Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during an open lecture on Russia’s current foreign policy, Moscow, 20 October 2014
Mr Nikonov, friends,
First of all, I’d like to thank you for the invitation, which I was very pleased to accept. It’s in our interest to discuss in as much detail as possible the issues that directly affect the Russian people and the national development plans, as well as issues that concern the international situation and the future world order with representatives of various political forces, primarily, the leading party, United Russia.
In many ways, the current international situation is defined by the fact that the world is going through a transition period. We are dealing not just with the beginning of another historical stage, but, it would seem, with a change of eras. Such pivotal moments are usually characterised by a substantial increase in instability and unpredictability in international affairs, which is what we see today in individual regions and globally.
The realignment, or, I would even say, the deconcentration of the global balance of forces, is a hallmark of our time. Most clearly, this can be seen in the greater economic power and increasing political clout of the Asia-Pacific Region. These countries have largely assumed the role of a driver of global economic growth, a role which was traditionally performed by the United States,Western Europe and Japan. As we can see, China achieved the greatest success on this path and, according to the latest report issued by the International Monetary Fund, has for the first time become the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity Based on the findings of the IMF experts, the seven largest so-called “emerging economies,” including our country, outdid the seven industrialized Western countries in terms of combined GDP. That’s a totally new picture of the world that does not fit into the centuries-old notion of Western dominance in the global economy, finance and politics.
The global financial and economic crisis acted as a catalyst for change, and drew a line under the reasoning about the global victory of the liberal capitalist model and the imperative need for everyone to fit that mold. The “end of history” proclaimed in the early 1990s failed to materialise. It became clear that the present stage of international relations can be described in terms of competition, not only in economics and finance, but also in values and development models.
In this context, constraints of the liberal economy became clearly visible. Following the Cold War, the economy shrugged off much of its state controls, which led to large-scale crises. This fact didn’t go unnoticed by leading Western financiers. For example, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde talks about the need to move away from the myopic mentality that led to the crisis: the tendency to prize profit over prudence, self-interest over service, excess over ethics.
The efforts to build a new world are accompanied by numerous other factors that add complexity and new dimensions to international relations. The importance of common cross-border challenges, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime, scarcity of resources and food, mass epidemics, illegal migration and much more, has increased dramatically. Globalisation has made national borders much more transparent and has contributed to the demise of closed societies, which previously accounted for most of humankind.
The commitment of nations to preserve and strengthen their respective cultures, religions and civilisational identities was one way of responding to this challenge. Whenever such commitments are not recognised as legitimate and justified, there are risks of aggravated international tensions, especially at the junctions of so-called civilisational blocs, as Samuel Huntington pointed out in his Clash of Civilisations.
The international situation is getting more complicated due to a noticeable recent increase in the number of conflict zones, which are springing up not only and not so much as a result of inter-state conflicts, but more often because of worsening internal crises, including inter-ethnic and inter-religious ones.
This is particularly clear in the Middle East and North Africa, which may become an explosive pole of attraction for crises that originated at different times in different countries. The large-scale destabilisation of the region already adversely affects the situation around the globe. All this further exacerbates chaos and anarchy in world affairs and erodes the effectiveness of the global governance system, which is already compromised. The size of the challenges facing the international community clearly requires joint efforts to coordinate steps that could strengthen international security and stability. Unfortunately, the desire of our US colleagues and the US-led Western alliance to rely on unilateral approaches, and to act from the standpoint of supremacy, exceptionality and domination is at variance with this compelling and objective need. Yielding to an unjustified sense of euphoria in connection with the end of bipolar confrontation, the United States tried to implement the concept of a unipolar world, where it could reformat the situation in all regions and any state in accordance with its own ideas and interests.
By advancing this concept, the United States calls into question the core principles of the UN Charter, which forms the cornerstone of international law – sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
The United States and its allies have claimed the right to interfere, sometimes brazenly, in the events of other countries under the mantle of protecting human rights and promoting democratic values, up to an including sanctions and the use of force. The military interventions in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya were either not backed by UN Security Council resolutions or exceeded the original mandate.
Washington continues to openly declare its right to use force unilaterally in any part of the world when US interests are at stake. The US National Security Strategy of 2010 states outright that Washington will not necessarily follow UN Security Council resolutions when its interests demand otherwise, and this applies to the use of force.
The United States actively employs techniques to destabilise countries whose governments do not satisfy it for various reasons, and has effected regime change in a series of “colour revolutions.” This continues to be US policy.
In most cases, not only does interference fail to help end the conflict, it actually exacerbates armed confrontation, making the plight of civilians even worse.
Notorious double standards are employed to attain geopolitical goals. Of particular concern is the tendency to deviate from the universal principle of combatting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
For instance, several Western nations armed and supported extremist groups that fought to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi. Later the French military had to fight these same radicals in Mali whom the West, France included, had recently armed and encouraged. The West was so anxious to overthrow Bashar al-Assad that it turned a blind eye for four years as extremists strengthened their hold on Syria, allowing the terrorist group known as the Islamic State or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to flourish and seize huge swaths of Iraq and Syria, which they rule according to Sharia. This has been extensively covered by the media, on television and online.
The situation in Iraq where US forces were present for more than a decade is living proof of the absurdity of the concept of artificial implantation of some form of government and socio-economic development model from beyond. Today this our friendly country, which America has tried to turn into an example of modernisation achievements and a model democracy for other Arab nations to follow, is struggling with a deep political crisis, which poses a real threat for its future integrity.
Russia provides consistent support to the governments of Iraq, Syria and other countries of the region in their fight with religious extremists vying for power, by large-scale weapons and military hardware supplies, which greatly improves their combat capabilities. We advocate the consolidation of international efforts to counter the common threat of terrorism. At the same time, our country is not part of the US-led international coalition. We are confident that antiterrorist efforts have to rest on a solid foundation of international law under the auspices of the UN Security Council – the body that shoulders the responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. The US tactic of air strikes on the Islamic State positions in Syria without prior coordination with the Syrian government does not fit with these principles. As you know, the strikes against terrorists in Syria are accompanied by the armed support rendered to the opposition forces fighting the Bashar Assad regime alongside the Islamic State. Yet, the US considers this support ‘moderate’ and therefore acceptable. Its purpose is to help the Syrian opposition achieve the potential to overthrow the current regime in Syria. The controversial and paradoxical nature of these actions is obvious, in my view. We have been discussing this with our US counterparts, trying to understand their logic, but have not received any clear explanations so far.
In our opinion, the rapid degradation of the Middle East situation requires a comprehensive analysis. The region’s most critical issues need to be considered within a context of their interrelations, including the Arab-Israeli conflict. This latter conflict has been often pushed to the margin for various reasons, but we believe that this unsettled dispute, which has been ongoing for over 70 years, is one of the main reasons that promote extremists to recruit new adepts, including Jihadists who are prepared to perform attacks and even suicide attacks. We want all of these factors to be considered under UN Security Council leadership. This initiative has met with growing interest, at least from countries which have a responsible attitude to the situation in the region.
Allow me to note that the results of the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)’s presence in Afghanistan are not satisfactory, although the operation was sanctioned by the UN Security Council after al-Qaeda’s 11 September 2001 attack on the US. Still, even with the UN mandate, the methods used in the operation have led to a situation where the country, which the international coalition is planning to leave by the end of 2014, is far from stable and remains a source of serious threats including terrorism, which remains a problem, and drugs – a threat that has grown over the time the ISAF was deployed in Afghanistan and other countries adjacent to Russia, including the Central Asian republics.
This re-affirms the fact that modern problems, including regional conflicts, can only be resolved based on comprehensive approaches providing for the active involvement of all stakeholders. We have always called our partners’ attention to this, in particular, when Iran was not invited to the Geneva Conference on Syria, and when Iran and Syria were not invited to the Paris Summit on Fighting Islamic State, although both countries are clearly our allies in combating this threat.
With regard to Afghanistan, our NATO partners have for the past 10 years stubbornly declined our proposals to establish working relations with the CSTO, even though it would be a natural alliance. NATO provides the bulk of the forces that operate inside Afghanistan, whereas the CSTO regularly conducts anti-drug and anti-terrorism operations on Afghanistan’s outer perimeter. Joining our efforts in real time would have increased the effectiveness of the efforts to stabilise Afghanistan. But for purely ideological reasons, NATO categorically refused to cooperate with the CSTO. Of course, this does not help the cause.
Despite drastic worldwide changes, Western states have not stopped trying to “swim against the tide”, and continue holding dominant positions in the world, contrary to the objective processes leading to a multipolar world. This policy has had a major negative impact on the situation in Europe. After the destruction of the Berlin Wall, our Western colleagues missed a historic opportunity when they ignored Russia's proposals to jointly develop an architecture of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic space. I’m confident that with goodwill, this problem is quite solvable, especially if we strengthen the corresponding mechanisms within the OSCE and make it a truly international organisation with strong authority. Instead, we saw successive waves of NATO's eastward expansion, with NATO infrastructure being moved closer to the Russian border.
As former Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock said recently, the participants in the talks on the end of the Cold War realised that if they keep moving a tool such as NATO to a spot where barriers are crumbling, new barriers will appear in Europe. In subsequent years, they tried to talk Russia into believing that such a policy does not threaten its security, and even feigned offence when we insisted that in military policy, military capabilities speak louder than intentions and assurances. Back then, political declarations on the need for a single Euro-Atlantic security space at the level of the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council were adopted. Our suggestions to put these political declarations on paper and make them legally binding to ensure European security were rejected. The arguments included (perhaps this was a Freudian slip) one that legal security guarantees can be provided only by NATO. That preserved the irritant in issues pertaining to providing equal levels of security to all Euro-Atlantic countries without exception.
What we are hearing now are statements of a totally different nature, and political declarations about the already forgotten indivisibility of security. In particular, US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel “realised” the other day that the Russian army is already “at NATO's doorstep”. This story was discussed in depth and adroitly in the Russian media. I will not elaborate on it, but will just say that the Russian leadership has undertaken and continues to undertake all necessary measures to secure protection of our country's security. Regarding the statements of our US colleagues, I believe they reveal who is actually undermining trust in Europe, and is doing so using not only statements, but most importantly, concrete actions.
The EU Eastern Partnership programme was also designed to expand the West-controlled geopolitical space to the east. This was its true aim and it is perhaps for this reason that the promises to offer us trilateral projects involving the EU, the so-called “focus states” and Russia have never materialised. There is a policy to confront the CIS countries with a hard, absolutely contrived and artificial choice – either you are with the EU or with Russia. It was the use of this approach to Ukraine that pushed that country, which is just beginning its movement towards stable statehood, to a profound internal political crisis. Let me remind you that the “either with us, or against us” philosophy first surfaced ten years ago during the then Ukrainian presidential elections rather than last year before the planned signing of the EU Association Agreement. Running for president against Viktor Yushchenko, Viktor Yanukovych won both rounds. But the EU imposed an absolutely unconstitutional decision on Ukraine, via the Constitutional Court, to hold a third round of voting, something that was not stipulated by the Ukrainian Constitution. As early as that period, some European politicians, specifically Belgium’s Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht (currently winding up his career as the European Commissioner for Trade), claimed in public that Ukraine had to choose who it wanted to be with – Russia or the “enlightened” Europe. This was not a new phenomenon; it has a long history and deep roots in the minds of European politicians.
Indicatively, it was Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to sign the economic titles of the EU Association Agreement that was “chosen”, as a pretext for starting the antigovernment riots in Kiev. In its practical consequences, this decision meant exactly the same thing as has been done by the current pro-European administration in Kiev, which came to terms with the EU on postponing the application of the Association Agreement’s economic titles by almost a year and a half (until 1 January 2016). This is a reasonable step, of course, but our partners have in fact recognised that it is quite realistic and even necessary for the Ukrainian economy to coordinate Kiev’s commitments to its eastern and western neighbours and harmonise Ukraine’s economic ties with the Customs Union (that is, the CIS, on the one hand, and the EU, on the other). But they came to this conclusion almost a year later, while they could have done this when we were proposing trilateral consultations. The price of this “postponed” decision is thousands of lost lives, a ruined economy and infrastructure, and a civil war.
The US and EU support for the unconstitutional coup in Ukraine and the subsequent acts committed by the Kiev-based “party of war” that used armed force in an attempt to make the population in southeastern Ukraine renounce the right to their native language, culture, traditions and habitual lifestyle is at odds with the generally accepted democratic values and principles of peaceful conflict settlement, including those contained in the OSCE’s fundamental documents.
The actions of the ultranationalist neo-Nazi forces that seized power in Kiev have become the cause of bloodshed on “Maidan.” The radicals attempted to terrorise the population in the Crimea and impose the “Banderavite” order in Odessa and Mariupol. The Agreement of 21 February 2014 was broken off. It is quite natural under these circumstances that the overwhelming majority of people in the Crimea opposed these plans and freely expressed their will for reunification with Russia in keeping with peoples’ right to self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter.
After the tragedies in Odessa and Mariupol and the discovery of mass graves near Donetsk, we know for certain what fate was in store for Russians in the Crimea. All these crimes, including the Malaysian plane incident, should be thoroughly investigated under international control. We have been insisting on this, because there are attempts to water down, sweep under the rug, postpone or delay all these cases without exception. This suggests concrete questions which, among others, we are asking our Western partners who are so zealous in their concern for human rights and European values.
Throughout the crisis in Ukraine, Russia has consistently sought to help the brotherly Ukrainian people to overcome this difficult period in their history. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that what’s happening today in Ukraine is our common tragedy, and we must do our best to stop it as soon as possible.
The principles paving the way for a peaceful settlement of the conflict were agreed on 17 April in Geneva. As specified in the Statement by Russia, the US, Ukraine and the European Union, these principles called for the immediate start of a national dialogue involving all regions and political forces in Ukraine on the basis of respect for their rights and interests.
This wasn’t done, and much time was wasted. After the signing of the Minsk agreements, another opportunity opened for a political settlement of the conflict. At the ASEM summit in Milan on 17 October, President Vladimir Putin re-affirmed our support for a comprehensive and honest implementation of the Minsk agreements by each of its signatories with assistance from Russia and the OSCE.
This includes disengaging the parties, pulling back heavy artillery, monitoring the disengagement line by the OSCE observers, and preparing elections in Ukraine’s southeast. The talks in Milan have demonstrated the importance of precluding the attempts to distort the agreements reached in Minsk by the representatives of the Ukrainian government and the self-defence forces.
The attempts to force Russia to abandon its position based on the truth and justice using threats, pressure and sanctions are absolutely futile. The restrictions imposed by the US, the EU and a number of other countries are illegal and can neither contribute to the conflict’s de-escalation nor protect the rights of the Ukrainian people.
These steps implemented by the Europeans under heavy pressure from the United States contradict the very interests of the EU member states, as Russia is one of their main economic and trade partners. Sanctions are damaging not only to the Russian economy (we are indeed experiencing some negative impact from the sanctions), but also the economies of the EU countries. We have noted the reports on declining growth in Germany, which is the European Union’s largest economy.
The fact that the latest volley of sanctions was approved by the European Union following the agreement on ceasefire in Ukraine is yet another confirmation that the events in this country are used by Washington as a pretext to impose its so-called leadership on all countries in the Euro-Atlantic space in an attempt to force the EU to follow the path rejected by many in the European Union.
Regardless of what steps Russia takes, these attempts will continue, as the United States is interested not in the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, but in using this country as an irritant in the relations between Russia and Europe and as an excuse to put Russia in its place. I would like to reiterate that these attempts are futile and more sensible politicians in the West are starting to realise this.
US-Russian economic relations are far less important than our country’s contacts with the European Union; yet, the progress of many international issues toward settlement is dependent on them. America is certainly aware that having Russia as an ally in issues it is concerned about is for its own good and for the sake of its own national interests, which force the US to seek ways to cooperate with Russia. Yet, it is trying to do so while staying with a policy of sanctions, announcing that it will continue “punishing” Russia for Ukraine while cooperating with Russia when it needs us.
On 14 October, I met with US Secretary of State John Kerry. I told him that we are always open to cooperation, but this kind of selective approach is unacceptable. We should interact honestly and openly, and based on equality and a respect of our mutual interests and of each other’s intellectual qualities. The usual US method is as follows: they work out a solution concept and tell the rest of the world: “Washington has made a decision, let’s ensure international cooperation based on this.” This is not how we see the process, and not because we do not respect their ability to work out solutions (even so, theory needs to be confirmed by practice, and in practice, wherever the US interferes, there’s chaos and devastation). We are confident that only cooperative work from the start – a cooperative analysis of the problem, development of assessments and approaches to it – can bring success and ensure sustainable cooperation.
It is our firm position that any escalation of a Euro-Atlantic confrontation can only lead to a deadlock. Any attempts to ensure European security and development without Russia and against Russia are pointless, which has been proven by history. Every time Europe attempted to rally in an anti-Russian initiative, it ended in disaster for the entire continent. In a globally interdependent world, drawing new demarcation lines and complementing them with additional visa and economic barriers is an obvious anachronism.
Allow me to quote Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who seemed to have written this yesterday: “In Europe they scream of ‘Russian invasions’ and ‘Russian treachery’, yet only to frighten their masses when needed, for the shouters themselves hardly believe any of it, nor have they ever believed it.” This description fits well what we are seeing today: in our individual contacts with our European partners, we almost always hear assurances that they understand it all, and they see the need for and are willing to develop cooperation with Russia on a mutually acceptable basis, they are ready to take into account our interests and keep in mind Russia’s contribution in saving Europe from Napoleon’s attempt to conquer the continent and later from a similar aggression by Hitler. Yet, they also talk about European solidarity. It seems like when they get together, they stop seeing reason. There may possibly be some glimpses in closed-door discussions, but publicly, we only hear hardcore Russophobic statements, an approach imposed by anti-Russian forces inside the European Union. This is sad and undemocratic.
If we are talking about pan-European security in the OSCE, this organisation should have its own stance and the nerve to defend it, if it is confident that it is the right thing. However, several EU countries, not even the largest ones, who actually are brave enough to assume an independent stand, are punished for it. I do not think their voices can be muted – on the contrary, they will grow louder and louder.
Let’s derive from the fact that there is no reasonable alternative for the improvement of EU-Russia and US-Russian relations. It is important that this awareness reach the other side too, most importantly, together with an understanding that unilateral forceful measures are counterproductive, while an equal dialogue is essential and indispensable to move forward.
We still believe that the strategic goal of Russia-EU cooperation should be gradual development of a common economic and cultural space from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast based on a system of indivisible security where no country would strengthen its security at the expense of the others. We stand for developing cooperation between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which will become effective on 1 January 2015. In other words, we stand for a convergence of integration processes. A year ago, the EU refused even to consider the possibility that the three Customs Union member-states could develop its relations with Brussels. But now Europe, in particular the European Commission, is talking about the need to develop ties with the EAEU as a project of historical significance, which is creating a firm foundation for a modern system of economic partnership in the CIS space. As you know, Armenia will become a full member early next year. An agreement to this effect has been signed and is ready for ratification in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Work is underway to implement a roadmap for integrating Kyrgyzstan. I’m sure that this will also meet the interests of our other neighbours.
The creation of the EAEU is our joint contribution towards enhancing the effectiveness and competitiveness of the member-states’ economies and towards promoting international trade and creating conditions for the sustainable development of adjacent regions. We believe that our association will not only become part of a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, but also a link between the integration organisations of Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
We have recently done a great deal to develop partner relations with the Asia-Pacific countries. In this context, some said that Russia was reorienting its foreign relations from the West to the East, under the influence of US and EU sanctions. In reality, deeper cooperation with the Asia-Pacific countries, including in the interests of boosting the development of our eastern regions, has been a long-standing priority of Russia’s multi-vectoral foreign policy, which is sealed in a concept that was approved by President Vladimir Putin. The policy of developing relations with Asia-Pacific and the area’s regional integration organisations will be implemented despite the possible changes in other parts of the world. Of course, the recent restrictive measures have provided an impetus for more actively developing relations with our partners in the East, although we would rather do this simultaneously with developing our traditional cooperation with the West than instead of it.
We have made a breakthrough in the development of our strategic partnership with China. The relevant facts and figures have been provided in the context of a recent meeting of the heads of government of Russia and China in Moscow, during which we signed approximately 40 agreements. This cooperation is very important not only for promoting bilateral relations and economic cooperation, addressing social issues and strengthening cultural cooperation between our nations, but also for strengthening the stability of international relations. Our cooperation has become a fact of international life, and its role has been growing. We are actively cooperating with China within the SCO, BRICS and other multilateral organisations, not to mention the UN Security Council.
Russia is an advocate of network diplomacy, the creation of flexible associations of countries based on common interests. In this context, I’d like to mention Russia’s involvement in the G20, the summit of which we hosted in 2013. Another example of a successful multi-continental association of countries is BRICS. The BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil this summer showed that it is attracting a growing number of countries, including within the G20. Working together with other countries such as Indonesia, Mexico, Argentina, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we insist that the decisions on the next stage of the IMF governance reforms taken four years ago, including on increasing the quotas and voting shares of the BRICS countries, should be implemented. Their implementation has been put on the back burner because of the US Congress’s unwillingness to ratify them. We will advocate the search for new ways to implement the agreement despite the legislative intrigues by our American partners.
Russia’s foreign policy doctrine is focused on ensuring the country’s security and strengthening its standing on the international stage. Russia as an influential centre of the current international system is advocating a polycentric development approach, with due regard for the objective processes underway in the global economy and finance, which should be reflected in global politics. Russia is willing to consistently strengthen mutually beneficial relations with all countries and their associations that would be interested in doing this on an equitable and mutually beneficial basis. The overwhelming majority of countries share Russia’s policy for strengthening international security and stability and creating a fair democratic system of international relations that reflect the geographic and civilisational diversity of the world. This has boosted the pace and volume of our cooperation with partners in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. We will continue to strengthen these relations.
Russia is pursuing an independent policy based on its national interests and a desire to improve global governance amid accelerating global processes and the strengthening interdependence of countries.
In conclusion I’d like to quote President Putin, who said: “I hope very much that not just Russia’s historical memory but that of all of humanity will prompt us to search for peaceful solutions to the various conflicts that are currently unfolding and that will arise in the future. We support political dialogue and the search for compromise.” Indeed, we are willing to discuss any agreement with our partners that is based on mutual respect, equality and a balance of interests, and is not aimed at forcing us to accept someone else’s views.
Question: In view of recent talks with your American partners, how would you describe the state of Russian-US relations? How are they evolving? Are they improving or have they stabilised at a low point? Were sanctions mentioned at your last meetings with John Kerry?
Sergey Lavrov: One is always tempted to find an image or a term. People often ask if there is a “second Cold War” or whether the “old Cold War is back?” Neither of these, of course! At the previous stage of Russian-US relations, in the late days of George H. Bush’s presidency, political scientists tried introducing the term “cool peace” as a replacement for “Cold War.” Let’s leave this for the historians. Someone will find a good term for it eventually. It’s more appropriate to try and see where these relations are heading. They have fallen quite a bit. I hope the downturn in our relations has hit the bottom. At any rate, so far, things are moving without any more slumps, although no attempts to improve them are evident either.
We maintain an ongoing dialogue with Secretary of State John Kerry. Last week’s meeting was the thirteenth this year. I have not been meeting with any other foreign minister as frequently. In most cases, our meetings were initiated by the US. As far as I understand, the reason is that our partners – at least those at the State Department – are aware of the abnormality of the situation where we are putting at risk many aspects of our cooperation that are vital not only to Russia and the US but also to the world at large. One of the examples is the Presidential Commission created to prepare proposals on concrete cooperation projects in over twenty areas, from disarmament and anti-terrorism, to the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and including humanitarian efforts, education exchanges and a dialogue between civil societies. Add to this agriculture, medicine, space exploration and nuclear power. In total, 20 working groups were formed. Annual meetings were held between the relevant agency heads and summarised in reports which the Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister submitted to our respective Presidents. The Americans simply stopped this activity. Who suffers from this? The commission dealt with practical programmes and issues that had to be addressed, such as the fight against infectious diseases and epidemics, and this is in the interests of both Moscow and Washington, as well as many other countries.
The initiatives to use any opportunities for meetings at the level of foreign ministers demonstrate that there is an understanding of the abnormality of the existing situation. I find it difficult to judge to what extent this understanding goes beyond the State Department. Properly speaking, far from all those at the State Department are oriented to seeking an equitable basis for redressing the current situation.
At our latest meeting with John Kerry, we confirmed that cooperation on international issues between our two countries was essential to the world and that we would seek to continue this cooperation. We clearly defined our position: Russia does not intend to posture as someone whose feelings are hurt, nor “shoot itself in the foot,” nor still undermine the implementation of agendas with relevance to global security, such as the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and many others.
I already mentioned the issue of combating terrorism today. We have been invited to join the coalition. We explained to John Kerry that for many this epiphany has come only now when they finally realised that the Islamic State is a threat. However, at the time when this group split off from Al-Qaeda and started gaining strength, many preferred to look away from that threat, as they wanted to use it against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Today, it is clear that these people are not interested in establishing democracy in Syria (the goal they were supposed to achieve), but seek to create a caliphate in this vast region to rule the Islamic world. This is absolutely clear and has been stated in no uncertain terms.
If extremists succeed in taking the leading positions in Islam, Muslims will be first to get the short end of the stick, because moderate and regular Islam, which doesn’t preach violence to enhance its role in the world, is the main opponent of the Islamic State.
We can’t pretend that it has just occurred to us, as unlike Americans, for many years we have been supporting Syria, Iraq and other countries in this region, helping them strengthen their military capabilities in their fight against terrorists and extremists.
Speaking of the coalition, let’s articulate it by passing an appropriate UN Security Council resolution, which will be based on international law. Using combating terrorism as an excuse for geopolitical ambitions and punishing undesirable regimes is not only wrong and immoral, but, most importantly, counterproductive.
It will again lead to more chaos and lawlessness, and will create new threats to the region and the neighbouring countries, including Russia, Central Asia and Europe. If we want to combat terrorism, we should do it honestly and on the basis of equality. We should work out a common strategy, especially since all the mechanisms for this are in place, primarily, the UN.
When practical steps to combat terrorism are taken outside the UN, it may lead some to believe that these steps were originally planned to be carried out beyond the framework of international law. Otherwise, why not get the approval of the UN Security Council?
Here’s another example. For years, our US partners have been urging us to resume negotiations on disarmament and agree on further reductions of strategic offensive weapons. In fact, John Kerry reiterated this at a meeting in Paris. I told my American counterpart that all issues relating to security, disarmament and strategic security should be discussed comprehensively.
We are currently implementing the 2010 Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty. We have repeatedly stated that this treaty represents a major step forward in this area over the past decades and has to be completed before thinking about any other steps to enhance strategic stability.
In any event, these issues can only be discussed comprehensively and should include missile defence and the issues arising from the US programme to create a prompt global strike capability, which implies the creation of non-nuclear strategic hypersonic weapons. These weapons are not equipped with nuclear warheads, but their accuracy and speed make them more effective than nuclear weapons.
Of course, it is more humane in a sense that there will be no repeat of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but in terms of achieving geostrategic objectives, it will be a much more effective weapon than the nuclear bomb with all of its inhuman fallout. The same applies to the US plans to deploy weapons in space.
The United States is now the only nation opposing the Russian-Chinese initiative for a treaty prohibiting the weaponisation of space. All other countries are set to begin. There are many other things to think about – for instance, imbalances in conventional weapons. All this was submitted for careful consideration by a working group of the Presidential Commission, whose work the US has frozen. And yet America is now suggesting matter-of-factly that we discuss further nuclear arms cuts. This is dishonest. Do they take us for naïve simpletons?
In a message to President Vladimir Putin concerning the INF Treaty, President Barack Obama made an unsubstantiated allegation that Russia had violated the treaty on one occasion. We requested details, and in response they promised to present evidence during consultations. The consultations were held, but no evidence was presented.
Our concerns over US violations of the INF Treaty during these years have gone unaddressed, while the fact that Obama wrote a concerned letter to Putin was leaked immediately, though I don’t understand why. We have to constantly try to keep our American partners within the bounds of diplomatic decorum, if not international law. It’s not an easy job.
We are not complaining. It’s just the way things are now. It’s a function of the American mentality: decisions are proclaimed to the applause of Congress or on a square in an allied country, and then presented to the world as the ultimate truth.
This will pass with time. Americans see that they can’t do much on their own. Even when they assemble a coalition instead of going it alone (though they still call the shots) the result is Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya.
The current phase in our relations will be protracted, not only because it will take a while to settle the Ukraine crisis and we all will have to work together constructively rather than impose unilateral sanctions, but also because it will take the Americans a long time to re-evaluate their position in the world, take stock of the developments of the past few decades, and accept that there is no alternative to the ongoing trend toward polycentrism as new financial and economic centres grow stronger and gain political influence.
These processes are already underway in the G20, the SCO, BRICS and Latin America, which has established an organisation of Latin and Caribbean states of the western hemisphere that bypasses the United States and Canada. This is the first time these countries have formed an organisation without the “supervision” of the US and Canada. The African Union is growing more confident, and has set up a standing Peace and Security Committee. The formation of peacekeeping forces is underway, and Russia has been providing training and equipment.
It will be a lengthy process, but the only way forward is to persistently explain that any expectation of returning to the unipolar world is sheer wishful thinking. I think everyone will find the courage (especially the bigger European nations) to tell the unpleasant but inescapable truths to America – in face-to-face discussions if not in public. That would shorten the process a bit.
Question: What do you think of the recent Caspian Sea summit? How will the decisions taken at the summit influence the alignment of forces in the world?
Sergey Lavrov: I ended my answer to the previous question by listing the trends toward strengthening regional cooperation in various parts of the world. The Caspian Sea is a region that has long attracted serious attention due to its strategic significance, geographical location, transit corridors and energy resources. The fundamental importance of the summit the Caspian Five held in Astrakhan on 29 September is that the presidents [of these five countries] have approved a very important declaration that lays down the fundamental principles defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea, which will be put at the base of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea due to be signed at the next summit. This declaration will be widely used to fill the Convention with concrete understandings and articles. The main principle is that all areas of cooperation in this region will be defined by the five Caspian states. Primarily this refers to security. There will be no armed forces from third countries in the area and there will be no ships flying the flags of non-Caspian states. The five countries have also coordinated an important issue related to the width of their national zones, including a fishing zone and a zone under sovereignty. This is a breakthrough decision and one of the key issues that has to be included in the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. Now work on the Convention will proceed much more quickly.
Several issues have yet to be settled, including a very sensitive issue of trans-Caspian pipelines. Our position is that the decision on how to build trans-Caspian pipelines, on what terms and in what order will be taken by the five Caspian states (since an agreement has been reached that all issues have to be resolved by the Five without external interference). First of all, we must ensure environmental safety. There is a convention on environmental security in the Caspian Sea and a document on the conservation of its biological resources. This is a very fragile environment and its ecosystem must be protected to the best of our ability. In our view, this issue has to be agreed on by all five Caspian states.
I am saying this because there have been outside attempts to impose on the Caspian states decisions regarding pipeline construction projects. European officials are the main lobbyists for the pipeline ideas. The European Commission sees this as its own geopolitical objective. We believe that this is a wrong approach and we will defend our point of view.
Question: We have been witnessing open hatred between various groups of the Ukrainian population lately. Nationalists recently organised a march with xenophobic slogans. It seems like no one is trying to contain this. Is there a legal possibility of imposing liability on the subjects of international law that fail to respond to such actions? If not, one gets the impression that Europe has forgotten the outcome of WWII. Could the situation in Ukraine serve to build up and consolidate anti-fascist forces?
Sergey Lavrov: I fully agree with you. I see what is happening in Ukraine as very dangerous. With the authorities’ indulgence, these thugs march with neo-Nazi and Nazi slogans and banners, promoting an ideology condemned as criminal by the Nuremberg Tribunal. Suffice it to mention that 14 October (the official establishment date of the OUN-UPA (Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists – Ukrainian Insurgent Army) was announced Defender of the Motherland Day. We can do more than express concern about this. We have been drawing the attention of the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe to this issue for months – all the organisations that were established after Nazism was defeated in WWII. The UN actually said in its foundation documents that its mission is to save future generations from a new tragedy like WWII.
We have published some materials including the White Book, which contains these facts. We do not only reach out to international or intergovernmental organisations, but also to public associations, and many of them – especially in Europe – eagerly respond with rallies of their own in various European countries. We have contacted the World Jewish Congress, the European Jewish Congress and public organisations in Israel. They, too, voice their concerns, but I am certain that they should do so louder and more insistently. Public associations of Russian Jews should play a leading role in this.
As for our further steps, we will continue drawing attention to the fact that such indulgence on the part of official authorities is unacceptable. The nationalist marches were aimed at imposing this ideology on the whole of Ukraine. Until recently, such demarches were only registered in western regions, and only in some of them. But this time around, they deliberately relocated their rallies to Kharkov and Odessa, and no objection was raised whatsoever. The OSCE has launched the Helsinki + 40 process, which should lead to the signing of a declaration next year dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act. Since then, the OSCE has adopted a pile of documents condemning and outlawing any forms of xenophobia and racial discrimination, certainly including neo-Nazism.
In early December, the Swiss city of Basel will host the annual gathering of OSCE foreign ministers, the key OSCE event. During the preparations for this meeting, we plan to officially ask all of our partners what they think about this and propose a draft spelling out the OSCE’s attitude towards the revival of neo-Nazism in Ukraine. The same is happening in other European countries, although not as brazenly and boldly. Other countries’ attitude towards this issue, as we raise it, will show each country’s commitment to the UN and OSCE values.
I would like to note the major role played by the Federation Council, the Russian parliament’s upper house, in fighting this danger. I know how hard our lawmakers are working, adopting declarations addressed to the international public, parliaments and international parliamentary organisations and making efforts on various international platforms of the parliamentary assemblies of the Council of Europe and OSCE. I know that PACE has already regretted its decision, but continues pretending they have done the right thing. Nevertheless, the Russia delegation in its current status has sufficient possibilities to work on this important issue.
Question: Ukraine as well as Russia is a guarantor of the Transnistria conflict settlement process, yet it managed not only to fail in helping to resolve the conflict around the unrecognised Transnistria Moldovan Republic but also to have two unrecognised republics emerge in its own territory. Will the status of Ukraine in the 5+2 negotiations process be reconsidered? What are the prospects for the settlement of the conflict in general? Is it possible for Transnistria to integrate with the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Community?
Sergey Lavrov: The status of Ukraine within the 5+2 process is determined by the documents that launched the process. The five are Russia and Ukraine as guarantors and mediators of the process, the OSCE as an intermediary of the peace process, and the USA and the EU as observers. The two are Moldova and Transnistria. Ukraine and Russia have the highest status among the five, which imposes special responsibility, presupposing, first of all, the necessity to follow the principles that launched the process without attempting to take sides.
Russia approaches its obligations with particular responsibility. We never do anything that could be considered biased towards either side. The reality is quite the opposite. Our partners, including those of Ukraine, are trying to revise the basic principles of the Transnistria conflict settlement in favour of the Chisinau authorities, who are at the present stage definitely trying to move in an undemocratic direction. Just consider the recent decision of Moldova’s Constitutional Court that any political party which does not have a goal of integrating with the European Union is unconstitutional!
I was flabbergasted as I read the news. We are now investigating the circumstances of this outrageous decision, if it really is like the media reported.
The principles underlying the 5+2 process and advanced by Russia mean that a special status for Transnistria should be sought with respect for the territorial integrity of Moldova, which should remain a sovereign state with military and political neutrality. Yet attempts are made to present the matter in the following way. Firstly, military and political neutrality is a passing thing as the constitution can be amended. Secondly, there appear a number of questions regarding the preservation of Moldova’s sovereignty and independence, taking into account not only declarations made by Romanian leadership that the reunification of Moldova with its “historical motherland” is a matter of time, but also the stance of some of the Moldovan leaders, who say nearly the same things. By the way, six of the seven members of Moldova’s Constitutional Court are citizens of Romania. It was they who took the decision that any party that does not state joining the EU as its ultimate goal is unconstitutional. At the onset of the 5+2 process, one of the key issues was that if Moldova loses sovereignty and is absorbed by another country, or changes its military and political status from neutral to bloc, then residents of Transnistria have the full right to make an independent decision about their future. We will assert this basic position that started it all, and with which everyone agreed.
Regarding the prospects of Transnistria’s economic development and its cooperation with Russia, the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union now in the making, all we will do is welcome it. We hope that Moldovan authorities will not create hurdles for the free foreign economic relations of Tiraspol. It is clear that Transnistria cannot join the Customs Union and the EAEC with its current status, but in accordance with the 1997 Memorandum on the freedom of foreign economic activities of Transnistria, it has the right to unimpeded trade and investment cooperation with Russia, Europe and any partner abroad, including member states of the Customs or European unions. These relations are now being impeded, which runs contrary to the Memorandum.
During the session of the UN General Assembly in New York, I met with Moldova’s foreign minister, Natalia Gherman, and reiterated our concern with that situation. We are also sending the same signals to Ukraine, one of the guarantors of the Transnistria conflict resolution, which as such should monitor that previously signed documents be observed. We will defend that position. I hope the European Union is aware of the harmfulness of repeating the Ukrainian scenario, because similar plans are in the making for Moldova and Transnistria – an Association Agreement has been signed which forced Russia to switch from most favoured nation status in trade with Moldova to a standard trade regime for WTO member states for a number of commodity items, and that does not meet our interests.
Moldova is facing an election. If I am correct, about a million migrant workers from Moldova who work in Russia are willing to participate in it. We are ready to arrange everything necessary to support this voting, but so far we have not seen any enthusiasm on the part of Chisinau. They probably do not want these votes to be heard in support of a more balanced stance rather than a reckless drive for the West and the disruption of all connections with the East. This raises a number of questions.
We are eager to draw the USA into the constructive work as they are the observers. Moreover, they have usurped the position of the OSCE representative on the Transnistria settlement and are passing it to themselves – as one American leaves, here comes another. We tried to change the tradition the last time it happened. It is wrong when one country “tucks in” a peace settlement process forever. But nobody else volunteered; apparently, certain activities had been conducted, and at present the OSCE Transnistria representative is still an American. He has recently made his first report to the OSCE Permanent Committee, but this document, to put it mildly, is not quite objective. Considering the US interest in Transnistria, I suggested to the US Secretary of State John Kerry during one of our meetings in March and April to consider the possibility of a joint statement expressing Russia’s and the USA’s approaches to the current tasks on restoring the process of the Transnistria conflict settlement. The document is not bulky, a page and a half. Then I reminded him three times that we never got a response. Yet the Americans still keep quiet about our proposal. This illustrates the issue on who is ready for cooperation, who is Mr No and who is Mr Yes.
Question: You mentioned the referendum in Crimea, which was a response to unconstitutional changes that took place in Ukraine in connection with the coup. What do you think are the prospects for international recognition of the status of Crimea and the outcome of the absolutely legitimate referendum that Crimeans held in accordance with Crimea’s constitution at a time when there was no legitimate government in Ukraine?
Sergei Lavrov: As you know, it doesn’t depend on Russia. We responded primarily because this was the freely expressed will of the Crimean people, whose rights were under threat from the extremist elements that came to power in Kiev. I assure you that the question of whether foreign countries would withhold recognition was the furthest thing from our minds at the time. We did what the Crimean people wanted. I think this truth is plain to the vast majority of reasonable politicians, including western ones. As is often the case, they made statements that are difficult to walk back.
Now, due to inertia and the influence of some EU and NATO countries, they repeat in document after document that it was an “annexation” and so on. When you talk with them and present the facts, they don’t respond with arguments, but simply repeat what is written like a slogan. And we want to get them talking with the Crimeans, so that the representatives of the peninsula, as they have done repeatedly, can explain their truth – the truth of the people living on this land, not the views of people observing from a distance, even from overseas. We will do everything we can to give our citizens in Crimea, including the leadership of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, opportunities to communicate the truth to foreign audiences as often as possible. People are already visiting Crimea, including prominent European politicians, and this is a big step toward getting the truth out. We will do everything we can to provide as many opportunities as possible.
Question: What did you agree upon at the Russian-Ukrainian talks in Milan on 17 October? Is it possible to reach an agreement that Kiev would interpret and implement unconditionally? Is the Kiev government a partner with whom you can reach an agreement, and who would implement it?
Sergey Lavrov: There is no answer to the last part of the question yet, because the only agreement that is being implemented is the Minsk agreement. Before it, there was the April statement by Russia, Ukraine and the United States, which I have mentioned, on the prompt start of a national dialogue with all regions and all political forces aimed towards a constitutional reform. The Ukrainian authorities, which promised to do this, have made no efforts towards implementing it.
In June, shortly before he signed an association agreement with the EU, President-elect Petr Poroshenko held several roundtable discussions in some Ukrainian regions, but their format did not comply with the “all regions and all political forces” formula. The choice of participants in those meetings was peculiar. Thus, the only agreement between Kiev and the self-defence forces that is being implemented is the Minsk Protocol. President Vladimir Putin said in Milan that there were failures on both sides and that it was very difficult to restore the disengagement lines. Acting at the request of the Ukrainian leaders, we have dispatched a group of officers from Russia’s General Staff there, who have helped and are prepared to continue to help the conflicting parties to coordinate the disengagement line, which should be respected by both parties, as well as weapons withdrawal principles (different distances are stipulated depending on the weapon’s calibre). We seem to have discussed and agreed upon everything, but later they proposed updates. I hope this issue will be settled soon, with all differences in interpretations removed, and then we’ll be able to discuss the implementation of these agreements.
It is important to control compliance with agreements by all parties. Under the Minsk Protocol, all parties agreed that this task should be assigned to a special OSCE monitoring mission, which has requested additional equipment, protected vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for this purpose. We are willing to help. We said in Milan, where this issue was discussed in detail, that we could contribute to equipping the mission, including with vehicles, and to provide drones and their service crews. France, Germany and Italy made similar proposals. The parties agreed in Milan that this week military representatives from the countries that have made this proposal would meet in Vienna within the OSCE framework to discuss the principles of these drones’ operation. Of course, they should consult and coordinate the issue with representatives of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, because the issue concerns monitoring the ceasefire and the disengagement line between the Ukrainian military and the self-defence forces. This is why this area should be monitored by UAVs, and the terms of their operation should be coordinated with the conflicting parties. Russia and the other countries that have offered their UAVs will coordinate technical issues.
I have read Kiev’s statement on the Milan meetings, which states that there was an agreement on the restoration of control along the entire Russian-Ukrainian border. More specifically, it stated that in the next few days all border checkpoints would be turned over to the Ukrainian border guards and customs service. This has not been done. First, the return of the checkpoints and deployment of Ukrainian officials at the checkpoints should be discussed with those who are controlling them: the self-defence forces. Second, the ceasefire cemented in place the status quo, and no one in Milan proposed changing it. It was only said that the disengagement line should be reliable controlled. Third, President Putin said again in Milan that Russia is responsible for security on the border with Ukraine and the border area regime on the Russian side of the border. As for the other side of the border, that area is controlled by the self-defence forces, and hence Kiev should discuss the issue with them rather than Russia.
I agree with you that a careless interpretation of these agreements or of the essence of the talks does not help, and that it only encourages Ukrainian society, where passions are running high ahead of the elections, to believe that something has changed: that either Russia has changed its stance, or the status quo can be changed. You can sense this in Ukrainian commentaries on the gas issue. I have heard it said that we have allegedly coordinated the winter price at $385 per cubic metre of gas, and the summer price at $325. I don’t know where these figures come from. We did not discuss winter or summer prices, but prices for the next five months. Yes, these will be winter months, but no one used “winter season” as a legal term at the official talks, as this would have meant that there would be a summer season with a different price for it. We haven’t agreed upon anything beyond the next five months. We have coordinated the price until the end of March and agreed that Ukraine would only buy as much gas as it needs to. As far as I know, Gazprom will be willing to accept flexible terms in this context.
The only question that has not been coordinated yet, as Vladimir Putin has said, is that Ukraine lacks the funds, and that Naftogaz Ukraine will have a cash gap of 1.5 billion dollars or euros – a Russian representative provided the correct figure – in the next six or eight weeks. Our Western partners attempted to convince us to take on this burden. You heard the response of the Russian President. I think the European Commission, Germany or France should be able to lend these funds to Ukraine, knowing for sure that they would be repaid. Had they done this in Milan, we would have signed the document. As it is, gas expectations have not come true.
I was surprised to hear a comment by the Ukrainian Minister of Energy and Coal Industry, Yury Prodan. Replying to a question about the gas talks, he said that Ukraine was on its way to victory. If we consider his answer in military terms, let God be his judge. In my opinion, what we discussed was a standard partner-like compromise that would respect the interests of both Russia and Ukraine. We are trying to look for solutions within these terms.
Question: If the West imposes sanctions on the Arctic projects, will the Russian Government or the Foreign Ministry have any alternative means of promoting our national interests?
Sergey Lavrov: No sphere of a country’s international activity is immune to unilateral sanctions or the influence of events taking place outside that sphere or region. Still, I think that Arctic cooperation is fairly stable. We periodically hear statements about NATO wanting to increase its profile in the region, we have heard these statements long before the Ukrainian events and we continue to hear them. NATO doctrines and analyses occasionally say that the military factor is likely to grow in the Arctic in the context of the intensifying battle for natural resources. But we are confident that there are no problems in the Arctic that require NATO’s involvement or any military solutions at all. The Arctic is a territory of dialogue: this is the slogan we use for the forums we organise in Russia, and this is the tone with which the Arctic Council’s work should unfold. There is probably an understanding between the Arctic states that we are mutually interdependent, and have shared goals and common challenges: environmental protection, and the security of transport routes, such as the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage in the Western hemisphere. It is very important to exchange experience here. We have a shared interest in cooperating for the promotion of our bids with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, where we are already productively cooperating with some of our Arctic neighbours.
We have accumulated some positive experience in the Arctic Council. For example, the first legally binding Intergovernmental Agreement has been signed in the environmental protection sphere. Another agreement, on preventing oil pollution of the Arctic waters, is in the works, as well as one on expanding international scientific cooperation in the Arctic. Several AC taskforces are working on this. Incidentally, the Arctic Economic Council began its operations in September as part of the general AC. I do not see any signs of change regarding the pragmatism of the AC members. We will continue defending our stance, relying on the existing agreements, and will work to incorporate the interests and rights of the indigenous peoples of the North who actively participate in each AC session under their special status. We will also continue developing Russia’s Arctic region in accordance with our decisions concerning the environment, navigation safety and
ensuring the country’s security in this critical area.
Question: Russian-Indian relations are growing fast, and we supply our Indian partners with large batches of weapons. Can India use Russian armaments in its fight with the Islamic State?
Sergey Lavrov: India, as well as any other country, is entitled to use the weapons it imports from Russia or any other country for any purposes that do not conflict with international law. This much is obvious. The only limitation we include in our export contracts is that the end user of the product cannot change. If you sell weapons to the Indian army, they must be used by the Indian army. In the event of an armed conflict, India can use these weapons, as well as French or American weapons, which the country has a generous supply of. In the event of sanctioned international peacekeeping operations, India is entitled to make a decision to use these weapons in any way it wishes in compliance with the international law on weapons trading.
Question: An international coalition to confront ISIS is being formed, and certain countries, such as Australia and Canada, to name a few, are part of it. Clearly, there are many more countries that would like to join it, including Russia, Iran, India, China and all of the SCO member countries. Are our closest regional partners willing to create a broad-based international coalition that would be capable of making major diplomatic, political or military-political efforts of its own accord rather than under the US leadership?
Sergey Lavrov: The answer is yes to diplomatic, political and law enforcement efforts. There are several such entities.
First, the CSTO, which carries out a number of operations near the border with Afghanistan that are directly focused on combating terrorism, such as intercepting the flows of drugs and illegal immigrants and cutting off terrorism financing.
Second, the SCO, whose activities also focused on cutting short the threats emanating from Afghanistan. The SCO is unique in that Afghanistan and all of its neighbours without exception are its members or enjoy an observer status. India and Pakistan are in the process of being upgraded from observers to full members. Documents outlining the criteria for such a transition to full membership were adopted at a recent SCO summit. The Russian presidency (next summit will be held in Russia) has already initiated consultations regarding full membership applications filed by India and Pakistan.
The SCO has taken several measures designed to stabilise the situation in and around Afghanistan, strengthen the Afghan state, and establish regional cooperation seeking to resolve this problem. I do not rule out that this is the way to go in other situations as well, including with regard to the terrorist threat emanating from Iraq and Syria.
One can form disposable coalitions, too, as was done, for example, during the conflict in Yemen, where the terrorist threat and separatist trends remain high, and many are calling for the country's breakup. But to agree on the principles of settlement, a one-off coalition - the Group of Ten - was created, which included neighbouring and several other countries, such as the United States, Russia, and the EU. The G10 put together a settlement plan and submitted it to the UN Security Council. The Security Council considered and, with the consent of the Yemeni sides, approved it. It was implemented, but some things went awry later, and the Yemeni president, who resigned of his own volition, remained an influential figure.
I'm talking about the organisational and political aspects. This disposable coalition went to the UN Security Council, and its proposals were approved. The SCO and the CSTO are sustainable organisations, each of which has a Memorandum of Cooperation with the UN, meaning that they, too, are legitimate entities and are completely free to do all they need to do in accordance with the UN Charter. When it comes to resolving conflicts, Chapter 8 of the UN Charter encourages regional organisations to resolve conflicts in their respective regions. But when it comes to using military force beyond the diplomatic, political and economic actions, one needs to ask the UN Security Council for permission, and there’s no way around it. I’m positive that it is absolutely applicable to the efforts to combat ISIS.
So far, the US-led coalition has shown no signs of going to the UN Security Council. This confirms our opinion that it was created in violation of the UN Charter, because force can be used only with the consent of the Security Council or by invitation of the country where you plan to bomb terrorists.
Question: We see a gradual return of Russia's interests to Cuba, which, as you are aware, has been a hotbed of geopolitical tensions throughout history. What could be the future of Russian-Cuban relations, given the difficult economic situation in that country and the influence of the United States? Is it an irritant in our talks with the US?
Sergey Lavrov: Cuba is our long-time partner, a legendary country and a symbol of freedom in Latin America. Even the outwardly pro-Western nations in the region support Cuba without exception. This reflects the recognition of the fact that freedom is something more than just following the US mantra, which states that all those who are for democracy and freedom must be on its side.
Indeed, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a long pause, rather than a cooldown, in our relations not only with Cuba, but other Latin American, African and Asian countries as well. That didn’t happen only because the Russian leadership believed at that time that we don’t need many of our partners in the Third World and that our close ties with the West will almost automatically resolve all of our problems, but also because we didn’t have sufficient means and resources. We were up to the hilt with our own problems, and labour and money were in short supply as well. A number of embassies, especially in African countries, were closed. However, in the past decade, we started thinking about our old friends again (the trend emerged in the 2000s and continues unabated). There’s also an important moral factor when people who are genuinely attracted to us, have finally felt that we haven’t forgotten about them. It is important for us to be and feel loyal allies and friends with regard to those who have the same feelings towards us.
The second factor is not so moral in nature, but also is important and pragmatic. These people not only share common values with us during conversations and personal meetings, but are prepared to uphold them on the international arena. We could see that in their positions on many critical issues of world politics in recent years, including a vote on Crimea during a meeting of the UN General Assembly, where the vast majority of Latin American countries supported not western, but our position. We could see that during voting on resolutions about Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well.
In recent years, our contacts with Cuba have been re-invigorated at all levels. They are not limited to talking. We have signed several intergovernmental and corporate documents. Russian companies and their Cuban partners are actively involved in a number of major long-term projects. President Putin visited Cuba this year. Before that, I went there on a visit. I believe the prospects are good.
The Americans never raise the issue of Cuba during our contacts. We do, and do so regularly, trying to convince (with no results so far) them that unilateral trade embargo against Havana is pointless and damaging, primarily, for the United States, because Europe and Canada are actively investing in Cuba. Russia is also active in Cuba, especially lately.
Interestingly, there’s no anti-Americanism in Cuba. It is absolutely open to cooperation. They have their pride, they are willing to discuss issues, including with the Americans, based on justice and equality. There’s no bias on their part. They are a very freedom-loving, proud and dignified people. Things that Cuba does for its partners in Latin America in the field of healthcare are recognised by all, and we heard such praise coming from the leaders of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela. Cuban doctors are a top quality brand. US Secretary of State John Kerry was forced to admit this the other day, when he praised Cuba's decision to send tens, and later hundreds of specialist doctors to deal with Ebola in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
I’m convinced that Cuba has very good prospects as a country, and, accordingly, the outlook on our cooperation with that fraternal country is also good.