On the last day of Russian prime minister Dimitry Medvedev’s 2-day visit to the grand duchy, he attended a joint press conference at Mudam with Xavier Bettel.
The location was rather symbolic, given that just prior to the press conference a cooperation agreement had been signed between the country’s culture ministers, Sam Tanson and Vladimir Medinsky, for 2019-2021. Another agreement was signed by Étienne Schneider and his Russian counterpart, Tatiana Golikova, for the modernisation of the two countries’ economies.
This marked Bettel and Medvedev’s fourth meeting, the first taking place in 2015. While Luxembourg is the fifth largest investor in Russia, the two leaders see additional future potential. “We’ve always had a relation of cooperation in the economic, cultural and scientific domains,” Bettel said. And Medvedev noted there is the possibility for different cooperation, not just in traditional domains, but also in technology, for example, plus enlargement in other areas, such as R&D or space.
“I’m for dialogue”
Already at the start of the press conference references were made to the 4 March statement issued by the US embassy in Luxembourg, which drew attention to the fact that Medvedev was “com[ing] to Luxembourg just after the fifth anniversary of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia”, and asked whether Luxembourg would “look the other way”.
Medvedev stressed the concept of national sovereignty and said that bad relationships between Europe and Russia can only result in losers, while “some countries that are not in Europe will win". “It’s something to keep in mind in today’s environment,” the Russian prime minister added.
Bettel added that he had been democratically elected, and that in WWII Russian, American and British soldiers had defended the right for him to freely express himself, just as the US ambassador had the right to do.
“But I’m for dialogue,” he added. “I’m someone who thinks that dialogue, exchange, listening… is the only way to get out of the situation today.”
Medvedev was not opposed to the idea of Bettel mediating between Russia and Europe, and even the US, stating that, “everything depends first and foremost on people. Xavier Bettel could, in my opinion, be in charge of such mediation. It takes someone at some point to build bridges.”
US ambassador on “the elephant in the room”
In light of Medvedev’s visit, the US ambassador to Luxembourg Randy Evans made himself available to the media following the joint press conference between the two prime ministers.
“Candidly, it didn’t seem to me that to raise the issue of Crimea with the Russian prime minister here would be any kind of issue of significant controversy," Evans told journalists. "Given that we all agree it was an illegal annexation and that it was wrong and that we oppose the continued detention of the sailors,” he added, referring to the November 2018 seizure by Russia of three Ukrainian vessels operating near Crimea.
But the “elephant in the room” wasn’t just the timing of the meeting, says Evans, it was also the location. He drew parallels between Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Nazi occupation of Luxembourg--a country which now, he says, “has such a unique opportunity. Here it is, the subject of two occupations, with [Grand Duchess Charlotte] who went around the world, insisting that every country speak up and be heard and do something to liberate Luxembourg.”
The ambassador's concern is that, in light of the timing, Russians may say “…the Luxembourgers didn’t object, so what standing does anyone else have to object? And it’s that kind of propaganda war that’s so critical that we not lose.”