Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech and answers to questions at the meeting with representatives of the Association of European Businesses (AEB), Moscow, October 25, 2016
As a poet once said: “Frost and sun – a wondrous day.” But we will try to focus on our work. First of all, I’d like to thank Mr Thomas Staertzel and all members of the AEB in Russia for this opportunity to speak again to this audience. Our regular contacts have become a good tradition that we want to support in every way.
Today business circles or business diplomacy play a special role in maintaining trust and mutual understanding between nations. We know about your striving to build up mutually beneficial cooperation and continue to work actively in the Russian market. We know that you understand that confrontation and the logic of sanctions are counterproductive. We appreciate and share this approach.
Regrettably, the situation in the world has not become any simpler since our last meeting. The region of the Middle East and North Africa continues bleeding. Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya are engulfed in the flames of war. The unprecedented upsurge of terrorism and extremism is particularly dangerous for all of us. Numerous acts of terror in the most different parts of the world, and the refugee flow that has swept Europe show that it is impossible to create “security oases” and to cordon off threats and challenges. They are common for all of us and we must deal with them together.
The current situation, which is far from being optimistic, to put it mildly, is a direct consequence of the pernicious practices of geopolitical engineering, interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states and regime change for objectionable governments, sometimes by force. We are sincerely disappointed that after the end of the Cold War the United States and some of its allies did not give up the archaic policy of deterrence. We are deeply concerned over actions that affect Russia’s national security, such as NATO’s steps to draw its military infrastructure and military presence closer to our borders and the deployment of the missile defence system in Europe and Asia.
There are attempts to use the Ukraine crisis for self-interested geopolitical objectives, in defiance of the principle of equal and undivided security, which only aggravates the complicated situation on our common continent. Russia is consistently working toward a political and diplomatic settlement of the internal crisis in Ukraine based on the fair and comprehensive implementation of the Minsk Agreements. To this end, as was reaffirmed for us at a recent Normandy-format meeting in Berlin, Kiev must take consistent steps on its part of the way: enshrine in law a special status for Donbass, carry out constitutional reform, grant an amnesty, and organise local elections. We look to deal with these issues in the framework of the Normandy Four, but to be sure, the intra-Ukrainian format will have the final say. This format was created in the form of the Contact Group and its corresponding subgroups.
As I said earlier, we addressed the situation in Berlin on October 19. We hope that our Western partners in the Normandy format will persuade the Ukrainian leadership to get down to business and stop the political farce.
Certain EU member countries have begun using the situation in Syria as a new pretext for ratcheting up pressure on Russia and thwarting any positive initiatives on the Russian track. As you know, Russia has consistently advocated a speedy and fair resolution of the bloody Syrian conflict. From our perspective, priority tasks include the complete eradication of the terrorist threat on the country’s territory and the parallel launch of an inclusive political process based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the corresponding decisions taken within the framework of the ISSG. Ways of reaching these objectives were also addressed in Berlin in the course of talks between President Vladimir Putin and the German and French leaders on October 19, and prior to that they were discussed in the so-called Lausanne format. Our conclusion remains the same: the most important condition is the immediate and full dissociation of the so-called moderate opposition from ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and others of that ilk. Our US partners promised us to do that eight months ago, but nothing has happened yet. It is difficult to believe that the United States, which incessantly talks about its exceptionalism and indispensability in global affairs, is helpless here. Maybe if the US people and the US leadership are convinced they possess these qualities, they should be used for the common good: to resolve the problem of isolating terrorists and eliminating them.
The Russian Aerospace Forces were deployed in Syria at the request of the legitimate government. At the same time we are interested in antiterrorist operations being conducted collectively on a solid international legal basis. President Vladimir Putin spoke about this a little over a year ago in his remarks at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. We regret that our European colleagues in the EU have terminated antiterrorist cooperation with us, as they have cooperation in many other spheres. Naturally, we are surprised by the fact that pragmatic EU members, who have traditionally been known for their commitment to realpolitik, are now demanding – following the lead of a Russophobic minority – that politics be put above economics in relations with Moscow. At least, we are surprised to hear statements to that effect from the German leadership. We were probably wrong when we made assessments about the German character based on our centuries-old ties with that great country.
Nevertheless, politics is put above economics. As a result, a strategic review of relations with Russia, which was made at a European Council meeting a week ago, on October 21−22, showed that the EU is still unable to work out a pragmatic line toward our country that would be in its own interests. If you read the final document reviewing relations with Russia, the summit’s conclusions contain only one phrase: “The European Council held a strategic policy debate on relations with Russia.” We know – it was reported in the press – that this phrase conceals some rather serious divergence in views, sometimes polar opposite views, on how to deal with Moscow in the future. This rather neutral phrase is, of course, a cover for disagreements.
However, we believe that the EU should first put its own house in order. Therefore we were greatly surprised by the fact that European Council President Donald Tusk, during a press availability, regardless of his status, which should dictate a generalised approach, dared to speak, as it were, on behalf of all EU members and express openly Russophobic positions, characterising the discussion in Russophobic terms. He even claimed he has no doubt that Russia’s main objective is to weaken the European Union. These groundless allegations could not be further from the truth. We have repeatedly stated and proved at the practical level that we want to see the EU united, cohesive, and independent. We are convinced that this is the only key to the full realisation of this colossally important project.
I hope that the short-sighted view, including the one I just described and that was laid out by EU President Donald Tusk, will not be supported, as it has a negative impact on the entire system of Russian-EU ties, above all on their trade and investment component. I will not cite statistics; they are known to you. I will only say that by destroying established ties, Brussels in effect is abandoning the concept that has underpinned our dialogue over the past two decades: two interconnected and complementary economies steadily growing closer in the interest of making them more competitive due to the natural advantages that they possess. One long-term aggravating factor is the loss of trust that will be very difficult to restore.
A subject in its own right is the future of energy cooperation, which cemented Russia-EU relations for a long time. Russia has always been a reliable supplier of oil and gas, and our gas infrastructure has been adjusted to Europe’s requirements over the past decades. Despite the European Commission’s many proposals to resume a full dialogue on energy, which have been made over the past two years, Brussels’ intentions have yet to materialise.
Purely commercial joint projects, which the EU member states and European energy companies supported, such as South Stream and Nord Stream-2, have been blocked or hindered. The majority of respected experts say that the EU will find it difficult to develop without Russian energy in the near term, what with the EU’s plans to decarbonise the economy and decrease gas production in Europe.
Russia and Turkey have signed an intergovernmental agreement on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline, which initially provides for building one line towards Europe, in particular to Greece. In light of the problems with South Stream, we will consider extending Turkish Stream into the EU only if we have explicit official guarantees in writing to allow this project to be built.
It is no secret that a considerable percent of energy and other sanctions against Russia originate in Washington and are implemented in Europe under the guise of so-called trans-Atlantic solidarity. Paradoxically, this policy does not cost the Americans anything: they are not sustaining major losses, and even hope to convince Europe to switch from Russian gas to more expensive American liquefied natural gas. It is for the Europeans to decide if this would be in their interests, especially now that the Old World is trying to find itself in the global economy and is facing numerous challenges and threats.
According to our information, far from everyone in the EU is happy with this situation. The political, business and public communities in many countries are raising their voices to express disagreement with the policy of sanctions, and public opinion is consolidating towards normalising relations with Russia. We hope the EU will overcome this mental inertia, will choose its priorities independently without looking to non-regional influences, and will stop playing into the hands of the anti-Russia minority at home.
Attempts to use sanctions as punishment for pursuing an independent foreign policy and for upholding justice in international affairs have not and will not bring any result. Alexander Nevsky pointed this out when he said, “God is not in strength but in truth.” The Russian economy will not be torn to shreds, contrary to what Washington said two years ago. I am sure that you know our economic situation, and I do not have to tell you that Russia stands firmly on its feet and that it has adapted to the illegal restrictions and the situation in global hydrocarbon markets.
We will continue to strengthen productive cooperation with everyone who is interested in this. I am speaking about trade, economic and other spheres of cooperation. We are open to interaction with anyone who is willing to work with us on the basis of mutual respect and a balance of interests, and I can tell you that this is what an absolute majority of countries want.
It is common knowledge that President Vladimir Putin has advanced an initiative to form a Greater Eurasian Partnership involving a broad range of EAEU, SCO and ASEAN member countries. The results of the Russia-ASEAN and SCO summits held in May and June 2016, respectively, show that there is interest in our proposal. Russia is firmly committed to forming economic relations that are open and based on WTO principles rather than create the risk of disrupting the global trade system by promoting closed regional projects like the Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic partnerships.
At the same time, I would like to reiterate that while emphasizing the “Eastern vector,” we are not forgoing the idea of creating a Russia-EU common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. On the contrary, we see this as quite promising for ensuring stable development of the entire Eurasian continent, of which EU territory and Russia’s territory are inherently linked. As Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the EU summit, “We share the same landmass.” This is somewhat different from what we used to call a strategic partnership, but at least geography, if nothing else, makes us think in terms of cooperation rather than segregation. I am confident that the mutual complementarity of our economies and the progressive merging of markets make it possible for us to address many issues, including growth acceleration, more efficiently. This concerns both Russia and the EU. This would ensure a place in an emerging polycentric world order for all of us by boosting Russia and the EU’s competitiveness in these processes.
We have long proposed a dialogue between the EAEU and the EU. President Vladimir Putin and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker discussed how to organise cooperation between the two unions at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. We have submitted to the European Commission our relevant proposals. Judging by certain signs, the EU member countries are not very familiar with these proposals but we still asked the EC to pass them on to the EU members. We respect the EU’s operational principles, including delegating considerable authority to Brussels, but it is certainly not productive to conceal specific Russian proposals from the member countries.
It’s obvious that efforts to start a dialogue will not be successful if we ignore the fundamental principles of international discourse enshrined in the UN Charter, including sovereign equality of states and non-interference in internal affairs. Of course, “zero-sum games” must be discarded once and for all and we should get to work on shaping an equal and indivisible security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic region, where nobody will try to strengthen his security by weakening the security of others. All the OSCE and Russia-NATO Council member countries have long subscribed to this, even though the Russia-NATO Council has been “frozen” for some time. In fact, this fine-sounding and solemnly proclaimed principle is not working. But it is in an equal and indivisible security architecture that we see as the only possible foundation on which to create an efficient common economic and humanitarian space.
I hope that we are of the same mind in these aspirations. I expect that we will jointly promote and facilitate the advance of a positive, future-oriented agenda and will explain to the public the prospects and advantages of our constructive cooperation. We appreciate your approach to cooperation with your Russian partners in relevant areas and segments of the economy and trade. We think it important to maintain cooperation between businesses. I know that problems arise periodically, which we are trying to address through the specialised mechanisms created by the Government of Russia. I am convinced that your interest in the policy Russia pursues internationally is quite encouraging. Even if they insist that politics should take precedence over the economy, we should prove that economy is a better foundation on which to build a reasonable, not ideology-driven, policy.
Thank you for your time. I will answer your questions now.
Question: Siemens has a long and rich history in Russia. We have been on the Russian market for 160 years now and we have carried out quite a few projects in Russia in the infrastructure and energy sector. Unfortunately, I have to say that the issue of sanctions is affecting our business in Russia. How do you expect the situation to change? We hope that the sanctions will be lifted. Do you see any positive prospects on the issue? Do you see any positive prospects in connection with the US election? Will its outcome have a positive impact on the development of Russian-US ties?
Sergey Lavrov: I will not comment on the prospects for the US election. As it is, an impression is already being artificially created – at least in US public opinion – that Russia is actively intervening in these processes. The candidates probably have nothing special to say on issues that are really important for US voters if Russia has become the main talking point: who is whose puppet, and so on and so forth. I’m simply amazed by this: even taking into account the serious specifics of US political culture, the current campaign is unique and, in my opinion, it doesn’t do our US colleagues any credit.
As for the sanctions, you know that our Western partners used this tool under the pretext of their purported indignation over what happened in Crimea – the fact that the people of Crimea, including the Supreme Council, which was legitimately elected in accordance with Ukrainian law, refused to recognise the anti-constitutional coup d’etat that was staged the morning after the opposition, together with President Viktor Yanukovych, signed a crisis resolution agreement. The German and Polish foreign ministers and the head of the Continental Europe Directorate at the French Foreign Ministry signed the document. Those signatures did not last even 24 hours. When the coup took place they began telling us with a sense of embarrassment that President Yanukovych had fled Kiev. First of all, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had gone to Kharkov. Whatever might be said about him or his policy, he was a legitimately elected head of state and generally recognised as such. He had not fled the country. He was in Kharkov. Second, the agreement that was signed by the opposition and Mr Yanukovych and certified by Germany, France, and Poland was absolutely unrelated to Yanukovych’s fate. In addition, he pledged to hold early elections, which he would have certainly lost.
The agreement was devoted to a political settlement. The first item in the agreement was the formation of a national unity government. This was the main thing. When the coup took place Arseny Yatsenyuk went to the Maidan [Independence Square in Kiev] and solemnly and triumphantly announced that a “government of winners” was formed. See the difference: “national unity” or “winners” and “losers.” Those “winners” immediately adopted a law that was not signed but was nevertheless adopted and that drastically infringed on the positions of the Russian language in Ukraine. A number of statements by those who had staged the coup showed that they were resolved to use coercion and force to undermine the positions of the Russian language and Russian culture and to eradicate Russian culture. According to Dmitry Yarosh, the notorious leader of the Right Sector, a radical nationalist group, who has now become a deputy of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, “a Russian will never think in Ukrainian and will never revere Ukrainian heroes, so Russians must be driven out of Crimea.”
I am explaining this in detail to give you a sense of the situation in which the sanctions were introduced. The people of Crimea took their fate into their own hands – through the absolutely legitimate Supreme Council, elected in accordance with Ukrainian laws. The people of Donbass said they would not recognise the coup and asked to be left alone so that they could get on with their lives. It was not Donbass that attacked the rest of Ukraine. When the crisis on the Maidan came to a head in January and early February, NATO and the EU issued several statements urging Viktor Yanukovych not to use the army against his own people. When, after the coup, we queried NATO member countries about a similar call on the new administration, which had come to power through a forcible regime change, we were never told that the army should not be used against its own people. When the so-called antiterrorist operation began against the people who refused to recognise the coup, Brussels urged the new authorities to use proportionate force against the protesters. Meanwhile, there is a little difference between “not using [force]” and “using proportionate [force].”
Speaking about what countries may think about coup as a method of regime change, let us move on from Ukraine to Yemen, where the government was overthrown several years ago. President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia and has been living there since then. For over two years, the international community has been demanding that President Hadi be returned to Yemen and his legitimacy reaffirmed. Our European colleagues, who share this view, remain silent when we ask them why the same principled approach cannot be applied to Ukraine, and why they cannot convince the opposition to implement the commitments they made in the presence of French, German and Polish representatives, considering that Viktor Yanukovych would have lost the upcoming early presidential election anyway. This may mean that they have more respect for Yemen and its political system than for Ukraine, which appears to be a site for experiments. Ukraine has been suffering from this for decades.
I hope that everyone now remembers when and why these sanctions were imposed. We never suggest discussing when these sanctions can be lifted, because now that we have seen the kind of decisions taken in Washington and European capitals, our priority is to create a situation where we will be independent, even if not one hundred percent independent, but we will not have to wait for mercy from our partners on issues of crucial importance for our economy, the state and the social sphere. We are succeeding in this, though not without difficulty.
President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have spoken about this in detail and on many occasions. As for the length of these sanctions, this is not for me to answer. Nothing surprises me anymore, because the EU appeared to be at a loss about the sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine after the Minsk Agreements were signed. Sanctions were imposed in waves, and one of them was imposed almost simultaneously with the signing of the first Minsk Agreements in September 2014. I know that some heads of state and government had problems after that, because it turned out that they had planned to resume the discussion of sanctions in September 2014, a week after it would become clear if the Minsk Agreements would be signed. It turned out that the sanctions were adopted by the Brussels bureaucracy, which provoked rather harsh, though not public, complaints from some EU countries.
The same is true for the subsequent package of sanctions. They were actually imposed at the time when the [second] Minsk Agreements were signed in February 2015. Later they invented a formula according to which the sanctions will be lifted only after the Minsk Agreements are implemented. It appears that the EU is helping Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko, who cannot or does not want to fulfil his own obligations. Actually, they are giving him what he needs: the longer he stonewalls the implementation of his commitments under the Minsk Agreements and the longer these agreements remain on paper, the longer the sanctions against Russia will last, which Mr Poroshenko will be able to present to the electorate as evidence of his policy’s effectiveness. This is the literal meaning of current developments. I have no doubt that all of them are links in the same chain.
I realise that my answer to this question is long, but it is important if we are to understand the Western governments’ policy. Our American partners, my colleague among them, told us more than once that we cannot imagine how quickly the Russian-US relations will be normalised as soon as the Ukraine crisis is settled.
I am not naive, and I don’t think the people who said these things while looking me in the eye were naive – which means that there is something else going on. I asked them then whether they would impose sanctions later in connection with Syria but they said that sanctions are related only to Ukraine. Syria is mentioned extensively now as another theme for Russophobes to cling to as they speculate on human suffering and the humanitarian aspects of the Syria crisis trying to involve everyone else, the people who are not Russophobic, in another anti-Russian sanction campaign. That’s downright indecent, dishonest and cynical. I hope everybody realises this.
I cannot engage in guesswork as to the extent to which this realisation will be taken into account in practical decision-making and how it can thwart the trend, which was absolutely clearly ordered to certain capitals to toughen the anti-Russian policy. It is hard to foretell, especially considering the developments of the preceding years. I can only reiterate that we will never use ideology in our approaches, we will always be open to honest mutually beneficial conversation and willing to address problems that have arisen through no fault of ours. However, we will do it from now on not on the business-as-usual pattern but only when we are sure that our partners are really willing to work honestly.
Even now we are interacting and cooperating successfully with those who have courage to work with Russia and understand their interests in this cooperation. I am sure that in the long run, everything alien will vanish; that the wave of economic interest will wash away everything that is hurled into the sphere of economic interaction to undermine this sphere for the sake of geopolitical goals and domestic political schemes timed to electoral cycles.
Question: What can be done to continue standardising the technical regulations of the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union? I still believe that a common economic space can become reality, sooner or later.
Sergey Lavrov: In the longer term, we need to harmonise our standards and regulations in order to cooperate. We are willing to do this. It will be expensive and take time. President Putin has talked about this more than once with our European partners. This also explains why the talks on our accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) lasted so long, about 18 years. We needed time to strengthen our banking and insurance systems, to protect our agriculture industry and to coordinate various stages in the protection of the domestic market. We needed time to modernise our technical regulations. We were always willing to do this with due regard for and even largely based on the corresponding EU norms and standards.
If we start creating a common economic space, we will have to discuss this. I am not an expert on these issues, but politically it cannot be said that we quarrelled and that we will adopt common standards and regulations after we come together. We will need to make a political analysis of what happened to determine whether Russia and the EU are able to launch long-term projects that will help us develop common lasting standards and regulations, and whether they will be protected against any ideological and political influence on our economic cooperation.
As I said, I have no expertise in these issues, but they should definitely be discussed before we start working on the fabric of a common economic space. We will need to settle political issues and our mutual obligations in this area.
Question: I have a question about funding. Although an internal issue, it also concerns relations between Russia, Brazil, India and China and the success of the banking system that will allow the country to diversify its resources and invest in [social] projects such as housing for low-income people and developing the education and healthcare systems. The BRICS countries have created a common bank. What authority does it have in this respect?
Sergey Lavrov: Since you are living in Russia now, you most likely follow the debates on the Central Bank’s policy. The base rate is discussed by analysts, who may have diametrically opposite views and need to choose between maintaining macroeconomic stability and boosting growth. I cannot issue any recommendations or assessments. I have no competence for this area. But you probably know that it is a priority issue that’s being discussed by the Government, between the Government and the Kremlin, and between them and the Central Bank. I know that we had to address the issues of financial and macroeconomic stability in a very difficult situation. And I can assure you that the President and the Government are fully aware of the complexity of the measures they will need to take to boost economic growth. I do not know how they will do this. This is a job for professionals.
For our part, we will do our best to create favourable external conditions. I hope that everyone in this room is willing to promote this. You know the channels you can use for direct communication with the Russian Government. I am sure that all your recommendations and views, which you will formulate based on your experiences in Russia, on the assessment of future developments, will be considered very carefully.
Question: One of the goals of the Association of European Businesses is to watch the terms of trade and investment in Russia, particularly the implementation of the WTO agreements which Russia signed a few years ago. Outside of the sanctions, certain Russian ministries, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, have adopted decisions that are at variance with Russia’s agreements with the WTO. Some cases in point are a ban on pork and taxes on wine. How can you as foreign minister help us deal with your colleagues at other Russian ministries? Can you ask them to respect the agreements that Russia signed?
Sergey Lavrov: There is a different point of view, that we don’t violate any agreements and that the EU did. I wouldn’t like to go into detail now. Politically we are interested in all these disputes being settled to mutual satisfaction. I know that my colleagues at the Ministry of Economic Development are of the same view. Rather than apply to the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body, they prefer to negotiate directly, in a positive way, out of court and without recourse to arbitration. To my knowledge, the same approach prevails at the European Commission. We will encourage this in every way.
There is also a strictly legal approach that leads to the DSB (Dispute Settlement Body), where the parties get bogged down in mutual recrimination for a long time. The involved companies, the ministers and the commissioners have known each other for quite some time and would know where the problem is and how it can be solved. To quote a Russian saying, “God himself ordained” direct negotiations.
Question: My question is about the import substitution initiative in Russia. One has the impression that it is related to the sanctions in some way. Is this so? What import substitution approach is being tested in Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: This is not our choice. We didn’t and don’t want to withdraw into isolation. But in a situation, where sanctions have been imposed and extended to Russian banks that issued credit to the agricultural sector, doing nothing meant leaving our agriculture industry in a less competitive position by comparison with the European exporters, who, as you know, receive favourable-term financing and huge subsidies that exceed by an order of magnitude what we had been able to get in the course of negotiations on joining the WTO. I’m talking about the food market.
As for the industries that directly affect our ability to develop our economy and infrastructure, to obtain modern technology and to ensure our defence capability, nobody would ask why we took to import substitution in the face of a massive attack launched by certain leading Western capitals and their statements that this is “serious and for the long haul.” When we hear, as I mentioned earlier today, that our main goal is supposedly to weaken the EU and for this reason a unified anti-Russia front should be formed, how can we rely, in key security matters, on being sold the technology and components we need? We’ll manufacture everything on our own. We have been doing this for a while and are almost self-reliant in a number of areas.
To reiterate: This does not mean that we’ve shut the door and will let no one in. There are many examples to the contrary, even in the current situation. Those really interested in trading with us in a normal way can always come to terms on forms of cooperation that provide for normal business without violating our retaliatory measures.
Question: We have seen foreign ministers change their official position in recent years, becoming "sales managers" for their countries and spending far more time on the economy than on politics. You have been working with us for seven years now. Do you think your official position has changed or has it remained the same: more foreign policy and less economy? Or have you, as in other countries, become a national "sales director," who often moves up the ladder to become the company's "general director"? How interesting would this be to you as a next step in your career?
Sergey Lavrov: Our hierarchy is a little different. The Foreign Ministry has no "sales manager," but it does have a general director, who is responsible for organising the administrative, management and financial side of our work.
As for my own responsibilities and the main areas of my work, I don’t want to sound immodest, but I appear frequently on various TV channels. I probably spend around two percent of my time answering economic questions and devote the rest of my time to political crises, which, unfortunately, continue to grow, and to which we have not found solutions. The use of ultimatums is a very contagious policy. The Americans have forgotten how to use diplomatic methods and turn to sanctions the minute something does not go as they hoped. Now, to our great regret, the European Union is taking the same path. As soon as they come up against the need to formulate a carefully considered and balanced approach to one issue or another, or realise that their positions will not meet with total approval, they start threatening to impose sanctions. In our work on settling the crises in Ukraine and Syria, we cannot help getting the impression that the same logic is being followed in both cases. A coup took place in Ukraine. The blame is laid on Russia, and so the Minsk Agreements, which Kiev is supposed to implement, become the criteria for lifting sanctions against Russia. In Syria, we and the Americans reached a very solid agreement, settled the details and sealed the result after President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama reached an agreement on a very important aspect of these agreements in China. The agreements were approved and the Americans then withdrew from them, accusing us of not ending military operations. But when it comes to the fact that for eight months now they have still not fulfilled their obligation to pull out the moderate armed opposition groups from territory occupied by Jabhat al-Nusra, they simply shrug. It didn’t work out, that’s all.
In the case of Ukraine, Kiev is not carrying out its obligations, but it is we who are punished with sanctions. In the case of Syria, the Americans do not fulfil their promises to separate the opposition from the terrorists, and we are the ones threatened with sanctions. This is the logic being used. In this situation, of course we will seek justice and will seek to ensure that the agreements we reached are implemented. This is our contribution to ensuring favourable conditions abroad for our country’s economic development. When we succeed in disrupting the unacceptable logic of the approach that is being applied towards us, this will probably lift the barriers to normal economic cooperation.
Of course, we do have a foreign policy concept and are currently completing work on the latest draft of it, but its key directions remain unchanged. Our main task is to ensure the maximum possible favourable conditions abroad for our country’s economic development, increase our people’s prosperity and create opportunities for our citizens and our business community to operate freely and without discrimination on the international stage. This concerns economic and investment projects and also tourism and other travel that our citizens undertake.
Question: This is the seventh time I have the honour of meeting with you, one of the wisest men who stands at the epicentre of foreign policy. I fully agree with your assessment of the situation in Ukraine; I have spent a considerable time studying this issue.
As you have said several times, one of the key issues in the Syrian conflict is the Americans’ inability to separate al-Nusra from the anti-government forces, considering that they have spent over $500 million on training anti-government forces and on fighting ISIS. All in all, they have recruited a dozen people. Do you believe they have the ability, and the desire, to separate al-Nusra from the anti-government separatists?
Sergey Lavrov: I remember the figures you have mentioned regarding the result of the $500 million investment. We know that this programme has not been curtailed. I regularly talk about it with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Just yesterday I asked him once again about the separation of the moderate opposition and the terrorists. I do not suspect Secretary Kerry or the US administration of deliberately dragging out the separation, but this is no comfort for me.
When we started helping the Syrian government in Aleppo, we marked the corridors that civilians could use to leave the city. Two corridors were set up for the militants. The Americans criticised us for this, saying that it looked like an ethnic cleansing campaign, and asked us where the militants would go if they have families, homes and property there. Yesterday I asked Mr Kerry about Mosul and the planned operation to liberate the city from the terrorists, just as we need to liberate Aleppo from the terrorists. The US-led coalition has urged Mosul residents to leave the city, the same as we did in Aleppo. As in Aleppo, they have created a corridor so that the militants can leave Mosul, although they are not simple opposition fighters, but ISIS terrorists there. When I asked Secretary Kerry what he thinks about urging people to leave their homes, he replied that this is quite another matter. I'm serious. I asked him why, and he replied that they are making plans for Mosul, while we planned nothing in Aleppo and this is why civilians are suffering there. According to UN estimates, if the Mosul operation proceeds as planned, the number of people who would flee their homes may be between several hundred thousand and nearly a million. We all need to figure out our priorities. If we are really fighting terrorism and want to scale terrorism down from the current dangerous level, we should propose comprehensive measures that will provide the best possible protection for civilians. But our plans must not be based on a desire to win unilateral advantages. For example, they are planning to end the Mosul operation within two or three weeks, because they will be busy elsewhere after that, but in Aleppo we must stop immediately, because civilians are suffering and dying there. Civilians are suffering in Mosul, too, but we will not speak about this.
I should stop being so naive, but I want to believe in honest cooperation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out.
Question: I think different opinions and people in the European Union should unite round the issue of the terrorist campaign. I would like to return to the EU theme and ask what part you expect Russia to play 20 years from now in its contacts with the European Union.
Though I agree that politicians should not be likened to sales managers, I am a Porsche employee in Russia, and I hope my salespeople will watch attentively how politicians protect their national brand, the brand that is associated with them, the way you do. We are planning to meet with the Altai Region Governor tomorrow. I am aware that you know him personally and that you visit Altai. How do you manage to cope with your duties and still have time for personal matters?
Sergey Lavrov: If I tell you everything, I could have problems on my job.
As for Russia-US relations 20 years from now, which should resemble the City of the Sun, I think it is not at all utopian to dream or, maybe, not so much dream as work to establish in 20 years, despite everything, a common economic and humanitarian space resting on the system of equal and indivisible security. No one in that space will ever try to deceive anyone, no one will try to establish zones of influence, and pit neighbours against each other, to make friends with one neighbour and not with the other. Regrettably, all this is happening now, so we have to put an end to many things and perform an exorcism on every country. I really want the 20 years ahead to be crowned by the common economic and humanitarian space. It would certainly bring a dramatic rise to the competitive ability of the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union, and of all of us as the world is getting ever more competitive in a great number of spheres, as new centres emerge to determine the future of the world economy, trade and investment.
Question: What do you think of the changing gender index in Europe and the world? There is an opinion that, unlike the past when the world was ruled by male rationalism, we are now dealing with more emotional, feminine and sensual values?
Sergey Lavrov: When you say ‘emotional’, do you mean tougher than men’s?
Question: More emotional.
Sergey Lavrov: But emotions can be both negative and positive. So far, our views on men and women holding important posts have been rational and positive. In this respect, gender equality is clearly paving its way. Here in Russia we also pro-actively support all talents, regardless of gender. In our ministry, we try to promote women to senior positions. You can see Maria Zakharova here, and many of you have already met her and know how good she is at what she does and how promptly she reacts to the events we must react to. I’d like to make it clear once again that, though I do not wish to analyse specific examples, this is a normal process. But we should avoid another extreme here when gender becomes a deciding factor. We shouldn’t offend women by making allowances for them. Women are no less intelligent, energetic and efficient than men. I think it would be sufficient and fair if we base our choice on professional qualities alone.
Question: Immigration is one of Europe’s biggest problems today, and Italy has been particularly hard-hit. Why is Russia not offering its help in resolving this issue? This could be a positive step towards normalising relations with Europe.
Sergey Lavrov: Under international humanitarian law, people who genuinely come under the category of refugees and are fleeing political or natural disasters in their countries, are allowed to enter countries in which they wish to stay or spend some time. These people are not the same as economic migrants. It is not possible to drag in refugees by force. I have seen statistics on the number of migrants as a share of the overall EU population. These statistics show that there is one migrant for every few hundred EU citizens. If you look at the same figures for Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey, say, you will see that the ratio there is one migrant for every 20–30 citizens. The picture is thus not the same from one region to the next, and the burdens are not the same.
We had a few cases when refugees from the Middle East (probably economic migrants, because they had money and bought first bicycles and then cars) crossed Russia on the way to their chosen destination of Norway. For various reasons they found it convenient to cross Russia. We did not chase anyone away or deport anyone. What’s more, at that same time, Russia took in more than 1 million Ukrainians from Donbass. A third of them have applied for permanent refugee status in the hope of then obtaining a permanent residence permit and citizenship. The others have been recognised as refugees under the criteria of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This placed a huge burden on the Rostov Region, above all. Subsequently, nearly all Russian regions offered what possibilities they could. Most of the refugees from Donbass then dispersed, travelling to different regions that suited them best.
We bear this burden too and have been compelled to take in people in misfortune, people who have come under fire and have become the target of so-called antiterrorist operations launched against those who refused to accept the coup d’etat. In our view, countries that take decisions that set off flows of migrants and refugees have to be aware of their responsibility too. I am not trying to suggest how you should divide up the refugees within the EU, whether or not you should set quotas and what consequences this might have. I am simply saying that we have international laws that require us to let refugees into the countries they wish to enter. Economic migrants are a different category, and it is up to each government or the European Union as a whole, if you will, to set policy regarding them. These are separate issues. Migrants who arrive with plenty of cash and the attributes of wealth are the problem of the countries they end up in.
Let’s not forget that the first refugees started coming following the operations in Libya, when, in violation of a UN Security Council resolution imposing an arms embargo, weapons were sent to that country. One EU country that demanded the regime’s downfall, at least, spoke quite openly about this. A second UN Security Council resolution imposed a no-fly zone over Libya, which meant quite simply that Muammar Gaddafi’s aircraft were not allowed to fly. This resolution was flagrantly violated in order to use airstrikes to topple the regime. The result was that Libya became a breeding ground for terrorism, and the first streams of migrants crossing Libya headed primarily for Italy. You are well aware that this business began in Libya, and then new waves of people from countries in sub-Saharan Africa started using this corridor too.
At the start of 2012, the then French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, called me and said that Mali was in a very difficult situation. The French had a contingent there that was ready to take action against the terrorists entering Mali from the north. They asked us to show understanding in the UN Security Council and help ensure that the Security Council responded accordingly. I said immediately that we would show understanding, because there really was a terrorist threat in Mali. But I asked my friend Laurent Fabius if the French realised that the terrorists moving on Bamako were armed with the weapons that France delivered to Libya in the hope that the terrorists would topple Gaddafi and that it would then be possible to reach an agreement with them. He said that they were aware of this, but “c’est la vie.” It is sad when "c’est la vie" becomes politics. I hope very much that we will not see a repeat of mistakes of this sort.
Question: We live in Moscow, and so we have the opportunity to hear your opinions. This is important, because the Western media often write about the possibility of a third world war or at least a second cold war. Do you think this is really possible?
Sergey Lavrov: You know, many people say that an ideological, and not only ideological, third world war is underway, and there is a risk of it turning into a hot war or a second edition of the cold war. I believe that the situation is different now. There are no ideological differences between us. Democracy and the free market are accepted by both sides. It is another matter that democracy should not be painting everyone with the same brush. There can be no justification for spreading democracy at all costs, by destroying societies and disregarding societies’ traditions, culture and values. We have seen the result of this in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. We are trying to prevent a similar scenario in Syria.
The free market is also an all-embracing term that is not applicable to one economy or even a dozen economies, but to many more different economic systems. There is Singapore and there is the United States, and there are many more examples showing that there is no standardised form that must fit all countries. Likewise, political regimes and national-state structures must not be sacrificed to a desire to tell the electorate by a certain date that democracy has been brought to Iraq, as it was announced in May 2003. This was declared a victory of the democratic world.
There are no ideological differences that would inevitably lead to a cold war between us. On the other hand, during the Cold War the sides abided by certain rules, even if unwritten ones, trying to avoid situations that can be seen as a dangerous surprise by the other side.
The situation is different now, because the rules have been put in question. It looked like new rules were written after the end of the Cold War, when the Russia-NATO Council was created. They included equal and indivisible security, and the parties’ obligation not to infringe on the security of others when trying to strengthen one’s own security. This political commitment was adopted and declared at the top level. But then we saw the development of the ballistic missile defence system and our American partners’ withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. President Putin recalled many times how the then US President George W. Bush, when asked why they were doing this, answered that the United States was fighting Iran. If this infringes on Russia’s security, he said, Russia is free to take any response measures. We are not your enemy, he said, and Russia can do anything it deems necessary to ensure its security. This is what he said.
Later we attempted to negotiate the missile defence issue. They told us that it would be either as they planned it to be, or they would not talk with us at all. Next they promised to allow the 24-hour deployment of Russian officers at the planned missile defence facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice and [Defence Secretary] Robert Gates made this proposal while in Russia. We said that it was not the cooperative project we had hoped for, but at least it was something. At the very least, we would see what went on, and that these anti-missiles are not targeted against Russia’s interests. But later they withdrew this proposal. No permanently deployed officers. They said we must submit one-time requests for visits by our officers to these facilities and they would consider the possibility of such visits. After such statements we understood that the political idea of indivisible security, which was declared at the top level, doesn’t work.
Seeking to facilitate the realisation of that political commitment made by our leaders, we proposed to make it legally binding by adding it to the proposed Euro-Atlantic security treaty. They refused to listen. They said openly that legal security guarantees would be provided only to those countries that join NATO, which directly contradicted the commitment to equal and indivisible security. It became clear that NATO expansion was an ideological and geopolitical course aimed at containing Russia and separating it not only from its neighbours but also from all other states that wanted to cooperate with us. That rule, which was formulated specifically for the post-Cold War period, did not work. Today many rules that are formulated on the go turn out to be ineffective.
Regarding the Minsk agreements, together we found a way to overcome the crisis, but the agreements are not complied with. The Kiev authorities, who are acting under the protection of our American colleagues and some European countries, do not want to do anything, telling us that they cannot act because this would provoke internal unrest. The same is happening as regards Syria. We reached an agreement with the United States, but later they demanded that we do it differently – one way in Aleppo and quite differently in Mosul.
The situation is much more fluid now than during the Cold War. There are no ideological reasons for quarrels, but some of our partners have taken a much harsher stance, including in public, than during the Cold War. I am sure that future historians will coin a term to describe the current period. I hope this will happen soon, that this period will not last long, but you know that hopes do not always come true.
Question: You said there were problems with Nord Stream-2 and the so-called Turkish Stream because of the politicisation of these issues. The USSR and Russia has supplied us with gas for 45 years. Throughout this period, there were just 13 days when Russian gas did not flow to Europe. This is a sign of reliability indicating that we’ve chosen and continue to work with the right partner.
The Nord Stream-2 Agreement was signed during the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Five transnational companies, including Gazprom, concluded this agreement between themselves. Surprisingly, everything was placed on the commercial basis. However, our EU friends, specifically Poland, have approved a law that effectively put an end to this project. After that Western partners had to leave the consortium.
My statement boils down to the following. I think that the environment in which the first Soviet gas supply contract was signed was characterised by greater contradictions during the Cold War, and yet the project was launched in the end. Today we are facing a similar situation, where there is no Cold War yet, but relations between Russia and Europe and between Russia and the US are at a critical level. US Vice President Joe Biden declared in Stockholm that Nord Stream-2 was a dead project for Europe. We thank Mr Biden for his advice but this is not a solution to the problem. In this way they are preparing a soft landing for US shale gas in Europe.
Sergey Lavrov: Joe Biden said more than this. Not long ago, we were recalling how a couple of years ago he had told an audience at a US university (the exact quote can be found in the Internet, I will convey only the meaning) that there was no moderate opposition in Syria and that all of them were terrorists and extremists. Today we remind our US colleagues of what he said, but they reply that he was expressing his own opinion.
With regard to what you said about the attempts to torpedo Nord Stream-2, I share your view. But let us not forget that in the current relations between Russia and the West, it was Germany that called for putting politics above the economy. It was Germany that said that business should suffer for the sake of anti-Russian unity. I just don’t want to offend the Poles and the Germans. This situation has been created by the gradual inertial buildup of confrontation. You were absolutely right in saying that attempts are being made to turn a purely commercial, lucrative project, which cuts the cost of transit, into a bugbear, deliberately insisting that unreliable channels of gas transit to Europe be left intact. But these channels are indeed unreliable, both politically and physically. Everyone knows that.