a balance of interests, rather than joining the ranks behind our Western colleagues. It must have seemed strange already at that stage. In the 1990s, everyone witnessed Russia’s propensity, with rare exceptions, to listen to the West on virtually all international matters, and started thinking that such an order had been established forever and would mark the end of history mentioned by Francis Fukuyama. The end of history failed to materialize. The world is objectively becoming “post-Western.” There was no modernism and it is unlikely there ever will be. It is time to get used to the multipolarity of the world and the fact that the leading players must understand and act on their collective responsibility for peace and stability.
All these past 15 years we have been promoting the ideas promulgated in the 1990s on the wave of civilisational unity, which translated into the adoption of documents within the OSCE and Russia-NATO Council about the commitment of all Euro-Atlantic countries to equal and indivisible security. When NATO continued to expand and the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty, we drew our Western colleagues’ attention to the fact that these processes affect our security, and we would like to begin a discussion of what can be done in practice to ensure the political commitment we all have adopted, which was not to strengthen one’s own security at the expense of the security of others. We received a simple answer that all of this is not directed against us. NATO is not expanding against Russia, and the global US missile defence system is not directed against Moscow. Later, in 2008 in Bucharest, NATO leaders adopted a notorious decision at their summit to the effect that Georgia and Ukraine will join NATO. A couple of months later, then president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili launched an attack on his own people in South Ossetia and the OSCE peacekeepers stationed there. You know how it ended.
The radical nationalist segment of the Ukrainian elite lost common sense a little later, in February 2014, when a message that Ukraine will join NATO, and therefore can do as they please, resulted in a coup the day after an agreement was reached between the legitimately elected and generally recognised President of Ukraine and the opposition leaders. This agreement was witnessed by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France. When this coup shattered all the agreements, and the main goal in Ukraine became to abolish the Russian language and to make all Ukrainians think “in Western Ukrainian terms,” neither Germany, nor France, nor Poland called out Ukraine, let alone called on the coup perpetrators to re-establish order and return to the positions so painstakingly agreed with the help of Paris, Berlin and Warsaw.
It was also a signal that we can still feel today. We made everything in our power. President Vladimir Putin personally made great efforts to ensure that the Minsk talks, which lasted for almost 24 hours, led to compromise agreements that would be implemented without fail. Nevertheless, our Western colleagues say they will not lift their sanctions (we are not even asking for that) until Russia implements the Minsk Agreements.
True, yesterday, a US State Department spokesman said at a briefing that the Minsk Agreements should be implemented by all parties. I believe that this is great progress. He added, “including Russia”, but I believe this was through inertia. They must be implemented primarily by the opposing sides: Donbass and the Ukrainian government.
We are responding to being encircled by NATO arms and troops. The recent events, which are unfolding in keeping with the NATO Warsaw Summit, involve the deployment of ground forces from NATO countries (incidentally, including Germany) near our borders. When we call for returning to the logic of OSCE and Russia-NATO Council (RNC) summits, which posits that no one party will strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others, they tell us that this is a political slogan and it makes no sense to enshrine it in law, let alone discuss it at the practical level. So, what do you expect us to do? Do you expect us to say we are sorry and plead guilty? Our approach to this situation is somewhat different.
We have never been short on initiatives, including the idea of European security treaty, a draft of which we submitted several years ago. Our Western partners simply refused to discuss it, saying that the political slogan about equal security remains a political slogan, while legal security guarantees could only be provided by NATO only! How do you like that? Is this not a violation of all the obligations accepted since the Cold War? Essentially, this is preserving the dividing lines, which everyone vowed and pledged to obliterate, and bringing them close to Russia.
With regard to Germany, we should bear in mind that in a recent interview, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Russia is not interested in a stable Europe. There are two amusing points about that: First, it completely ignores everything that we have proposed in keeping with the concept of equal and undivided security, and second, it turns out that Russia is not part of Europe. I leave these evaluations on Ms von der Leyen’s conscience.
Regarding what needs to be done, I completely agree with Mr Gabriel. We should talk to each other and try to understand each other’s real, not fictional concerns. It is unacceptable to bang the door shut, as was the case following Georgia’s aggression in the Caucasus in 2008, when our NATO partners refused to continue working at the RNC. The same mistake was repeated after the coup in Ukraine. It was not until a couple of years later that they began suggesting that the RNC should resume its work. We agreed. Three meetings at the ambassadorial level have already taken place. However, if every time our NATO partners tell us that they are ready to meet at the RNC only to discuss Ukraine, that is the continuation of the same paranoid and aggressive policy. NATO has absolutely nothing to do with the efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement in Ukraine. If their idea is to use the RNC to provoke a new round of confrontation, then we do not want to play these games. If, however, this is about substantive issues, such as safety in the airspace over the Baltic Sea or the Baltic region in general, last summer, in response to repeated calls from our Western colleagues, our military put forward concrete proposals aimed at ensuring that security. They contained initiatives on transponders and other confidence building measures. Those who urged us to take steps to ensure security in the Baltic region fell silent. We are still trying to receive a concrete response to these proposals.
If we discuss Ukraine everywhere (and we know NATO’s approach towards it), that would probably not bring us any closer to the goal that Mr Gabriel has just mentioned: Understanding each other better and looking for a balance of interests. We are absolutely ready for a balance of interests and hope the assurances that our Western partners periodically make regarding their interest in normalising relations will be followed up in practice, based on mutual respect and the desire to achieve this balance of interests.
Sergey Lavrov (adding after Sigmar Gabriel): We are discussing this. I was not referring to the geographical but to the historical west. To give you a rough idea, Western Europe, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada comprise the historical west, which set the tune in international affairs for several centuries. The situation has changed with new centres of power coming to the fore. I am acting on the assumption that human rights and democracy are universal principles that have been sealed primarily in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted at the UN in 1948. A look at the values that are being advocated by our Western partners shows that many of them are not acceptable to other civilisations, to those who respect the values of the global religions. This is why we need to specify the term “western.”
As for the events in Tahrir Square, the protesters could rally in support of Western values but it was the Muslim Brotherhood that came to power as a result.
Question: What role could the new US administration play in eastern Ukraine?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Sigmar Gabriel): We understand how the system of authority works in the United States, when a great many officials are approved for new positions, after the elections, at Senate hearings. This takes time. Few new appointments have been made at the political level in the US Department of State, apart from the Secretary of State and his first deputy. Many vacancies are yet to be filled. This is hindering active cooperation with our US partners, although there is hardly any conflict that can be settled without US assistance. This is all concerning Ukraine and our relations with Washington.
In the past three years since the adoption of the Minsk Agreements, we established a channel for consultations with the United States, in addition to the Normandy format, regardless of the fact that we may disagree on some issues. I can tell you that these consultations proceeded in the same spirit as our work in the Normandy format and were aimed at promoting the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. I am convinced that a US contribution, in whatever form, towards encouraging the implementation of the Minsk Agreements would be very useful.
Question: What can you tell us about Mr Gabriel’s critical remarks regarding Russian troops on your western border, which he described as “disproportionate”?
Sergey Lavrov: We have different data regarding the allegedly “disproportionate” military build-up in our western regions. Instead of just repeating unsubstantiated allegations about Russia building up forces for a military campaign against the West, which our Ukrainian colleagues are ready to repeat around the clock, we should be discussing the initiative we advanced long ago. The Russia-NATO Council should not discuss yet again some pro-Ukrainian statements in support of the coup in Kiev, but do what it was created to do, that is, look at the security situation in the Euro-Atlantic region. To be able to do this, everyone should show their cards and analyse the deployment of forces by all parties, and then compare the number and the scripts of military exercises.
I see the first signs of common sense in the exchange of information about military drills launched between Russia and its allies on the one hand, and the NATO countries on the other hand. This is a useful process, but to be able to talk about our future plans – unless someone wants to continue accusing Russia instead of normalising the situation – we need to sit down and let our militaries determine which forces are deployed in Europe and where. I think this would settle all the questions.
Question: Do you think the current Foreign Minister of Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, will carry on the policies of his predecessor, or that relations with Russia will deteriorate?
Sergey Lavrov: I can see that there is continuity in our relations with leaders of German diplomacy. I hope it will be maintained and strengthened.
Question: Can you comment on the continued allegations advanced by Germany, primarily the German media, regarding Russia’s influence on the election process in Germany and the creation of fake news?
Sigmar Gabriel: The German media are only responsible for themselves. This is the difference between Germany and other countries. The federal government of Germany is not advancing these accusations, and I can only speak on behalf of the German government.
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Sigmar Gabriel): I believe this is perfectly correct.