Speech of and answers to questions of mass media by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during joint press conference summarizing the results of negotiations with the Netherlands’ Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, Moscow, 26 February 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We conducted considerable negotiations with the Netherlands’ Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans. For me, it was a good opportunity to establish a personal contact and to “compare notes” on items of our rich bilateral agenda, as well as regional European and international matters.

We stated that Russia and the Netherlands remain important partners for each other. We have a good, trustworthy dialog, are developing comprehensive cooperation, primarily in the economic and investment fields, as well as in cultural, humanitarian, educational and scientific fields. We have a mutual interest to continue and enrich such exchanges.

This year we are expecting a significant event in our bilateral relations – the Russian Year in Netherlands and the Netherlands Year in Russia. We discussed the program: it is very rich; more than 350 events are being planned in Russia and in the Netherlands. I am convinced that our citizens and nationals of the Kingdom of the Netherlands will enjoy participating in this important project.

Our trade cooperation is constantly deepening. Last year, despite the unfavourable international economic climate, the circulation of goods between our countries grew by 20% and almost reached 83 billion. Investment links is another distinctive feature of our interaction. Netherlands is ranked second by the amount of accumulated investments in Russia – they make about 60 billion US dollars. It is noticeable that Dutch companies actively enter the Russian market, and Russian businessmen do the same by actively investing into prospective projects, including the energy and hi-tech spheres. This makes us optimistic, even more so because Mr Timmermans confirmed the readiness of his Government to promote the extension of the access of Russian agricultural, hi-tech and other products to the Netherlands’ market and European markets in general.

Links between Russia and the European Union hold a high position in our relations. The Netherlands traditionally advocate for a constructive build-up of our partnership with the EU. We value this. Today we also discussed issues to be solved for the implementation of an eased and eventually a visa-free regime of mutual travels of citizens of our countries.

We exchanged opinions about cooperation within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council. This is an important format for the solution of security problems on our continent, though there are unsettled issues, primarily the AMD program. We value a lot the interest of the Netherlands to continue the discussion and to find outcomes. We will be ready for that.

As to regional problems, we are both concerned about the development of events in the Middle East and North Africa – Syria, Mali, unsolved questions concerning arms smuggling, infiltration of militants and other manifestations of crises. We share the opinion with the Netherlands about the need to strengthen the non-proliferation regime for nuclear weapons and mass destruction weapons in general. In this context, we touched on the issue of the Nuclear Program of Iran and the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula.

As our previous negotiations have confirmed, we have closely related approaches to many topics of the international agenda. We certainly have space for a build-up of interaction. We have disagreements in some aspects of different situations – we also exchanged opinions about human rights protection. We do not identically interpret each specific law enforcement problem drawn to the attention of the public. However, today we have confirmed a shared approach that we all need to guide ourselves by the obligations undertaken by states based on universal documents adopted within the framework of UN and conventions of the European Council. This is our shared position. I think that such understanding will help to discuss similar issues with our other partners without accelerating passions and misunderstanding.

We are satisfied with the negotiations we have conducted. I thank my colleague and give him the floor.

Question (to both ministers): Could you please disclose details of the question you have discussed today concerning easement of visa restrictions between Russia and the European Union?

Sergey Lavrov (answers the first): As I have already said, we indeed touched on visa problems in its entirety as a cardinal objective, including the need to accomplish the fulfilment of the list of “Common steps towards visa-free short-term travel for Russian and European citizens”. This is an ongoing process. It will continue. We will try to accelerate it, because it is not difficult to technically accomplish it. The second process you have mentioned about is a draft Agreement on further easement of visa restrictions for mutual travels of our citizens. Here I would not like to dwell upon contacts and go to the heart of the matter. We feel that things start moving in this issue. We have felt the interest of the Dutch colleagues to solve it as soon as possible.

Question: How would you comment on the opinion of the Netherlands’ Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans about the “unacceptability” of the draft law that is discussed in the Russian State Duma regarding the ban on propaganda of homosexualism?

Sergey Lavrov: Frankly speaking, I am not familiar with the quote you provide from previous statements of Mr Timmermans’. When we discussed the topic of human rights today, I heard his words that no country can teach other country how to live – Russia cannot teach the Netherlands and the Netherlands cannot teach Russia. I will emphasize once again – the only criteria for discussion of similar issues are obligations undertaken within the framework of universal or pan-European institutes. We talked about it today, and we have no disagreement here. Russia has no universal or pan-European obligation to allow propaganda of homosexualism. As you know, homosexualism was a penal offense in the USSR. This article of the Criminal Code was invalidated long ago and homosexuals may act freely and unpunished. Every country is obliged not to allow discrimination on any grounds. I will emphasize once again – our country has no obligation to allow propaganda (of homosexualism) that, as a rule, is very aggressive. We can hardly accept it, even in theory. Russia has its own moral values, historical, cultural and religious traditions according to which our society lives. We do not derogate anybody’s rights, but we do not want to have a reverse discrimination, when one group of citizens acquires the right to aggressively promote their values that differ from the values of the majority, imposing it on children. I hope that everything is clear here.

When we discussed issues of rights and obligations with Mr Timmermans, I emphasized that rights of homosexuals are not derogated in Russia. In our dialog with European partners who draw increased emotional attention to the propaganda of homosexualism we draw their attention to the fact that there are more “disastrous” cases, when rights are derogated in an obvious way – such as the problem of “statelessness” of the Russian-speaking population in Latvia and Estonia. When these people are not provided any citizenship and the recommendations of OSCE, European Council and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination are not fulfilled, the authorities of these two countries directly violate the rights of this category of the population to participate in the political life, to elect and to be elected, to fully participate in economic processes. There are many examples of that. However, our Western partners forget about it due to some reason and are silent about the derogation of rights of hundred thousands of people having no citizenship in the modern Europe, at the same time emotionally asserting rights of homosexuals to propagate their lifestyle. We are ready to discuss existing obligations and the attitude to them without any burst and based on facts.

Question: Sergey Viktorovich, what are your impressions after your yesterday’s meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, having regard to the fact that today you will have a conversation with your American colleague? What are the prospects of beginning a general Syrian dialog, taking into account that yesterday, replying to the statement of Walid al-Muallem about readiness of Syrian authorities to a dialog with all groups of the opposition, including armed, the Syrian opposition laid down several conditions for starting such dialog?

Sergey Lavrov: In the context of my impressions about yesterday’s negotiations with Syrian Foreign Minister, I will say that the situation is still complicated. The bloodshed continues, statements are made that, frankly speaking, set aside the prospects of the initiation of a dialog. A few days ago it seemed to us that the preconditions for the parties to sit down at the negotiating table and start discussing the future of their country became more evident. We heard them speaking in favour of the beginning of a dialog without any preconditions as soon as possible. But then such approaches were cast back. It seems that, on this stage extremists prevailed in the opposition, including in the National Coalition who staked at a military solution of the Syrian problem and are now blocking any initiative leading to launching of the dialog.

However, we do not lose heart, and we certainly cannot solve these problems for Syrians. Though, in the contacts with other countries that may affect Syrian parties, we feel a growing concern about preservation of status quo and reinforced understanding of the need to affect the government and opposition parties to convince them not to set unrealistic requirements as preconditions for launching of the dialog. We will talk about it with US Secretary of State John Kerry. During our last phone conversation it seemed to me that he understands the sharpness of the current situation.