The interview of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Euronews TV channel Moscow, December 19, 2012

Question: What is the most important theme among those to be taken up at the Russia-EU summit, in your opinion?
Sergey Lavrov: I think we have an arranged agenda in our relations with the EU. All key issues are being looked into during the year. Main conclusions, reports on the state of each particular issue on the Russia-EU agenda are submitted for summits, which are held twice a year.
Traditionally, the “backbone” of our cooperation has been the dialogue on energy. We have now reached an advanced and confident phase of cooperation, which envelops various aspects of European energy security. The both conduits of Nord Stream pipeline are already operational; it has the potential for opening up supplementary ones. We have launched the construction of South Stream. Lots of EU countries have already declared it as a project of national importance.
So we are moving steadily toward heightened energy security for the whole European continent. Russian President V.V.Putin repeatedly said that we want the European Union, defining rules of the game on its ground, to respect earlier obligations, agreements on Investment Protection, in particular. The point is that if we implement Third Energy Package in retrospect (there were such attempts), it will contradict directly with the obligation not to aggravate business conditions. Similar obligations were undertaken by two-sided channels between Russia and the EU countries. They are also present in the current Agreement between Russia and the European Union. We have concrete proposals to the EU to realize its rights and at the same time not to damage, infringe current agreements.
Question: So, the summit will focus mainly on economic questions, won’t it?
Sergey Lavrov: We will also discuss what surrounds a new EU-Russia Framework Agreement, which is a broader topic than the economic cooperation on its own. Following Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, particularly due to the EU’s active support, we thought that issues related to trade and investment regimes, which so far have hampered the signing of a new framework agreement, would be quickly finalized in accordance with the decisions reached when our country joined the WTO. Our partners demand more – «a WTO-plus» format or, in other words, additional concessions on our part. We clearly state, this is unreal.
We are just adapting to the WTO obligations. We need to understand how the Russian business, industries, agriculture, banking and other sectors will adjust to this situation. I hope that common sense will prevail and we will be able to quickly sign the agreement. At the present stage, we cannot proceed further than what has been arranged during the accession process. In the future, however, — and President Putin has said this several times – we are ready to move towards a free trade zone and more developed forms of integration.
The Russian President proposed the creation of a unified economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Talking about its human dimension, it is necessary to arrive as fast as possible at the establishment of a visa-free regime. A year ago, a list of joint steps to be taken by both parties was agreed, which included the provision of biometric passports to citizens planning to travel, as well as an enhanced border control and the conclusion of readmission agreements. This work is underway. We make visits to the EU States, and the President of the European Commission comes to our country to study the progress with the implementation of the joint steps listed. I expect that in the nearest future we will have the opportunity to report to each other that all the listed steps have been accomplished, and will be able to sit down at the negotiating table to work towards an agreement on the abolition of short-stay visas for the citizens.
Another very promising field is foreign policy cooperation, first of all in crisis management. There are draft documents that could provide a legal framework for our interaction, including in peacekeeping operations. We already have such an experience. We worked together (with the EU) in the Balkans, in Africa – in the Central African Republic and Chad. The anti-piracy operation “Atlanta” is being carried out in coordination with similar actions of the Russian Navy. That will be the main content of our interaction for a rather long period of time, as all these issues are long-lasting. I expect that the progress will probably not be very fast, but fairly steady.
Question: Now the main international crisis is the Syrian one. Will the positions of the EU and Russia change to some extent after the unification of the Syrian opposition and its recognition by France and the USA?
Sergey Lavrov: At an early stage of this crisis our Western partners have clearly taken one side – the side of the opposition. They declared that Bashar al-Assad has no place in this world and that he has no legitimacy. They probably expected that the regime would fall quickly. Now many of them acknowledge that this was not quite right. In my opinion, to deny legitimacy to the regime at the initial stage of the crisis was a mistake. Now the position requiring both parties to immediately halt violence and start negotiations without preconditions looks more realistic.
This has been our position from the very beginning. We are consistently working with the regime and all the opposition groups without exception. We are telling them the same thing:”You have to think of your people, of your country. You should agree on a ceasefire. Sit down at the negotiating table, name the delegates who will conduct the talks. Come to an agreement on what transition mechanism your State needs to get from a former system to something new, more democratic and open.” This approach was accorded on 30 June this year in Geneva at the Action Group meeting. Russia strictly complies with its commitments recorded in the communiqué that was adopted at that meeting: make all Syrian Parties cease fire, name the delegates who will conduct the talks, and agree on transition period mechanisms. These are the ideas that have been included by consensus into the Geneva Communiqué and that we are quite persistently bringing to the government of Syria and all the opposition groups. Our Western partners, sadly, do not comply with their Geneva commitments and count exclusively on victory of the opposition, telling us that if Bashar al-Assad left then the negotiations could begin.
One shall opt for priorities. If your priority is to save lives then you should make the Syrian Parties sit at the table of negotiations without preliminary conditions. If your priority is to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, you have to understand that it is going to take some more time, entailing a significant number of new victims among ordinary Syrians. The attempts to mix things up and put it as if Russia only needed to say the word and Bashar al-Assad would leave immediately are pure provocation, a wrongful one. Everybody is perfectly aware that it does not only depend on us.
Question: Do you admit that there is a possibility that the opposition wins and Bashar al-Assad leaves?
Sergey Lavrov: There won’t be any winners in this war. There is a war of mutual destruction going on. Horrible things are happening now inside and around the Palestinian refugee camps. They are trying to drag the Palestinians into this internal war. They are split. Some of them support the regime, and others support the opposition, different opposition groups. This whirlpool is swallowing deeper and deeper new population groups, now including the Palestinians. There won’t be any winners in this war, and I think that everyone understands that perfectly. But having said that there won’t be any talks with Assad, people put themselves in a trap and they do not know how to get out of it. History knows what war of attrition is. Nothing good ever came out of one.
Question: Is Russia ready to recognize the united Syrian opposition?
Sergey Lavrov: We don’t need to recognize anybody. We are working with all the parties representing various groups of the Syrian opposition without exception. We are prepared to work with the National Coalition or any other structure that the opposition may form in this political “field”. The important thing is not to give recognition, but to “push” everyone in the same direction. And if this or that group is recognized only to be bet on – with money, arms, or moral and political support – this would be an interference in the conflict taking side of one of the groups. That is it.
Question: Another current topic that is probably souring Russia’s relations with its western partners: the adoption of the Magnitsky Act by the US Congress. The State Duma is now debating how to respond. Has the Foreign Ministry been consulted in this regard?
Sergey Lavrov: Everybody has surely heard of this problem. It is one of the most popular topics in mass media these days. I think that what the US Congress did was absolutely unnecessary and counter-productive. Any country, as it has been emphasized repeatedly, has the right – and can use this right – to ban another country’s national from entering its territory without giving any reason for it. And when this situation was turned into “a Capitol Hill show”, it seemed to me that there was something else behind it rather than the desire to uncover the truth. Let alone the fact that trying to uncover the truth in a case being considered by another country’s court when the proceedings have not yet been finished and the sentence has not been given, is rather arrogant.
However, the Americans got used to it. They like to give advice to others, it is especially characteristic of a number of congressmen, including the initiators of the Magnitsky law. I consider it absolutely normal that our parliamentarians adopt measures in response and do not follow the principle that “we will also find an unresolved problem, an unfinished judicial process and will interfere in your internal affairs”. They respond to the concrete facts on which the American justice has already ruled. For example, the facts of acquittal or suspended sentence with granting of bail to American citizens who killed, raped or tortured children adopted from Russia. The hearings have already taken place; the given sentences are outrageously mild. If we compare them with the sentences to American parents who anyway gave the wrong education to their own children we reveal at once “double standards”.
We propose to include also in our list the persons who were involved in illegal kidnapping of Russian citizens, including V.A. Bout and K.V. Yaroshenko in Thailand and Liberia who violated the laws of these countries, the rights of Russian citizens who had to serve a heavy term of imprisonment just for their intention. Let’s compare this with the sentences given to the killers of our children: a person who has committed real crimes is given a suspended sentence and is granted a bail.
Question: Does it mean that the right of American families to adopt Russian children must be banned outright, especially as the members of Parliament are now interpreting the law more broadly for many countries?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not think we should ban the adoption of Russian children by American families. We were ready to consider seriously this measure at the stage when we could not conclude with the Americans the Agreement on cooperation in the field of international adoption. In fact, at that time our children were not protected at all, we did not even have the possibility to see them through our diplomatic mission in the USA. Together with Pavel Astakhov, the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation, we seriously considered the possibility of asking our competent authorities to “freeze” adoption by American families until such agreement is signed. However, today it is signed and has entered into force. So far, the Agreement has not been tested by time and tried in specific cases. In particular, Maxim Babaev, who has been adopted by American parents, live in Florida. The parents have been deprived of parental rights. The boy is temporarily in the custodial family. But we do not have consular access to him, though it is guaranteed by the Agreement signed with the USA, which entered in to force this autumn.
It is the responsibility of the US State Department to provide us with such access. If we stop adoption, it would mean only one thing – that we have to denounce this Agreement. If we do that, we will have no legal opportunity to demand access to our children. This is one of the reasons not to go too far in our response.
Question: What will be Russia’s response if one or several EU countries join the Magnitsky Bill? Cyprus launched an investigation against several banks in connection with the alleged money laundering by Russian officials.
Sergey Lavrov: Unfortunately, money is still laundered, and not only by Russian citizens – there have been cases with involvement of some European States. This is something that we all want to eradicate. Relevant conventions for Russia and all EU States have entered into force. But so far, this phenomenon has not been fully eradicated.
I do not think that there is a legal possibility of European countries joining the Magnitsky Bill. I hear that the European Parliament is discussing the possibility of duplicating it, rubber-stamping the document adopted in the Capitol and making it a decision of the European Parliament. If a tendency to follow the “big brother’s” example prevails, it will be sad, because such scenario will not provide substantial contribution to settling the issues which raise concern of the Europeans with regard to Russia and of the Russian citizens with regard to Europe.
We are engaged in a human rights dialogue in which we tell each other like partners what we would like to change in our relations, what we would like to see in our countries with regard to respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms of our citizens. This is a good form of cooperation and we should keep using it. Russia maintains the human rights dialogue both with the EU and the USA – a civil society working group is functioning under the US – Russia Presidential Commission. To make the dialogue more transparent the State Duma, with participation of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, conducted hearings on human rights practices in the European Union and in the USA. Conclusions made at hearings on the EU were summarized in an appropriate report which was circulated among the European Union member countries in the run-up to the EU – Russia Summit. It is not aggressive, but contains facts. Having reviewed the report, our interlocutors from Brussels and other European capitals admitted that the document is based on specific data and proves our mutual interest to solve the issues which are really affecting people’s lives in the vast Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian space.
We are greatly concerned about the situation of national minorities, in particular Russian-speaking ones, in Estonia and Latvia and about the shameful phenomenon of non-citizenship. For Europe which is the cradle of Christian civilization this is awful. All the more so because these people have identity cards where “alien” is written under “nationality”. I have no idea how one can put up with it. There are numerous recommendations of the Council of Europe, OSCE and UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urging to at least make first steps as soon as possible and start to grant automatic citizenship to newly born children in the non-citizens’ families and to elderly people, taking into account the fact that they are not likely to master the language to the level required by a rather rigid law. Unfortunately, there are no advances in this area. We discuss this issue with our Estonian and Latvian colleagues on a regular basis.
We are obviously concerned about the permissiveness regarding Nazism glorification, attempts to rewrite history, to put executioners and liberators on the same level and treat them in the same way or even discriminate against veterans who liberated Europe. This is not a secret, and we can see it not only in Estonia and Latvia but in a number of European countries as well, Nazi marches in which are getting alarming.
The situation of immigrants in Europe is another issue that has to be discussed and on which we can exchange information, experience and opinions to our mutual benefit. I would chose this path and not the one that makes it possible to get noticed by the public and voters – look at me, how tough I am, how recklessly I can slash at Russia. Why? A frank and constructive dialogue is preferable. As in the case of Syria, it is necessary to choose priorities – either to save lives or to overthrow the regime. It is the same here.
If the goal is to achieve specific improvements in the human rights field, then let’s work calmly, specifically, without noise. If the objective is to make noise in public, then just say so – say that you want to make noise but do not want to achieve results. It is impossible to expect that we can force obedience and make someone say: we are sorry; now that you have scolded us we understand that we were wrong and we will behave in future. This is human nature and everyone understands it perfectly well. Those who make noise probably had this objective in mind as well.