10 september / 2019

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Ethiopia Gedu Andargachew, Moscow, September 10, 2019

Ladies and gentlemen,

The talks with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew were held in a constructive and trust-based atmosphere and were very substantive.

Ethiopia is one of Russia’s main partners in Africa. We appreciate the many decades of friendship with Addis Ababa, more than a century, in fact. With respect to official diplomatic relations, contact between our nations began much earlier. We are tied by years of solidarity with the African countries in their fight for independence and decolonisation. The creation of the African Union headquartered in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, was the culmination of the decolonisation processes in Africa. We see this as another sign of recognising Ethiopia’s high authority in the international arena, its principled position in favour of observing international law, justice and democracy in international affairs.

Throughout our partnership, we have gained extensive experience in mutually beneficial cooperation that meets the interests of both countries in various areas.

Today, we focused on increasing cooperation in trade and the economy. The volume of trade in absolute numbers is not too impressive, but the growth rates are. We agreed to support this trend. In this regard, we attach particular importance to the upcoming seventh meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation and Trade, which will be held in St Petersburg in early October. This commission has not convened for a couple of years now. There is a need to catch up. We agreed to hold meetings of this important mechanism regularly. We also agreed to stimulate the work of the commission and to encourage it to implement joint investment projects across a variety of fields, including energy, such as hydrocarbon energy, hydroelectric energy and nuclear energy. We noted the interest of companies like Rosatom, Inter RAO, GPB Global Resources, Russian Railways, KAMAZ and UAZ in working in Ethiopia.

We noted interaction through the Academy of Sciences. A biological research centre is being established in Ethiopia under the Joint Russian-Ethiopian Biological Expedition, which has been operating for over 30 years now.

Other promising areas of interaction, which has a rich history, include military-technical and military cooperation. Ethiopian Minister of National Defence Aisha Mussa took part in the talks as part of the delegation. We talked about agreeing on additional regulatory documents which will allow us to more effectively promote cooperation in supplying military equipment and in other areas.

We also noted the potential for cooperation between Russia and Ethiopia in science and education. Many Ethiopian students study at Russian universities, including civilian universities and those operated by the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry. We will expand this practice. At the request of our Ethiopian friends, we will conduct two specialised courses for Ethiopian diplomats at the Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy next year.

We exchanged views on the regional and global agendas. We are on the same page on most issues. We consistently advocate strengthening fair and democratic principles of international relations, respecting the UN Charter in its entirety, searching for collective answers to large-scale challenges and threats, and respecting the right of each nation to independently determine its future.

We will continue to coordinate our actions at the UN. We are grateful to our Ethiopian friends for supporting Russia’s most important initiatives. In turn, we will promote the principles of the UN Charter that I mentioned when discussing matters of interest for the African countries, including reforming the UN Security Council.

We discussed the situation in Africa and the goals that need to be addressed in order to quickly overcome several crises and conflicts, primarily, on the Horn of Africa, South Sudan and Somalia. We pointed out that there is no alternative to resolving these crises, or crises in any other part of the world, through peaceful political means, while relying on an inclusive national dialogue. With regard to the African countries and the African continent, we strongly support the idea that it is the Africans who should have the decisive role in deciding on the paths to be used to resolve African problems. We will be guided exclusively by these approaches at the UN Security Council.   

Of course, we discussed preparations for the first ever Russia-Africa summit to be held in Sochi in late October. We are grateful to our Ethiopian friends for the contribution they are making to the preparations.

Question: On the eve of the EEF 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron said Russia is a major European partner and should not be lost. The other day, the Washington Post published articles on the same subject. Do you see any discrepancy in the positions voiced by Macron at different times? Or is Europe unable to resolve its problems without Russia’s participation in the context of the recent instability of the US Administration?

Sergey Lavrov: I don’t see a contradiction in the position expressed by French President Emmanuel Macron on Russia. I don’t see changes in these positions during his presidency; which of course, continues. Let me recall that one of his first initiatives immediately after he assumed office in 2017 was an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit France. They had a fairly important meeting in Versailles. Then President Putin invited him to Russia, and last year President Macron attended the SPIEF. In the autumn of 2018, President Putin was in Paris on President Macron’s invitation to the Paris Peace Forum. This year they had a very detailed conversation at Fort de Brégançon where President Putin had been invited by the French leader. These facts show that since the beginning of his presidency Emmanuel Macron has concentrated on relations with Russia. He understood the abnormality of the situation caused by the Western response to the events in Crimea and Ukraine in 2014 when Russia, the Russian language and Russian culture were subjected to a direct threat by the national radicals that came to power in Ukraine as a result of a coup. At that time, Russia responded to the request of Crimean residents in a referendum to reunite with their historical homeland and did not support those who wanted to drown Ukraine’s eastern part, Donbass, in the blood and suppress any resistance to the coup. Under the circumstances, the Western reaction was inept. Sanctions were introduced because of frustration caused by the failure of the attempts to subordinate Ukraine to those that obediently fulfil Western will.

I digress because many people say they will not substantially change their  relations with Russia until it resolves the problems in Ukraine that it has committed to resolve – the Minsk agreements, etc. Russia doesn’t need to do anything. The Minsk agreements must be carried out by Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. We have not forgotten what happened in 2014, either. Incidentally, I said this to my colleague Jean-Yves Le Drian yesterday when we held Russian-French talks in the 2+2 format at the ministerial level. Our Western colleagues are telling us they cannot forget this. They say we should change our behavior and then everything will go well. We have not forgotten either how the coup was backed despite the commitment assumed by the EU, notably, France, Germany and Poland to guarantee the agreement between Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition on February 21, 2014. When this agreement was broken on the following morning neither France, nor Germany, nor any other EU country bothered to bring to reason the members of the opposition that did not give a damn about the signatures of Paris, Berlin and Warsaw. We have not forgotten this, either.

But we will not turn our opinion of the West’s moves at that time into an obstacle to strategic partnership with the EU that actually remains strategic on paper. Nobody has cancelled the agreement signed in 1994 (The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and Russia that was signed on June 24, 1994 and entered into force on December 1, 1997 -- editor’s note).

Today President Macron is saying, without reservation, that they should talk with Russia on all issues – those where our positions coincide and especially those where our opinions differ at this time. I think this is the approach of a statesman, a responsible approach that is not based on benevolence towards Russia. This approach is based on the realisation of the fundamental national interests of France, on the vital interests of all Europe and the EU that are consonant with the ideas expressed by France more than once. I am referring to the position stated by General Charles de Gaulle, Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac. All of them said that Europe should see and build a future together with Russia. There was a concept that spread fr om the Atlantic to the Urals; later there was a more comprehensive concept spreading from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Those European leaders that understand this historical approach as President Macron does will, of course, meet with understanding and reciprocity on our behalf. We will always be willing to work in the interests of the EU and Russia and all states located in this geopolitical space – the enormous continent of Eurasia – which are linked by a common destiny. 

Question: The other day, US media reported that allegedly after your meeting with US President Donald Trump in 2017, an American intelligence services informant who allegedly had held high-powered positions in Russia was extracted by the United States. According to the media, his name is Oleg Smolenkov, and he allegedly worked at the Administrative Directorate of the Russian President, as well as at the Foreign Ministry and the Russian Embassy in the United States. Would you please comment on this information, and is it true?

Sergey Lavrov: The Russian Presidential Press Office released a comment regarding this individual earlier today. I have never seen him, I have never met him, and I have never kept track of his career or his movements. I do not feel like commenting on rumours, given that I have never communicated with this man.   

I only can comment on facts. You mentioned my meeting with US President Donald Trump in the White House in May 2017. This was a return visit: a couple of months before it, the US Secretary of State at the time, Rex Tillerson, visited Moscow. We talked, and he was received by Russian President Vladimir Putin. On May 10, 2017, I was in Washington. After talks at the State Department, we went to the White House, wh ere we had lengthy talks with President Trump. During those talks, no one divulged any state or other secrets to anyone. This was confirmed by the US National Security Adviser at the time, Herbert McMaster, who attended the meeting. Other people who more or less know what was discussed at the meeting also confirm this.

Discussed at that meeting was, primarily, the need to improve relations and rectify the damage to bilateral cooperation caused by the Obama administration, which had ruined all more or less important mechanisms for cooperation between Moscow and Washington, before leaving the White House. We talked with Donald Trump about this having a harmful effect on our bilateral relations – because this hurts business and cultural and humanitarian exchanges – as well as international relations, meaning the international community’s efforts to resolve numerous issues because, as many have admitted and continue to admit,  settling these issues largely depends on cooperation between Russia and the United States. This is what we were talking about. It was specially mentioned at that meeting in the White House that cooperation in countering international terrorism was hit hardest by Barack Obama’s efforts to destroy the established mechanisms for cooperation. President Trump and we pledged commitment to the efforts to do whatever is necessary to re-establish these channels of cooperation that are absolutely necessary today.