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29 March 201709:18

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov answers questions from readers of the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty

611-29-03-2017

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Question: What happened to Vitaly Churkin? Are there any grounds for thinking that his death was not accidental? Who will be the new Russian representative to the UN? Is Russia again facing the pro-American company at the Security Council alone?

And one more thing. It would be great if one of the streets currently under development in Moscow, for example, Passage 3843 in Cheryomushki, were named after Churkin, Churkin Street.

Sergey Lavrov: For nearly 11 years Vitaly Churkin was on the front line in foreign policy doing a brilliant job of upholding Russia’s interests. He invariably displayed high professional skills, an ability to achieve a maximum in the most difficult of situations and to win support for our approaches on the part of like-minded people. I need hardly say how stressful this job was, involving constant mental and physical strain, which affected his health.

President Vladimir Putin decorated Vitaly Churkin posthumously with the Order of Courage. Vitaly Churkin’s best qualities and his contribution to strengthening the authority of the United Nations were noted at the special UN General Assembly session on March 21.

The Foreign Ministry is doing all it can to perpetuate the memory of Vitaly Churkin. We are constantly receiving various proposals from the Russian public and from foreign countries. One proposal is to name the Moscow school where he studied after Churkin. Proposals are being considered to name streets or squares in various Russian cities after him. It has been proposed to establish a diplomatic award and a state decoration named after him and a Churkin scholarship for MGIMO students. Of course, this calls for the approval by Vitaly Churkin’s family and thorough coordination between various government agencies in which we are most actively involved.

Question: Why are we pressing for a settlement in the framework of the Minsk Agreements if Ukraine is flouting them? Is it not time for the Russian Federation to start designing an agenda for Ukraine and recognise the DPR and LPR rather than trying to guess what Donald Trump’s next step will be? Will Russia be able to annex the DPR and LNR in the near future?

Mr Lavrov, I constantly watch and read the news about Donbass and see what is going on there: people are being killed and houses destroyed. Why can’t we introduce our troops there?

Why can’t Russia coerce Ukraine into peace like it did with Georgia?

Sergey Lavrov: In seeking early implementation of the Minsk Agreements we assume that a long-term solution to the problems connected with the deep crisis that has hit Ukraine can only be found by political and diplomatic means. The Minsk Package of Measures of February 12, 2015 has been approved by the UN Security Council, which passed Resolution 2202 of February 17, 2015. We are convinced that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements today. The West thinks likewise.

The main provision of the Minsk Agreements is Kiev’s direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk. Neither Russia, nor the new US President, nor anybody else can do for the parties to the conflict what is needed to achieve a settlement, and that is to agree with each other directly on mutual guarantees of security and the principles of building a common future.

Today it is obvious that the settlement process is marking time because of the stubborn reluctance of the Ukrainian leadership to fulfil its obligations under the Minsk Agreements. We will continue our efforts to get Kiev to lift the blockade of Donbass and start implementing the agreements fully. We expect a similar approach from the western states, which have repeatedly said that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements and that they need to be implemented as soon as possible.

Russia is a peaceful state. We have no territorial claims with regard to our neighbours. We want to be surrounded by successful and prosperous countries with which we could build partnership relations in a good-neighbour spirit. At the same time we will continue to bend our efforts to prevent the hotheads in Kiev from unleashing a new spiral of violence in the country’s southeast. In any case, we won’t leave the people of Donbass in the lurch.

Question: Apart from Ukraine, Japan is the only country making territorial claims against Russia.

Is Russia willing to transfer Shikotan and Habomai islands to Japan in keeping with the 1956 declaration after the conclusion of a peace treaty? Since the declaration was signed, 200-mile economic zones were introduced. Does this mean that new talks should be held on this issue? Japan is a US ally, and so there is no guarantee that US radar and missiles will not be deployed on these islands. What joint activities agreed to by Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe in December can actually be pursued on the islands to which Japan lays claim?

Sergey Lavrov: The October 19, 1956 Joint Declaration is a basic legal document that restored [diplomatic] relations between Russia and Japan following WWII. It was ratified by both parliaments and deposited with the UN as an international treaty. Last year, we marked 60 years since the declaration.

However, it is a fact that not all the provisions of that declaration could be implemented. Tokyo has refused to sign a peace treaty and has laid territorial claims to four islands. It is our firm position that during the talks on a peace treaty Japan must unambiguously recognise the results of WWII, which have constituted the basis of world order for over 70 years. It appears that Tokyo is not ready to do this.

We attach great value to the agreement reached by the leaders of Russia and Japan to launch talks between our deputy foreign ministers on joint economic activities on the southern Kuril Islands. The first round of these talks was held on March 18. The Russian Foreign Ministry, acting in close contact with other concerned Russian agencies, has been working to choose economically important projects whose implementation could promote the socioeconomic development of the southern Kuril Islands and could also benefit the population of the adjacent Russian and Japanese districts.

At the same time, the legal framework for these projects must not contradict Russian law. It is the fundamental principle for joint economic activities. We believe that it will help strengthen mutual trust between people in the Sakhalin Region and Hokkaido and the spirit of friendship and mutual understanding between our nations.

Question: What do you think about the situation in Syria and Iraq? Has the US been more “gentle” in its attacks on Mosul compared to the way the Syrian army stormed Aleppo assisted by Russia? Will the terrorists be crushed in their stronghold or will they scatter in all directions? What are currently the main threats coming from there?

Sergey Lavrov: You have to understand that developments in Syria and Iraq are intertwined. In both cases we are dealing with the consequences of the so-called “export of democracy”, or external interference aimed at removing unwanted regimes. This undermines the state and gives rise to violence, extremism and radicalism. A dangerous hotbed of international terrorism emerged in these countries, and is now rapidly spreading.

As the request of Damascus the Russian Aerospace Forces assisted the Syrian army in its efforts to combat ISIS and other terrorist groups. As a result, the extremists suffered a terrific blow, and one of the largest Syrian cities was liberated. Nevertheless, the situation in and around Syria is still challenging. On the one hand, the Astana Format with Russia, Iran and Turkey acting as guarantors helped curb violence, get down to resolving the most urgent humanitarian issues, and promote a political settlement as per UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The ceasefire regime is expanding into new areas.

On the other hand, tensions still run high. Terrorists from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (former Al-Nusra Front) are doing everything to undermine the ceasefire. On the eve of a new round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva under UN auspices they staged attacks in Damascus suburbs and in the north of Hama Province. The Syrian army was up to the task when it came to repelling the attacks. Nevertheless, these actions and the response they get around the world show that not everyone is committed to a political settlement in Syria.

As for Iraq, the country is still experiencing a protracted internal conflict as the Iraqi government tries to overcome ISIS. The confessional divide between the Shia and the Sunni is being emphasised, including by outside forces, which is a destabilising factor. The Kurdish factor also calls for special attention.

Nevertheless, the situation on the Iraqi theatre has reached a tipping point. The so-called caliphate is losing on the military front. The operation to uproot the ISIS stronghold in Mosul, Iraq, is underway. By the way, this million-strong city is under siege by the Iraqi forces. The so-called US-led coalition provides artillery support. Its actions can hardly be called a “surgical intervention”, given the large number of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Everyone remembers the emotional response by western countries and their media to the situation in Aleppo. At the same time, they continue embellishing the humanitarian situation in Mosul, turning a blind eye to the scale of what is going on there. At the same time, almost 400,000 people found themselves in very challenging conditions and fled from the city.

We strongly believe that the only way to win the fight against international terrorism that poses an unprecedented challenge to all of humanity is for the international community to combine its efforts. This is what the initiative spearheaded by President Vladimir Putin to build a broad counterterrorist front in keeping with the international law is all about.

Question: Russia views Iran as its partner and has been cooperating closely with it. However, its leaders are openly speaking about wiping my country, the State of Israel, off the map. There are many people who came to Israel from the USSR and Russia.

Sergey Lavrov: Russia played an important role in achieving a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme. We believe that its consistent implementation will not only strengthen nuclear non-proliferation, but also enhance international and regional security in the Middle East.

The cooperation between Russia and Iran has become an important factor in ensuring regional stability. Our key priority is to fight international terrorism, primarily in Syria. Through their joint action, Moscow, Tehran and Ankara have been able to achieve a ceasefire between the Syrian government troops and a number of armed opposition groups, and a mechanism for monitoring the ceasefire was put in place. Initiatives taken by Russia, Iran and Turkey helped substantially curb violence in Syria, and reduce the area controlled by ISIS.

As for our compatriots living abroad, including in Israel, let me assure you that protecting their rights and interests is a matter of absolute priority for the Russian diplomacy.

Question: Are there enough trained specialists in the Middle East countries, if we are now so focused on them?

What are the MGIMO’s criteria for selecting applicants? Is it true that this institute is for the elite?

Does the Foreign Ministry hire students with a good command of two or three foreign languages, the future international experts from other universities?

Sergey Lavrov: We at Smolenskaya Square have a good tradition to send to the Russian missions in the Middle East and North Africa only specialists on the region. Every year, we hire graduates from related universities, who are well versed in issues of MENA foreign policy and economy and have a good command of Arabic or Hebrew. Today all our diplomatic missions are fully staffed with highly skilled personnel.

MGIMO is the Foreign Ministry’s jurisdictional university and the “talent foundry” for the Russian diplomatic service. But its graduates have made successful careers in other areas as well, including politics, the civil service, science, journalism and business.

Admission to the university is open to everyone interested in full conformity with Russian legislation – Federal Law of December 29, 2012 No. 273-FZ On Education in the Russian Federation, and statutory and regulatory enactments of the Ministry of Education and Science, the Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The institute enrolls applicants with an admission score based on their combined Unified State Exam showing plus an additional entrance test (a foreign language; or a creativity competition at the International Journalism Department). Those who fail to gain an admission score for state-financed openings can aspire to fill openings where they will study by paying tuition, provided, of course, that they have a pass score.

Let me repeat that the admission is non-discriminatory. The only exception are categories of applicants, who are entitled to privileges by law, such as winners and awardees of the final stage of the All Russia Schoolchildren’s Olympiad, members of Russian teams at international general education Olympiads, victims of the Chernobyl disaster, children with disabilities, orphaned children, and children of military servicemen and law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty. Privileged admission is also reserved for winners and awardees of the Smart Boys and Smart Girls Schoolchildren’s Televised Humanitarian Olympiad.

Thus MGIMO is an “elite” university in the sense that it admits young people who are really talented, well-trained and highly motivated.

The Russian Foreign Ministry accepts trainees mostly from among MGIMO and Diplomatic Academy students, because their curricula are customised to suit the Ministry’s needs. But we also have trainees from other universities that offer relevant majors. Most often these are the Moscow State University, the People’s Friendship University of Russia, the Moscow State Linguistic University, and the St Petersburg State University. The main criteria [we use] to admit them are high academic ratings and a good command of at least two foreign languages, including, desirably, a rare one.

Question: Are North Korean missile tests a reason for concern in the neighbouring countries, including Russia? Or are they a pretext for creating elements of a global BMD system, which is a bigger concern for the neighbouring countries, including Russia?

Sergey Lavrov: The developments on the Korean Peninsula and around it are a cause for concern because they imply a dangerous military escalation near our borders in the Far East. North Korea, which shares a common border with Russia, has been working consistently to build up its nuclear missile potential and regularly conducts missile launches and nuclear tests, against which we protest categorically. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has supported several resolutions condemning North Korea’s dangerous military activities and has called for adopting UN sanctions to urge Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programme. At the same time, we believe that these restrictions must not affect the North Korean people.

However, North Korea is not the only country in Northeast Asia increasing its military activities. For example, the United States and South Korea are conducting a huge military exercise, which includes naval deployment and simulates the use of the latest weapons, including strategic weapons, to repel a potential attack by North Korea. The United States also has longer-term plans, some of which are being implemented. I am referring to the ongoing deployment of a THAAD battery in South Korea.

They tell us that the US anti-missiles will be targeted exclusively against North Korean missiles. But when the issue concerns weapons, including parts of a global strategic system such as BMD, we can’t just talk about intentions; we must talk in terms of potential. The potential of the US anti-missile complex, which includes the THAAD systems, is definitely of concern to our strategic forces and is having a negative effect on the security of not just Russia but also China and other countries. This is why we have been acting against the Pentagon’s dangerous plans jointly with our Chinese partners.

There is only one solution to these spiralling tensions: the parties concerned, primarily the United States and North Korea, must end or at least suspend the demonstration of military might and launch talks to coordinate fundamental issues, including the principles of non-aggression and no first use or threat of first use of military force. This alone can pave the way to a comprehensive settlement of the situation in the region, including its nuclear missile components. There is no alternative to this. For our part, we will continue working towards this solution.

Question: Russia has been accused of violating the INF Treaty, which was adopted to reduce military risks in Europe. Has it really violated the treaty?

Sergey Lavrov: Russian authorities have more than once confirmed our commitment to the INF Treaty. We have not violated it. The United States claims that we have, but it has not provided any verifiable facts of such violations.

We have urged Washington again and again to abandon its megaphone diplomacy and instead to speak to the point in order to settle each other’s concerns regarding the INF Treaty and resolve potentially arguable issues. Moreover, we have very serious questions for the United States regarding the liberties it has taken with regard to the treaty. I am referring to the US programmes for creating targets for missile defence tests with similar characteristics to INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched intermediate-range missiles and missile launchers for ground-based BMD systems that can also be used to launch cruise missiles.

However, our American partners refuse to discuss these embarrassing issues. They prefer to talk about mythical Russian violations without producing any proof of these allegations. This strategy was used to float allegations about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Question: What kind of relationship do we have with America? Is it warm and friendly, or cold, hostile and competitive?

The treaty to sell Alaska to the United States was signed in Washington 150 years ago on March 30, 1867. Do you mark this date in any way?

Mr Minister, President Trump stated in his election programme that he will make America rich. So, should we expect that his relations with other countries, including ours, will be predominantly mercantile in nature? Are your department and our government getting ready to make this relationship mutually beneficial? Will Donald Trump manage to overcome the negative attitude towards our country?

Sergey Lavrov: Unfortunately, in recent years, Russia-US relations have worsened significantly: the previous US administration deliberately destroyed the decades-old foundation for cooperation, took various unfriendly steps against our country and imposed new sanctions.

As President Vladimir Putin mentioned on several occasions, it was not our choice. We have always been interested in normal interaction with the United States. We proposed looking together for solutions to the problems of the modern world, and joining efforts in order to confront dangerous challenges and threats, such as, for example, international terrorism. Today, we are open to working with the administration of President Trump on improving our relations. However, this will be achieved only if Washington actually takes into account our national interests and perceives Russia as an equal partner.

In addition to the 150th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase Treaty, this year will mark a number of memorable dates in our bilateral relations with the United States, such as, the 210th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations; the 200th anniversary of the arrival of a Russian squadron in Hawaii; the 80th anniversary of the legendary flight of the crew led by Valery Chkalov across the North Pole to the city of Vancouver in the United States. Of course, the Americans and us, we are planning to hold ceremonies, academic conferences and other events to commemorate these events.

In this regard, I’d be remiss not to mention a steady increase in the interest shown by the citizens of our countries in the shared pages of our history. Many public organisations put forward interesting initiatives aimed at strengthening our humanitarian ties and improving mutual understanding between our nations. For our part, we support them. We hope that the interdepartmental working group for preserving the Russian historical and cultural heritage in the United States created under the Russian Foreign Ministry in February will play a useful role in this regard.

With regard to the sale of Alaska under the Treaty of 1867, the upcoming anniversary can, of course, evoke different emotions. However, this is a good occasion to recall the contribution that the Russian people made to developing the American continent and the spiritual life of the indigenous population of Alaska, and spreading Orthodox Christianity. Such bright pages of history remain important elements of the Russian historical heritage in America and powerful factors that promote the rapprochement of our societies. This is what we plan to celebrate.

Donald Trump ran his campaign under the slogan Make America Great Again. We do not and cannot object to this, provided that achieving this goal does not imply causing damage to other countries.

I am convinced that a constructive dialogue on any bilateral or international issues is possible between Russia and the United States, if it builds on the spirit of equality, mutual benefit, and true respect and consideration of each other's interests, without attempts to blackmail or impose one's will. Only on this basis can we improve the atmosphere and the quality of our bilateral relations, and bring them back to the trajectory of progressive development. Achieving that won’t be easy. However, as President Putin said, we are ready to do our part.

Question: Russia doesn’t understand the small Baltic countries’ fears of Russia and its influence, which allegedly threatens their national identities. Maybe we shouldn’t ridicule these fears but try to develop dialogue with them?

Sergey Lavrov: The statements made in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn about the alleged Russian threats to their identity and aggressive plans against them are absurd and absolutely unwarranted. It is for a reason that we say that fear makes mountains out of molehills.

We clearly see the purely political reasons behind these statements, which are issued in the face of domestic problems and in an attempt to rally voters by promoting the idea of an external enemy.

This rhetoric, the calls for increasing sanctions against Russia, speculations about the alleged Russian military threat and hostile behaviour at international organisations are creating a negative atmosphere in bilateral relations. There are also old irritants, including those related to the unfavourable humanitarian situation and discrimination against Russian speakers in these countries. The requests we make in these areas have been supported by the recommendations of the concerned international organisations, whose reports include criticism of the human rights situation in the Baltic countries.

Of course, we have to react to the issues that are painful for Russian society, such as attempts to distort history or glorify Nazis and their local accomplices, which these countries’ authorities have condoned.

On the other hand, we don’t see any insurmountable obstacles to developing relations between Russia and the Baltic countries in a spirit of neighbourliness and mutually beneficial cooperation. We are open to mutually respectful dialogue and a joint search for constructive solutions to existing problems. But it takes two to tango.

Question: Russia used to promote the idea of a common space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Has the idea been laid to rest? How long will the period of estrangement in relations with the EU and mutual sanctions last?

Sergey Lavrov: We have not abandoned the idea of creating a common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Moreover, we consider this project to be highly promising for a lasting and sustainable development of the Eurasian continent. Economically, this project can be based on the development of cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and the EU. Such joint work could help strengthen peace and stability in Greater Eurasia and also prevent crises such as in Ukraine.

The proposals on working contacts made by the Eurasian Economic Commission to the European Commission in 2015 have not been withdrawn.

But Brussels has made the normalisation of relations with Russia conditional on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This is not just absurd, because Moscow is not a party to the internal Ukrainian conflict, but is also encouraging Kiev to sabotage the implementation of commitments it has made in Minsk. Therefore, the question about the lifting of restriction should be addressed to the EU, which initiated the war of sanctions.

It is a fact that it is the people and businesses of the EU countries that are suffering from this policy. According to various estimates, the war of sanctions costs the EU countries tens of billions of dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. We know that more people in Europe call for the resumption of positive ties with Russia. We wholeheartedly support this intention. We hope that our partners will choose their foreign policy priorities independently rather than take their cue from a small but very aggressive group of Russia haters in the EU.

We are open to dialogue based on the principles of equality and respect for each other’s interests. President Putin presented our proposals for a return to common sense to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during their meeting in June 2016.

Question: Russia is providing help to many countries, be it in relief efforts following natural disasters, or in military operations, as in Syria, to name a few. Are there any instances of assistance provided to Russia by other countries other than during the Great Patriotic War?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, indeed, Russia is providing significant amounts of humanitarian relief to the countries affected by natural disasters or conflicts. We are aware of such examples. In addition, our country has significantly increased the amount of financing provided to international development projects for the CIS and other states. The volume of Russian assistance to international development has reached a level of $1.16 billion per year.

Russia does not need outside help. Nevertheless, there are numerous examples of our foreign partners’ solidarity with the Russian people when it comes to emergency situations, including natural disasters, in our country.

In 2010, the emergency services of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Armenia, Italy, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, France, Poland, Turkey and Latvia helped Russia combat peat bog fires. Also, Germany, Armenia, Estonia, Switzerland, France, the United States, the Republic of Korea, China, Turkey, Lithuania and Austria provided humanitarian aid in the form of supplies of up to date means of protection and firefighting technologies.

In 2012, Azerbaijan and Belarus sent humanitarian aid to the flood-hit people in the Krasnodar Territory.

In 2015, the Chinese Red Cross sent humanitarian aid to Russia for refugees from Ukraine located in the Rostov Region and Crimea.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Lavrov. I was born in the Soviet Union. Why is it so difficult for Russians who reside abroad to obtain the Russian passport? In this regard, will there be any relief in the near future? I would like to return to my historical homeland.

My grandchildren are UK citizens and every time they want to visit me, they have to obtain a visa and put together a fairly large package of documents. Are there plans to simplify visa regulations for the citizens of Great Britain, the European Union and other countries who have relatives who are Russian citizens? Reportedly, beginning March 30, visa-free regulations will be introduced with South Africa. Why not abolish visas for citizens of the leading countries altogether, as President Lukashenko did in February 2017?

Are there plans to introduce a unified visa for third-country nationals, similar to the Schengen visa, in the Union State of Russia and Belarus, or, perhaps, of the EAEU member countries?

Sergey Lavrov: Any Russian citizen can apply for a foreign passport in our diplomatic missions or consular offices. The snag is that there are certain requirements to be met before receiving citizenship in the Russian Federation.

The order of conferment of citizenship is regulated by the Federal Law On Citizenship of the Russian Federation, which clearly states that residence in the territory of Russia is the key prerequisite for obtaining Russian citizenship.

However, the law stipulates preferences for foreign nationals with at least one parent who is a citizen of the Russian Federation residing in its territory, as well as for stateless persons, who used to be citizens of the Soviet Union and now reside in its former union republics. These people can obtain Russian citizenship without moving to Russia. Of course, parents who are Russian citizens have the right to obtain Russian citizenship for their children born in mixed citizenship marriages while they are abroad.

Russian foreign missions confer Russian citizenship on about 50,000 people each year. There’s hardly another country that makes so much effort in this area with regard to its compatriots.

With regard to simplifying visa regulations with the UK, anyone who has applied knows that Russian citizens have much more difficulty obtaining a British visa than vice versa. For example, the UK visa application form has 100 questions that need to be answered. Also, applicants must provide a variety of documents and papers. Our requirements for applicants from the UK are much more modest, so you can’t describe it as an “enormous package of documents”. As you may know, the UK did not join the EU-Russia visa agreement, so negotiations with it were held in a separate format. However, after the reunification of Crimea with Russia, the United Kingdom declared it was unwilling to continue this dialogue. We hope that common sense will prevail sooner or later, and that our contact will continue, including visa regulations for the citizens of both countries.  

As for the European Union, this issue is regulated by the bilateral Visa Facilitation Agreement of May 25, 2006. Talks have been held with the EU for a long time now on gradual facilitation of visa regulations, seeking to abolish visa requirements eventually. The EU has put forward a number of conditions regarding a more stringent migration policy for third-country nationals and enforcing security standards at border crossings. We have complied with all these requirements. After that, the EU was supposed to take reciprocal steps. However, Brussels was not in a hurry to make this decision and, after the reunion of Crimea with Russia, they froze the visa dialogue. Nonetheless, we are open to resuming our contact with the EU on this subject, but of course, on an equal basis and while observing the interests of both parties and taking into account existing political realities.

The proponents of Russia taking a cue from Belarus and abolishing visas for Western countries believe that the Western countries will reciprocate by cancelling visa requirements for Russians. I am convinced that they are mistaken. We don’t see Western countries meeting Minsk halfway or even softening visa regulations. We operate on the assumption that when it comes to visas what matters is not declarative statements but concrete steps and only on a reciprocal basis. It is important to take into account the recently increased number of terrorist attacks in Europe, which calls for additional measures to ensure national security. We put these considerations at the heart of our visa policy.

The issue of a single visa for third-country nationals has not yet been discussed by the EAEU. We have been primarily focusing on removing barriers to the movement of labour between member states. We do not rule out the possibility that the issue of coordinated approaches to regulating migration with regard to third-country nationals will make it to our agenda as the processes of Eurasian integration continues.

Forming a single Russia-Belarus visa space has become particularly relevant in recent years. Over the years, foreign citizens have freely crossed the Russian-Belarusian border bypassing passport control. Today, amid the aggravated terrorist threat and intensified migration challenges, this passage has been virtually stopped.

Russian agencies have developed a draft Russian-Belarusian agreement on the mutual recognition of visas, which is one of the elements of a unified approach to the issue of third-country nationals entering our states. We are actively working on such an approach, including within the framework of the Interstate Interdepartmental Working Group on Elaborating Recommendations for Conducting an Agreed Migration Policy of Russia and Belarus.

Question: Mr Lavrov, how do you manage to keep so much information in your head? Can you give a summary on our relations with any country in the world just like that? How do you train your memory? Do you have any free time? Do you still go rafting?

Sergey Lavrov: Like all my Foreign Ministry colleagues, I have always had to work with large quantities of information over the course of my career. With time, this process of memorising information simply becomes a habit. In effect, it’s an ongoing memory training process. A good memory, like being in good physical shape, is essential for carrying out our set tasks and working as productively as possible.  

I have little free time, but despite my busy schedule, I play football at least once a week, and no, I haven’t forgotten about rafting, and I try to find a few days every year to go rafting down mountain rivers.

Question: What has happened to the Foreign Ministry’s spire? Will the Russian emblem replace the Soviet emblem on the Foreign Ministry building’s façade? 

Sergey Lavrov: The Foreign Ministry building in Smolenskaya-Sennaya Square was built in the mid-20th century. The spire was not part of the original plan, but was added when the project was near completion. The calculations showed that the building would not support the weight of an addition in stone, and so the spire was made of metal, covered with a layer of sheet steel. Over more than 60 years, corrosion had started attacking parts of the spire, and so we decided to replace them. 

An interesting proposal to make unique souvenirs came in during the dismantling process. The metal was cut into several hundred pieces, which were used to make original objects with the Foreign Ministry emblem. As far as I know, one of these souvenirs was given to the AiF reader who sent in the most interesting question.

There are no plans to replace the Soviet emblem with the Russian emblem. The Soviet emblem is part of the building’s historical architectural detail, and the building is a cultural heritage site. Restoration work is currently underway. 

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