Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at a meeting of the Dialogue of Young Diplomats from the Asia-Pacific Region on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), Vladivostok, September 12, 2018
First of all, I’d like to thank you for the invitation to speak to such an interesting audience. As I understand it, this is the first meeting of young diplomats at the EEF.
The Asia-Pacific Region is one of the world’s largest centres of development, a driver of the global economy. Russia is an inalienable part of this region by virtue of its geography and history.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that for us cooperation with the states and integration associations of the Asia-Pacific Region is not timeserving but is strategic and long term.
We consistently promote a positive agenda in the region, which integrates the foreign policy and economic components, and continue strengthening strategic interaction and a comprehensive partnership with China. Coordination of our countries’ approaches to the key challenges of our time has proved its importance and has asserted itself as a major stabilising factor in world affairs. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping spoke about this in detail yesterday.
Russia’s privileged partnership with India is growing stronger, and our ties with the overwhelming majority of our other partners from the Asia-Pacific Region, including Vietnam and other ASEAN states are developing dynamically.
We maintain relations with the Republic of Korea, the DPRK and Japan. President Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe on the forum’s sidelines. Today the Russian leader will meet with his colleagues from Mongolia and the Republic of Korea.
Obviously, the further development of cooperation in the region would hardly be possible without enhancing stability and stepping up efforts against the many challenges and threats. Russia advocates equal and indivisible security in the Asia-Pacific Region based on non-bloc approaches, the principles of international law, peaceful settlement of disputes and non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states. I am pleased to note that precisely this approach is now being discussed at the Eastern Economic Forum that created a special mechanism for addressing security issues in the region on open democratic principles.
Speaking about specific crises and conflicts, our priority is to facilitate the peaceful political and diplomatic settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and its issues in general because it is necessary to establish a stable system of peace and security there. At present, what is happening around the North Korean nuclear programme and efforts to settle it follows in the track of the Russia-China roadmap that was initiated by Moscow and Beijing over a year ago and suggests a step-by-step de-escalation of tensions and the formation of a sustainable peace and security system in Northeast Asia, part of which will be the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. In this context, we welcome the meetings between the leaders of the DPRK and the Republic of Korea, and between the DPRK and the United States.
In order for economic development to be indivisible, we promote the concept of harmonising integrational processes together with our partners in the Eurasian Economic Union. This is the goal of President of Russia Vladimir Putin’s well-known Greater Eurasian Partnership initiative that can include EAEU, SCO and ASEAN member states. Russia and China’s efforts to link the EAEU’s construction with the One Belt One Road project are making a significant contribution to this end. These efforts have already born practical results.
Of course, the partnership should be open to all the countries on our enormous continent, on the entire territory of Eurasia, including even EU countries whenever they find the extra incentive to return to the idea of establishing a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific that was announced many times but never implemented.
The dialogue between young people like the one you are hosting here today should also make a very useful contribution to the joint efforts to strengthen the atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding in the Asian Pacific Region. This means that young diplomats should have a professional interest in interacting with one another. Very soon you will have to provide continuity in your countries’ foreign policies and to work on ensuring that the values of mutual respect, the ability to reach agreements, and cooperation on equal terms prevail in international affairs.
I am pleased to see the professional solidarity here. This meeting is another result of the efforts taken by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Council of Young Diplomats, which actively launches various discussion platforms with colleagues from other countries and regions on today’s key issues for the region they want to discuss in each case.
I am also glad that the geographical representation of the participants is constantly expanding. There are long-standing platforms for young diplomats from the BRICS, OIC and Eurasian countries. There is the Moscow Diplomatic Club in Moscow.
Last October I had the pleasure to speak in front of the young diplomats who took part in the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students held in Sochi where the First Global Forum of Young Diplomats, which was attended by over 100 delegates from 60 countries, was also held. Based on the results of the forum, the participants decided to establish an international association of young diplomats in order to further strengthen the community of professional diplomats.
The preparations for the Second Global Forum of Young Diplomats that will be held this November in Sochi are underway. I hope that such a large number of organisations will not devolve into bureaucracy and that you, being young and passionate people without any strict bureaucratic rules, will have a lively discussion, which will be useful to everyone.
I wish you fruitful discussions. I was told that you have several questions that I am ready to answer.
Question (retranslated from English): Russia is a major partner for many Asian countries and a participant in many Asian forums including the Eastern Economic Forum, the ASEAN Regional Security Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting with Dialogue Partners. What do you think is Russia’s main strategic role in Southeast Asia and Asia as a whole in the next 10 years?
What opportunities and challenges will Russia face in a strategic role in Southeast Asia and Asia in general?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a key issue that determines the developments in the region. Russia is located here. This is a huge part of our territory. Regrettably, not many people live in this area. President of Russia Vladimir Putin mentioned this the other day at the State Council meeting in Vladivostok, which was specifically devoted to the development of this region of the Russian Federation.
We are interested in making the most of our potential for cooperation with our neighbours to develop the Far East, and to coordinate and carry out mutually beneficial projects.
At this point we have not achieved a sufficient level of economic cooperation with ASEAN. It is obviously below the level of our political partnership. This can be explained by objective factors, among other things, primarily the size of the economy. We have not yet reached a level that would meet our interests. However, in the past 10-12 years, since we started to actively cooperate with ASEAN on a practical basis and the first Russia-ASEAN summit was held, we have increased our trade many times over and it now exceeds $10 billion. Maybe this figure is not that impressive but it is a serious improvement over what it was before.
Russia and ASEAN signed a programme of economic cooperation, which is one of the instruments for developing our relations as part of our dialogue partnership. It is being successfully carried out and updated in accordance with the decisions that were made at the Sochi summit several years ago and in line with the agreements that we make every year with my colleagues at the Russia-ASEAN ministerial meetings.
We also have other tools for cooperation with this association, primarily the politological forms of our interaction. Moscow has established the ASEAN Centre at the Foreign Ministry’s MGIMO University that is engaged in very useful research. There are also many other forms of cooperation between scientists and civil society representatives.
Needless to say, security issues are a priority, for many reasons. Without settling these, it is hardly feasible to hope for comprehensive cooperation in the interests of all the countries in the region.
I would like to emphasise in this context that we are firmly committed to the central, core role of ASEAN in the processes that are linked with the ensuring of security and the settlement of conflicts in the Asia Pacific Region.
You mentioned formats that have a good reputation, for instance the ASEAN Regional Security Forum, the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting with Dialogue Partners and the East Asia Summit.
We are now preparing for the East Asia Summit in Singapore. President Vladimir Putin is expected to make a separate independent visit to Singapore in this connection. This will be the first summit after new ideas were introduced into the discussion of security issues in APEC. I am referring to the concept of the so-called Indo-Pacific Region. This term has been repeatedly used by India and by Indonesia among the ASEAN countries. Now it is being actively introduced into the diplomatic lexicon of the United States, Japan and Australia.
We would like to understand “the added value” of this term. Regarding the oceans, the Indian Ocean does not end in India but extends to East Africa. Does this term imply using this interpretation of the new format?
We are ready to consider any ideas but want them to be properly articulated, including the principles underlying this or that concept. I am referring primarily to the need to respect what has already been done (credit for what has already been done goes, first and foremost, to the ASEAN countries). Secondly, we would be eager to listen to the ideas that do not rely on bloc mentality and do not exclude any country from the discussion, and certainly are not aimed at deterring a state.
We are always interested in discussing any constructive proposals under these conditions.
Question (retranslated from English): We have talked a lot about digital technology today. What does the Russian Government think of this?
Sergey Lavrov: We actually have a Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media in the new Cabinet. This reflects current needs where an economy is hard to imagine without achievements in digital technology. The Russian Government has special programmes that are carried out by a separate ministry.
As for the Foreign Ministry, digital technologies are deeply and broadly engaged in information work. We have accounts on major social networks including Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte and others. The number of subscribers to all these is growing.
The future lies in digital technology until something new is invented. This is crucial. Cooperation in digital technology is becoming a priority in bilateral relations with our partners around the world, including the Asia Pacific Region. I believe this will by all means produce positive results in practical terms.
Question (retranslated from English): Can you tell us about the progress of “soft power” in Russia, including the promotion of culture and language in the world? We do not see much of this in Thailand.
Sergey Lavrov: That means we haven’t been doing enough if it is not being seen in Thailand.
What is now called “soft power” was something widely used during Soviet times. We had a broad network of representative offices in all regions, with an emphasis on the developing countries, Soviet cultural centres and science centres. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, we understandably could not maintain the same scale of communication with our foreign colleagues in the areas of culture, language and science. This has changed a lot since then. The number of events to promote communication at the level of civil societies, people of culture, science and sport are increasing with each year.
The 2014 Sochi Olympics and the recent FIFA World Cup held in Russia were examples of people’s diplomacy. I think all those who visited our country in the past two months to watch football battles have very positive impressions. At least none of the media outlets, regardless of their attitude towards the Russian Federation, have expressed negativity.
The network of Russian science and culture centres is growing; and the scale of teaching the Russian language is growing. The countries situated around the Russian Federation have very interesting education programmes, which are being implemented at their request, such as training Russian-language teachers from among the citizens of the respective countries so that they can subsequently teach Russian language to their compatriots using Russian methods.
Regarding other spheres of application of “soft diplomacy” efforts, we have a practice of holding cultural cross years with many countries, mostly with Western countries so far, for example, the Year of France in Russia, and the Year of Russia in France, Germany, Italy, etc.
Language and culture are increasingly being chosen as the theme for these cross years. Currently we are discussing this event with France – the Year of the Russian Language and Literature in France and the Year of the French Language and Literature in Russia.
I agree that similar processes should be supported with our eastern neighbours as well, all the more so as Thailand and other ASEAN countries show a fairly keen interest in Russian culture. We will pursue this.
Question (retranslated from English): I would like to know about Russia’s allocation of funds for maintaining and achieving Sustainable Development Goals.
Sergey Lavrov: Briefly, according to the statistics and criteria of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, we provide several hundreds of million dollars annually in official assistance to development.
I don’t want to make a mistake in giving exact numbers, but it amounts to over half a billion dollars in various forms. This assistance mostly goes to countries which are neighbours of the Russian Federation. They are our close friends and allies, as you know, we used to live in the same country until recently. Considerable amounts go to attaining sustainable development goals in other regions, including Africa. In the past 15 years, we have written off African countries’ debts to Russia totaling over US$20 billion.
We are actively engaged with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in programmes to fight diseases. When the Ebola virus outbreak occurred in Guinea and Sierra Leone, we established special programmes – we have opened a centre in Guinea to produce a fairly effective vaccine in case the epidemic returns.
We have educational programmes related to UNESCO, and environment programmes related to UNEP, this is why we allocate considerable funds to assist UN Sustainable Development Goals.
I do not recall such sizeable programmes for Asia, specifically the ASEAN countries. This is due to the fact that the ASEAN countries are at a higher level of development than many of your colleagues in Africa.
There are no limits to perfection, and we will actively engage in the discussions at the 73rd UN General Assembly later this month, which will consider, among other things, progress in implementing Sustainable Development Goals.
Question (retranslated): I am from the Peruvian Embassy in Moscow. I would like to know the prospects for the development of relations between Russia and the Latin American countries which are members of APEC.
Sergey Lavrov: Latin America is a region which attracts many people in the Russian Federation, including businesspeople and tourists. The distances, of course, impede quick establishment of stable links, but a great deal has already been accomplished.
We do not see Latin America as consisting of APEC members and all the rest. There are many subregional structures in Latin America, such as the Pacific Alliance, MERCOSUR, UNASUR, the Andean Pact, CARICOM and very many subregional groups with some membership overlaps.
We actively welcome what has been happening in recent years, I am referring to the formation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and its consolidation as an All-Latin America association. This is probably in line with the objective processes taking place in the world when a truly polycentric system is emerging in which there would be several centres of economic development as well as political influence. Latin America should undoubtedly be one such centre, one of the pillars of the world order which can only be multipolar because neither unilateral, nor unipolar, nor bipolar models are going to work. They have proved that they have spent themselves. So we have established a dialogue with CELAC. Already the foreign ministers of the Russian Federation and the leading CELAC “four” have had several meetings which demonstrated considerable potential for the development of our relations. We are interested in signing a memorandum on strategic cooperation and developing solid links in the areas that are on the CELAC agenda.
We have good links with the CARICOM, the Central American integration association, in whose ministerial meeting I took part. We have asked it to grant us observer status.
Speaking about the structures that are closer to Peru, MERCOSUR is negotiating an agreement with the EAEU that will chart the paths towards mutual trade liberalisation. We have good links with UNASUR which deals more with political and security matters.
There are a number of applied projects, for example, in Peru there are courses that train anti-drug trafficking professionals not only for Peruvians, but also for other countries in the region. We have opened similar courses in Nicaragua. A whole range of other practical initiatives are being launched, for example a vaccine factory in Nicaragua.
So, we are interested not only in the promotion of a political dialogue, but also in practical actions that strengthen our ties with Latin America, especially since many countries have Russian communities consisting of descendants of the people who had moved to your wonderful continent two centuries ago and now make up an important part in the communications between our civil societies.
Question (retranslated): My question is about the emerging transport corridor in the Far East. This territory is becoming very important in terms of developing a regional transport corridor, considering Nord Stream, Primorye-1, Primorye-2 and other logistical arteries, such as the Trans-Siberian Railway. How do you assess the current potential for restoring the transport link between Chennai and Vladivostok that was used during the Soviet times? How can this corridor be integrated into APEC?
Sergey Lavrov: You have to direct the question to the professionals who are involved in these projects, including within the APEC mechanisms. There is the North-South Corridor which carries Indian goods to Europe and on which we are working actively together with our Iranian and Azerbaijani colleagues.
As for the eastern direction of India’s logistical interests, honestly, I do not know in what condition the Chennai-Vladivostok line is at present. If you are talking about its modernisation, then it is probably not in a very good condition today.
We should look at the whole range of logistical projects which exist and are being implemented. You have mentioned the routes that go through the Russian Federation, the Trans-Siberian Railway. As you know, we are very keen on developing sea routes. The Northern Sea Route is increasingly in demand not only because the climate is changing and it is becoming more easily navigable, but also because we are paying very special attention to it. The State Council meeting in Vladivostok on September 10, which I have already mentioned, urged that there was a need to accelerate the building of ice-breakers that can operate on the Northern Sea Route at any time regardless of how thick the ice is.
Speaking about the prospects for land routes that are less directly connected with India, but are relevant to many other countries in the region, in the context of the normalisation of relations between North Korea and South Korea, the leaders of the Republic of Korea and the DPRK who are preparing another meeting in Pyongyang have agreed to create conditions for restoring the integrated railways and to link the common Korean railway to the Russian railway tracks. I have to point out that our Mongolian friends recently suggested that a community of North-East Asian railways be set up to include China, Mongolia, North and South Korea. I think in this scheme of things a calculus should be made of the economic feasibility of including the Chennai-Vladivostok line, to see how practicable it is at this point in time. This is again a matter for the specialists.
Question (retranslated from English): During the course of your career you have witnessed “cycles” as Russian-American relations improved, then worsened and then normalised again. We do not see eye-to-eye on some matters. What are the roots of the problems which prevent us from moving forward and building more constructive relations between our countries?
Sergey Lavrov: I think there is a combination of objective and subjective factors at play here. The objective factors boil down to the fact, that a world order is being formed that is different from the world in which the United States used to have it all its own way without encountering any counteraction to speak of. These times are on the way out. In terms of purchasing power parity China is already in top place among the world’s economies. I think the same will soon happen with respect to the volume of GDP. India is developing rapidly, and Latin America also wants to have a voice and an identity of its own. It is not by chance that I have mentioned the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). This too is a sign that Latin Americans want to have an identity in addition to the Organisation of American States within which the Latin Americans cooperate with the United States and Canada. They feel that this is no longer enough under the new conditions.
The processes that we see in Africa also show that the continent which has colossal resources, for all its problems, is also aware of its significance and is no longer content with just being a territory where the “big” Western countries divide the benefits of various subsoil resources. So Africa too will seek to assert its identity.
We have already mentioned ASEAN, the APEC powerhouse. These countries have always promoted a unifying, non-confrontational agenda. Now that the concept of the Indo-Pacific region is being promoted (not least by the United States) many ASEAN countries have been put on their guard wondering what it is that does not suit the US in the processes which have for years been referred to as APEC under the ASEAN umbrella.
I think, objectively, one can understand a country which has for several centuries “called the tune” (I mean it in the best sense of the word) in international affairs without encountering any serious resistance. That monopoly seems to be going now and a whole number of big states have emerged which have to be reckoned with. Hence the “America First” slogan which merits respect. All Americans are great patriots. I know it and that too is a worthy attitude. But when this slogan is translated into practical actions, it sometimes runs counter to the need to look for compromises and to come to agreements.
I would not look only at Russia-US relations, which are “poisoned” to the utmost, but at America’s attitude to any country. Washington makes a proposal, the partner replies that it would add something here, rephrase something there, and proposes to enter into negotiations. For the most part the US is reluctant to negotiate. First it imposes sanctions, then more sanctions and only then it negotiates. This was the case with North Korea, with the EU, and a trade war is under way with China. Most recently sanctions have been threatened against China over a “crackdown” on Muslims in Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region.
It has become a pattern – as soon as something goes wrong coercive measures are slapped on. I don’t think such a policy can succeed in the long term.
After the 1990s a huge number of American and European advisers worked in Russia (in fact, every government ministry had advisers). IMF experts supervised the preparations for large-scale privatisation and all the rest, including the adoption and implementation of corresponding programmes. I worked at the Foreign Ministry at the time and our leaders there openly advocated the need to embrace “all the Western democratic values.” The Western leaders, especially the US, probably got the impression that nothing more needed to be done, that Russia would always pursue the course that suits Washington.
However, times have changed and we simply began to regain our own identity, our history, our traditions and values which are not at all equal to and are indeed at odds with many neoliberal values that the West is promoting and that are not included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our new independence probably went against the grain in some quarters. However, the anomaly that occurred in our country in the 1990s should not have given a signal to serious Russia experts that history had come to an end and that Russia would now be different. Russia has always been one of the centres of the world order and at crucial periods has been among those who fought against out-and-out evil. We were allies during World War II. Stopping the advance of Fascism and Nazism was a great gain of humanity. That of course shows that whenever the world faced real threats we were, together with the majority of Western partners, “on the right side of history.”
The threats we are facing today are no less formidable: terrorism, organised crime and drug trafficking. I hope that an awareness will prevail of the need to combat these threats, this evil together, rather than trying to play against one another in various situations, like in Syria today, and to use the threat of extremism to pursue short-term goals.
Let me give you an example. In 2011, protests and unrest started in Libya and the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo. However, some countries, notably France, publicly declared that they were supplying arms to Libya because “the dictator” (Muammar Gaddafi) had to be liquidated and defeated. Then, of course, a NATO aggression followed. Instead of enforcing a no-fly zone sanctioned by the UN Security Council, the government army was bombed out. After toppling the Gaddafi regime in Libya, the terrorists moved to Mali. I had a call from the French Foreign Minister of the time (Laurent Fabius) who urged Russia to support at the UN Security Council the French bid to be allowed to use force against terrorists (France had a small contingent in Mali). I told him that terrorists were always an evil and of course, we would back any actions aimed at eliminating that threat. But I reminded him that the terrorists who were threatening the Mali government and whom France was going to fight were the very same people whom France had itself armed when they had to be used against Libya to topple Gaddafi. He laughed and said “c’est la vie.” “C’est la vie” is a saying, not policy. There should be no double standards. If terrorists in some country or other can “topple a dictator” whom some people do not like, they will be supported in the hope that later the terrorists would somehow be kept under control. Things do not happen this way.
Since the Soviet times, when the Soviet Union was involved in Afghanistan, the US backed those who fought the Soviets, the mujahedeen, who later created a structure called al-Qaeda which did a lot of harm to the US. After the occupation of Iraq, also on a specious pretext, ISIS emerged there and spread all over the world, against which we are fighting together in Syria, Iraq and other places. After Syria was attacked by extremists backed by the regional and Western countries there emerged Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the most effective and vicious terrorist groups. It is an illusion to hope that we will first use these bad guys for our own short-term purpose and will then control them. This will never happen.
I am satisfied that we have a highly professional military-to-military communication channel with the US regarding the Syrian crisis. We have been invited to Syria by its legitimate government, the US came there of its own accord, but such is the situation “on the ground.” Our approach is practical, not dogmatic. I assume that the political contacts we still have on Syria will help us to achieve common ground, above all from the point of view of the Syrians themselves, something we are all pledged to do.
This is the objective side of the matter. I have sidetracked a little bit into history speaking about the objective reasons for the relations that exist today between Russia and the United States. As for the subjective aspect, everything is clear. In my opinion, the two-party system in the United States has misfired, as many Democrats and Republicans say. The Democratic Party still refuses to accept the results of the elections. They are at pains to prove that but for Russian interference the Democratic candidate would have won. Against this background, there is not a single hard fact confirming the charges of cyber-attacks and hacking into accounts. There is a farrago over the Paul Manafort case with charges being leveled that he was almost the main agent of the Kremlin’s “evil plans” to prevent a Hillary Clinton victory. As a result, after months of investigations, he was only accused of being an agent of the Ukrainian government working in its interests. No Russian trail was found. However, the image of Russia as a villain that controls everything happening in the US has been embedded in public consciousness. I feel a kind of embarrassment on behalf of American politicians who present their country as being so weak and helpless that a few dozen hackers they have mentioned among millions of social network users could turn around the course of US history. And yet nobody speaks about the real facts that everybody knows, including the fact that Bernie Sanders was blocked by the Democratic Party in violation of US laws (an established fact).
I think the subjectivity is in many ways fueled by a sense of loss and attempts to put the blame on anyone but not on somebody inside the US. The two-stage system the US uses in elections is not very democratic. If we look at the votes of US citizens, Hillary Clinton won many more votes than Donald Trump (a million and a half more, if I am not mistaken). But the electors voted otherwise because the electoral districts were formed in such a way that Anglo-Saxon Americans were much better represented in the electoral college than Afro-Americans and Latinos. George Bush and Al Gore were pitted against each other in 2000. In Florida there was a vote recount (the difference was several thousand votes, which is nothing) and then the Supreme Court stopped the recount. Al Gore did not challenge and accepted his defeat. Shortly afterward I had a meeting with Condoleezza Rice and she criticised our political system. I cited this case and suggested that it is not very fair when even a vote recount is not allowed and the Republican-dominated Supreme Court is used. She agreed it was a flawed system but asked me not to meddle, saying these were their problems, they were aware of them and they would sort them out themselves. Now it turns out that it is not Americans’ business, but the business of the whole world to accuse Russia of allegedly interfering in the process. I do not believe it is worthy of our two nations. I think the citizens of other countries present here will agree with me that nobody likes it when relations between Russia and the United States are in such crisis. Everybody would breathe a sigh of relief if we moved toward normal relations on the basis of equality and the search for mutual compromises, which I think would be in keeping with the electoral plans US President Trump announced when he was elected. He invariably confirms his commitment to normalising relations with Russia, as he did at the Helsinki summit. This means that there are those in the American establishment, both in the Democratic and Republican segments, who think it is not right in terms of the US interests. So I am utterly confused because I used to think that if people elect a leader under a system that commands respect in the United States, the people ought to obey that leader.