REMARKS OF H.E. VLADIMIR N. SERGEEV, AMBASSADOR EXTRAORDINARY AND PLENIPOTENTIARY OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION TO HUNGARY
National University of Public Service
Budapest; November 16, 2016
The relations between Russia and Hungary are based on healthy pragmatism, our common commitment to preserve and enhance mutually beneficial economic cooperation – even under the anti-Russia sanctions introduced by the United States and the EU.
Russian-Hungarian political contacts at the highest level have become regular in recent years. Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán visited Moscow on February 17. President Vladimir Putin was in Budapest on a working visit in 2015. Sergey Lavrov’s last working visit to Hungary took place on May 25, 2016.
Trade between Russia and Hungary fell by almost half over the past two years to $4.7 billion. As of the end of the 2015, it declined by 40 percent year-on-year. It should be noted that the above-mentioned decline is so substantial in currency-evaluated terms. If we look at its volumes in natural amount, we shall see insignificant contruction in our mutual trade, The main reason is rather simple – the decrease of price of gas and oil, although sanctions also played their negative role. Despite this, both sides are convinced that Russia-Hungary trade and economic relations have substantial potential for further development, and plan to make concerted efforts to this end.
A number of important issues on the international agenda, such as the situation in Ukraine, fighting international terrorism in Syria and Iraq, relations between Russia, NATO and the EU, the migration crisis in Europe, to just mention a few, are considered during the talks of our leaders and ministers of foreign affairs. Russia-Hungary foreign policy dialogue is comprehensive and open-minded, based on assessment of the overall situation in Europe and in the world. There are issuer on which we disagree, but there are similar or close approaches of Moscow and Budapest to addressing the most pressing modern problems. Plans for ministerial consultations are approved each year.
I would like note the fruitful and effective work of the Russian-Hungarian Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation (ICEC) chaired by Russia’s Minister of Healthcare Veronika Skvortsova and Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó. ICEC is an effective tool for coordinating ways to address practical problems and stimulate bilateral ties of all kinds. The 9th ICEC meeting was held in Budapest on June 21-22.
We are looking forward to evaluating progress in expanding Hungary’s Paks Nuclear Power Plant with the participation of Russia’s State Corporation Rosatom. The Hungarian government and personally Prime-Minister Mr. V.Orban has repeatedly confirmed Budapest’s commitment to this project which is very important for Hungary’s power generating industry and to the development of Russian-Hungarian economic ties in general.
Energy remains the priority of our mutual trade and economic cooperation. Russia’s supplies cover about three-quarters of Hungary’s oil and two-thirds of natural gas consumption. In light of the resumption of Turkish Stream gas pipeline project Budapest expresses its interest in further expansion of bilateral cooperation in this sphere and is looking for alternative ways of supply to Hungary. Hungary’s oil and gas MOL Group has firmly established itself in Russia, where it is involved in oil industry in the Tomsk, Orenburg, and Samara regions.
Major joint high-tech projects that have good prospects are one of the ways to overcome the difficulties in mutual trade triggered by the sanctions. Our companies has been successfully cooperation within the sphere of transport machinery, including upgrading of carriages for the third line of the Budapest metro, as well as joint access to the railway-machinery market of the third states.
Bilateral region-to-region relations are expanding at a fast pace. According to the agreement between V.Putin and V.Orban on forming a Russian-Hungarian intergovernmental commission to promote region-to-region cooperation, we expect the invigoration of our ties on this track. Hungarian trade houses have been opened in some large Russian cities. Hungarian companies carry out major investment projects in a number of Russian regions. In 2015-2016, a number of high-ranked Russian regional delegations visited Budapest, including those headed be the President of Tatarstan, governors of the city of St Petersburg and Kursk region. Two weeks ago, Budapest Mayor Tarlos visited Moscow and signed with Moscow Mayor Sobyanin comprehensive programme of cooperation between the two cities. Active interregional cooperation makes effective contribution to the whole scale of bilateral dialogue.
Russian-Hungarian cultural and humanitarian ties keep expanding. Last year the Days of Russian Culture in Hungary were held for the first time in the past 10 years (March 2015), and Hungarian cultural events were held in Russia (March-August 2015).
Interest towards the Russian language is on rise in Hungary. Hungary’s largest centers of Russian studies are located in Budapest, Debrecen, Pécs and Szeged. In Russia, the Hungarian language is taught at the universities of Moscow, St Petersburg, Khanty-Mansiysk, Yoshkar-Ola, Saransk, Izhevsk, Syktyvkar, Petrozavodsk, and Yekaterinburg. Bilateral student exchanges are expanding steadily.
The Russian Federation aims to develop close and comprehensive partnership with the European Union based on the principles of equality, mutual benefit and respect for each other’s interests. We are ready for the broadest possible strategic cooperation with the EU. Russia and all EU Member States are also the members of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe. In view of spreading cross-border threats and challenges, Russia is interested in strengthening cooperation with the European Union in countering terrorism, organized crime, illegal migration, human trafficking and illicit drug trade. Furthermore, there is obvious interest in joining efforts in mitigating the effects of climate change and other issues. Our goals are clear and transparent.
Now Russia-EU relations are going through challenging times. We hear Brussels say that Russia is no longer a strategic partner though still remains a strategic state. We are well familiar with such verbal rhetoric and see that unfortunately it is not only rhetoric. It demonstrates the the European Union’s inability to comprehend reality. EU’s actions on the eve and in the course of the Ukraine crisis have called into question its reputation as a reliable partner of our country. Our relationship has been seriously undermined by unilateral sanctions imposed by the European Union at the expense of economic interests of both sides for the sake of promoting dubious geopolitical schemes. Now it seems that the logic of “zero sum games” and demands of taking sides – “you either with us or with them” – that were addressed practically to all post-Soviet states eventually led to the crisis that broke out in Ukraine.
The Ukraine crisis has highlighted the urgent need to jointly elaborate a model of Russia-EU relations in the region of our “common neighborhood” which would ensure due consideration of the interests of all parties concerned and all countries of the region, thus instead of being a source of tension, becoming an instrument of enhancing and strengthening cooperation on the continent. European leaders and political elites should draw lessons from self-evident mistakes made during the implementation by the EU of its Eastern Partnership initiative, the unilateral nature of which largely contributed to the current crisis. I hope that it will help us and the EU understands how to proceed further. We will not take offence or shut ourselves off from the outside world. The EU is our close neighbor, our major trade and economic partner. I am confident that the development of diversified economic, political, cultural and security ties responds to the fundamental interests of Russia and the countries of Europe.
Naturally, we know the “Five principles” voiced by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini that determine approaches to relations with Russia at the current stage. We believe these principles do not answer the question of “what to do” but show a solidary EU policy of restricting relations with Russia to the utmost in certain areas, including energy, while at the same time preserving the right to invite us for cooperation when it is beneficial to the EU. Clearly, such policy cannot work, because it shows no respect to our interests.
A subject in its own right is the future of energy cooperation, which cemented Russia-EU relations for a long time. Russia has always been a reliable supplier of oil and gas, and our gas infrastructure has been adjusted to Europe’s requirements over the past decades. Despite the European Commission’s declared readiness to resume a full dialogue on energy, which have been made over the past years, Brussels’ intentions have yet to materialize. Purely commercial joint projects, which the EU member states and European energy companies supported, such as South Stream and Nord Stream-2, have been blocked or hindered. The majority of respected experts say that the EU will find it difficult to develop without Russian energy in the near term, the same is with the EU’s plans to decarbonize the economy and decrease “hot house” emissions in Europe. Russia and Turkey have signed an intergovernmental agreement on the construction of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, which initially provides for building one line towards Europe, in particular to Greece. In light of the problems with South Stream, we will consider extending Turkish Stream into the EU only if we have Brussels’s explicit official guarantees to allow this project to be built.
It is no secret that sanctions against Russia originate in Washington and are implemented in Europe under some pressure of the so-called trans-Atlantic solidarity. Paradoxically, this policy does not cost much to the Americans: they are not sustaining major losses, and even hope to convince Europe to replace Russian gas by more expensive American liquefied natural gas. It is for the Europeans to decide if this would be in their interests, especially now that the Old World is trying to redefine itself in the global economy and is facing numerous challenges. We see that not everyone in the EU is happy with this situation. The political, business and public communities in many countries are raising their voices to express disagreement with the policy of sanctions, and public opinion is consolidating towards normalizing relations with Russia. We hope the EU will overcome this mental inertia, will formulate its priorities independently without looking to non-regional influences.
Attempts to use sanctions as punishment for pursuing an independent foreign policy and for upholding justice in international affairs have not brought and will not bring any result. The Russian economy will not be torn to shreds, contrary to what Washington said two years ago. I am sure that you know our economic situation, and I do not have to tell you that Russia stands firmly on its feet and that it has adapted its activities and counter-steps to the restrictions and the situation in global hydrocarbon markets.
We see no insoluble problems in our relations with the EU. The most important thing is to abandon the lamentable “zero sum game” and try to rely on one’s own national interests.
In fact, our dialogue has almost never halted. High-level officials and experts continue to meet in the majority of industry-specific areas. Expert contacts continue, albeit not on the ministerial level. Recently, we had a regular round of dialogue on migration. This is also a sphere of our common interests. By committing to paper the facts that characterize the present state of affairs, the way we see it and the way the EU sees it, we hope this will help start a business-like conversation, casting aside all geopolitical considerations and unscrupulous political rhetoric, because these political games come at too high a price.
We will continue to strengthen productive cooperation with everyone who is interested in this. I am speaking about trade, economic and other spheres of cooperation. We are open to interaction with anyone who is willing to work with us based on mutual respect and balance of interests, and I can tell you that this is what absolute majority of countries want.
I would like to say a few words about Russia-US relations. Because, obviously, they have direct implications on relations with the EU and its member-states. Unfortunately, now Russia-US dialogue is at the lowest level in decades. Practically all channels of the bilateral interaction are closed by the American administration. Washington imposed a freeze on the activities of the Bilateral Presidential Commission, gradually introducing restrictive measures against Russian citizens and organizations.
NATO military infrastructure is expanding, with an increasing number of US troops in proximity to the Russian border. The United States and its allies openly and freely discuss transitioning to a policy of containment towards Russia.
Balancing on verge of the breaching of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 the United States put pressure on the NATO allies to support their military presence in Europe. We made several proposals to create a new system of European security with the participation of the United States. Instead, NATO began to expand, moving closer to our borders.
We said we needed to address the issues concerning the ABM systems together, preserving or updating the AntiBallistic Missile Treaty. The United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty and launched an intensive construction of anti-ballistic missile defense system in Europe.
We consistently push for settlement of problems in our bilateral agenda that were created by Washington even before the Ukrainian crisis. I want to stress that Ukrainian situation is just a chapter in “unfriendly” policy, which is being carried out for a number of years. How thongs will develop, I don’t know. The ball is on American side of the court.
Situation in Ukraine
Ukraine, which is extremely close to us in all senses, has fallen victim of those forces, whose goal was break-off at all ties with Russia. Ukrainian crisis is the result of unconstitutional coup of February, 2014, committed by the radical nationalists with active support of the US and some European states. The way out of crisis is now being blocked by Kiev’s refusal to abide by the Minsk agreements of February 12, 2015. It is obvious to everyone that efforts to use the Ukraine crisis for self-serving geopolitical goals will not go anywhere. We hope that if there is a political will, the natural course of events will lead to the implementation of all measures that the Ukrainian leadership signed onto, because the only realistic way of resolving the situation in south-eastern Ukraine is through the implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures in full and in the established order of priorities through a direct dialogue between the parties: Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. Russia is not a party of this conflict. We will continue to provide assistance within the framework of the Contact Group, the Normandy format, and the Joint Coordination and Control Centre (JCCC). We will continue to support the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM).
The last meetings within the Normandy format the sides devoted a great deal of attention to security matters and agreed on a range of issues regarding further immediate actions to resolve the situation with disengaging the conflicting sides.
However, it is not possible to stabilize the situation without implementing the political aspects of the Package of Measures. They include an interconnected set of issues: coordination of modalities for elections and holding elections under the ODIHR’s supervision; amnesty and non-prosecution of persons for participating in the conflict, consolidation of a permanent special status for certain areas of Donbas; and the adoption of Ukraine’s new constitution, its key element being decentralization. Without implementation of these measures, which Kiev has to do in coordination with Donetsk and Lugansk there will be no progress in resolving the situation. Moreover, sanctions against Russia have nothing to do with this.
It seems that everybody agrees that there is no alternative to political and diplomatic means to settle conflict in Syria. There is agreed framework for it – resumption of political process in accordance with agreement reached by the International Syria Support Group, which were enshrined in the UN Security Council resolutions. These agreements set out comprehensive strategy that concerns concrete steps that must be taken in the military, humanitarian areas and, of course, regarding the political process.
All these agreements certainly do not cover or legitimize terrorists, such as ISIL, Jabhat an-Nusra or the like. All measures to eliminate them have to continue.
Unfortunately, situation in Syria, first of all ion Aleppo province, is getting worse. It is of concern for us all. The cause of its deterioration is the activity of insurgents led by the terrorists from Jabhat an-Nusra. It is precisely the Nusra fighters who control the group encircled in Aleppo by coordinating all the movements of its forces and assets through the united staff structure “Gurfa Amaliat Mushtaraka”. The militants in Eastern Aleppo has undermine all attempts to provide humanitarian supplies and ensure the evacuation of the sick, wounded and simply innocent civilians that have got tired of living side by side with the cutthroats. The “regimes of silence” have been announced several times, the Syrian authorities have pulled back their troops, introduced simplified check procedures for trucks and provided security guarantees. In response there were threats to continue to destroy the humanitarian convoys and reprisals against ordinary people. The pauses were used by the insurgents to regroup and reinforce their units.
There are contradictory assessments of the strength of the armed opposition and Nusra units in Eastern Aleppo, but it will not be an exaggeration to say that the Nusra forces are at least ten times smaller. Nevertheless, the opposition did not even think about turning the arms against the terrorists and squeezing them out of the city because this is a mutually beneficial symbiosis.
It is very important to implement the requirement of the UN Security Council to disassociate the so-called moderate opposition from the terrorists, and the members of the US-led coalition bear special responsibility in this respect. The refusal or inability to do this in the current conditions is bound to enhance suspicions that this is an attempt to take the heat off Jabhat al-Nusra and that the plans for regime change are still in place, which is a flagrant violation of the relevant resolution of the UN Security Council. It will be impossible to resolve the Syrian crisis and improve the frustrating humanitarian situation without suppressing ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the extremist groups that have merged with it. It is also unacceptable to delay the start of intra-Syrian talks without any preconditions, as UN Security Council Resolution 2254 requires. Russia suggests stepping up efforts to develop and adopt a new constitution, based on which preliminary elections could be held and a preliminary agreement could be reached between all the conflicting parties. This would naturally have to involve all the countries in the region drawn into the process.
We are ready to take into account the recommendations of the UN humanitarian agencies on the modalities of humanitarian assistance, including the duration of pauses but we will continue to be guided also by the priority of suppressing the terrorist hotbed in Aleppo. Without this there will be no meaningful improvement of the humanitarian situation. Russian side intents to extend the pause in air strikes for as long as possible, based on the actual situation in the area. We are ready to do this until the rebel groups in Aleppo step up their activities.
We also expect our partners, primarily American, to do everything they have promised so far to disengage the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists and similar terrorist groups from the so-called healthy opposition. Those who do not cooperate with terrorists must sign the agreement on Cessation of Hostilities as was stipulated by the Russia-US agreements confirmed in the Security Council resolution 2268. The americans long ago told us, that they would do it. But it is not happening. Just we hear from Secretary of State Kerry that the US is tired of Russia and will not cooperate with it.
There is much to be done in engaging the opposition, radical elements of which have obstinately refused to participate in negotiations in a constructive way and continue to set forth conditions. It is necessary to urge them to dialogue with the Syrian government and to ensure the earliest resumption of talks in Geneva. It should be noted that the representation of the opponents to official Damascus shall be as broad as possible. And this is also something that United Nations Security Council resolutions stipulate. We expect that the settlement of the conflict in Syria will be carried out through concerted efforts on the basis of international law along with respect for the Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity and without unscrupulous politicization.
Certain EU member countries have begun using the situation in Syria as a new pretext for ratcheting up pressure on Russia and thwarting any positive initiatives on the Russian track. The Russian Aerospace Forces were deployed in Syria at the request of the legitimate government. At the same time we are interested in antiterrorist operations being conducted collectively on a solid international legal basis. President Vladimir Putin spoke about this a little over a year ago in his remarks at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. We regret that our European colleagues in the EU have terminated antiterrorist cooperation with us, as they have cooperation in many other spheres. Naturally, we are surprised by the fact that pragmatic EU members, who have traditionally been known for their commitment to realpolitik, are now demanding – following the lead of a russophobic minority – that politics be put above economics in relations with Moscow.