Didier Reynders in Moscow with Sergey Lavrov
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders, on a mission to Moscow in the framework of the Belgian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe, met with his counterpart Sergey Lavrov, Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin, Minister of Justice Alexander Konovalov and Russian Commissioner for Human Rights Ella Pamfilova. Beforehand, Minister Reynders had a meeting with civil society representatives in order to better understand the human rights and rule of law challenges in the Russian Federation.
In terms of human rights and the rule of law, Didier Reynders emphasized the monitoring of prisons, a common practice in the countries of the Council of Europe, the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the modification of the law on foreign agents and the situation of minorities, whether national or based on other identity characteristics, such as sexual orientation. On this last point, the Russian vision differs from the European approach, but Didier Reynders argued that this should not hinder the reduction of discrimination on which there is a common understanding. Finally, the Minister welcomed the progress Russia made in the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, although considerable efforts must still be undertaken.
Bilaterally, trade and investment between Belgium and Russia continue to develop, which demonstrates a strong partnership and interdependence. The goal is that this trend continues to grow, while respecting the framework of the European sanctions, which are targeted and have a specific goal, this goal certainly not being to isolate. For Didier Reynders, there is no contradiction between openly defending human rights and equally openly defending trade and investment. Contentious points have also been bluntly discussed.
In terms of international diplomacy, Ukraine is of major concern. The Minister reiterated the European position on the annexation of Crimea, illegal under international law, and which cannot be internationally recognized. The return to a political solution has to be made through the Minsk Protocol, the only internationally recognized reference. The Minister stressed that the Minsk Protocol is a cease-fire agreement, which must be respected by both sides. It is also a commitment to internal reform in Ukraine and of assistance to the populations in eastern Ukraine, points that Didier Reynders stressed during his visit to Kiev the day before.
Russia is a major player in the international system and it is expected to devote a great deal of respect to international law. Its role and influence in several major current issues were discussed. The conflict in Syria, where Belgium and Russia hope that an improvement can be achieved under the auspices of Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, the Middle-East Peace Process, with the need for the parties to return to the negotiating table, with the support of the Quartet in which the EU will further engage through a new permanent Special Envoy, as well as the issue of foreign fighters, which Russia and the Europeans must address together.
Belgium does not forget the sacrifice of the Russian people to eradicate Nazism from the European continent, a sacrifice that will be commemorated on 9 May 2015 in Moscow. Didier Reynders assured that Belgium will be represented at a high level.
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