Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the closing ceremony for the bilateral Russian-German Year of Youth Exchanges, Berlin, July 13, 2017
Mr State Secretary,
First of all, I would like to wish Vice Chancellor, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel a quick recovery. Indeed, life is full of surprises. I hope this is nothing serious.
Today we are holding the closing ceremony for the bilateral Russian-German Year of Youth Exchanges.
As State Secretary Markus Ederer said, there is every reason to say that the bilateral year has been a success. Yet another bright page has been written in the new history of bilateral relations. Hundreds of activities were conducted; the Russian-German youth parliament was at work; scientific workshops, forums and numerous educational, cultural and sporting events took place. I hope the comprehensive programme has given all those present, as well as those who also took part in this year’s activities, the broadest possible opportunities for informal and creative communication, which makes it possible to frankly discuss any issues and state one’s viewpoint.
I believe everything that helps foster and strengthen trust and mutual understanding between our nations is of special importance in the present situation in Europe. Perhaps for the first time since the end of World War II, signs of estrangement between the Russians and Germans have emerged. I believe this must not be allowed to happen in any event. The path of postwar reconciliation and subsequent rapprochement was too hard. The price paid for that was too high. Therefore, the investment in young people that is being made by the Russian and German governments is the most important guarantee that nothing like that will be repeated in our history and on the contrary, we will rely on the historical pages of our relations that have always had a positive impact on it.
It is encouraging that despite certain difficulties, Russian-German dialogue is gradually returning to a constructive path. Although problems remain (there is no hiding it), we can see a growing understanding in German society, as well as in many other European countries, that the language of pressure, threats and ultimatums is counterproductive and hurts all parties. We pursue an independent, self-sufficient foreign policy that responds to our national interests and is based on the ideas of truth and justice that our predecessors handed down to us. At the same time, our activities on the international arena are never self-centered and are not aimed at causing economic or political damage to our partners. Unfortunately, we do not always meet with reciprocity here. Some of our partners have actually proclaimed the goal of hurting Russia. We act on the assumption that this is an anomaly and this period will certainly be overcome. Russian policy has always been based and will continue to be based on principles of respect for the interests of other countries, the willingness to work out compromises and find mutually beneficial solutions to any issues. This especially applies to Germany, our important long-standing partner.
We are pleased to see the gradual restoration of bilateral cooperation formats. The interdepartmental high-level working group on security policy is resuming its activity. An intensive political dialogue is under way, including at the top and ministerial level. Interparliamentary, interregional and interagency exchanges continue.
Positive shifts have emerged in the trade and economic area, which is effectively fostered by the interagency working group on strategic economic and financial cooperation. After several years of decline, in the first four months of this year, bilateral trade was up almost 30 percent. I believe no effort should be spared to maintain and consolidate this trend. There are joint innovative, high-tech and energy projects. We are seeing an upturn in investor activity.
Cultural, humanitarian, scientific, educational, historical and commemorative cooperation is ongoing, as is cooperation between our civil societies, including under the auspices of such influential forums as the St Petersburg Dialogue and Potsdam Meetings.
There are many examples of our productive cooperation. We believe it’s important not to rest on our laurels but to continue to move forward, not succumbing to the influence of changing political winds, and build our collaboration on a pragmatic basis, which, in my opinion, has always been characteristic of the Germans and Russians.
Clearly, there is no reasonable alternative to neighbourly relations and partnership. This position is based on understanding the long-term, strategic nature of Russian-German ties and their importance for European stability.
As State Secretary Markus Ederer said, today we are not bidding farewell to bilateral years for good. A couple of weeks ago, at the Russian-German conference of partner cities in Krasnodar, which was a great success, Vice Chancellor and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and I gave the go-ahead to a new initiative: a bilateral year of regional and municipal partnerships. The implementation of this project will, without a doubt, enrich interregional exchanges and foster contacts between our civil societies.
I believe that dialogue between young Russians and Germans will not end with the year of youth exchanges, which we are closing today, either, but will remain an important component of our forward-looking bilateral agenda. Mr Ederer said that young people find it easier to reach agreements within the framework of such events than governments do. I’d like young people to go into politics as soon as possible and join governments, as well as strengthen the foundations of our friendship. Young Russians and Germans will soon work to ensure the harmonious and steady development of their countries and, of course, shape the common future of our common European home.
I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to all the organisers of this event. I wish you all the very best.