Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions following the OSCE Informal Ministerial Meeting, Mauerbach, July 11, 2017

Saturday, 15 July 2017 14:49

I can say that it was a meaningful conversation. This is a good tradition of getting together in an informal circle, which the current chairmanships are using on an almost annual basis. Most of the ministers from the OSCE participating states have come to join an informal discussion of ways to further develop cooperation in this organisation.

The issues are known. We are in favour of all three so-called security dimensions receiving their fair share of attention, so as to avoid any kind of distortions. In this context, we outlined our approaches to expanding our cooperation in the spheres of military and political security, economic and environmental cooperation, and humanitarian contacts. What we have seen so far is inertia, which began three years ago in the wake of certain events, which reflects the desire of the OSCE members, who are also members of the North Atlantic Alliance, to usurp key security decisions and thereby maintain and deepen the dividing lines. We believe this is wrong. We reminded them about our initiatives related to achieving the goals declared a long time ago, which are to create a community of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions, as was decided at the Kazakhstan summit in 2010. As a first step, we suggest sitting down together with the military and the maps and see who has how much forces and resources in Europe, what military doctrines each of our country has developed, and how they are used in order to understand where we are and how to build trust on the basis of transparency and openness. Our NATO partners do not seem to be ready for such a conversation yet. I think that positive developments in their ranks can already be seen. I hope that their understanding of the need for an honest, candid and equal dialogue will not take too much time.

It is clear from the economic developments that our proposal to discuss the harmonisation of integration processes in the Eurasian space is finding understanding. The economic bloc’s activities have been planned for this and next year, and they will definitely include this idea.

In the humanitarian sphere, we are in favour of discussing the topics that our Western colleagues consider as key, such as human rights and the rule of law. However, we must not forget that human rights also include socioeconomic rights, the rights of ethnic minorities, including language rights, as well as the need to eliminate statelessness which continues to exist in Estonia and Latvia, the rights of persons with disabilities, the unacceptability of discrimination in sport and, of course, the need to block neo-Nazism, which is again rearing its ugly head in a number of the OSCE member countries.

There’s a negotiation process underway on issues that concern everyone that are related to the appointment of the Secretary-General and the heads of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the High Commissioner on National Minorities. We regret that a number of our Western partners are strongly against ensuring balance in this leading element of the organisation. In particular, they failed to support a very strong candidate put forward by the Republic of Belarus - Yelena Kupchina, who represents Belarus in Vienna. We are convinced that she is a strong candidate for any of these positions. Of course, the organisation must work. Keeping these positions vacant does not do any good for the OSCE as an effective organisation. We will strive to find consensus if everyone else is ready to support it. We will not be found wanting. But we will by all means remind everyone that discrimination against the countries that lie to the east of Vienna, primarily, the CIS countries, when appointing officials to leading positions, is something that needs to be eliminated in the OSCE. In private conversations, the vast majority of my colleagues agree with this. I repeat, there are several countries that are trying to turn the consensus rules to their advantage.

Question: Western media outlets are again reporting about the success of the international coalition in Mosul. The Iraqi authorities have even announced the liquidation of ISIS. At the same time, a report released today by Amnesty International mentions the possible military crimes and thousands of civilian casualties. Is the enthusiasm of Western politicians and media regarding the liberation of Mosul compatible with the real cost of this operation?

Sergey Lavrov: Of course, I have heard and read these statements and assessments. And they certainly bring to mind the way our Western colleagues and Western and some regional media covered the operation to liberate eastern Aleppo. I remember their hysterical reports about the suffering of civilians and about the corridor we organised with the Syrian Army and our Turkish and Iranian partners so that civilians and militants, who were allowed to take their weapons, could leave eastern Aleppo. We were accused of ethnic cleansing. Today our Western colleagues prefer to disregard the fact that many people have returned and others are returning back to Aleppo. They refuse to admit this, while during the operation they demanded nearly every day that eastern Aleppo be opened for humanitarian convoys because, as they claimed, the people there had no access to medications and medical equipment. After the liberation of eastern Aleppo, representatives from the World Health Organisation visited that part of the city and found out that warehouses there were actually stocked with medications and everything else doctors needed. We have asked [international] officials, including the UN Secretary-General, why the representatives of an organisation that is responsible for humanitarian matters joined the ballyhoo over the alleged lack of medicine in eastern Aleppo and supported those ridiculous demands, and also why they did not know that the situation was absolutely normal there. We will insist on explanations, because we have not received any so far.

Nearly a million people have fled Mosul; I remember reading somewhere that the number of refugees has reached 1.2 million. This is several times more than the number of people who were helped to leave eastern Aleppo via specially organised corridors. In the case of Mosul, no efforts have been taken in an organised manner to help civilians to leave the city. The process was chaotic and spontaneous. Without any proper organisation, the process is more uncomfortable. This is probably why there are more casualties.

I watched television reports, including by Euronews and other Western networks. They said openly that there are hardly any undamaged buildings left in Mosul and the city is lying in ruins. This is yet another factor of double standards, which I have mentioned in connection with eastern Aleppo, whose liberation did not do so much damage to civilian infrastructure. Of course, we are glad that ISIS was defeated in Mosul. It is true that the price of defeating terrorism is always high. But in this particular case I recommend abandoning the holier-than-thou attitude when there is a beam in their own eye.

Question: Can you confirm that Russia intends to expel 30 US diplomats and seize US diplomatic property? What is the deadline? When can we expect Russia to respond, if the situation is not resolved?

Sergey Lavrov: The situation is outrageous. I think it is shameful for such a great country as the United States, the champion of international law, to leave the situation in a suspended state.

We understand that the US Congress is charged with Russophobia. We understand that the decision to expel our diplomats and confiscate diplomatic property was adopted by former President Barack Obama’s administration. These were (let me use precisely this word) the convulsions of the outgoing administration that wanted to poison Russian-American relations to the maximum degree and do whatever it could to have the Trump administration land in a trap.

As is only natural, we will work to make the truth come to light. Justice and international law should be restored. We are thinking of concrete steps. For all my respect for the media and your desire to get the information, I do not think that this subject should be discussed in public. We will inform you about everything later.

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