Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Sierra Leone Alie Kabba
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have had substantive negotiations. Relations between Russia and Sierra Leone are friendly and based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and consideration for each other’s interests.
In 2018, presidential elections were held in Sierra Leone. In this context, we regard the visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Alie Kabba to Moscow as a confirmation of the African country’s commitment to ensuring continuity under the new leadership, to continuing and expanding mutually beneficial cooperation.
We have a mutual interest in this. It primarily concerns trade, economic and humanitarian components of our relations. We agreed to take additional steps to reach the implementation of promising projects in such areas as mining, energy, and fisheries.
We appreciate that during his stay, Mr Kabba will visit the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, the Federal Agency for Fisheries and the Ministry of Healthcare. I note that last year, we held a training seminar for medical personnel in Sierra Leone. The research centre for epidemiology and prevention of infectious diseases, which has been operating in Guinea with Russia’s assistance since 2017, can extend its programmes to the neighbouring countries, including Sierra Leone, as was discussed today.
We spoke about the importance of improving the quality of our cooperation in the fisheries. There is a special institute in Freetown, and there are opportunities for assistance in organising the educational process and raising the level of skills of local specialists.
We noted the common goal of creating favourable conditions for the Russian business community’s activities in Sierra Leone and for direct contacts between the two countries’ business people.
Russia and Sierra Leone signed an agreement on military technical cooperation; the process of its ratification will be completed in the very near future. This is another area where we have good prospects for expanding cooperation.
We agreed to continue cooperation in the training of Sierra Leonean professionals at Russian universities. More than 2,000 citizens of Sierra Leone are graduates of our universities. Yesterday, right after arriving in Moscow, Mr Kabba met with representatives of Sierra Leonean students at Russian universities.
We discussed the need to promote inter-parliamentary ties. Mr Minister has already met with the leadership of the Federation Council. We welcome such contacts.
We noted that dialogue between our foreign ministries is at a high level. We have a Memorandum of Consultations, which has been in effect for the last couple of years. We reaffirmed the unanimity or similarity of approaches to important international and regional issues. We are firmly committed to the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and respect for the right of peoples to independently determine the models for their political and socio-economic development.
We expressed gratitude to our Sierra Leonean friends for voting in support of Russia’s initiatives at the UN, including on the unacceptable glorification of Nazism and deploying weapons in space, and on international information security.
Sierra Leone heads the African Union Committee of Ten created to promote the African continent’s position on the UN Security Council reform. Today, prospects for reforming this key international body responsible for maintaining global peace and security were discussed in detail. We agreed to strengthen the coordination of actions within the UN, and at other multilateral platforms for the sake of finding the best answers to the challenges and threats of our time, including terrorism, organised crime, and drug trafficking.
We talked at length about the situation in Africa. We have a unanimous position on the need for an integrated approach involving the coordinated actions of Africans themselves with the support of the international community to resolve the many problems that this potentially rich continent is facing today. Russia believes that the world community should be guided by the African problems - African solutions approach to any crises in Africa, without trying to impose any outside recipes, but should rely on the wisdom of the African countries while providing every possible assistance including political, material and peacemaking, to help implement the decisions that Africans will achieve. From this angle we discussed the developments in the Sahara-Sahel region, Mali and the Central African Republic. Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council will invariably support these approaches when considering African issues.
Overall, I assume that today, with the new Government of Sierra Leone, we have reaffirmed our commitment to continuing our cooperation in all areas, as well as extending it to new areas that would meet our mutual interests.
I am sincerely grateful to my colleague for these talks.
Question (addressed to Alie Kabba): Do you regard the African Union countries’ position on reforming the UN Security Council as consolidated?
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Alie Kabba): We discussed the reform of the UN Security Council at length today. We respect the position of the African Union and its aspiration to ensure a consensus of its member states on this matter.
I would like to say that consensus or a broad agreement on this issue will be very important in general when the time comes to make a decision at the UN. It would be destructive for the UN to vote on the fundamental issue of reform, as some UN member states propose, in the hope of getting two-thirds of the vote in support of the reform they are advocating. This would split the UN. We must do our best to prevent this. This is why we deeply respect the African countries’ patient and responsible position on the matter.
The main thing at the debates on reform is to reach agreement on the stronger representation of developing countries, from Asia, Africa and Latin America, in the UN Security Council. It is the main condition for a successful reform. Russia will regard this as a priority goal in this sphere.
Question: Russia has expressed readiness to help promote understanding between responsible forces in Venezuela. Can such talks succeed if the United States is interfering in developments in Venezuela and supporting the opposition?
Sergey Lavrov: We are deeply distressed by what the United States and its closest allies are doing to Venezuela. They have violated international law by taking the path towards overthrowing the legitimate government in that Latin American country.
We learned about new sanctions today, namely the decision to freeze the foreign reserves of the Central Bank and the government of Venezuela. The United States has used this illegal and wrongful method before, against other countries’ assets. It froze the assets of Iraq, Libya, Iran, Cuba, Nicaragua and Panama. In most cases, this amounted to the confiscation of foreign governments’ assets.
The UK authorities have done the same by seizing, in effect confiscating, Venezuela’s gold holdings in in London. Apart from seriously undermining whatever trust there still is in the international financial system based on the domination of the US dollar, this deepens the social crisis in Venezuela and is obviously designed to encourage the illegal activities of the opposition. According to the available information, the opposition leaders who have declared dual power, have received instructions from Washington to reject any compromises until the Venezuelan government cedes power, in one way or another.
It was reported today that sanctions have been imposed on the Venezuelan oil and gas company PDVSA and its US subsidiary Citgo. At the same time, these sanctions do not affect US companies in Venezuela, which gives rise to cynicism. They want to change the Venezuelan government and also to profit from this.
As it is said, the United States has taken the bit between its teeth and is openly working to overthrow a legitimate government. But this does not mean we can stop using any means available to uphold international law. We will work together with all the other responsible members of the international community to support the efforts of the legitimate government of Nicolas Maduro to protect Venezuela’s Constitution and to find a constitutional solution to the crisis.
Question: During the telephone conversation with your Iranian colleague, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the sides reaffirmed their willingness to facilitate mutual understanding between the political forces of Venezuela. What practical steps does this imply?
Sergey Lavrov: As for opportunities for international assistance to settling the crisis in Venezuela, in my reply to the previous question I mentioned some very serious obstacles that the US and its closest allies are putting in their path.
I’ve just read a report about yesterday’s news conference by US National Security Advisor John Bolton. According to the media, he carelessly left his notepad in view of the cameras. The notepad had the words “5,000 troops to Colombia” written on it. This gives one food for thought, especially considering that the appeals to use Venezuela’s neighbours for direct intervention under the pretext of the grievous humanitarian situation are openly made in the US and some other countries.
Yet, we noted that despite ultimatums to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by a number of EU members, the statement made by High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini on behalf of the EU is more reserved and suggests establishing a contact group. Now we are trying to clear up what our European colleagues have in mind and how they plan to implement this idea, if at all.
In addition, member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are also seriously concerned about the developments in Venezuela and the plans of some aggressive outside players regarding that country. They are also trying to find opportunities for international mediation.
As you know, President Maduro and his representatives, in particular, Foreign Minister Jorge Alberto Arreaza Montserrat, have repeatedly spoken out in favour of talks with the opposition. Judging by its reaction, the opposition is under heavy pressure from those who prohibit it from establishing contract with the legitimate government. Nevertheless, considering the signals from the EU, the interest of the Caribbean countries and the striving of India and China to prevent disastrous developments, we would like to try and understand what the international community can do to prevent yet another crude violation of international law and regime change by force and steer the developments into the constitutional framework. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and I discussed this yesterday. Just like us, he would like to find opportunities for external players to be useful to the Venezuelan people. They should encourage all responsible Venezuelan leaders to conduct dialogue rather than instigate riots and violent confrontation.
Question: Foreign Minister of Denmark Anders Samuelsen urged the EU countries to introduce sanctions against Russia because of its actions in the Sea of Azov. What does Moscow think of such statements?
Sergey Lavrov: Denmark called for sanctions in connection with the events in the Kerch Strait. This was indeed a crude violation of the rules and norms of navigation by Ukrainian ships. So, if the intention was to punish the Ukrainians, they deserve it.