Official speeches and statements - January 27, 2021
The Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Mr. Edgars Rinkevics, Lithuania, Mr. Gabrielius Landsbergis and the Estonian deputy minister for European Affairs, Mr. Märt Volmer, met in Paris on January 26, 2021 at the invitation of the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian. This first meeting in this format was held on the centenary of the de jure recognition of Baltic States by France, while the four countries will celebrate this year the 30th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between France and the Baltic States.
Ministers took stock of the health situation in Europe, agreeing on the need to pursue a coordinated approach between Member States, in particular with regard to national vaccination strategies and border controls. Faced with the emergence of new variants and the need to protect populations, they called for the acceleration of vaccine production to enable vaccination campaigns to be rolled out more rapidly.
They welcomed the progress made towards the implementation of the European Recovery Plan and reiterated their commitment to the timely adoption of the Own Resources Decision at national level. They emphasized the importance of the compromise agreement reached by the European Council in July 2020 on unprecedented financial package and stressed the need to fully respect this agreement inter alia in the ongoing negotiations on sectoral proposals.
They discussed the preparation and priorities of the future French Presidency of the European Union.
Ministers reiterated their strongest condemnation of the unlawful and politically motivated arrest by the Russian authorities of Mr. Alexey Navalny in defiance of ECHR rulings and called for his immediate and unconditional release. Russia must bring the perpetrators of Mr. Navalny’s poisoning to justice and fulfil its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Ministers called on Russia to genuinely respect its OSCE and Council of Europe obligations.
They expressed their strong concern about the situation in Belarus, after fraudulent presidential elections and regime’s continued violence against peaceful protestors, reaffirming their support for the people of Belarus to defend their right to elect the President through free and fair elections in line with international standards and under the OSCE / ODIHR’s observation.
Ministers reiterated unwavering support and commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
On the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis, they supported the mediation led by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group and stressed the importance of reaching a lasting solution under their aegis. They stressed the importance of avoiding any further destabilization of the security situation, in the context of the continuing challenges in the implementation of the ceasefire agreement of November 9.
The strategic importance of the Eastern Partnership, as a regional dimension of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), was reaffirmed. in view of the forthcoming Eastern Partnership Summit.
Following the inauguration of the new US Administration, they recalled the importance of a strong strategic transatlantic partnership based on common interests and shared values.
Noting the unprecedented progress achieved by the EU in the field of security and defense, they stressed the need to maintain the momentum, while underlying that NATO remains the foundation of the collective defense for those States which are members of it.
The ministers stressed the importance of the operations conducted in the Sahel area in the fight against terrorism and took stock of their commitment.
They referred to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, expecting sustainable de-escalation with Turkey in view of the March European Council.
The ministers stressed the need to continue the efforts undertaken at European level to rebalance the relationship with China. The aim is to commit China to common priorities, such as the climate, sustainable development, the promotion of multilateralism and respect for human rights. With regard to human rights, France, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania reiterated their concerns about developments in Hong Kong and the treatment of persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities, particularly in Xinjiang and Tibet.
They stressed the importance of making progress in defining a European strategy for the Indo-Pacific region.
Noting the many convergences in their analyses and positions and the usefulness of close communication in different formats, the Ministers agreed on the need to hold regular consultations on European and international issues of common interest.
We, the G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and the High Representative of the European Union, are united in condemning the politically motivated arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny.
We are also deeply concerned by the detention of thousands of peaceful protesters and journalists, and call upon Russia to adhere to its national and international obligations and release those detained arbitrarily for exercising their right of peaceful assembly on January 23. The violent suppression by police forces of the right of individuals to express their opinion is unacceptable. These events confirm a continuous negative pattern of shrinking space for the opposition, civil society, human rights defenders and independent voices in Russia.
It is deplorable that Mr. Navalny is being detained in relation to court decisions which the European Court of Human Rights determined in 2017 to be arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable. We the G7 Foreign Ministers call upon the Russian authorities for Mr. Navalny’s immediate and unconditional release. Russia is bound by its national and international obligations to respect and ensure human rights.
G7 Foreign Ministers recall their condemnation, in the strongest possible terms, of the poisoning of Mr. Navalny in August 2020 with a chemical nerve-agent of the "Novichok" group, a substance developed by Russia.
We reiterate that any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable and contravenes international norms against the use of such weapons. We, the G7 Foreign Ministers, again urge the Russian authorities to investigate and credibly explain the use of a chemical weapon on its soil in the light of Russia’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The confirmed use of chemical weapons against an opposition politician, as well as Mr. Navalny’s latest detention further undermine democracy, independent voices, and political plurality in Russia. We urge Russia to fulfill its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to guarantee the rights it sets forth, including the right to freedom of expression, to all individuals within its territory and jurisdiction.
We will continue to monitor closely Russia’s response to international calls for the immediate release of Mr. Navalny and any protesters and journalists who have been arbitrarily detained, as well as a criminal investigation into Mr. Navalny’s poisoning. We remain strongly committed to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and to our support for democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Russia, as well as to bolstering our support to Russian civil society.
Five soldiers recently lost their lives in the Sahel. Are these deaths the final straw for Operation Barkhane, which public opinion seems increasingly opposed to?
THE MINISTER - I’m not in the business of commenting on polls. Many, on the contrary, show that French people support our armed forces. I understand and share the shock felt across the country at the announcement of the deaths of our five soldiers. And I want to pay a glowing tribute to the service men and women engaged in fighting terrorism, sometimes to the point of giving their lives. To come back to Barkhane, let me repeat: this operation won’t go on forever. That doesn’t mean we’re going to pack up and go tomorrow, but our set-up is going to evolve. We’ll adapt our efforts according to the results obtained on the ground, and the commitment of the Sahel armed forces and the enemy.
Will announcements be made to this effect during the N’Djamena summit in February?
These issues will quite obviously be discussed as a matter of priority with our partners during the N’Djamena summit. The summit will come a year after the Pau summit, during which the Sahel’s five countries (Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania) reaffirmed their joint determination to continue the battle against terrorism. So it will be an opportunity for us all to take stock together. I note that in 12 months we’ve got substantial results, particularly in the tri-border area, where the terrorist groups are disorganized. More and more European partners, conscious of the security stakes at play in the Sahel, are joining us to fight in the Takuba force, with all the consequences and risks it entails. They’re even prepared to pay with their lives in this battle against jihadist groups.
After an eight-year presence in the Sahel, is there sufficiently clear-cut progress on the ground or does Mali risk finding itself in a situation comparable to that of Afghanistan?
The military results achieved in Mali are undeniable. But they alone won’t enable the Sahel to be stabilized. The military action is aimed at creating a political space which can provide solutions. As we said at the Pau summit a year ago, the military action and the support we’re providing to the Sahel armed forces is there to ensure the crucial return of the State.
After strikes on the village of Bounti, the French army was accused of a serious blunder, a version of events you dispute by affirming that the French army is the target of a disinformation campaign.
I categorically deny—as I have on several occasions already—the rumor that French strikes resulted in casualties during a marriage ceremony. On January 3, 2021, near the village of Bounti, the Barkhane force indeed carried out strikes with fighter planes following a detailed intelligence operation. These strikes neutralized the targets we were aiming at, namely terrorist fighters. This information war is being waged by many players, sometimes State powers wanting France to leave.
France is itself accused of resorting to these disinformation campaigns. What’s the situation?
We can’t be victims in this information war without doing something. It’s vital that we fight the battle in the information sphere as well, but while strictly adhering to our republican and democratic values. France isn’t spreading disinformation.
RESURGENCE OF DAESH
You talked about the resurgence of Daesh [so-called ISIS] in Syria and Iraq. We get the impression this is an endless repetitive cycle. Is this war against jihadists winnable?
What we’re seeing is that Daesh, which was territorially defeated in 2019 with the fall of Baghouz, is becoming stronger again. Cells are gradually emerging from underground to arm themselves, recruit and once again carry out actions against civilians and local forces. If we lower our guard, Daesh will recover its ability to plan actions in Europe and France, as was the case in 2015. If we don’t continue fighting—and we’ve seen this with the reduced commitment of the US forces—, we create the right conditions to allow Daesh to become stronger again. Incidentally, I want to pay tribute to the Kurdish forces, who have been fully engaged on the front line in this battle against Daesh.
Since you mention the Americans, what are you hoping for from the new US administration?
France and the United States are historical allies, and in this respect let me point out that even during the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, operational cooperation between our armed forces continued effectively. Having followed the campaign, we clearly note that Joe Biden’s priority is to repair the damage done by his predecessor, not just within American society but also to the United States’ contribution to the functioning of the great multilateral organizations. In the face of terrorism in the Sahel or the Levant, on matters of security, we’ll be able to reach agreement. We also expect the United States to pick up the dialogue with Iran again, with the objectives of nuclear non-proliferation and the stabilization of the Middle East. And we hope it will also resume dialogue with Russia on arms control, giving a place to those Europeans directly concerned.
CARRIER BATTLE GROUP
The carrier battle group is due to set sail from Toulon soon to continue the fighting. What date, and for how long?
The battle group is indeed scheduled to leave in mid-February for a mission lasting several months. In the Mediterranean first, as part of Operation Chammal to fight Daesh in the Levant, then the Indian Ocean. Whether at sea or in the air, the battle group will carry out intelligence missions. If needed, with the 24 Rafales, it will be able to carry out strikes. No one wants to see Daesh come to life again. We’re therefore determined to continue the fight against Daesh, be it with the battle group or with our Air and Space Force planes based in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Before it sets sail, are the sailors who, as we recall, were hit by COVID going to be vaccinated?
The battle group’s sailors are indeed going to be vaccinated against COVID before they leave Toulon. Everyone understands the reasons for this. If the sailors and fighter pilots are to be safely able to carry out this long, important mission, during which medical evacuation capabilities will be limited, they need to be vaccinated against COVID before leaving. This vaccination campaign, decided on in agreement with the Health Ministry, began today, Thursday, January 21.
At the beginning of November, you were in Toulon for the transfer of Suffren to the French navy. Will this nuclear attack submarine soon be operational?
Suffren is currently undergoing its first scheduled technical stop in Toulon, at purpose-built facilities. Let me be clear that this is work planned a long time ago. Since I visited for its transfer to the navy in November, the new-generation nuclear attack submarine, a real industrial success, has continued its trials in accordance with the planned program and will be put into active service some time in 2021. (...)