L-R: Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs; Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs; Credit: MAEE

At the invitation of his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Jean Asselborn, visited Moscow on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 February 2020 for a bilateral interview, followed by a working lunch.

Jean Asselborn's meeting with Sergei Lavrov on Friday provided an opportunity to take stock of bilateral relations between Luxembourg and Russia and to review the diplomatic, political, economic and commercial ties between the two countries. The two ministers examined ways to strengthen these bilateral relations, particularly on the economic front. In this context, they mentioned potential areas of cooperation, in particular green finance and tourism.

In general, the ministers welcomed the continuous exchanges between their countries at all levels, as well as the fact that economic relations continue to develop satisfactorily, given the circumstances. Minister Asselborn stressed: "As Europeans, Russia is our neighbour, and between neighbours, we must speak and visit each other from time to time to draw up an inventory and thus better understand each other and move forward on good foundations. It is this state of mind and the desire to have a lucid dialogue that drives Luxembourg in its relations with Russia".

Expressing concern over the human rights situation in Russia, Jean Asselborn urged the Russian authorities to guarantee the fundamental rights enshrined in the Russian Constitution which include transparent, inclusive and competitive elections, as well as freedoms of opinion, expression, association, meeting and the media. In this context, Minister Asselborn considered that a visit to Russia by the European Union (EU) Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, would be useful to deepen dialogue on the matter.

Discussions then focused on subjects of international news, particularly the situation in Syria and Libya. For his part, Minister Asselborn called for an end to military operations in the Idlib region to end the humanitarian disaster affecting the civilian population. He released the following statement on the matter: "The situation in Idlib is extremely worrying. I call on all parties to cease hostilities immediately and to continue negotiations in order to achieve de-escalation. Everything must be done to put an end to the suffering of the civilian population and allow access to humanitarian aid. There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria". The two ministers also insisted on the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in accordance with international law and United Nations (UN) resolutions.

The ministers then addressed the situation in Ukraine and the challenges of a possible future summit in Normandy Format. Expressing his hope that the work in the Normandy Format will consolidate the efforts made, Jean Asselborn also stressed to his Russian counterpart the importance of a Russia which exerts its influence in a positive way and of a Ukraine which takes responsibility. In this context, he reiterated Luxembourg's support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. He also expressed hope that the commitments made at the Paris summit would be honoured and reiterated that the implementation of the Minsk agreements is the key to resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

With regard to relations between the EU and Russia and between NATO and Russia, as well as cooperation within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, Minister Asselborn encouraged the pursuit of a constructive dialogue in order to achieve a closer partnership with Russia, a key player in ensuring peace and security and strategic stability. Luxembourg's Foreign Affairs Minister also argued in this regard for an extension of the New START treaty beyond 2021. Ministers Asselborn and Lavrov similarly took stock of cooperation within the UN and expressed their desire to deepen it.

The working meeting was followed by a press conference and a working lunch at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.