Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with DPA German Press Agency, Moscow, September 13, 2018
Question: What could be the role of regional and municipal partnerships and other forms of public diplomacy in light of the tense relations between Russia and Germany?
Sergey Lavrov: It is an established fact that public diplomacy and inter-regional cooperation play a special role in strengthening ties between countries, as well as maintaining trust and mutual understanding among peoples in times of international turmoil. That said, I would not describe relations between Russia and Germany as tense. Yes, we have some political disagreements, which somewhat complicate our bilateral relations. At the same time, we are connected by a common history and culture. Our societies and economies are closely intertwined, and we share the same human wisdom. Taken together, all this provides a foundation that enables our peoples to believe in a bright and predictable future and work together toward building it by overcoming problems underpinned by what I believe to be immediate, tactical concerns.
The cross-year of regional and municipal partnership, held at the same time in Russia and Germany, is a good example. Its closing ceremony will take place in Berlin on September 14. Today, we have every reason to affirm that this initiative was a success. It had a rich programme and has already made a positive contribution to maintaining an atmosphere of mutual understanding and neighbourly relations as well as promoting people-to-people ties.
The cross-year also added momentum to the town twinning movement. Three pairs of Russian and German cities will sign partnership agreements over the next few days: Vyborg and Greifswald, Tuapse and Schwedt, and Zvenigorod and Lahr. I strongly believe that this “municipal-level rapprochement” will carry on. New sister cities will be announced at the 15th Conference of Russian and German Partner Cities, scheduled to take place in 2019 in Duren, North Rhine-Westphalia.
We have also succeeded in strengthening dialogue on the youth track. Specifically, in two weeks Hamburg will be the venue for the Second Youth Forum of Partner Cities that will focus on youth exchanges as an urban development tool.
Let me also note that holding theme-based cross-years has become a good tradition and a hallmark of Russian-German relations. Today’s agenda includes launching a new project, the Year of Research and Educational Partnerships. Just as before, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and I will act as the patrons of this initiative.
It is with satisfaction that I note the continuing contacts between our NGOs. In this regard, we attach special importance to the Petersburg Dialogue Forum and the Potsdam Meetings platform.
Question: There has been a lack of trust in the relations between Germany and Russia since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine. What can Russia do to restore trust?
Sergey Lavrov: International relations can be compared to a two-way street. Accordingly, all sides must contribute to restoring trust, to say the least. Moreover, it was not Russia’s fault that the trust between our countries was undermined. Over the past quarter of a century we went to great lengths to promote equality and neighbourly relations in our country-to-country contacts with Europe. Russia has put forward various initiatives to this effect, including the draft European security treaty.
Unfortunately, Western countries did not support these efforts. Instead, they opted for a policy of military and political containment of Russia, culminating in the internal political crisis in Ukraine in February 2014. It is worth mentioning that three European countries, including Germany, acted as guarantors of the agreement between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. They gave up on their guarantees, de facto giving the green light to a government coup. When the ultranationalist forces that came to power in Kiev launched a bloody policy of terror against their own people, it was Russia that was blamed for all the woes, which led to the unilateral sanctions.
In this regard, I feel somewhat optimistic that even against this backdrop Russia and Germany continue to develop ties, including in trade, economics, culture, as well as civil society contacts. We keep up the dialogue on key challenges the world is currently facing. This provides a positive foundation for gradually restoring mutual trust and full-fledged cooperation. As far as Russia is concerned, we are ready to work toward achieving this end.
Question: If you could turn back the clock which event would you reverse to improve the relations between Russia and the West?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already partly answered this question. It is not any individual events that constitute a problem but the foreign political philosophy of certain Western countries.
In Russia we thought that the painless end of the Cold War would become our shared victory. However, the United States and their Western allies decided otherwise, proclaimed themselves winners and refused to cooperate on building an equal and undivided security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic. They chose in favour of moving the division lines closer to our borders, primarily, through the expansion of NATO to the East – and this despite the assurance of non-expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance given to the Soviet leadership at the time. The EU’s Eastern Partnership programme was also charged with anti-Russian sentiments from the beginning. The notorious events in Ukraine became direct consequences of this course and resulted in an unprecedented crisis in Europe.
Tension between Russia and the West is an expensive thing when it comes to international security and stability. But it is not too late to reverse this negative trend. This requires abandoning the logic of zero-sum games and building communication solely on the principles of honesty, mutual respect and consideration for one another’s interests. In other words, to follow the principles of the UN Charter unfailingly. For example, such principles as sovereign equality of states, non-interference in their domestic affairs, peaceful and diplomatic settlement of disputes.
Question: During his visit to Europe, US President Donald Trump called the EU an opponent of the United States. Who is the European Union for Russia? Who is the United States?
Sergey Lavrov: Russian diplomacy does not think in such terms. We do not consider bilateral relations through a friend or foe perspective.
For us, the European Union is not an opponent but an important neighbour and partner. Extensive Russia-EU links in various spheres, common energy and transport infrastructure predetermine the fact that our economies complement and positively depend on each other and thus our dialogue is of a mutually beneficial nature. To a large extent, we share our actual rather than imaginary security threats. It is possible to stand against them only together. Therefore, we are interested in the European Union being united, strong as well as independent in its strategic decisions.
Unfortunately, Russia-EU relations are not at their best right now. Inspired by ripples from overseas, the Russophobic forces within the EU continue to vigorously impose perception of our country as a source of “strategic challenges.” It is regretful that Brussels lacked independence and began to unwind the anti-Russian sanctions spiral prompted by Washington. We were quite surprised how the European Union so hastily volunteered to suffer multi-billion losses. Americans have not suffered any. But it is for the Europeans to decide if they need it.
On our part, we expect that common sense will eventually prevail and we will be able to return back to the path of a mutually respectful dialogue. In this respect, I cannot but be glad that an increasing number of people in Europe are realising that the confrontational approach with Russia is harmful.
As concerns Russia-US relations, how we go about doing things is completely clear. We take Donald Trump’s claims that he wishes to build a normal dialogue between our countries seriously and we are ready to meet him halfway in order to overcome the deadlock in our bilateral relations. However, we will only judge our partners’ actual interest in constructive cooperation by their practical steps. And we have not seen any. The situation continues to gradually deteriorate exactly due to Washington’s actions. Even if the US leader shows any positive impulses they get completely negated by the over-the-top Russophobia in the US establishment that sees our country as a threat to the geopolitical domineering of the United States and supports system-wide containment of Russia with unilateral sanctions and other leverage. Meanwhile, cooperation on important international matters is stalled. This has an adverse effect on the situation in the world where too many accumulated issues are simply impossible to resolve without cooperation between the two states.
On our part, we will continue to act in a pragmatic manner and respond to any unfriendly steps. However, we believe that it is both in the interest of Russia and in the interest of the United States to recover the relations on the principles of sovereignty, mutual respect for interests and non-interference in domestic affairs. The sooner Washington parts with the illusion that we can be forced to change our principled view by pressuring us with economic restrictions or demonstration of military potential, the better for everybody.
Question: What role does Russia expect Germany to play in the settlement of the Syrian conflict?
Sergey Lavrov: We are ready for cooperation with any partners interested in the speediest achievement of a settlement in Syria, alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people who are now struggling with unprecedented international terrorism and crude external interference.
The terrorist hotbed in Syria is close to elimination. The country is turning to peace and political settlement. Now it is time for the restoration of the destroyed infrastructure, revival of economic activity, and the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes.
In our opinion, helping Syrians to meet these goals could become an important area of international cooperation. After all, it is primarily about helping people and, at the same time, creating favourable conditions for a political process that would allow the people of Syria to determine the future of their own country.
Unfortunately, so far, this kind of cooperation with Germany has not worked. Germany’s stance does not go beyond the general EU approach that limits the possibility of real assistance to Syria and the Syrians on the territories controlled by the government – four-fifths of the country now – to a “credible political process.” However, there is no definition of this “credible political process.” Severe financial and economic sanctions remain in force, preventing the establishment of normal economic activity in Syria of a kind that would allow a gradual voluntary return of the people who left their homes because of the hostilities and the tense economic and humanitarian situation.
Russia, together with its main partners in the Astana format and the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Syria Staffan de Mistura, is vigorously working on the formation of a Syrian Constitutional Committee in Geneva that would prepare constitutional reform in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. We are willing to search for mutual understanding and collaboration between the Astana format and the so-called small group on Syria, which includes Germany. But this must be done on the basis of international law and the decisions already adopted, stipulating respect for the unity, independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.