Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's speech and responses to questions at the International Volunteer Forum, Moscow, December 3, 2018
I am pleased to have this opportunity to address participants at the International Volunteer Forum, a dynamic and proactive group of people. I understand my compatriots are here, but also representatives from over 120 countries. I am also happy to welcome representatives from international organisations who encourage the volunteer movement.
I would like to say from the onset that we have seen that you have a powerful and infectious energy. A sympathetic approach to an issue and a willingness to come to the rescue have turned the volunteer movement into an important factor in uniting society, a tool for resolving urgent issues in various areas. I would like to express my deepest respect for your noble efforts.
The fact that you are here at the volunteer forum shows Russia’s openness. We are invariably ready to develop the broadest possible cooperation with our foreign partners in all geographical areas and in all formats, based of course on consideration and respect for each other’s interests.
Russia consistently stands up for the principles of international law, primarily the fundamental principles in the UN Charter such as equal rights for all people, sovereignty, non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, and the peaceful resolution of debate. Unfortunately, we are seeing a drifting away from these principles by a whole group of nations. They are trying to slow, if not reverse, the objective process of an evolving multi-polar world order which relies not on one or two poles but on several large poles, poles that are now objectively evolving.
Powerful centres of economic growth and financial influence are being established, and they include the potential to effect political relations on the global arena. It is this process that is being targeted in order to preserve a system that is historically dead, while trying to replace universal multilateral structures with bloc-based mechanisms that advance the policy of one group of nations to the detriment of others’ interests. Thus, the premise of multilateral agency is being undermined, something that was enshrined, among other things, in the UN Charter and which was widely developed in past decades especially after the Cold War. In this sense your forum offers an example of true dialogue where people listen and heed, respect their partner’s opinions, where they try to find a balance of interests rather than simply impose their view on their partners.
We are interested in boosting all areas of humanitarian contact. The fact that we are actively supporting contact between people is evident in our hosting of the Olympic Games in Sochi, the 29th World Festival of Youth and Students, the FIFA World Cup when millions of foreign fans and visitors came to see Russian cities and life in today’s Russia. And also to see how the real picture of life in Russia differs from what is read in biased media outlets.
I would like to sincerely thank all the volunteers who have put their backs and hearts into helping to organise these major events in the Russian Federation. I have no doubt that the accumulated experience will be fully used by the volunteer movement in the future as an integral part of what we call public diplomacy. In 2020, the world will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Victory in World War II. For us, this means the Great Patriotic War, first and foremost. Now, the Volunteers of Victory National Public Movement is establishing the International Volunteer Team of the 75th Anniversary of Victory to contribute to the organisation of events dedicated to this great anniversary. We expect that volunteer organisations of our compatriots abroad will join this initiative.
I know that the UN General Assembly set the objectives of integrating volunteering into the causes of peace and development. In accordance with these decisions, volunteering has already become an important tool for the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. We are aware of your contribution and appreciate it.
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme remains the key contributor to global volunteering. It is gratifying that volunteers in 126 countries, where 30 UN agencies work, take part in its work. Volunteers actively help to implement projects aimed at strengthening peace and security, protecting the climate, providing basic services to the population, including in the field of primary health care, fighting various infections, developing education, reducing poverty, and much more.
Russia actively encourages the volunteer movement. A network of volunteer associations has been formed, and volunteer support programmes have been launched. This year, as you know, was declared the Year of the Volunteer in our country. We want to see Russian volunteers being represented as widely as possible at multilateral venues and having opportunities for greater interaction and experience sharing with colleagues from other countries.
In July 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme signed an agreement to implement a joint innovative volunteering project. The Memorandum of Financing involves the participation of 20 volunteers from Russia in the activities of the UN organisations in such areas as peaceful settlement, the creation of partnerships in social areas, environmental protection and much more. The selected Russians are sent to the states of the CIS, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East for a period of one year. I hope that they will share their experience when they return, and we will be able to put cooperation with UNV on a regular basis.
Another initiative to develop the volunteer movement, supported by the Foreign Ministry, is the Consolidation of the Volunteer Movement in the CIS project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). A special account was set up to finance it, the so-called ‘youth window’ as part of the Russia-UNDP Trust Fund. It is our expectation that this practical project will also help bring together volunteer organisations in the CIS countries.
We continue to contribute to consolidating the international volunteer movement, among other things, by getting Russians involved in the common efforts to fulfil the 2030 agenda. In 2020, Russia will submit a national survey on progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We would be happy if volunteers, as an integral part of Russian civil society, also participate in this work in addition to federal government agencies and business and academic circles.
We are your allies in supporting the atmosphere of friendship and mutual understanding between nations. We are always open for a constructive dialogue with you. We will continue to encourage your initiatives.
In conclusion I would like to congratulate you on the occasion of International Volunteer Day coming in a few days. All the best to you.
Question: What is your attitude to the initiative of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area to set up a volunteer humanitarian aid corps? This year this organisation was represented at forums held by the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation. Its goal is humanitarian missions to deliver food and basic necessities to Russian regions and abroad.
Sergey Lavrov: I do not have specific information on the subject but I always strongly support such initiatives. Currently, the Russian Humanitarian Mission, headed by well-known journalist Yevgeny Primakov, is working in the Middle East, primarily in regions inhabited by Christians but not only Christians. The mission gives priority to Christians because in recent years they have been leaving this region on a mass scale. There is a real danger that the Middle East and North Africa that were the cradle of Christianity, as well as of other world religions, will remain without this integral part of its peoples.
If you have projects for rendering humanitarian assistance to those who need it in other countries, do not hesitate to write to us. We will assist you in getting visas if required and help solve other logistical issues.
Question: We would like to organise legal education for volunteers. Will you help us?
Sergey Lavrov: As a citizen of the Russian Federation I one hundred percent agree with you. But, as you might understand, the Foreign Ministry can hardly be of assistance in this area.
You are right in raising this question. I believe that First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration Sergey Kiriyenko and his staff have heard you and will organise the legal education of volunteers, all the more so as today we are taking part in an event focused on the exchange of experience on these matters.
Question: There are 14th-16th-century maps on the Russian Geographical Society’s website where our country is designated as Great Tartary. Is our country prepared to present its globalisation concept?
Sergey Lavrov: Our country, in particular the late Academician Yevgeny Primakov, was the first to have put forward this concept. Yevgeny Primakov did quite a lot for our foreign policy in his post as Foreign Minister and to preserve and make our Foreign Intelligence Service more effective when he was in charge of it, and, of course, as Prime Minister when the country was going through a very hard time, and also when he held other offices, including at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
It was he who after being appointed Foreign Minister in 1996, put forward a multi-polar world concept and proposed a new Russia-India-China format that has survived to this day. The day before yesterday, a regular top-level meeting in this format took place in Buenos Aires. This group of three countries is at the core of the BRICS organisation of like-minded people that was created to promote the globalisation concept on terms of equality, mutual respect and respect for one another’s interests, rather than through dictating various decisions [to other countries], exerting economic pressure and imposing illegal sanctions.
The fact that the aggregate GDP of the BRICS countries, who are also members of the G20, has already exceeded that of the G7 countries means a lot. The creation of the Group of 20 countries that meets every year to address key challenges facing the world today also shows that the G7 countries are unable to take decisions concerning everyone in the world alone. They might want this but it’s already impossible.
The BRICS countries have supporters among other G20 countries who are not members but who share our approaches and views, I mean, say, Mexico, Argentina and Indonesia.
As they say, dripping water wears away a stone. A multi-polar world is gradually forcing its way through not because someone has put forward a concept but because someone has seen the objective processes that cannot be stopped.
Question: Mr Lavrov, where does Motherland begin for you?
Sergey Lavrov: With my mother. I think this is obvious. My mother is still alive. May God keep her healthy. She turned 90 recently.
Question: I have lived in Russia for five years. My mother is Russian and my father is from Syria. Based on my roots, I would like to establish a Russian volunteer centre in Damascus. How realistic is this goal?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe it is quite realistic. You have my sincere support. There may be only one difficulty, which is security situation. Please explain your concept in writing and submit it through the International Volunteer Forum. I promise to read it personally and we will recommend things you can do.
Question: Are there any plans to adopt a document providing visa-free travel for volunteers?
Sergey Lavrov: I am absolutely in favour of this. The thing is that it is very difficult to establish criteria. Suppose we suggest that the world community should sign a treaty on visa-free travel for volunteers all over the world. I can tell you immediately that there will be a lot of questions from many countries. The main one is who will issue the document in addition to the passport which will give the right to visa-free travel?
We have signed and ratified one agreement with the European Union on facilitating the visa regime when the EU still saw its core interests in developing a strategic partnership with Russia, among other things. Then we agreed to sign another document which enumerated groups of people entitled to visa-free travel. It included journalists, human rights activists and participants of youth and academic exchange. However, that document did not have a direct effect and, sadly, did not come into force. If it had, then each of the groups I mentioned would have been to be interpreted. How do you decide if someone belongs to an academic or youth exchange? The agreement assumed that each trip would be preceded by sending a list which, for example, would be officially sent on behalf of our youth delegation to the European Union explaining that this delegation falls under the category of people who do not need visas. All this must be specified.
However, I am ready to support the idea of volunteer exchanges on extremely relaxed terms. Probably, it is easier to affirm or approve of this concept than to agree upon the concrete parameters of its implementation, especially now. People take advantage of many different situations. For example, many people join migrants from Africa and the Middle East going to Europe, even though these people have nothing to do with legal migrants who qualify for refugee status. They are either wealthy people or people with hostile intentions.
We should take every idea to its logical conclusion. I am ready to support this idea but at the moment I cannot see how we could get it to a point where it’s functional.
Question: We were born in the Soviet Union. It also had volunteers but they were called Timurites, or members of Timur’s Squad. Do you remember anything you did as a child that makes you proud and for which you could be called a Timurite?
Sergey Lavrov: I have never been an official member of Timur’s Squads, and so I do not have a squad card. But I was an Octobrist, a Pioneer and a member of the Komsomol movement. My mother taught me to help the elderly and to stand up for them. When I lived in a village as a child, I helped bring water from a well or buy foods. But I was never a member of Timur’s Squads.
Question: There is a special project under which couples will take care of orphans: they will set up special villages with separate houses for such families. The foster parents are trained to properly take care of orphans, after which they take eight or nine orphans and live with them in these special villages. However, there is not enough money for building and maintaining such villages and for training foster parents. There are about a hundred such villages across Russia. Where can they turn for government funding?
Sergey Lavrov: I think you should go to the Education Ministry. I know about this movement. I have a very good friend, a priest from Pushkin in the Leningrad Region, who has created a similar village. Both the children living there and their foster parents are happy. They feel that they are part of a very good and noble cause. They received funds from a private investor. I can help you contact them. He cannot finance all your projects, but he can tell you which methods you can use. Please, leave your phone number with the organisers, and he will call you.
Question: We have created a mobile application based on the neural network technology, which people can use to help each other. Could you consider this project and consult us on how to better promote it to our foreign colleagues from neighbouring countries?
Sergey Lavrov: I suggest that you start with proposals to launch this cooperation within the CIS. As soon as you are ready to work with your CIS colleagues, we will support you by proposing roundtable discussions where you can present your project.
Question: I have been living in Russia for 18 years. It is said that Russia is a land of opportunities. What opportunities does Russia offer to its people and to foreigners?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a question for you. I was born in Russia and feel at home here. It’s terrific that you have felt good living here for 18 years. As for the details, we can discuss them.
Question: How do you deal with or hide your emotions?
Sergey Lavrov: There is always a place for emotions, but sometimes you must keep them in check. Sometimes you have to check your emotions even though you want to give them free rein.
Question: Who can we ask to open a Sberbank branch in Sevastopol or elsewhere in Crimea, so that we won’t have to go to mainland Russia for the presidential grants?
Sergey Lavrov: I’m sure you know that I have nothing to do with banks. The government cannot order banks to work in the regions on which absolutely unfair sanctions have been imposed. Crimea and Sevastopol residents cannot receive Schengen visas. I suggest that you take your problem to the Presidential Executive Office and the financial bodies whose representatives are here. I wholeheartedly support your desire to have the same standard of living as other Russian citizens do.
Question: We often use volunteers from Georgia, who have had problems with Russian visas. Are there any forecasts for the improvement of relations with Georgia?
Sergey Lavrov: We not only have forecasts but also hard facts. Air service was restored between some cities in Georgia and Russia several years ago.