We have held a new round of the Normandy format talks between the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. We discussed the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Also, the Russian President had a telephone conversation with the French President and the German Chancellor yesterday, during which they talked about the key aspects of our work at this point. As you probably know, meetings of the majority of Trilateral Contact Group’s working subgroups were held in Minsk today.
The most important thing we noted was that the Package of Measures approved in Minsk on February 12 remains valid as a package, and that we need to implement all of its provisions, though not necessarily based on the implementation of each other, but working towards progress on each of the provisions of the Package of Measures.
Second and very important as well, we spent a long time discussing an issue on which our leaders also focus, specifically, the development of direct dialogue between Kiev, Lugansk and Donetsk on the implementation of all the provisions of the Minsk Agreements without exception. This concerns the military-political sphere, security, the economy and humanitarian issues, and, last but not the least, political reforms.
We pointed out that although it is very important to keep moving in all areas, the current crucial task is to bring about military stability, stability in security. Unfortunately the number of ceasefire violations has increased. The sides are also violating the commitment on the withdrawal of heavy weaponry. In this regard we agreed that the working subgroup on security, which was created in the framework of the Minsk process, should adopt decisions without delay to demilitarize Shirokino, to preclude ceasefire violations, to strengthen monitoring along the entire length of the line of contact, and to coordinate an agreement to withdraw not only weapons over 100mm in calibre, as was agreed to in Minsk, but also weapons of less than 100mm from the line of contact.
We believe that we must support the achievements reached in this area at the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC). The JCCC was created at the request of the Ukrainian President and includes Russian and Ukrainian military personnel and also Donetsk and Lugansk representatives. The coordination of these achievements has reached the final stage, with only some technical issues to be agreed upon. We proposed that these agreements be approved at the next meeting of the working subgroup on security. The idea is that OSCE observers should cooperate with JCCC representatives to monitor the proposed demilitarization of Shirokino and the enhanced monitoring of the entire length of the line of contact, which means that the OSCE will work with the military representatives from Russia, Ukraine, Donetsk and Lugansk.
I want to talk about our shared resolve to prevent a possible failure to implement the Minsk Agreements. Our meeting today clearly indicated the participants’ understanding of the danger of certain forces attempting to push the situation towards a military scenario. The Normandy format foreign ministers have firmly spoken in favour of strengthening efforts to implement the Minsk-2 agreements and to prevent a military scenario.
We also agreed that the Contact Group and its working subgroups should redouble efforts and coordinated a schedule for their future meetings. Heidi Tagliavini ceded her duties of coordinating the Minsk process on behalf of the OSCE to Austrian diplomat Martin Sajdik, who was appointed to this position yesterday by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ivica Dacic. Russia welcomes this appointment and has expressed hope that Mr Sajdik will take over from Ms Tagliavini and will work consistently towards full and strict compliance with the Package of Measures coordinated in Minsk on February 12.
Question: Recently it looks like Minsk-2 has been falling apart because of the increased military confrontation in eastern Ukraine. Did the ministers think Minsk-2 was unravelling before their very eyes?
Sergey Lavrov:As I said, it appears that certain forces are trying to undermine this process. I will not name names, but these forces do exist. Many people would prefer a military scenario for a number of reasons. Many people don’t want the situation to stabilise; they want the instability to increase [in Ukraine]. I can tell you responsibly that today the four ministers have firmly spoken against these attempts and for keeping Minsk-2 as the foundation of our efforts in Ukraine. My colleagues from Germany and France pointed out that there is no alternative to Minsk-2.
Question: Have you reached a practical agreement?
Sergey Lavrov: The Normandy format was not created to settle the Ukrainian crisis. It was created to support, as the February 12 Minsk Agreements say, the implementation of these agreements signed by Kiev, Donetsk, Lugansk, the OSCE and Russia. The Normandy format cannot do what the conflicting sides must do. We can only send political signals, considering the combined political weight of the four countries and our ability to influence developments. But the sides on the ground should take these signals into account.
I hope we’ll use all opportunities at our disposal to convince the sides to strictly comply with the Minsk Agreements, primarily to stop shelling populated areas and to refrain from other actions that can result in the death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, as well as to implement the Minsk Agreements as a package. President Vladimir Putin spoke about this with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Franсois Hollande over the phone yesterday. The necessary atmosphere for the full and honest implementation of the Minsk Agreements cannot be created without political reform, which includes amending the constitution, without coordinating a model for local elections with Donetsk and Lugansk and without giving them special status, without implementing Kiev’s commitment to adopt a law on amnesty, to defreeze economic relations with Donetsk and Lugansk, to settle the humanitarian issues, pension payments and social benefits.
Question: What was the focus of your meeting with Laurent Fabius? Did you talk about the seizure of Russian accounts in France?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, we discussed this issue, among other things. We also talked about the joint projects that provide for exchanging exhibits. We pointed out that the illegal attempts to seize Russian state property would not strengthen bilateral relations. I thought that our French colleague shared this view. Anyway, we saw a desire to avoid making moves that could complicate our relations.
But we mostly focused on the Middle East, with an emphasis on Syria. We emphasized the need to accelerate the search for a political solution based on the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012, which says that the crisis must be settled by the Syrians themselves on the basis of mutual consent. We also discussed the Middle East settlement in view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and taking into account French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’s visit to the region several days ago. We also share the belief that this decades-old conflict must not be left unsettled, because it is fostering extremist sentiments and helps terrorists recruit new supporters. We agreed that the political process in the region must resume as soon as possible.
Question: Wiki Leaks wrote today that the United States tapped the phones of three French presidents.
Sergey Lavrov: I haven’t seen these reports yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised. And then, I can tell you that microphones in the French Foreign Ministry unexpectedly went off and on several times today.