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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s address and answers to questions from students and attendees of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow, February 27, 2015


Mr Bazhanov, ladies and gentlemen,

I am glad once again to visit the “old building by the Moskva River” that is closely associated with my years of study and youth.

Last September we celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Participants in the event spoke at length about the achievements that the academy can be proud of. It is one of the leading centres of the comprehensive study of international relations and remains on par with MGIMO University, a talent foundry for our ministry on Smolenskaya Square. Numerous upgrading programmes of the Academy remain popular with the Foreign Ministry employees, including the future heads of Russian offices and missions abroad.

International relations are now going through a difficult transitional period. A few days ago, on February 23, the UN Security Council conducted debates on the need to confirm commitment to the goals and principles of the UN Charter with a view to maintaining peace and security: a topical issue. This issue again revealed different approaches to ensuring stability and security in global affairs.

Regrettably, the past quarter century has witnessed systematic violations of key UN principles. The United States and other countries of the so-called historical West have neglected fundamental norms of international law and have made broad use of double standards, not stopping at direct interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, including with the use of force. Peoples of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria, and now Ukraine have fully felt the consequences of such policy.

Despite our appeals and relevant decisions that have been made at different times by the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council, a common space of peace, security and stability has not been created in the Euro-Atlantic Region. Instead the Western alliance has continued its line towards seizing geopolitical space and moving eastward: both through NATO expansion and the implementation of the EU Eastern Partnership initiative. Russian interests were not taken into account, and our numerous initiatives, including the elaboration of the European Security Treaty were either dragged out or shelved. This policy reached its peak when the Washington- and Brussels-supported unconstitutional coup and armed seizure of power took place in Ukraine in February of the past year.

The new version of the US National Security Strategy adopted recently by US President Barack Obama declares a striving for global domination and a readiness to unilaterally use armed force for the sake of American interests. This 30-page document mentions over a hundred times the issue of the exclusive right of the US to implement the notorious American leadership. As it turns out, they want to convince themselves that this is inevitable. The White House seems to have forgotten about the consequences of the attempts to gain hegemony at the expense of the interests of other members of the world community.

Today, the entire logic of events in the world arena shows that numerous challenges and threats can be effectively countered only by concerted efforts. This is exactly why Russian diplomacy is consistently pursuing a foreign policy course determined by President Vladimir Putin, and advocating collective methods of resolving urgent problems with reliance on international law, the UN's central coordinating role, true partnership of the main centres of power and influence and respect for the right of nations to determine their own future. Obviously only by pooling efforts can the world community resolve the most complicated and inextricable problems, be it Syria’s chemical disarmament, the Iranian nuclear programme or the suppression of the Ebola virus. On the contrary, apart from being counterproductive, any unilateral steps contradicting the UN Charter further aggravate chaos and instability.

In his address to the Federal Assembly last December President Putin emphasised that our goal is to acquire as many partners as possible, both in the West and the East. Further promotion of Eurasian integration is our absolute priority. In preserving the sovereignty of its member states, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) puts their integration on a new level and turns it into a major source of economic growth. Much progress has been made towards the accession of a fifth member – Kyrgyzstan – to the EAEU Four. The EAEU project is in demand, which is borne out by the striving of various states and integration associations to get involved with it in different forms, in part, by signing free trade area agreements. We believe that our union has every chance of becoming a bridge between the integration structures of Europe and the Asia-Pacific Region.

The Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) is playing a special role in ensuring the security of Russia and our allies. The importance of developing CIS cooperation in many areas is growing.

Flexible network formats oriented toward promoting the converging interests of participating states are increasingly in demand today. The philosophy of collective efforts underlies our Presidency of the SCO and BRICS. The latter is working on projects for a new development bank and a reserve currency pool, and coordinating the strategy of economic partnership and the roadmap of investment cooperation. BRICS countries are also planning to sign an agreement on cultural ties and to open up new vistas of cooperation.

The sharp aggravation of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, the deepening of ethnic and religious contradictions and the growth of terrorism and extremism that are spilling over into other regions pose a serious threat to international security and stability. This state of affairs has been a direct consequence of the weakening of government institutions in many countries of the region, not without outside assistance, and stubborn attempts to “export democracy” and impose alien values and transformational patterns on regional countries. We persistently objected to the process of the Arab Spring being put under the control of extremists and advocated an exclusively political and diplomatic settlement of problems, but regrettably, our voice has gone unheeded. The rise of Islamic extremism has led to the current increase of ultra-right attitudes, aggressive nationalism, xenophobia and religious intolerance in Europe. The risks of civilisational clashes have increased substantially.

Russia proposed conducting, under the auspices of the UN Security Council, a comprehensive analysis of the problems that embolden extremists and terrorists in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Arab-Israeli conflict. We believe that such a discussion would be helpful in providing assistance to the peoples of the region in order to ensure security, stability and sustainable development.

One can’t help noticing that the fairly contradictory position of our Western colleagues hampers the promotion of collective efforts to find appropriate answers to global challenges. On the one hand, they are trying to isolate Russia and punish us for conducting independent foreign policy and protecting our compatriots abroad, which is what any self-respecting state is supposed to do. On the other hand, they are interested in building cooperation with us on key issues on the international agenda, such as the Iranian nuclear programme, the Arab-Israeli settlement, and fighting international terrorism, while understanding perfectly well that without the active participation of Moscow no sustainable solution is possible to the current key problems.

Of course, we are all in favour of cooperation, as we have repeatedly stated. In his address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, President Putin again clearly stated that we have no plans for slipping into self-isolation or confrontation. At the same time, outside pressure will not lead us to revise our principled policy, which we believe is correct. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in his Writer’s Diary in February 1877 that "those who clamour about the "Russian takeover" or "Russian perfidy" sense in Russia’s image something truthful, unselfish and honest; they have a presentiment that it cannot be bribed or implicated into a self-serving business by an offer of any political advantage." I think that these are the right words and a deep insight into the history of our nation.

At the same time, we continue to hope that common sense will ultimately prevail. You can’t raise the stakes indefinitely and aggravate the already difficult situation, since all the parties will lose in that scenario. In a recent interview, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing said: "For Europe, Russia is a partner and a neighbour. Amid the current world disorder, violence in the Middle East and uncertainty caused by mid-term elections in the United States, it would be irresponsible to wish for the Russian economy to collapse."

Despite a campaign that is unprecedented in its scale, Washington has failed to put together a global anti-Russian coalition. We maintain an equal and mutually respectful dialogue on a wide range of areas of cooperation with the overwhelming majority of countries, including many in Europe. The outcome of recent foreign visits by President Putin and talks with foreign leaders in Moscow are clear proof of that.

In general, Russia’s responsible and balanced policies in international affairs enjoy growing support among the international community.

We remain interested in expanding our relations with the EU, which is our major trading partner. Despite a downturn in our relations, we hope that pragmatism will prevail. Awareness of the need to normalise relations with Moscow is gradually "making its way" to the EU, which, in particular, is confirmed by recent Russian-Hungarian and Russian-Cypriot talks at the highest level, as well as a number of meetings at the level of foreign ministers of Russia and the European Union.

We believe that the lack of alternative to forming a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific based on the principle of indivisible security and broad cooperation should be obvious to all. Such a space should include all countries, both members and non-members of any integration associations. It is encouraging to see that an increasing number of our partners are showing interest in starting substantive work in this area. The commitment to the idea of ​​creating such a space based on full respect for international law and the OSCE principles is enshrined in the Declaration by the Presidents of Russia, France, Ukraine and the Chancellor of Germany of February 12 in Minsk in support of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreement on a Ukrainian settlement.

As a first step in this direction, we consider it important to establish practical cooperation between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union, and to promote their rapprochement. Of course, this goal cannot be reached overnight. That is why President Putin, one year ago, took the initiative to start negotiations on establishing a free trade area between the EU and the EAEU by 2020. A number of our partners have already seized upon this idea as a practical issue. This is a very real and achievable goal, since both integration models are built on similar principles and are based on the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

Of course, all these efforts cannot succeed without reaffirming the principles of non-interference in internal affairs of sovereign states, without abandoning the sanctions pressure and the attempts to stage so-called "colour" revolutions, or encouraging radical extremist forces. The Helsinki + 40 Process should be the platform for such a discussion, where the parties could focus on removing the dividing lines in all three OSCE dimensions: military-political, socio-economic and human.

Recently, much has been said about Russia reorienting to the East. Allow me to reiterate that Russia’s turn to the Pacific is not an opportunistic move and is not related to the current crisis. Instead, as President Putin pointed out, it is a national priority for the 21st century and should contribute to comprehensive modernisation of Russia’s eastern regions. However, we would like to do this not to the detriment of our relations with the West, but in parallel with a deepening of such relations, if, of course, our European and American partners are interested in that and are willing to work honestly based on equality, respect and consideration for each other's interests.

With regard to the situation in Ukraine, after reaching a new package of agreements in Minsk on February 12, we now have a real chance to stop the senseless bloodshed and achieve national peace and accord. We are convinced that if the Minsk agreements that are enshrined in the UN Security Council resolution will be acted upon, then the situation will, slowly but surely, return to normal. We discussed this in Paris on February 24 at the talks of foreign ministers of the Normandy Four. We have discussed compliance by the parties with the comprehensive ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons. There are signs of progress. Today, too, there is good news. This progress must be secured with more active support on behalf of the OSCE mission.

Importantly, other provisions of the agreements, including addressing the acute humanitarian problems and the constitutional reform, which should provide a framework for securing the legitimate rights and interests of the residents of Donbass, should be implemented according to the established schedule. In order to prevent a split in Ukraine and maintain an atmosphere of trust and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area, it is necessary for Kiev to retain its non-aligned status.

Russia will continue to pursue an independent, multi-vector foreign policy in line with its national interests that is aimed at ensuring reliable sovereignty of our country and strengthening its position in today's highly competitive world. We are willing to consistently build mutually advantageous relations with all the states and their associations that are also interested in this.

The objective process of forming a new, more fair and democratic polycentric international order that would reflect the geographical and the civilisational diversity of the world goes hand-in-hand with increased instability, turbulence and conflicts. Hence, the increasing demand for a competent scientific analysis and expert understanding of ongoing changes in the interest of determining the most effective ways to increase Russia’s prestige and clout in international affairs and to promote global security and stability. I’m confident that the Diplomatic Academy will continue to make a significant contribution to these efforts.

Thank you. I’m ready for your questions.

Question: Is Russia on the threshold of a second chapter in the Cold War, given the tensions in relations between the leading world powers and the introduction of sanctions by the EU countries and the US?

Sergey Lavrov: On the one hand, this can’t be so, because the Cold War was based on a fierce ideological confrontation between blocs. Today we have no ideological contradictions; we profess the same economic and political principles and therefore the objective preconditions aren’t there for another instalment of the Cold War. On the other hand, the bitterness we see in a number of Western capitals probably goes above and beyond what existed during the Cold War. Possibly this is related to what I mentioned before – the desire of the US primarily and the West as a whole to maintain the dominant positions they’ve held in the world for several centuries. But it is no longer possible to make the whole world follow the pattern charted by just one civilisation, or, more precisely, by just one branch of Christian civilisation. The wheel of development has brought to the arena new powerful players – countries with rapidly growing economies (by a number of indicators, China is emerging, or has already emerged, as the number one economy in the world) – and new powerful financial centres. And, of course, with economic and financial influence comes political influence.

Contradictions do exist. I’ll stress again how harmful Washington’s policy of continually emphasising its exceptionalism is. I hope the US remembers what following the logic of one’s own exceptionalism has led to in history. It will not work. The world has changed. We can only find solutions to problems collectively and on the basis of a balance of interests among the leading centres of today’s world.

Question: A year ago, events took place on Kiev’s Maidan that led to chaos and anarchy in the country. Have there been any changes since then in the work of Russian embassies regarding dialogue between cultures, which includes, among other things, preventing the spread of anti-Russian and overtly pro-fascist ideas, as, for example, in the Baltic states. Are Russian missions abroad helping civic organisations involved in culture and cultural ties, and what kind of assistance is it?

Sergey Lavrov: Our work to promote intercultural and intercivilisational dialogue has been going on for a long time, and, of course, it should factor in the aspects of the Ukrainian crisis that you have mentioned, which are primarily the sharp rise of neo-Nazi elements in Ukrainian society and their attempts to call the tune in the country and promote their views, including by force, and punish those who disagree. However, this only underscores the need for intercultural and intercivilisational efforts. These have been our foreign policy priorities for years, and they still are. Today, as we mark the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II, it is crucial, as you have mentioned, to prevent this victory from being belittled and to not allow our opponents to cancel any events designed to preserve the historical memory of the winners and to reaffirm that a resurgence of fascism and Nazism is unacceptable.

Apart from the intercultural and intercivilisational aspects, there is a purely political aspect. I am confident that everyone trying to rewrite the history of World War II and put the winners and the losers on the same plane, or even accuse the Soviet Union of invading Germany, as Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk recently did, has the ulterior motive of erasing from the memory of younger generations the history of Russia’s alliance with the West in the fight against Nazism so that the possibility of such an alliance would not exist even in theory. This despite the fact that during World War II it played a crucial role in smashing fascism and Nazism, and could have continued even after the Cold War. When the Americans pulled out of the ABM Treaty and began implementing plans for a global missile defence system, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in 2007, proposed to then-US President George W. Bush a missile defence collaboration plan based on full equality, mutual trust, and the joint development and implementation of a system to protect against missile threats. If the US had accepted our proposal at the time and agreed to equal cooperation, I am sure that our relations would have taken on the quality of an alliance, at least in this area. Unfortunately, they took a different path, and we are where we are.

Going back to the issue of intercultural dialogue, we are actively involved in UN efforts along these lines. There is a project known as the “dialogue of civilisations” and our country is among the group of countries that chart its direction. UNESCO has a corresponding project. Russia also maintains contacts with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (we have observer status in this organisation) within the framework of which the Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group has been established, and intercivilisational dialogue plays a central role in its activity. There are a number of interesting projects there, for example, the History of Christianity in the Middle East and the History of Islam on the Territory of Modern Russia. Incidentally, these are important aspects of our shared history because both Christianity in the Middle East and Islam in modern Russia are not imported ideologies. Christians have been living in the Middle East for two millennia – about as long as Muslims have been living on the territory of the Russian Federation. So, more than anybody else, we understand the need for interethnic and interreligious peace, harmony, respect for each other’s values, and the need to abandon attempts to impose values on others, as, unfortunately, we are now seeing in Europe, where the crisis largely stems from the failure of the policy of multiculturalism, as it’s called. We support fostering a dialogue on these issues with European countries. We have extensive experience and are eager to share it.

Question: What do you think of the fact that history is actively being rewritten today? Leading countries don’t actually react to this and even encourage it. How can we oppose this?

Sergey Lavrov: I have just spoken about it. We need to oppose this in a consistent and uncompromising manner, making sure the truth is not erased from textbooks or, to use a trendy expression, from political discourse. In addition to multilateral formats for a dialogue of civilisations and other similar structures, there is also the mechanism of our bilateral commissions of historians, which involve a number of states, including some Baltic countries, Poland and Germany. They feature professional academic discussions and the weighing of facts and each others’ arguments. In a number of cases, including with Germany, we have prepared for publication joint collections of documents with commentary by academics, presenting both the German and Russian perspective. When the interpretation of history is entrusted entirely to historians, and politicians stop trying to use other interpretations to their advantage, and instead simply learn the lessons of the past and do everything possible to prevent wars in the future, then, I think, we can say this work has been productive. But this requires daily, tireless efforts.

Question: Difficult talks on a solution to the Ukrainian crisis were held in Minsk this February. How can you explain Europe’s decision to introduce new sanctions against Russia immediately after the Minsk agreements were signed? What do your Western colleagues think about these counterproductive EU actions?

Sergey Lavrov: In principle, no sanctions have ever produced a stable solution to the problem on which they have been adopted. The Western restrictions introduced in connection with the Ukrainian crisis are an interesting phenomenon. I’d like to remind you that the largest set of sanctions was approved in July 2014, several days after the Malaysian Boeing crashed in Ukraine. The blame was immediately placed on the self-defence forces and Russia, which allegedly helped the self-defence forces commit that crime. They adopted a set of sanctions but forgot to investigate the crash.

I’d like to say that the UN Security Council immediately adopted a resolution in connection with that tragedy, demanding that immediate access be provided to the crash site. The self-defence forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic pledged to ensure access to the site. The Ukrainian authorities said they would provide access to experts, who were to investigate the crime only after Kiev assumed military control of the crash site. Access to the site was not granted for over a week after the UN Security Council adopted its resolution. However, the sanctions against Russia and the self-defence forces were adopted, and Russia is one of the few countries that continue bringing up the need to ensure a transparent investigation. The transcript of the Ukrainian air traffic control communications with Malaysia Airlines and photographs taken by US satellites and AWACS planes, which were monitoring the area at the time, have not been made public to this day, in contrast to Russia, which has made public all information available to it. But the sanctions were approved. It appears they only needed a pretext.

Before speaking about the February talks, I’d like to cite one more example. In September 2014, two days after the first Minsk agreements were adopted, the EU, which welcomed them, introduced a fresh set of sanctions. When we expressed surprise, some of our friends in the EU said off the record that the decision was forced on them by the Brussels authorities, although quite a few countries were convinced that they should have taken a pause after the signing of the Minsk agreements. But the Brussels democracy thought differently.

The same goes for the example you mentioned. My explanation is that an aggressive minority in the European Union, supported by the United States, has been doing their best to prevent the public from thinking that the conflict is entering a settlement stage. In the past few days, when the self-defence forces announced their readiness to pull out their heavy weapons while the Ukrainian authorities were searching for a pretext to delay doing the same, the Western media has been providing a distorted picture of developments and trying to discourage the OSCE from speaking about the self-defence forces’ willingness to withdraw these weapons. The situation has more or less normalised, information is being provided, and the OSCE is doing its job. They fear that, as soon as heavy weapons are pulled out and the OSCE confirms this, they will have to implement the other provisions of the February 12 agreements. They include the cooperative work by Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk on a special status for these territories, which should be reflected in the upgraded constitution. Also, Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics have been requested to jointly draft a law on municipal elections in these Ukrainian regions, amnesty for all participants in these events, and a number of other issues that cannot be addressed in the absence of political will and a constructive attitude. Unfortunately, the war party still has the upper hand in Kiev, despite President Poroshenko’s declarations of being “the president of peace.” This war party is represented by other members of the Ukrainian authorities who have serious foreign support.

I want to repeat that more and more of our Western partners are coming to see the absurdity of this, and I’m sure that common sense will prevail in the end.

Question: What measures is Russia taking to counter ISIS? Why is the international community still unable to resolve this problem? Why don’t states unite against such organisations?

Sergey Lavrov: States do unite against these organisations. About a decade ago, the UN Security Council adopted a number of resolutions outlawing al-Qaeda and related terrorist structures on the basis of the UN Charter and in line with the principles of international law. There is a list of individuals and organisations, including al-Qaeda, with which dealings are banned. Their movements must be disrupted. They must be arrested immediately and put to justice. Their financial assets must be frozen and so forth. New names are added regularly to the list. Not so long ago, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, as you’ve mentioned, were also blacklisted.

In general, the international community pursued the right decisions in the context of international law. Proceeding from fundamental documents of the UN Security Council, it adopted an entire series of so-called “sectoral resolutions,” including those against foreign terrorist fighters. This is a new term used to identify foreigners that go to fight in the Middle East for money or as a result of indoctrination. They join ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra or smaller terrorist groups, which are abundant in the region.

The same purpose is served by the Russia-initiated resolution recently adopted by consensus. It is aimed at tightening the crackdown on financing terrorist groups via the illicit trade in oil, precious metals and museum artefacts. Yesterday, terrorists simply destroyed a museum in the Iraqi city of Mosul. In many cases, they seize precious exhibits, sell them and use this money to continue to do their dirty business.

There is also an aspect of using force against such organisations. Last year, the United States announced the formation of a coalition for carrying out air strikes at ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi Government gave its consent in this regard (there are no questions in this respect), but the Syrian Government was not even asked. We were convinced that it would have been appropriate to ask the UN Security Council for a permit to use force against specific terrorist groups with the consent of the countries where they seized large areas, put up their camps, terrorise the population and continue military expansion.

The United States refused to address the Security Council or even consult the Syrian Government, using the excuse that the Bashar al- Assad’s regime cannot be a partner. This is a Janus-faced position. Quite recently, this regime was a wonderful, reliable and efficient partner in eliminating Syrian chemical weapons. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN Security Council have adopted many relevant resolutions welcoming Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and urging the Syrian Government to cooperate, which it agreed to do. The lexicon of the UN and OPCW documents regarding the programme for destroying Syrian chemical arms as regards the Syrian Government is the same as they would use in respect to any other member of the international community with which we are partners in resolving this or the other issue. Accepting Syria as a partner when it comes to chemical arms destruction but rejecting its cooperation in the counterterrorist struggle is contradictory. This is a double standard. It suggests that strikes dealt at terrorist-controlled areas of Syrian territory may at some point be targeted at other areas that are not controlled by terrorists and hopefully will never be controlled by them.

We stand for fighting terrorism on the basis of international law. In this case, the use of force requires the consent of the country in question and a corresponding sanction from the UN Security Council.

Let us not forget that ISIS did not appear out of nowhere. It had powerful foreign sponsors that are still in existence, but are probably not as active in showing their support. They realise that the genie has been let out of the bottle, and that it will eventually attack those who created it. This was the case with the mujahids that were created in Afghanistan and gave birth to al-Qaida, which mounted the 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington and other US cities. Now everyone repudiates any connection to ISIS. Meanwhile, it is already a powerful organization with solid numerical strength – it has around 50,000 well-trained fighters. Many have no ideological leaning and fight only for money. According to some sources, one of the most efficient ISIS units is Iraqi Sunnis, former members of the Ba'ath Party that the Americans disbanded under a fat-fetched pretext after their invasion of Iraq. Sunnis and all Ba’ath members were expelled from Government agencies. Meanwhile, they formed the backbone of the army, security forces and the police. They were simply scattered. These people know how to handle weapons. Many of those left with arms are fairly good fighters. This is not to mention that the invasion left Iraq in a critical condition, which it is struggling to overcome with immense difficulty. We are attempting to help Iraq in this regard. To sum up, a vast number of militarily-trained people lost their jobs. By and large, they were simply overbought and are now fighting not for some idea but rather for money and probably out of revenge. Now, attempts are being made, with US support, to bring back to power the Sunnis who were ousted 10 to 12 years ago, and Shiites are being persuaded to make friends with Sunnis. Obviously, the US actions over the past 12-15 years were not based on any long-term planning or strategic vision. They were made for political expedience – to do something that could be presented as a foreign policy success on the eve of yet another election. These are the costs of democracy: politicians are more concerned about electoral cycles than the destinies of entire nations and regions.

Question: How do you see the bilateral relationship between Russia and China in the context of the international situation, and what is your opinion on the prospects for Russia-China cooperation in the SCO?

Sergey Lavrov: Relations between our countries have reached an unprecedented level. They are based on the alignment of profound national interests of both countries, which are neighbours that share a huge border, rather than on time-serving considerations and a desire to unite against someone else. All border issues were resolved long ago, paving the way for new joint initiatives.

Relations between Russia and China hinge on our complementary economies. Of course, energy plays a big role, but it goes beyond Russia supplying oil and gas for the Chinese economy. There is also cutting-edge technology, primarily the nuclear power industry, which Russia is actively helping to develop in China. We are implementing long-term programmes in this area. One can also mention high-tech aviation technologies and other aspects.

Our relations are based on our complementary economies and shared interests. Some people are warning against excessive interdependence, but I see nothing dangerous in this. The world should be interdependent. When interdependence has as its legal basis a balance between partners’ interests, that is only to be welcomed. The problem is that our Western partners propose terms for cooperation to us, but then constantly revise them in their favour. The European Union regularly adopts decisions similar to the Third Energy Package. This is their right, but they insist that this package apply retroactively to contracts worth billions that have a different legal basis. This is unfair and runs counter to WTO standards and obligations the EU assumed long ago in accordance with the EU-Russia agreement in which they pledged not to make it harder for each other to do business on their markets.

Russia and China do not have any such misunderstandings, and we make fair deals. Bilateral negotiations may be difficult because they involve large sums of money and serious projects. However, they are negotiations between partners and friends. When the sides reach concrete agreements, they unfailingly honour them.

Apart from economic issues, our countries have significant shared interests in the cultural sphere, as well as in expanding contacts and ties. We hold traditional cultural events during overlapping, reciprocal years of culture. We are currently holding the Year of Youth Exchanges. China regularly holds Russian language Olympiads, with Russia organising Chinese language Olympiads on a regular basis, too. More and more Chinese citizens want to study Russian, and vice versa. Academic exchanges also continue to expand.

Our countries are actively cooperating in the international arena. First of all, this cooperation is based on an alignment of views on the global situation and the need for a more equitable and democratic international order, as we have already discussed. The emerging multipolar system of international relations is an objective reality. Any attempts to artificially slow down this process will only breed conflict in international relations.

Russia and China agree that these processes need to be encouraged, that the concerned parties should reach an agreement, and that the number of key decision-makers should increase. We are cooperating closely at the UN Security Council, and the G20 most fully reflects the trend toward a multipolar international order at this stage. The so-called financial G7 can no longer make decisions on behalf of everyone regarding the development of the international currency and financial system and issues related to ensuring global currency stability. This is why the G20, which also involves the largest developing countries, was created.

As you correctly noted, our countries are also cooperating in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. We are preparing to host the SCO summit in Ufa whose participants will discuss ways to deepen and flesh out cooperation projects in the SCO. The issue of expanding the SCO will also be on the agenda. The criteria for prospective members were set at last year’s summit. During the upcoming summit, we will discuss the membership applications of several countries, including India and Pakistan. By the way, Iran has also applied for membership. I hope that progress in resolving the Iranian nuclear problem will allow us to consider this application as well. The SCO accession process is rather lengthy. A prospective member country will have to sign and ratify 20-30 SCO documents. But there is every reason to believe that a political decision on launching the SCO expansion process will be made in Ufa. We have reached consensus on this issue with our Chinese colleagues and other members of the Organisation.

Ufa will also host a summit of BRICS, where Russia and China play a leading role, alongside our colleagues from India, Brazil and South Africa. On the whole, our cooperation and partnership with China on foreign policy issues, as well as our shared view that it is unacceptable to interfere in the domestic affairs of countries or organise “colour” revolutions, and that any disputes should be resolved by diplomatic means, are an extremely important stabilising factor in the complicated international situation right now.

A number of summits are scheduled to be held this year. We are expecting Xi Jinping, the President of the People's Republic of China, to attend celebrations of the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II in Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit China. Our leaders will also hold several meetings on the sidelines of international forums, including the SCO, BRICS, APEC and the G20.

Question: A number of your poems were published recently. Do you still write poetry?

Sergey Lavrov: I do write, but not poems. Most of my writing is related to my job.

Question: It is no secret that you are a fan of the Spartak football club. What do you think of Artyom Dzyuba’s decision to leave FC Spartak Moscow for FC Zenit St. Petersburg?

Sergey Lavrov: It’s unfortunate. Artyom Dzyuba – with that shape of his, spoiling for a fight, in the positive sense of the word, the enthusiasm he shows on the pitch and his relentless pursuit of the goal – has been a symbol of this Spartak club for me. It hurts to lose him.

Question: According to the theory of economic cycles, by 2020 the world will face a global economic crisis caused by technological disruptions. How might this affect the situation in Russia? Will it deteriorate, or will the changes that are now under way in our country (driven by the sanctions to a large extent) help us to bolster our economy, make it stronger and cushion the impact of a potential crisis?

Sergey Lavrov: We have to wait and see what 2020 brings. You question could be the subject of a thesis for earning your PhD or even associate membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences. I won’t make conjectures. It’s up to the experts and economists. They have to do the calculations, including the “Kondratiev waves.” And that’s what they are doing, I am sure. In Russia, we have several ministries that make forecasts.

Russia has experienced crises before. In our modern history, we had the harsh 1990s and the 2008 economic downturn. We have enough experience to be able to handle any crises, as the President of Russia has repeatedly pointed out. The corresponding instructions have been issued to the Government and they will be strictly implemented.

Question: Should a young girl aspire to become a diplomat? What are her chances of getting a job in the Foreign Ministry? Who is given preference?

Sergey Lavrov: A young girl can grow up to be a good diplomat, and so can a young man, as a matter of fact.

The Foreign Ministry employs both women and men. Preference is given to those who meet the criteria. These are, above all, knowledge of at least two foreign languages and the history of international relations, the ability to get up to speed in any situation, mental acuity. A diplomat needs all that and much more. We conduct interviews, which rule out any string pulling. Today, 40 per cent of new recruits at the Foreign Ministry are women. Our gender ratio is constantly improving.

Question: How do you assess the situation in Syria? What are the prospects for Russian-Syrian relations?

Sergey Lavrov: The situation is grave; I’m sure you've been following it on the news. It all began with an attempt to replay the Libyan scenario, i.e. to topple the president and then let things take care of themselves. In Iraq, the whole hullabaloo about the weapons of mass destruction that did not exist at the time was designed exclusively to remove a dictator from office, which was effectively done. In May 2003, speaking aboard an aircraft carrier, then US President George W. Bush declared that democracy had won in Iraq. You know what happened next. They are now trying to correct these mistakes and return Sunnis into political life and even try to skew the situation the other way and curtail the rights and powers of the Shiites.

In Libya, the focus also was on the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed in an absolutely disgusting manner and in violation of the UN Security Council resolution which was about a no-fly zone over Libya, nothing more. It was grossly distorted. In fact, fire support was provided to the forces opposing Gaddafi’s army, which subsequently formed several terrorist groups. European countries and some countries in that region armed them in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, and they were talking about it openly. Later, these forces, with weapons obtained for overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi, scattered across about a dozen African countries, including Mali and the Central African Republic. Libya is largely controlled by them.

At some point, in order to remove the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslavia was bombed. This time, just like four years ago, attempts were made to remove Bashar al-Assad. There was no certainty about what would happen next. It didn’t work out this time, though. It turned out that al-Assad has a lot of support in his country. Much of the population see him as a guarantor of their stability, and not only Alawites, but many Sunnis as well, who have made a career and have built their businesses under Bashar al-Assad or his father. They see what's happening in Libya, Yemen and some other neighbouring countries. They are convinced that any change of government will lead to chaos, and someone will come to take away their assets and possessions.

For over four years, our western partners have been telling us something along the lines of "let's work together and come up with a transitional period in Syria, but al-Assad is a problem, and nothing will happen as long as he is in power." In the early days of the crisis in 2011, US President Barack Obama publicly stated that no one would talk with al-Assad. Now, they have to. A politician should be a little more careful in what he says and does.

We are making efforts to channel the situation to a dialogue and to remove ultimatums and preconditions from the agenda. We achieved good results in Geneva in June 2012. We adopted the Geneva communiqué, which lays out the international community's interest in keeping Syria united and secular country that is open to the outside world and where all ethnic and religious groups feel equally protected. To this end, there was a call for a national dialogue in order to agree on the future of the country. It was mentioned that there should be a transitional period or a caretaker body formed by mutual consent of the Syrian government and the entire range of opposition forces. Western countries refused to approve this document in the UN Security Council for as long as 12 months. We suggested that they do so on several occasions. Only when they became interested in the Russian initiative about the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, did the resolution on this "chemical issue" include a section on political settlement, which a year later served as a framework to approve the Geneva communiqué. Had this been done earlier, progress may have been a little faster than it is now. More than a year has been wasted, and now the West has come to realise that this document must be approved.

Once they did so, they started saying: "It says 'a transition period,' meaning al-Assad must go." We ask, "Why? It says that aspects and parameters of the transition period are subject to mutual agreement between the government and all members of the opposition." The West has placed its bet on just one opposition group, the so-called National Coalition, which almost 100 percent comprises Syrian emigrants. This group is not recognised by many domestic opposition organisations that have never left their country and have always defended their interests from within, not from Paris, Istanbul or a Gulf country.

During conversations with our US and Arab colleagues, we have advocated a course, which is now starting to get a hearing, that would accomplish two objectives, in light of the failed attempt to start a dialogue in Geneva last year. The first problem was getting only one group to represent the opposition. Second, this group tried to put forward ultimatums concerning the resignation of Bashar al-Assad without any alternatives. This conference was a big forum involving over 50 countries. When such large discussions take place, the main parties are inevitably tempted to show off.

The Moscow meeting, hosted by us last month, aimed to invite as many opposition groups as possible and to try and convince them to adhere to the points of the Geneva communiqué: Syria should be a united, secular and democratic country where all minorities and groups feel equally safe and comfortable. On the last day, a delegation of the Syrian Government joined the meeting. After the meeting, its moderator, Vitaly Naumkin, the Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who personally knows many of these people and who has done some useful work, summed up the main points. His summary contained a number of principles that neither the opposition nor the government questioned. There are grounds for continuing this process.

We are currently preparing a similar meeting, and we are expecting more opposition groups to take part. We are coordinating our actions with other regional countries, including Egypt, which is also actively promoting the idea of convincing the opposition to take constructive stances. I believe there is an opportunity for a slow process that could gradually gain momentum, provided that no one hampers this process or tries to find a pretext for using force against the Syrian regime. Worst of all, they might try and provoke a situation that would make this pretext seem appropriate. A very bleak future awaits Syria in the event of any military adventure.

Question: Are there any plans to expand BRICS? If so, which countries could be considered for membership?

Sergey Lavrov: There are no such plans. This is the common position of all five of the group’s member-states at this stage. They believe that it is important to consolidate the cooperation process inside BRICS. We are establishing a development bank, a pool of currency reserves and other mechanisms, such as a virtual secretariat and a whole range of sectoral initiatives, like agriculture, healthcare, the medical science, etc. At the same time, BRICS does not intend to operate in isolation, we have a number of partners.

BRICS was created primarily for cooperation in solving international currency and financial problems, even though the group is already acquiring a foreign policy dimension. The summit documents register the five countries’ common positions on major issues of the day. BRICS’s partners, for example, include many developing countries that, together with BRICS, belong to the G20. They are Argentina, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Within the G20, we have the same position, for example, on reforming the International Monetary Fund. In addition, at each BRICS summit we traditionally hold outreach activities where we usually invite countries that are partners of the host country. If it is South Africa we invite countries of Africa, as was the case in Durban in 2013. In Brazil’s Fortaleza last year, after the BRICS summit we held a meeting with leaders of major Latin American countries. Russia is also planning such an outreach summit with the participation of our next-door neighbours in the geopolitical region. This is a useful format for dialogue, the exchange of views, and understanding each other’s positions. Ultimately, I suppose, the question may arise of other countries joining BRICS, but so far we have decided to give the current group of five time to consolidate and take root.