Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Mongolian, Japanese and Chinese media ahead of his visits to these countries, Moscow, April 12, 2016
Question: How do you access the state of Russian-Mongolian relations? In which spheres can this cooperation be expanded?
Sergey Lavrov: Our relations with Mongolia are relations between long-time good friends. Quite literally, these are strategic relations. We are deeply appreciative of this friendship, which consolidated between our nations not only at the national level but also in contacts between people. Now, when we mark a series of memorable dates related to victories and our common battle during World War II, we regularly review the contribution that the Mongolian people and country made to support the Soviet Army. This is a battle-seasoned brotherhood. More than once, our country succoured the brotherly Mongolian nation. I will say it again – these are feelings that are deeply rooted in our people’s hearts and souls.
Speaking of more formal aspects, our relations have become regular, although there was a suspension some time ago. Today, we maintain a regular dialogue at the high and highest levels, as well as close contacts between our parliamentarians, various ministries and departments. We think that this is a very solid and useful core of our relations.
As regards the results – the trade turnover growth, which increased until 2012 and then slowed down and stopped, is now decreasing. This is caused by the global situation and currency fluctuations. I am positive that this is a temporary thing. We have very good potential to bring the trade turnover back to the level of a sustained growth.
At the start of this year, the law came into effect on the ratification of the agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of Mongolia on regulating Mongolia’s financial obligations to Russia, which regulated all of Mongolia’s financial commitments to our country. This opens additional opportunities for investment cooperation. I am sure that we will use them.
Question: Today the new Silk Road is a subject of many discussions. What can Russia and Mongolia do together in this respect? How topical is the development of this transport project?
Sergey Lavrov: The Silk Road is China’s initiative, and was discussed by the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian leaders at trilateral meetings. It was discussed not as an isolated issue but in the conjugation context of different processes that are developing in our common geopolitical space – the EAEU as the integration locomotive in the post-Soviet space, China’s Silk Road and Mongolia’s Steppe Road. Our three presidents met more than once and made an instruction. They approved the line towards the conjugation of these three projects with a view to creating the Russia-Mongolia-China transport and economic corridor. Everyone understands that this idea is promising economically and beneficial for our countries. This will boost shipments and trade between our three countries and make their economies more competitive.
I must mention our political cooperation with Mongolia. We are closely cooperating in the UN. Russia is grateful to Mongolia for its support for many of our initiatives in the General Assembly and other UN agencies. In turn, we backed Mongolia when it wished to join the OSCE. We hope for the close coordination of our actions in this international agency.
Question: Your visit to Japan will open a series of top-level contacts, including the forthcoming visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe to Russia and President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan. That said, Russia and the G7 countries still have different views on the Ukraine crisis. There are still differences between Russia and Japan as well. For instance, at a large news conference last January, you said Russia does not believe that a peace treaty is a synonym for resolving the territorial issue.
Japan insists that the conclusion of a peace treaty is inseparable from the resolution of the territorial issue, that this is one and the same thing. Given these differences in the positions of the Russian and Japanese leaders, what are the prospects of political dialogue on a peace treaty? What do you think about the level of Russian-Japanese relations and the development of dialogue between the two countries?
Sergey Lavrov: I’ll start with the beginning of your multi-layered question. You mentioned that the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting urged Russia to more actively facilitate the resolution of issues related to the Ukraine crisis. I didn’t see this and didn’t read the documents from this meeting. The G7 is not recognised by anyone as a venue for discussing the Ukraine crisis. The latter should be discussed and settled on the basis of the February 2015 Minsk agreements. The UN Security Council approved these agreements without changing a word. It also endorsed the format of the Contact Group and its four working sub-groups – representatives of the Ukrainian Government, Donetsk, Lugansk, the OSCE and the Russian Federation are supposed to work directly with each other. This is the format for concrete ways to implement the commitments that were assumed by Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk.
There is the Normandy format (Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine), which, as is written in the declaration of their four leaders, is designed for monitoring the Minsk agreements. Their implementation leaves much to be desired, as neither the United States, which exerts decisive influence on Kiev, nor our European partners have been so far able to persuade Kiev to stop openly subverting and even demanding to rewrite the Minsk agreements.
The United States, France and Germany, members of the G7 Club, keep talking about the need to abide by the Minsk agreements. If the G7 is interested in this, it should use the weight of its countries in relations with Ukraine and demand that Kiev comply with what Ukraine’s President Petr Poroshenko has signed. But let me repeat that for us the G7 is an abstract entity and, to be honest, I haven’t noticed its influence on international political life.
As for Russia-Japan relations, we consider them to be self-valuable. As we know, our leaders – President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minster Shinzo Abe – agreed during their regular meetings that bilateral cooperation would develop in all spheres, including trade, the economy, investment, culture and, most importantly, foreign policy. Of course, we would like a major power such as Japan to carry more weight in international affairs, so that its voice sounds louder and reflects the interests of its people.
I have good relations with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. We expected him to visit Russia in March or April 2014, when he was appointed foreign minister. Due to reasons beyond our control, Mr Kishida only visited Russia in September 2015. But anyway, we still maintain good working relations. I hope to be able to discuss ways to further strengthen our cooperation when I am in Tokyo later this week. We plan to sign a comprehensive plan for Russian-Japanese ministerial consultations, which will cover all the main issues that require our joint attention.
Now, about the peace treaty. Indeed, I said at a news conference in January of this year that the issue of the peace treaty is not directly connected to the so-called Northern Territories, as you say in Japan. We discuss this issue with our Japanese colleagues. As per the instructions of President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, we have established a special channel for dialogue on this issue on the level of deputy foreign ministers. It is a regular but not very easy dialogue, for understandable reasons, because we hold opposite views on this issue. Two rounds of this dialogue were devoted to discussing historical aspects in the context of the results of WWII.. We won’t proceed forward unless we accept these results.
The issue of the peace treaty cannot be limited to territorial disputes, let alone territorial claims, if only because the only document that has been signed and ratified by both parties – the Joint Declaration of 1956 – says that the parties have renounced any and all claims against each other and that their immediate goal is to sign a peace treaty. It does not mention the possibility of discussing territorial issues during the peace treaty talks. We’d like to remind our Japanese colleagues about the background of this issue in the context of the results of WWII, as well as about Moscow and Tokyo’s achievements since the war’s end. We are now preparing for the next round of these talks. I think we will continue to discuss Moscow and Tokyo’s stances in the context of the above mentioned parameters.
I’d like to conclude my answer to this question by repeating that President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have agreed on the comprehensive development of bilateral relations in various spheres. We believe that closer interaction of our economies and civil societies, the establishment of good relations between our business people, mutual investments and implementation of joint economic, trade, infrastructure and foreign policy initiatives will help create an atmosphere that will be more favourable for signing agreements on even the most difficult issues. Although we don’t regard the current atmosphere as unfavourable, it’s true that it could be much better, considering Russian and Japanese potential.
I’d like to say that Japanese businesses are actively expressing their interest in working in Russia, and not only in the automobile industry, which is traditional, but also in pharmaceutics, communications equipment and agriculture, as well as in creating smart urban environments, an area where Japan has greatly progressed. We’d like to be able to use its experience. Of course, we are also cooperating in the sphere of energy, including under the Sakhalin 1 and 2 projects, which are being implemented jointly with Japanese business. We are discussing the possibility of implementing a project that has been tentatively named The Russia-Japan Energy Bridge, and the production of alternative fuels, including liquid hydrogen. This is the sphere of high technologies.
I am confident that these breakthrough economic projects combined with our close cultural ties, such as the annual festivals of Russian culture in Japan, as well as closer interaction on the international stage will all be useful for upholding the interests of our people and settling all the remaining issues on our agenda.
Question: Recently, Russia has noticeably intensified its military presence in the Arctic and the Kuril Islands. What threats does Russia see in these regions, and from what forces? Is this trend related to the active development of the Northern Sea Route? Is it correct to assume that the Kuril Islands are acquiring a new strategic importance for Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: Today, the Arctic is increasingly opening up for economic development. We are interested in the Arctic becoming a territory of dialogue and cooperation. This is, in fact, the name of an annual conference that we hold through the Russian Security Council for our partners, above all, members of the Arctic Council, while also inviting other states that have observer status or are interested in acquiring it. In addition, in the context of ongoing climate change, shipping and navigation along the Northern Sea Route is expected to expand considerably. Let me be a little more accurate: not only in the context of climate change. The use of the Northern Sea Route is objectively becoming invigorated, as Russia implements essential measures to make this convenient and comfortable to the maximum degree possible. This route is becoming increasingly popular. I believe that it will eventually become a very useful and effective route for the transit of goods between Europe and Asia.
With such active interest in this international route along the Russian borders, we, as a littoral state, bear a special responsibility for ensuring not only the route’s effectiveness but also its safety. It is essential to ensure reliable and effective control not only over sea areas but also over the coast along these areas. There is a need for an effective capability to respond to emergencies that unfortunately occur, no matter what we do to secure ourselves against them. This also applies to search and rescue operations and the need to be ready to deal with terrorist threats. Today, there is no getting away from these bandits or from the need to control possible smuggling, drug trafficking and other activities related to organised crime. All of these objectives cannot be achieved without restoring the infrastructure, including military infrastructure, that was almost completely lost in the 1990s,
Regarding the Kuril Islands, these are the eastern boundaries of the Russian Federation. We pay special attention to organising and comprehensively developing these Russian territories, above all, in socioeconomic teams, taking into account the needs of the Russian people who live there.
Needless to say, planning measures to strengthen military infrastructure relating to border territories is natural for any state. These are the Far Eastern borders of our country and we are duty bound to ensure their security. We will do all we can to achieve this goal.
Question: Last year, Russia and China reached a basic agreement on harmonising Eurasian integration with the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative. What’s your take on the prospects of such harmonisation? What practical steps will be taken to fill this agreement with specific content?
As we know, you will soon go to China. Please tell us what is the purpose of your visit? What do you think about the relations between our two countries?
Sergey Lavrov: I'll start with the second question. Relations between our countries, as President Vladimir Putin has on many occasions emphasised, are probably the best we ever had in our common history. According to the leaders of our countries, these are relations of strategic cooperation and multifaceted partnership. They are constantly deepened and promoted for the benefit of our countries and peoples. Of course, we are experiencing certain negative implications from what’s going on in the global economy. Our trade is slightly down. However, as is the case with our other neighbours in the Far East, I’m convinced that this is temporary. We have ambitious plans in the energy sector and the high-tech sphere, including nuclear energy, space exploration, advanced aeronautics, telecommunications and much more.
In addition to this solid economic foundation, which we plan to further expand in every way, we are actively developing other forms of interaction that make the fabric of our cooperation even denser. I’m referring to humanitarian, sports, cultural and educational ties. Contacts between our regions are of great importance for rendering these elements of our strategic partnership even more stable and promising. One of the projects based on the potential of Russian regions and Chinese provinces involves combining the development programmes of the Russian Far East and northeastern provinces of China.
A new Volga-Yangtze project is also part of interregional cooperation. The Russian regions located on the Volga River and the Chinese province on the banks of the Yangtse River have identified a lot of interesting joint projects. Our joint plans focusing on the development of the geopolitical and geoeconomic space make Russia and China interested in expanding this joint work, including in the context of what we already mentioned today, namely, the harmonisation of various integration processes and projects.
During Chairman Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia on May 8, 2015, a statement was signed whereby the two leaders issued instructions to work on harmonising the EAEU and Chinese Silk Road Economic Belt project. An agreement on trade and economic cooperation between the EAEU and China is being drafted as a first practical step to this end. A roadmap covering priority integration projects between China and the EAEU is being drafted in lockstep with this agreement.
In addition, our Chinese partners became interested in the initiative advanced by President Putin, when in addition to harmonising Eurasian integration and the Silk Road Economic Belt he suggested further promoting cooperation, in particular, creating a free trade area between the EAEU and SCO. I think that if we liberalise trade between these two associations, especially given the fact that India and Pakistan and, in the future, Iran, will join the SCO, we will get a powerful association. The incentives for growth in this vast territory will reach their maximum.
The President not only spoke about relations between the EAEU and the SCO, but also indicated our desire to attract ASEAN to this cooperation, including by coordinating trade liberalisation measures. We are analysing this issue. We are preparing for the ASEAN-Russia Summit, to be held in Russia in May of this year, during which we expect to learn more about the ASEAN economies’ views on their possible participation in these large-scale and even breakthrough initiatives.
Regarding the external aspects of the Russia-China partnership, I believe that our cooperation on the international stage and as permanent members of the UN Security Council, and our concerted stand for the UN’s central role in addressing any problem and for reliance on international law in the settlement of conflicts and crises are key factors in achieving a balanced and stable international situation. This is all the more important at a time when many events take the opposite direction, when interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states and attempts to enforce solutions that do not suit these states are undermining international stability and sometimes result in chaos and vacuum, which extremists and terrorists use to their advantage, as has happened in the Middle East and North Africa. I want to stress in this context that the strategic partnership of Russia and China based on respect for international law and their practical efforts to implement this philosophy are crucial stabilisation elements amid the current turbulence in foreign policy and international relations.
Question: Tensions have recently flared up again in the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East. Can Russia and China coordinate their stands on these issues? Can Russia-China cooperation help settle regional and international problems?
Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi will visit Russia next week. What are your expectations of his visit?
Sergey Lavrov: Next week, Moscow will host a Russia-India-China (RIC) ministerial meeting. This format, which has launched important processes in global politics, was proposed by my estimated predecessor, Yevgeny Primakov. Unfortunately, he is no more, but it was he who proposed launching trilateral contacts, or more precisely cooperation, between Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi in the framework of the efforts to create a multipolar world. We have launched this project and held many meetings at the ministerial level and several meetings between our presidents and prime ministers. The key element is that this triangle – Russia, India and China – ultimately resulted in the establishment of BRICS when Brazil and South Africa joined RIC.
BRICS is a promising global political format and one of the most important geopolitical projects that has brought together countries from widely different regions who have a similar approach to cooperation in international affairs, who appreciate equality and mutual benefit, and who work to maintain a balance of interests without forcing anything on each other. BRICS is our common and intrinsically valuable achievement, but primarily the achievement of our Chinese partners and Indian colleagues.
After creating BRICS, we have not stopped promoting our trilateral RIC cooperation, which has a bright future. It is especially important because these three BRICS countries are located in the same region. In addition to the forms of cooperation that are being promoted in the framework of the five BRICS countries, the RIC states can use such tools as trilateral infrastructure projects. We’ll discuss this at our meetings with the foreign ministers of China and India, and we’ll also talk about our cooperation at the UN and about promoting various initiatives there. Of course, we will also discuss the reform of the UN and its Security Council. Russia and China fully agree on this. We believe that UN Security Council decisions must receive the broadest possible support. We don’t want a vote at the council to be used to push through projects that don’t enjoy the broad support of the UN member states, which could split the organisation. This is what we discuss at our trilateral meetings.
Alongside the scheduled trilateral meeting, I will also hold bilateral meetings with my Chinese colleague and friend, Mr Wang Yi, and my Indian colleague, Ms Sushma Swaraj. Although Wang Yi has recently been to Russia on a bilateral visit, we will hold a bilateral meeting on the occasion of the RIC ministerial meeting.
Regarding crises in our region, Northeast Asia, we are seriously worried by the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We consider it necessary to do everything in our power to ease tensions and prevent negative developments, especially when the actions of one of the parties may lead to a defensive reaction by the other party, thereby creating a vicious circle. Just as China does, we see North Korea’s nuclear ambitions as inappropriate. We have stated our position on this issue more than once, including to Pyongyang. We believe that North Korea’s actions in this sphere contradict the interests of strategic stability, efforts to maintain the non-proliferation regime and, of course, North Korea’s commitments sealed in UN Security Council resolutions. We respect North Korea’s sovereign right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including in space, and we understand and accept as justified Pyongyang’s concern over regional developments posing a regional security threat to North Korea. But while recognising North Korea’s security concerns, we don’t accept its claims on the status of becoming a nuclear state and reject the nuclear proliferation philosophy, which our North Korean neighbours are openly advocating. This runs contrary not only to the positions of Russia and China, but also to the positions of all states that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We must stand up against this philosophy.
I must express my opinion of the developments on the other side of the conflict line. Russia and China are equally concerned about the desire of some countries to exploit the difficult situation on the Korean Peninsula as a reason for building up their military presence in this region, delivering more weapons there, including modern weapons, the technological characteristics of which are not commensurate with the real threat coming from the Korean Peninsula. I am referring to the planned deployment of US ballistic missile defence systems in the Republic of Korea as part of the creation of a new US BMD deployment area in Northeast Asia. Of course, this is not an isolated system but part of a regional segment of the US global BMD system. Of course, we and our Chinese friends understand that the implementation of this policy will create a real threat to the security of our countries by undermining strategic stability with the deployment of these BMD systems in this part of the world, just as has been done in Europe. We have launched a dialogue with our Chinese colleagues involving our diplomats, militaries and other agencies. We have held two rounds of this dialogue, one in Shanghai in April 2015 and the other in Moscow in March 2016. The concerned authorities of Russia and China conducted meetings on the level of experts to exchange views on the developments in Northeast Asia and on what our two countries can do to protect ourselves from the persisting threats in this region, threats that have grown, to a degree.
We are convinced that in addition to implementing the UN Security Council resolution that has placed responsibility with North Korea we also need to promote regional cooperation in keeping with UN Security Council resolutions. We should resume the six-party talks and implement the agreements of September 2005, which proposed a solution to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula. Of course, one of the first steps to be taken when tensions ease off a bit will be to resume the dialogue on peace and security mechanisms for Northeast Asia. This task was formulated at the six-party talks, where a working group was formed to establish Northeast Asia peace and security mechanisms. Russia as the chair of this group is urging its partners to start working in this format.
Regarding the situation in the South China Sea, we proceed from the following premise. All states involved in these disputes must respect the principle of the non-use of military force and continue searching for mutually acceptable political and diplomatic solutions. It is necessary to stop any interference in the talks between the concerned states and any attempts to internationalise these disputes. We have provided active support for the willingness of China and ASEAN economies to advance towards this goal, primarily in line with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In addition, ASEAN and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. In 2011, China and ASEAN coordinated guidelines for the implementation of this declaration. As far as I know, China and ASEAN are currently negotiating a code of conduct in the South China Sea, which will include legally binding commitments. I think there is no alternative to this. I have attended many events in the framework of East Asia Summit meetings and the ASEAN Regional Forum on security attended by external parties. Many attempts have been made there to internationalise the issues related to the South China Sea dispute. It is my opinion that these attempts are counterproductive. Only negotiations, which China and the ASEAN countries have launched and are conducting, will produce the desired result, that is, a mutually acceptable agreement.
Questions: In your opinion, what are the major geopolitical challenges facing Mongolia and Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: Due to its geographical location, the Russian Federation has to deal with more challenges than Mongolia. Your country, as you say yourselves, has two great neighbours – Russia and China. It’s important that we have established a mechanism for trilateral meetings between the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian leaders in the past few years. Other dialogues are maintained at other levels to address practical issues. I believe that all countries now face the same geopolitical challenges – new, as we say today, challenges and threats such as terrorism, drug crimes, other forms of trans-border organised crime, environmental issues, and other aspects related to sustainable development. I’d also add efforts to ensure sustainable state development when a country tackles all of its problems with its own means laid down in the country’s constitution, by involving all political forces in the process, and does not allow others to interfere in its internal affairs. Unfortunately, attempts to interfere have not been ruled out completely from international practice. The Russian Federation and China (I take responsibility here in speaking for our Chinese friends) as your two great neighbours will do their best to prevent any attempts to interfere in the internal development processes of our friendly partner Mongolia.
Question: As far as we know, your upcoming visit to Japan is an important step in preparing high-level contacts, including the visit of President Vladimir Putin. Unfortunately, Russia and Japan are still working under sanctions. What, in your opinion, are the conditions for lifting or mitigating the sanctions?
Sergey Lavrov: The sanctions are not our problem. We have heard explanations from our Japanese colleagues regarding Japan’s decision to join certain US and European sanctions. We did not request these explanations from our Japanese friends, and it seemed that they were trying to make excuses.
We realise perfectly well that, unfortunately, Japan is not the only country which does not implement a completely independent foreign policy. We would like a major power such as Japan to have more authority in this respect. We don’t touch on this issue in any way, while preparing for top-level meetings and our Japanese colleagues regularly suggest on their own that they would like to lift the sanctions, but that they are still forced to refrain from this due to solidarity with Western countries.
We will not raise this issue in our relations with Japan, the EU or the United States. We are confident that unilateral sanctions are absolutely illegal. Only the UN Security Council has a legitimate right to take coercive action.
In the future, we’ll hold separate conceptual discussions with our partners that, if collective and legitimate sanctions of the international community have been approved by the UN Security Council against any specific country, for example Iran, it is necessary to reach consensus that these international sanctions should be unfailingly honoured, and that they should not be either expanded nor scaled down. It is necessary to enforce all bans introduced by the UN Security Council, and I believe it’s unethical to add another element to honest deals. But this has nothing to do with the Russian Federation. The UN Security Council has not declared any sanctions against the Russian Federation, nor can such sanctions be introduced.
Question: Does this hamper President Putin’s visit to Japan?
Sergey Lavrov: Nothing will hamper President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan. For this visit to take place, an invitation issued long ago should assume the form of some specific deadline. President Putin has repeatedly told Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe that Russia does not want to place Japan in an awkward position. It was Japan that invited us to visit and Russia did not force itself on Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later told President Putin several times that he was thinking about specific deadlines. We reassured our Japanese partners and told them not to worry, that they don’t need to tell us each time that they are still considering the issue. When they are ready to offer specific deadlines, they should tell us, and we’ll review them.
At the same time, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed his interest in visiting the Russian Federation. We promptly offered a specific timeframe. To the best of my knowledge, this visit may take place in the near future.
We have heard statements from Washington that the US does not approve of top-level contact between Russia and Japan. A spokesperson for the Department of State or the White House reportedly said not long ago that there is nothing terrible, and that one visit will not make a difference. This conduct is outrageous. I believe that our Japanese colleagues realise this and regard this in a way such unacceptable manners should be treated.
Many Western partners travel to Russia. President Vladimir Putin has visited a number of European countries. Everything depends on when our Japanese colleagues will feel that it’s possible and comfortable to decide on specific deadlines that can be offered to President Putin.
Question: You mentioned the Joint Declaration of October 19, 1956. Apart from this declaration, several other documents have been signed between Russia and Japan, including the Statement of the President of the Russian Federation and the Prime Minister of Japan on the Continuation of Future Negotiations on the Issue of a Peace Treaty, signed by Vladimir Putin and Yoshiro Mori in Irkutsk in 2001. Is it also possible to perceive this statement as a basis for the talks?
Sergey Lavrov: If I remember correctly, this statement notes an agreement to continue a dialogue in order to resolve all the issues, including to whom the four islands belong. We won’t refuse to do this. But this is simply a statement, although I confirm that it is our goal to completely clarify the issue concerning the possession of the four islands. The Declaration of October 19, 1956 is the only bilateral document on this issue that was signed and ratified.