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Press release on talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Didier Reynders

9-12-2014, 16:46

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have conducted in-depth, substantive negotiations on bilateral relations between Russia and the Kingdom of Belgium, and on issues on the international agenda, taking into account Belgium’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe over the next six months.

We proceed based on the premise that we share and support the CE’s goals. These goals consist of ensuring a single legal space for the European continent as a whole, and the effort to strengthen democracy, observe human rights and the rule of law and develop cultural, sports, education and youth exchange programmes. In this respect, we support the programme prepared by Belgium for its chairmanship at the Committee of Ministers.

Russia is interested in seeing the Council of Europe give higher priority to combating extremism, aggressive nationalism and racial and religious intolerance, and more actively ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities.

We have always believed (and we spoke about this today) that the Council of Europe should become more actively involved in the legal monitoring of the situation in Ukraine, and not only in the southeast, because human rights violations and excesses involving the use of violence are constantly observed in other regions, including in western Ukraine.

We have conducted in-depth discussions about ways of overcoming the Ukraine crisis. We are pinning hopes on the ceasefire that was announced today. This is not the first such declaration, but this stage was well prepared. Negotiations were held between representatives of the conflicting parties, which, at the request of Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko, were assisted by Russian [army] officers. We hope that the agreed-upon “disengagement” line will make it possible in practice to ensure a regime of calm in Ukraine and start the withdrawal of heavy weapons on both sides of the line.

We have also addressed other aspects of the Minsk Agreements, including the need to ensure security guarantees for the participants in the processes in the southeast and start negotiations on economic interaction, which is a foundation for the nationwide political dialogue referred to in the Minsk Protocol.

Russia is confident that at centre stage today is a systemic problem: the inability of the Ukrainian authorities to launch the much-touted constitutional process with the participation of all the Ukrainian regions and political forces. This should be done as a matter of urgency. I would like to remind you that the Kiev authorities assumed this obligation in April this year.

We have discussed other international issues, including the situation involving negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme. Russia and Belgium actively support the efforts to finalise this process within the agreed-upon timeframe.

We are concerned by the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, especially the activity of the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and other countries in the region, as well as the lack of progress and even the current regression in the Middle East peace process amid the stalled negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

In our bilateral affairs, we have confirmed our focus on the further development of our relations. We discussed the documents that are being prepared by the relevant agencies on both sides and can soon be signed, the activity of the mixed commission for economic cooperation that provided a framework for regular contacts (the next meeting will take place in 2015) and interaction between Belgian and Russian business circles in the implementation of major projects, including those that were recently launched in Russia. We proceed from the premise that it is important to assist business.

Question: How have Western sanctions affected Russia? Will they affect its relations with Belgium?

Lavrov: Sanctions do not make things better for anybody, neither those they are imposed on nor those who impose them. All sides sustain economic losses. Politically, we are not pleased when our partners violate international law and introduce illegitimate restrictions. It is necessary to face up to reality. We will overcome the difficulties that have resulted from the unfriendly actions by the European Union, the US and a number of other states. I can assure you of this. It is a shame that the Europeans, well educated, enlightened people who know history, expect that these sanctions would really make it possible to bring about constructive changes in the situation in Ukraine, and are trying to exert pressure on Russia and ignore what Russia has been doing for Ukraine all these years in the financial and political area.

The Minsk Agreements were largely signed on the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko, becoming a joint contribution to the search for ways to resolve the situation. Incidentally, the last round of sanctions in September was announced the morning after they were signed. This is nonsense. It would be interesting to ask our European partners: if, in your opinion, Russia really deserves punishment for the Minsk Agreements, then what can we do to please you in the first place? There have been no answers so far. I heard an interpretation of this situation, when former Brussels officials, contrary to the agreements about further coordination, announced sanctions without consulting anybody. If this is true, it shows the role of Brussels bureaucracy in a very bad light, as does its disrespect for the EU member countries.

Regarding our relations with Belgium, in the first nine months of this year, trade turnover amounted to almost $10 billion, up almost 16 percent year on year. Our countries’ companies are actively cooperating. In the Nizhny Novgorod Region, Solvay has launched two major projects worth a total of $2 billion. Furthermore, an agreement was signed this year between the Fluxys company and Novatek affiliated structures on Yamal deposits. Novolipetsk Steel operates in Belgium, creating jobs and paying taxes there. One Belgian company has taken an interest in the Russian mid-haul airliner Sukhoi Superjet 100.

Business is guided by its own interests and seeks profit. I hope that politicians, too, will follow this logic.

Question: It’s a “day of silence” in Ukraine today. What needs to be done to achieve a stable peace?

Lavrov: As I said earlier, Belgium and Russia have a common position. We are convinced that the top priority today is to ensure that people stop being killed, that the forces on both sides (above all, heavy weapons) are disengaged and the OSCE starts monitoring the disengagement line. Then other issues addressed in the Minsk Agreements should be addressed without delay, including security guarantees, the establishment of economic interaction and the launch of a nationwide political dialogue. In addition to direct contacts between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, there is a need for a nationwide dialogue on constitutional reform. On a systemic level, this is the principal goal.

Question: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a number of tough anti-Russian statements in the context of the West’s Ukraine and sanctions policy. Is there cause to say that Germany has become the main ally of the US in its striving to punish Russia?

Lavrov: Germany has traditionally played a constructive role in the EU’s relations with Russia and generally in the West’s relations with Moscow. If Germany chose to resort to dictate, then I don’t think Europe would benefit from that. This would hardly benefit Germany itself either: it is unlikely to please the German public.

We cannot help expressing our concern about what our German colleagues are doing. In this context, I will mention the following fact. A few days ago, a factbox on Crimea was posted on the German government’s website, stating, among other things, that the peninsula was for centuries populated by Tatars, Ukrainians, Armenians, Greeks and Germans. It makes no mention of Russians. If this is an official website of the German government, then I would like to know who provided this information. We will send an official query to our colleagues in Berlin.


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