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PRESS RELEASES

11.07.2011

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Interview to the Vesti 24 Television Channel, Moscow, July 7, 2011

Question: With your permission, let’s begin with a question of concern to many, first of all those who often travel to Europe or the United States on duty or under their own free will. Work has already begun aimed at achieving a visa-free regime with Europe and a facilitated or even visa-free regime with the United States. At what stage is it now? Are there any problems?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: As to our relations with the European Union on this issue, they are more advanced compared to this theme in the context of relations with the United States. With the EU, as you know, there is the fully operative Visa Facilitation Agreement. Work is now underway to supplement it, first of all, in terms of preferential coverage of a larger category of our citizens. I think it will be noticeable, and I hope that before the end of the year the work on this agreement will be completed.

In parallel, we have a dialogue with the EU on the transition to a visa-free regime. It is also progressing. A few days ago there was a new round of dialogue that significantly advanced the parties towards agreeing the so called list of common steps. This is an innovative document. Its meaning is that it will list very specific things that need to be done by Russia and the EU. Once all this is done, but, again, things are concrete, doable, not abstract, we will move at once to the signing of an agreement on a visa-free regime. Negotiations are going well.

As to the US, you will remember that during the visit to Moscow this spring by Vice President Joe Biden the Russian leadership proposed that consideration be given to a new ambitious goal in our relationship which will directly affect the interests of Russians and Americans – transition to a visa-free regime. The idea wasn’t rejected, but as a first step, the Americans suggested that a visa facilitation agreement be prepared. We certainly backed the proposal. Presidents Medvedev and Obama spoke in favor of that at their meeting in Deauville in late May. This agreement is in the final stages of preparation. It will provide for long-term multiple-entry visas for tourists and businessmen, as well as one-year multiple-entry visas for persons visiting Russia and, accordingly, the United States for official purposes. Now we are finalizing the provisions concerning the time limit for examining visa applications (which is needed, otherwise it can drag on forever) and the list of documents required for applying for a visa. Naturally, we want it to be specific and as short as possible.

Question: In this connection I would like to ask about the situation now evolving in the visa area between Russia and Britain. Many Russian tourists and businessmen complain about visa issuance delays only because the UK has taken a position, already announced in statements by British officials that any talks on a visa-free regime between Russia and Britain may be possible only after the recognition by Russia of Andrei Lugovoi’s culpability in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. How justified are such claims?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I think they are, of course, politicized. We have rechecked how accurately those statements were set out in the media. We are told that the statements were misinterpreted and that the United Kingdom does not make visa facilitation contingent upon proceedings against Lugovoi, although the British do not give up their demands for his extradition. However, the statements you cited do raise questions. If their demand aims at the recognition of Lugovoy’s culpability, it is at least incorrect to make such demands, to say guilty or not-guilty, before completion of the investigation and the rending of a court judgment.

We have long ago proposed to our British partners a scheme analogous to that agreed several years ago with the European Union on visa facilitation, bearing in mind that the agreement with the European Union applies only to the Schengen zone, where the UK is not included. In principle, such an approach would be logical. But at this stage our partners are not ready for it, saying that maximum use should be made of existing rules. True, as you just said, the current rules create a lot of problems. Not only that people simply do not have time to get a visa, although they apply in advance, now it transpires London calls on Russians to apply for visas three months ahead of travel. This significantly limits freedom of movement, because not everyone knows three months in advance what they will do at their end.

I have personally handled several complaints of our citizens, when a person with a paid scholarship or paid bills for education in London schools or universities simply did not get an entry visa by the start of the academic year. Of course, this is really too much. Our partners acknowledge that this is the wrong approach. Unfortunately, relapses are constantly arising.

Question: The next topic, which, of course, is also of interest and concern to many, falls within the scope of relations between Russia and Europe and between Russia and the United States. It is missile defense. Recently Sochi hosted a field meeting of the Russia-NATO Council. As is known, next year, negotiations will continue. What questions will be submitted to the next meeting? What difficulties, perhaps even insurmountable, are there, of which many politicians speak?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The meeting of the Russia-NATO Council ambassadors in Sochi did not presuppose making any crucial decisions on issues of missile defense. It was one of the regular meetings of the RNC. The only distinctive feature was that the Council held the meeting outside its headquarters. Such meetings had already been held before, including in 2003 in Russia. The aim was to examine on the spot a number of issues, including security aspects, which are being tackled in connection with the preparation for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The presentations were made, particularly on transport security. In many cases they dealt with the projects being jointly implemented by Russia and NATO.

The subject of missile defense for obvious reasons can hardly be tackled by the ambassadors. Deliberation on it proceeds at the summit and high levels. There are special arrangements, especially between Russia and the United States; the matter is specifically dealt with by the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for liaison with NATO on missile defense issues, Dmitry Rogozin.

But the idea of missile defense in Europe belongs to Washington. Now connecting NATO to this global project of the United States is underway. We must clearly understand that this project, its “design” is still an American-sponsored one. Europe can only make an insignificant contribution with some minor ancillary things. But its basic design and content are undoubtedly of American origin.

Therefore, our main negotiating partner is Washington. Like I said, we have the appropriate working group under the Presidential Commission. It meets regularly. On the eve of Deauville, at the Americans’ suggestion, we discussed the possibility of adopting a statement that would have given instructions on solving a number of important matters that must be resolved before moving on to practical cooperation. But then at the suggestion of the Americans their own initiative was withdrawn. Sometimes it happens. We continue the dialogue. The discussion now concerns, above all, the necessary policy framework that would allow embarking on the solution of concrete military-technical and other aspects of the project.

The framework should define several important elements. Firstly, this project should be an equal, joint one and should not be based on an unequivocal acceptance of an analysis conducted by one party (in this case the US), but rest on joint analysis and on a joint intellectual military-analytical contribution. This does not work so far.

The Americans tell us that the “design” is fixed, that it is ideal and absolutely perfect for missile defense purposes, and that the system, which will be established on the basis of this “design,” in no way, they say, prejudices the security interests of Russia. We say however that if there is no desire to change the “design,” then, of course, the opportunities for collaboration are dramatically narrowed. We have a somewhat different analysis of the situation regarding the threats of missile proliferation, from where they can emanate, how serious they are and how long it will take before these threats become a reality for Europe, Russia and especially the United States.

Thus, we say that our analytical estimations differ. We see in the American “design,” especially at the third and fourth phases of the so-called adaptive approach, the possibility of creating a military infrastructure in Europe near our borders, an infrastructure that will create problems for Russia’s strategic potential. So we propose agreeing on the guarantees that the future system will not be aimed against Russia and against any of its participants; we propose agreeing on the criteria to verify in practice that the stated purpose of the project – namely, to ward off missile threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic region – will actually be observed. The Americans are not yet ready for that; they give assurances that there are no plans to aim this system against Russia. But they refer to the fact that the Senate has forbade the administration to limit the future development of missile defense in any way – in other words, there may be a fifth, sixth, seventh, etc. phase, which also does not add much to predictability.

Our position is simple: if you say that the system is not aimed against Russia, why not put it on paper? We have not yet received an answer, but hope that at the meetings in Washington on July 11-13 we will, of course, raise this theme and listen to our American partners. We are not interested in the project becoming confrontational; on the contrary, we believe that the proposals that Russia has made on more than one occasion about our vision for joint cooperation in this area warrant consideration and are suitable to search for compromises not infringing upon the interests of the United States, Europe and the Russian Federation.

If we could realize a similar joint project, it would be no exaggeration to describe it as a breakthrough into the future, and issues of strategic stability would lose significantly the touch of confrontation, which still remains out of inertia since the Cold War, and would transfer our relations into a category which could be called close to allied understanding. But I repeat this question hasn’t been removed yet. We would like to solve it exactly in a positive way so it would reinforce strategic stability, not weaken it.

Question: The North Atlantic Alliance is a military organization, so Russia, naturally, should be earnest about the military and defense purposes facing it, as long as it has already proposed some solutions, which in Russia’s view would suit both parties in terms of information about a particular threat not to the detriment of the interests of the two sides. You said that the US offers its strategy in this regard, a development strategy, and does not want to change it. How serious is their solution? Is it possible that they will change the point of view, for example, in a year when talks on this subject will be held in May?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: You mean the NATO summit? We cannot influence what is being done within NATO, but we always say that once the presidents of all Russia-NATO Council countries agreed in Lisbon to work on a joint project of missile defense, intra-NATO discussions should at least not run ahead of the discussions within the Russia-NATO Council. Meanwhile, the opposite happens. Moreover, even in spite of promises that everything will be transparent within the Alliance, they do not tell us in a timely fashion how the intra-NATO discussions proceed. This is what we just mentioned at the meeting with the partners in Sochi.

We were assured that there is no intention to hide something there, but so far we do not get any regular briefings, and, most importantly – they lag behind those events to which they are devoted. Yes, the Americans, at least, say it plainly that they cannot change their system. They proposed that, at the first stage, we simply plug in our information resources to serve the “design” approved in Washington. Well then, I already told you – this is hardly the approach that will help create something together based on the addition of intellectual, military-technical and informational potentials, which we would like.

Question: To what extent does the Reset of relations between the US and Russia correspond to those ideas that were initially put into this word when it was first heard in relations between the two countries? Will the Reset continue with the change of US administration or will it again bring into itself some new features?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I have had the opportunity to speak on this topic. The Reset is not our term. It belongs to the Democratic administration that came to power after long Republican rule. Manifest in this term was the understanding of the Democrats now in charge of the White House that it was necessary to abandon the practice observed during the reign of George W. Bush, when at the level of the first officials very warm, even friendly relations existed and understandings were reached that in general proceeded in the direction of cooperation on an equal basis and then that warm personal relationship and those understandings did not translate into practical steps on the lower floors of the bureaucracy. We many times talked about this with both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and with other members of the administration, urged them to follow the basic understandings that were achieved at the highest level. This did not happen. Moreover, people on the lower floors took actions that directly contradicted the assurances given us at the highest level.

So when President Obama announced the Reset, we felt that he wanted to change that approach of the previous US administration, that he wanted to make sure that relations with Russia were built systematically, honestly and that all the signals from above reached the executors. In most cases, we see that it works. Not necessarily that we solve all the issues, without exception, but at least we feel that at the various negotiating venues and floors our partners strive to achieve agreement much more often than previously. There are exceptions – I have mentioned missile defense; although the dialogue on this issue is continuing, it really is a very difficult topic.

So the Reset has worked. We’ve got a more reliable, more predictable, more consistent partner, and we certainly appreciate it. The very close, friendly relationship between Presidents Medvedev and Obama, of course, helps to work at other levels, and, again, unlike the Bush administration we do not see an unduly considerable and apparent deceleration of the presidential impulses at the following stages of bureaucratic work.

Question: Another very important question about the agreement on adoption between the Russia and the US. This topic is long overdue, for the many, rather sad stories that emerge in the press. Now how close is the solution to this problem?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: You’re right this problem has long been ripening. We spoke to Americans about the need for a legal framework for further cooperation in the field of adoption. They initially told us that this was impossible, because it would be contrary to domestic law. But we were forced, of course, to put the question squarely, especially after cases such as, for example, of Artyom Savelyev, whom his foster mother sent to Moscow by plane almost as “printed matter.” There were, of course, other episodes. Therefore, we raised the question point-blank: either we altogether stop making decisions about adoption of Russian children by American families or conclude a legally binding agreement.

And that work began, the Americans responded to the signal. Just a couple of weeks ago there was the final meeting of the negotiating group (apart from the Foreign Ministry, it includes the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Pavel Astakhov). The agreement is ready, and it is now undergoing internal procedures in both countries. I hope that very soon we will be able to sign it. The agreement is an equitable and truly two-way one. Incidentally, Russian citizens in the United States are also recorded it as having the right to adoption.

The agreement provides for some very important elements. Firstly, mandatory psychological testing of prospective adoptive parents, taking into account a number of episodes with the beating and rape of Russian adopted children. This is fundamentally important. Responsibility for such testing will be borne by US authorities. Secondly, the agreement prohibits so-called independent adoptions; that is, it will be possible to adopt only through a specially accredited agency. The American side also bears responsibility for this. Thirdly, it is specified that before the coming of age all of our children adopted by Americans will retain Russian citizenship. This is important because the agreement also provides that in the consideration in one party’s court of the cases that arise in connection with adoption or unadoption the applicable law of the other party will be taken into account. A fundamental point – the Americans would not hear about any consideration of the Russian legislation before then. There are a number of important provisions, which, in my opinion, create reliable guarantees and the confidence that our children will, firstly, live in decent conditions, and secondly, we will be able to access them and monitor how they are treated.

Question: Now, the situation in Libya. Russia has repeatedly expressed its position: it is necessary to stop the war, and the parties in conflict must respect UN Security Council resolution 1973. But, as Dmitry Rogozin earlier told us, now the parties involved in the military operation do not observe this resolution. Is there any specific plan to resolve the situation which would suit all the parties in conflict?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: That this resolution is being grossly violated has been stated by the Russian President and Prime Minister. The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly called attention to evidence of its gross violation. Our partners deny everything and refer to the now infamous paragraph of the resolution, which says that anyone can do anything. They wrote this paragraph themselves for themselves. We demanded to change its content, to specify who would undertake the task of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, what would be the rules and limits to the use of force to achieve the goals. No-fly zones, by and large, suggest two things: Gaddafi’s forbidden to raise combat aircraft into the air, otherwise they become a legitimate target; and if an installation launches antiaircraft fire at coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone, then this antiaircraft installation also becomes a legitimate target. That’s it – nothing more. At least, such a clear legal interpretation existed when a no-fly zone was imposed by the UN Security Council on Iraq. Going beyond these two legitimate targets was considered a gross violation of its mandate. You know what combat support is provided to the insurgents. There is even no need to list all its forms and methods. They go beyond the framework stipulated by the fly-zone regime.

As for what to do next, I think the NATO members who have undertaken to implement this resolution are now in a difficult situation. They have been bombing Libya for longer than they bombed Yugoslavia, which, I guess, they did for 78 days, and Libya – for more than three months now and we see no end of this process. Of course, politics is a thing quite cynical, so when we hear from Western capitals about the necessity to bomb until victory, until Gaddafi is no longer a threat to the civilian population, until he removes all his troops to the barracks, the price of such policy statements is very high in terms of human life.

According to military experts, there can be no fast solution in Libya. As a result, people are dying on both sides of the conflict; innocent civilians are dying whom this resolution must in fact protect. It is because I think the situation has become so protracted that the Western partners, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during the G8 summit in Deauville, asked President Medvedev for Russian help in mediation efforts. As you know, such assistance is being rendered.

We do not take the lead. The Russian President’s special envoy for Africa Mikhail Margelov is in contact with all the parties, but in the context of support for the peacebuilding efforts of the African Union (AU). The African Union has a “road map” which is now being finalized. Recently, the AU summit took place in Equatorial Guinea. South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Sochi to tell President Medvedev about the decisions made there. The summit was attended by representatives of the Libyan authorities and the rebels of Benghazi. According to President Zuma, they both responded positively to the proposed course of action and pledged to get the OK from their leaders, respectively, in Tripoli and Benghazi. We commended the outcome of the African Union summit as a step in the right direction. We will work to ensure that an agreement on this basis is achieved.

Question: Regarding the situation in Syria and Yemen, which continues to evolve and it’s unclear what it all may result in. Is Russia preparing any initiatives, so to speak, ahead of time?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Of course, every situation has a different specificity: the countries are different and the impact of the conditions in each country on the regional situation is likewise different, although in both cases the effect is very large. The role of Yemen was recently indispensable in the fight against terrorist organizations in the region. And if the current crisis results in a situation which will weaken the capacity of Yemen to counter terrorism, it would be extremely unfortunate.

Syria’s role is quite large in Middle Eastern affairs in general. It’s Lebanon, with its serious problems; it’s of course the serious Syrian-Israeli component of the Middle East peace process; it’s the Kurdish problem and the problem of inter-Islamic relations between Shiites (with their numerous trends) and Sunnis, who have the most diverse branches. And in either case the actions are inadmissible because of which civilians die. We have talked and continue to talk about it openly. But in both cases it is inadmissible for the opposition to move to violent methods, provoking peaceful protesters to participate in violent actions, actually making peaceful protesters a target for police or security forces.

When we see that the position of our Western partners unambiguously comes down to pressure on only one side, the government and President Bashar al-Assad, then I think it’s wrong because the opposition, particularly of such a militant kind, gets the illusion that if it is a little more aggressive, the situation will become increasingly more critical, and the West will come to their aid, as in the case of Libya. This only fuels radical sentiment and is used by all manner of extremists for provocations. We believe this line is absolutely wrong. We want the same approach used in respect of Syria as is used with regard to Yemen. Despite the fact that there was heavy fighting – to cite only the shelling of the presidential residence, which resulted in the president seriously wounded, and the Prime Minister, two deputy prime ministers, the speakers of both houses of parliament injured. But no one, in general, is trying to aggravate the situation, take sides and drag the issue to the UN Security Council. Both the US and the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council and the UN and we occupy the same position. We urge the authorities and opposition in Yemen to sit down and negotiate, without apportioning blame. And we’ll adhere to the same approach in respect of Syria. We believe that our partners should take the same position.

Question: A final question, which now concerns the economic situation in Europe more. How does it influence our country? In this formula there are, of course, a lot of variables. It’s the new IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, and the situation in Greece and in many other European countries, which may be said to develop in a similar scenario, and which will have be tackled in some, probably financial, manner in the European Union. To what extent may all this have an adverse influence, which is spreading across Europe?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: As you know, it’s not a matter in which the Foreign Ministry plays a major role. We have a very strong economic block in the government. My colleagues are dealing with this issue, regularly report to the Prime Minister and the President of Russia.

Of course, we can’t help but worry about what is happening around us, especially in the euro area. We hear panicky forecasts that default is inevitable in Greece and the euro area will be severely weakened. At one time in some countries calls could be heard to withdraw from the euro zone, to return to the national currency. I would by no means like to see the real decisions being made by operators in the market influenced by largely artificially injected panic.

We are convinced that the European Union has the political will to isolate the problem and prevent it from turning into something more. We are confident that the EU understands the importance of this whole situation not only for the Union’s member countries, but also for the global economy, global finance, given the role that has been gained by the euro as a currency in international payments. I am convinced that the IMF also understands the importance of verified actions to stabilize the situation without emotion, actions that are not amenable to short-term screams and sobs.

We will actively work to help calm the situation through our active participation in the upcoming G20 summit. Preparation for it has already begun. The situation with these manifestations of crisis allows us to draw one very important conclusion in political terms. The task being promoted by us with our BRICS partners, of completing the reform of the international monetary and financial system so it would rely on a greater number of centers of economic growth and would thus be more stable is urgent as never before.




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