March 6, 2019. Dmitry Medvedev and Xavier Bettel’s news conference after the talks
Dmitry Medvedev: “Luxembourg remains one of the largest foreign investors in our country. It ranks fifth among the countries that invest in the Russian economy. By mid-2018, the volume of FDI stocks reached almost $20 billion.”
Excerpts from the transcript:
Xavier Bettel (via interpreter):Good afternoon. First of all, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for visiting the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg with such a representative delegation. Thank you for accepting the invitations I extended to you during our last meeting at the ASEM summit.
This is the first visit of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
We have a very long history of constructive bilateral relations. For over 150 years we have always cooperated in the economy, culture and science.
I am glad that our first meeting allowed us to rapidly launch university exchanges between Russia and Luxembourg. Two agreements were signed today: one on culture and the other on economic modernisation.
Let me recall that Russia and Luxembourg have been actively cooperating in ferrous metallurgy for many decades. During my latest visit to Russia we discussed the issues of startups with a view to stepping up our cooperation in this area.
As I have already said Luxembourg and Russia have cooperated throughout the history of their relations. In 1867 Russia acted as a guarantor of our country’s neutrality. During World War II, Russia’s tremendous losses helped liberate Europe, including my country.
The Tambov Region (I would like to thank its governor for attending) also remains part of our common history. Its representative attended the ceremony to lay flowers at the monument to the dead. There is a cemetery in Tambov, where 167 Luxembourgers are buried. They were recruited by the Nazis against their will and never again saw their homeland. I am grateful to the Tambov Region for their care for these graves.
I would also like to thank its officials for the copies of files of Luxembourgers who were in Tambov. This is also an important part of our history and our collective memory that I consider extremely important.
We should not forget, and many know about this, that there were about 3,000 Russians in Luxembourg. They were brought here against their will and used for forced labour. Many of them are also buried here. We discussed this issue and think we should consider setting aside a plot of land and building a monument to them to remember the 3,000 Russians brought to Luxembourg by force.
I should note that international relations are making rapid headway. I think we should communicate more, talk to each other more because it is only when we talk and hear each other that we can understand each other and resolve the problems we face.
I continue to favour political dialogue with the Russian Federation. Our principles are straightforward and clear cut, and our commitment to dialogue is also very clear. We are in a unique place, in a fortress, and the strength of this country comes in part from its location at a crossroads, from its continuous commitment to dialogue, exchanges and communication with others. This fortress is part of our history as well.
I would like to emphasise two moments. First, disarmament is the only way of supporting peace and facilitating economic progress. Second, it is impossible to achieve security on the European continent without Russia.
During the talks we discussed many issues, including the Council of Europe that was established in 1949. Yes, we have disagreements but I am convinced that united Europe, of which the Council of Europe is a symbol, is linked with Russia. I would like us to find a way out of this highly complicated situation in the next few weeks or months. We must find a way of resolving current problems. I am convinced that this will happen because… You said this yourself, Mr Prime Minister. You are a lawyer: each of us cherishes the rights that exist today and the protection of human rights in Europe. We spoke about the protection of human rights, in particular, minority rights. We talked about this and, of course, about EU-Russia relations for the last few hours.
I think the principles of rule of law, the supremacy of law play a major role in our relations with Russia. It is important for our relations to follow certain rules. We talked today about several issues that have complicated relations – the Skripal case and Crimea, for instance. As a result, our relations have cooled and even frozen. I consider it very important to find a way out of this predicament because we are all losing as a result. Nobody stands to gain. If some politician wants to say we aren't losing too much, this will be untrue. Both the EU and Russia are losing out. We are all losing. This is why I think it is important for us to continue searching for a way out. Take the Minsk agreements. They are perhaps imperfect. But this is the only foundation we have to achieve some progress. I hope relations will stabilise and improve in the next few months and years.
I am convinced that Russia also believes that international law and multilateralism are important principles. We talked about this. They also reflect our desire to cooperate with each other. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council Russia understands how important it is to work together to find a solution and not to create divisiveness.
In conclusion I would like to say that I am happy to receive Prime Minister Medvedev in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. This is a gesture on the part of Russia, which shows its readiness for dialogue and cooperation, and its striving to promote security and stability in today’s world that needs them so badly, including Europe.
We must seek cooperation in Europe where we both live. We all cherish Europe. We must find a way to work together that will allow our societies and countries to make progress and put an end to a situation where all are losing.
Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your visit, your friendly attitude and your presence that moves our dialogue forward.
Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, members of the press,
I will also begin by thanking my colleague, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Mr Xavier Bettel, for the invitation to visit the Grand Duchy. This is the first visit by a Russian prime minister to the Grand Duchy, and my first visit to your country.
We had constructive and wide-ranging talks yesterday and today. By the way, this is our fourth meeting. The first time we met was in 2015, and then the Prime Minister came several times to us. We discussed in detail a variety of issues, including bilateral cooperation, its prospects and, of course, the international situation and the general situation in Europe in order to share our perspectives on the current developments. Actually, this is why we are here now.
I will not go deep into the history of our friendship and partnership. But I want to say one thing: indeed, there was the Treaty of London, and the participation of the Russian Empire, and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Grand Duchy and, first, the Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union. And we have always been able to maintain a constructive dialogue. In cases where major powers considered it impractical, for some reason, to deal with the problems faced by the Grand Duchy, Russia took a fundamentally different position. Some countries didn’t even know the country’s name. It is important that today we have cooperation in various areas.
I will give you several examples.
Luxembourg remains one of the largest foreign investor in our country. It ranks fifth among the countries that invest in the Russian economy. By mid-2018, the volume of FDI stocks reached almost $20 billion. This predetermines the need for good relations, because we are fully aware of what investment on this scale means.
Bilateral trade is on the rise. It is not of fantastic proportions, but there is potential for growth. And I hope that our talks will improve these dynamics.
We agreed to look for new opportunities to increase interaction. We have an intergovernmental commission. Our interaction covers a variety of matters. There are, on the one hand, traditional areas and, on the other, there is high technology, which is a critical area now.
As you may be aware, an agreement on cooperation between the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of our countries was signed in October 2018.
Luxembourg companies have been working successfully in Russia for a long time now. They were instrumental in launching plants in big industries such as metallurgy, the automotive industry, the production of high-tech glass, and modern batteries.
Luxembourg businesses not only continue to expand existing production, but show interest in new projects as well. Of course, we, as good partners, will continue to provide the most favourable terms and conditions for such companies in our country.
There are opportunities for expanding cooperation in investment as well. I already mentioned how important it is for us to develop cooperation in the sphere of high technology. By the way, that includes space exploration. We discussed a number of projects. I think this is something of immediate interest.
Luxembourg’s contacts with the Russian regions are developing quite well. The Tambov Region was mentioned already. There are contacts with the Moscow Region as well.
On a separate note, I would like to express my gratitude to my colleague, Mr Bettel, for such a respectful – I would even say, reverential – approach to the outcomes of WWII. Unfortunately, words like that do not often come from our European partners. It is important. The memory of the war is what binds us together, and it should, in principle, be sacred for all of us.
Cultural ties are another area of cooperation. Today, we signed a protocol on renewing our cultural cooperation programme for three more years. It lays the foundation for specific future projects. I want to thank our partners for supporting our cultural ties which truly connect people.
By the way, as I understand, the Museum of Contemporary Art, where we are now, was created largely on Mr Bettel’s initiative. The fact that we are having this meeting in this building is quite auspicious.
I would like to once again thank my colleague for a warm welcome and an interesting, constructive and truly wide-ranging conversation.
I chose to not wade into the vicissitudes of our relations with the European Union or discussions of all sorts of sanctions. Most likely, you will ask me about something like that. The only thing I want to comment on is what my colleague said about how everyone realises that everyone is losing. Europe is losing. However, I would like to point out that there are other countries that are not in Europe. And they are not losing. They are winning in some ways. This, too, must be kept in mind. I think we will get back to discussing these countries a little later.
Question: Mr Prime Minister, Russia-Luxembourg talks have concluded, and previously, Russia-Bulgaria talks were held. I would like to ask a question on both agendas.
As for Bulgaria, the completion of the Belene nuclear power plant was discussed among other things. Is Russia interested in participating in this project?
And on Luxembourg, we witnessed the signing of a declaration of cooperation on economic modernisation. We have similar agreements with other European countries - they exist de jure but do not work de facto, they are not executed. What will happen to the document signed today?
Dmitry Medvedev: Let us start with Bulgaria. We discussed in detail with our Bulgarian colleagues everything that was and was not implemented. Including the Belene nuclear power plant. Perhaps this is an example of how not to work. Money was spent, money was paid but nothing was done. Quite a big sum of money. But since our partners from Bulgaria have a desire to build a new nuclear power plant, it would be quite logical to implement those ideas we put forward. We do not refuse anything. They are going to hold a tender. Equipment has been purchased. Of course, it is necessary to conduct an audit, but in general, if there is a corresponding offer for us, as well as for other participants in this tender, we are ready to participate in it.
We believe that we have very good competences in the construction of nuclear power plants and we have opportunities to implement this project as well as we do in a number of other European countries. For example, we are implementing projects in Turkey, Hungary, Finland. Why don't we implement a similar project in Bulgaria? Especially since we already started it.
I can say the following about the document signed here in Luxembourg. In general, there are many similar documents, you are right. And these documents were signed in a much better period of our relations with the countries of the European Union. These documents work well with some partners, while they do not work that well with other ones. But it may work well with our partners from Luxembourg because we have a desire to do this. And we addressed specific areas of how to expand cooperation on high technology. So everything is in our hands.
Question (via interpreter): Mr Prime Minister, we can see how well our relations are developing. Can Luxembourg become a kind of mediator, an intermediary between the West and Russia? Something the Americans will not much like to see Luxembourg doing, I understand. Mr Bettel, are you ready to take on this role, despite the pressure from our NATO allies?
Dmitry Medvedev: Everything in this world depends on specific people. Mr Bettel is in fact ready to undertake this intermediary mission, as I see it. Moreover, he first mentioned it in 2015. I am aware of Luxembourg’s role and place, he said; I am aware of other constraints, I understand everything, I know that we are a NATO member, and we naturally fulfill our obligations in the European Union, but someone has to build bridges, and I’m ready, he said. I think this is the right thing to do and a truly noble mission.
This mission will encounter varied responses. I will not comment on the positions of individual countries in the European Union – this might not be very diplomatic of me, but I will comment on the position of our American colleagues, if you meant what was shouted from the American embassy.
I do not know who said this, I do not remember the name of that clerk, but in any case I would like to note the following: that person needs to be given an elementary textbook on international public law to start learning the basics, because serving in a diplomatic position, one must be familiar with the concept of state sovereignty.
What does state sovereignty mean? It means the supremacy of state authority inside the country and the independence of state authority outside it. This is the classical understanding of state sovereignty. Maybe after reading this, everything will fall into place in that person’s head. If he actually understands what he has read, which I doubt.
Xavier Bettel (via interpreter): I belong to a generation that has never known war. I was elected in a democratic vote, and if I can speak openly here, it is all because of soldiers – Russian and British soldiers who came here without even knowing where my country was. And so I respect them, and I owe them something.
Today I live in a free country and I can freely express my opinion. If the US ambassador says something, it is also freedom of speech, freedom of expression. I am an advocate of dialogue and personal contacts. It is important that there are good person to person contacts between colleagues. My relationship with President Putin is very good. My relationship with President Trump is also good. And with my European colleagues, we have good relationships too.
Dialogue, the exchange of views, the fact that we listen to each other and a pragmatic approach are the only way out of this situation in which we often fail to talk to each other, but communicate through the curtain of the press, sanctions and counter sanctions. This is what the dialogue between the countries looks like today. It is sad that this happened.
And so I thank you, Mr Prime Minister, for believing me capable of performing this role. But it is important to have interlocutors who would listen to me. Thank you for being open to this dialogue. We certainly need to talk. We need to tell everyone we are willing to start a dialogue. This is the first step.
But a dialogue requires a partner. So, I believe it is important to tell all stakeholders that we are offering this opportunity to clear up the situation in international relations, that there is the will to organise a dialogue here.
Naturally, I will undertake this mission during meetings with my European colleagues. And I will talk about it with the US President when I meet with him. Because I believe that dialogue and the exchange of views is the only way to find a solution. I am ready to listen to everyone. This does not mean that I share all points of view, but freedom of speech is one of the main democratic freedoms in my country. So yes, I heard everything that was said. I read all the letters. And our government supports dialogue, open exchange of views and respect for partners.
Question: Mr Medvedev, the US is withdrawing from the INF Treaty. In response Vladimir Putin signed an executive order suspending the Russian Federation's compliance with the Treaty. What danger do these steps pose today for Europe and the world as a whole?
Dmitry Medvedev: Any withdrawal from a treaty before its expiration date is itself dangerous. If it is a commercial contract, breaking it will be bad for at least two parties. One side refuses to abide by it or pay anything… But if this is a treaty on security, the matter is much more serious.
Let’s analyse what happened. There were some criticisms from the US – ostensibly the Russians were violating the INF Treaty. We had similar criticisms on some other positions. I wonder what is better– to criticise each other, argue, discuss and find some solutions or simply terminate the Treaty. This is exactly what the Americans did under a flimsy pretext, at least in Russia’s opinion. They simply said they are suspending the Treaty but in reality (this is clear to everyone) they tore up the Treaty which was one of the instruments underlying international security and strategic stability. Is this a good thing? Has it improved the world?
Obviously, this directly affects the general state of affairs in security. There is no other way to describe it. Discussing this issue with MPs today I said we should all remember a simple and well-known Latin truth: Pacta sunt servanda – agreements must be kept. Those who do not abide by treaties deserve to be denounced. This is exactly why what has happened with the Treaty destroys one of the elements of the security system. And this it what our American partners in this Treaty did.
Nobody knows what will happen next. The President of the Russian Federation signed a relevant order. Sometimes we are told that we should all get together once again and make a deal on everything. But it is clear to everyone that it is impossible to get anyone together to agree on anything, all the more so since many more countries should take part in this Treaty. They will not sit at the negotiating table because they are fine with how things are. We assumed commitments (for which we were criticised for some time by the way) and kept them. Nobody else will sit at the negotiating table. Meanwhile, weapons have become more powerful. The consequences of this, as is said in the releases of our General Staff and the conclusions of analysts, concern not only Europe. In effect, they now concern the entire world, especially considering what our President said: not only missile deployment sites but places where decisions are made on the use of weapons will be targeted in this case. Everyone understands what this means.
I think this is a sad event. This does not mean that we should cut off communication. But this step deserved the strongest condemnation. It is inappropriate to behave like that. There is no doubt that the unilateral US withdrawal further undermined international security.
Xavier Bettel(via interpreter): I would like to add that I am worried about this issue because what is happening is the erosion of legal instruments for arms control. It worries me. We should not forget that even at the worst points of the Cold War both the US and Russia were always ready to sign disarmament treaties to stabilise the situation. So I hope we will return to this practice, to common sense, so as to avoid a new arms race.
Question (via interpreter): In December 2018, the European Commission announced an action plan to counter online disinformation campaigns in the run-up to the May election. Facebook, Twitter and Google were put on alert. The threat coming from Russia, as everyone pointed out, is the main concern. Mr Medvedev, what can you say about these suspicions, including those relating to Russia's possible interference in the US presidential campaign?
Dmitry Medvedev: I am not sure what I should comment on: the European Commission’s proposals or suspicions regarding Russia?
Question (via interpreter): What does Russia think about the fact that the European Commission suspects it of potential interference in the European election which is scheduled to be held in May?
Dmitry Medvedev: The election has yet to come, and we are already suspected of doing something wrong? What about all the different presumptions and legal assumptions? There is no end to what people may suspect. Let them prove at least something. So far, it’s nothing but speculation about the future which has yet to come. Truth be told, suspecting someone of an event that has not yet happened is a bunch of paranoid nonsense. Let them come up with some evidence after the election. Then we will look into it. Now what, Russia has already been declared responsible?
Question: I have a question for the Russian Prime Minister.
Luxembourg is considered a founding father of Europe, whereas we, in Russia, have our own integration union, our own way of integration. It is associated with Belarus. Here is my question: based on recent statements, including by the Belarusian President, what is your take on the prospects for this association, bearing in mind that there is an option to integrate on the basis of the 1999 Treaty and an option to integrate based on the Eurasian Economic Union?
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. This is really an appropriate question in this audience since we are now in the centre of Europe, where, in fact, the European capitals are located, as there are several European capitals, and Luxembourg is one of them.
We are following our own integration path. I think this is a normal and correct thing to do. It is interesting to observe the EU experience.
Indeed, I looked it up - there were several statements on this account recently, as the presidents met and discussed possible levels of integration, one way or another, deep or not so deep to begin with.
I believe we need to work on it rather than say that Russia clearly does not want anything, and this is all just a front. If the founding fathers of the European Union had reasoned like this, there would never have been a European Union. Any union is based on trust, not comments about who is suspected of what, taking someone aside and whispering in his ear. Not a good way to go.
With regard to the future, I outlined two options when I spoke about this subject several months ago. The first option is to implement the 1999 Treaty, which is turning 20 this year. This is an advanced path both for Russia and the Republic of Belarus. We just need to create the corresponding institutions. Then, we will be able to state that this union has come to pass, indeed.
This can happen only if the two parties agree. There is no way to force anyone into it. It is pointless to talk about the location of the currency issuance centre, or what the currency name will be until we are done with the routine part of agreeing on the basic documents which will underlie this union.
So, we can stay within the framework of the 1999 Treaty and say that this is the union that we wanted to create. Not too large, but still something that gives us certain advantages. This is one option. The other option is to follow the agreement that was signed, and implement the provisions that are directly stipulated in the treaty.
With regard to the Eurasian Union, everything is clear: the treaty was signed and needs to be acted upon. It has already created a single economic space for us that generates revenue for the states and opens up opportunities. Then, we should follow the path outlined in this treaty. But these are different integration options.
Question (via interpreter): Mr Medvedev, a major US investor, Michael Calvey, was arrested recently. The court refused to release him on his own recognisance. Do you think a civil rather than a criminal court should look into his case? Could this arrest have an impact on the investment climate in Russia, or on Russia’s relations with the United States and the EU?
Dmitry Medvedev: You are forcing me to comment on things I am not authorised to comment on, because, after all, there is the separation of powers. When it comes to arrests, it is, of course, the jurisdiction of the criminal courts. Not long ago, a top manager from a Chinese company was also arrested, and quite unexpectedly so. Everyone was shocked. However, later they reconsidered.
What does this tell us? It only tells us that a court in any country is entitled to rule based on the materials provided by the investigative authorities. Apparently, in this particular situation, they had such materials.
I simply don’t know what will come next. Of course, the court will hear out the arguments provided by the prosecution. If it recognises them as sufficient, it will extend the arrest. If it doesn’t, it can choose another measure of restraint. But this is entirely the jurisdiction of the court, so I would like to limit my comments to this.
Xavier Bettel (via interpreter): I do not want us to end up in a situation where legal matters are considered issues to be tackled by governments. It is important to understand the distinction.
You asked me about relations between Luxembourg and the United States. My colleague and I discussed everything. There was no topic that we didn’t touch upon. Of course, we discussed compliance with international law. I also discussed minority issues with the Prime Minister. We had the chance to discuss everything. I believe it is important that we can talk to each other, and that we talk face to face and listen to what our partner has to say. Prime Minister Medvedev’s visit shows a willingness to sit down and discuss things. We have also been taking this approach in recent years and will continue to in the future. It is important to build bridges to connect with each other. This is part of our common DNA and our history.