Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Vietnam Television and China’s CCTV and Phoenix TV, Moscow, February 24, 2019
Question: What do you think about relations between Vietnam and Russia at this stage? Do they have any overlapping interests in Southeast Asia?
Sergey Lavrov: We are strategic partners. Vietnam is one of our closest neighbours. Our friendship is deeply rooted in history, the days when the Vietnamese people were fighting for their freedom. Subsequently, for nearly 70 years, we stood by our Vietnamese friends as they, in very difficult conditions, were rebuilding their post-war economy. Many modern Vietnamese industries were created with the direct participation of specialists from our country and still contribute to Vietnam’s economy. We very much appreciate the fact that our Vietnamese friends remember the Soviet Union’s contribution to what Vietnam has now become.
We enjoy a very good political dialogue. Last year, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, visited Russia, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Vietnam. We closely coordinate our approaches to international matters in the UN and various frameworks in the Asia-Pacific Region and as part of Russia's strategic partnership with ASEAN.
Our trade exceeded $6 billion last year. The increase of over 16 per cent was largely due to the fact that the Agreement on a Free Trade Area between Vietnam and the EAEU came into force. I consider the prospects for our economic relations to be quite promising. A high-level working group headed by the ministers of industry and trade has been established and is operating effectively. It is coordinating a host of major investment projects in the oil-and-gas and energy industries, the high-tech and telecom industries, digital economy and a number of other areas.
Traditionally, military-technical cooperation plays an important role in our relations. We are ready to continue to meet Vietnam’s needs in modern weapons to ensure its security and sovereignty.
Good cooperation has been established in the sphere of cyber security. We have special cooperation arrangements with Vietnam on this internationally important matter both on a bilateral basis and within the UN, where a special working group has been created at Russia’s initiative, in which all UN member states can participate, and which deals with rules of responsible behaviour in cyberspace. Vietnam strongly supported this initiative.
Cultural ties are something that has always united our peoples. Vietnam is one of the leaders in terms of the number of students studying in Russia. There are more than 6,000 of them, of which 2,000 study at the expense of our country's budget. If I’m not mistaken, about 950 students from Vietnam were admitted to Russian universities this year alone.
We are very satisfied with our relations and appreciate them, and we see that our Vietnamese friends respond to us in kind.
Question: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Treaty on Principles of Friendly Relations between Russia and Vietnam. The cross year of Russia and Vietnam will also be held in 2019. What kind of work are you doing in this regard?
Sergey Lavrov: We agreed to hold cross years of Russia in Vietnam and Vietnam in Russia in 2019 and 2020. They will be devoted to the 25th anniversary of the Treaty on Principles of Friendly Relations and the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations, which will be marked in January 2020. We are finishing forming the Organising Committee to be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Maxim Akimov. We expect Vietnam to be represented by an official of the same level. A draft action programme will be completed shortly which will include hundreds of events on both sides covering all areas of our cooperation from major investment projects to specific theatre tours. We expect the people of Russia and Vietnam to enjoy the cultural part of these cross years and to benefit from investment and other material projects which will be implemented in the future.
Question: Next week, a second US-North Korean summit will take place. What do you think of relations between the two countries? What do you expect from the meeting and why was Hanoi chosen as a host city?
Sergey Lavrov: Like elsewhere in the world, we welcomed the relations between the US and North Korea getting back to normal, as well as the summit held in Singapore last year and the announced agreements reached by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un about the necessity of de-escalation, denuclearisation and the overall normalisation of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. The main thing is that these words are put into practice. As far as I understand, the US and North Korean negotiators in charge of the preparations of the summit to be held next week are involved precisely in this, working as they are to agree on how to finalise, at this summit, practical agreements that will specify concrete dates, schedules and commitments.
We are looking forward to the summit being a success and are trying to contribute to this. We are not making a secret of the fact that the US officials who are in charge of the preparations for the summit are consulting us. We are also maintaining regular contact with our North Korean friends. Motivated by a sincere desire to help, we are recommending ways which could push things along to help achieve results.
I would like to note that everything that took place in Singapore and afterwards and all the current efforts made by the involved parties have followed the logic that was built into the Russian-Chinese road map. In 2017, this road map was approved at a regular Russian-Chinese summit. It provides for an approach based on a phased and successive settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue: first, refusal from the rhetoric and actions annoying the other party and a switch to contacts in order to develop, at the next phases, mutually-acceptable approaches that will ensure the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and security of all countries in Northeast Asia taking into consideration the interests of North Korea’s development.
The annoying rhetoric and actions have actually been abandoned. North Korea has put its nuclear tests and missile launches on hold. The US and South Korea are restraining from holding any new military exercises near the North Korean coast. A dialogue is being launched.
We are interested in seeing further events develop in keeping with the Russian-Chinese road map’s logic. We will be prepared to consult with the involved parties about the details of the situation as it evolves, all the more so as the final agreement, according to what our Chinese colleagues and we wrote into our road map, has to be formalised in a multilateral format. This is because the Northeast Asia matters have to be coordinated with the agreements between all other participants, including South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
Why was Hanoi chosen as the venue for the summit? I believe because Vietnam shows responsibility when it comes to its foreign policy. Vietnam is a country that is open to cooperation with all countries and it never forgets its friends but does not want an artificial confrontation with anyone.
Many countries see Vietnam as a comfortable country for holding political talks, as well as for visiting its hospitable capital. For instance, I always enjoy staying in Hanoi.
Question: From Vietnam you will go to China for a meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC). How important are these ministerial meetings in the RIC format? What are your expectations for the upcoming trilateral meeting?
Sergey Lavrov: RIC is a promising format, which has initiated many modern tendencies in politics. One of its founding fathers was Yevgeny Primakov when he held the post of foreign minister in 1996-1998. He proposed developing trilateral contacts between Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi. This initiative eventually reached the level of foreign ministers when we held the first unofficial contacts.
The first RIC summit was held in 2006. After that, our interaction gathered momentum at regular ministerial meetings, which were held once a year or every 18-24 months. The second RIC summit, which was held last year on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, has reaffirmed the three countries’ role in the rising system of international relations, a system that is more democratic and fairer.
When Yevgeny Primakov advanced this idea, he foresaw that the growth of China and India and Russia’s ability to overcome the problems of the mid-1990s would ensure the three countries’ integral involvement in the development of a new system of international relations, not a unipolar or bipolar, but a multipolar world. The more there are poles – China, India and Russia are independent poles on the international stage – the greater the need to keep the system balanced. The development of contacts in this trilateral format is an attractive example for many other parts of the rising multipolar system.
RIC led to the creation of an important and rapidly developing group, BRICS. The addition of Brazil changed the abbreviation to BRIC, which turned into BRICS with the accession of South Africa. The group is well structured at the level of top leaders and regular meetings of foreign, economy and finance ministers. Moreover, this group is one of the poles within the G20, where it serves as a balancer. There is the Group of Seven (G7), which is promoting its own agenda, and there is BRICS, which the other G20 countries, including Argentina, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, support because they are focused on the positions which BRICS upholds and is promoting.
RIC is a member of the UN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the East Asia Summit and other organisations. The ability of our trilateral group to operate in all these formats serves as a stabilising factor of multilateral platforms. I hope that the ministerial meeting scheduled for next week will be very instructive. We are preparing a joint statement. Despite minor differences in the RIC states’ positions, we always manage to coordinate joint decisions. It is an example of how compromises can be reached.
Question: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, as well as the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and China. Chinese-Russian relations, which have reached their historical high, have become a model of a new type of international relations. In early March, two sessions will be convened in Beijing, to discuss all the important issues of China’s development, including diplomatic aspects. How do you assess Chinese diplomacy in recent years? How do you see the future of our relationship? How should we comprehensively develop our strategic partnership and mutual cooperation?
Sergey Lavrov: It seems to me that this is not an exaggeration. The leaders of Russia and China have more than once described the current stage in Russian-Chinese relations as friendly and close as never before, and as a strategic partnership. I believe that the intensity of the political dialogue between Moscow and Beijing is at a record level now. Last year, four meetings were held between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping. They exchanged state visits, then met twice on the sidelines of international events such as the BRICS and G20 conferences. Whenever our leaders participate in multilateral events, they always find time for a bilateral meeting. This way they keep in touch, frequently comparing notes, as we say, and understanding the nuances in each other’s positions. It is definitely easier to work out collective approaches.
In addition to summits, the Russian and Chinese prime ministers meet annually, following the established mechanism of regular meetings. Various official bodies work before such meetings, and there are special commissions for the preparations. There are five intergovernmental commissions headed by deputy prime ministers, which cover specific areas of our cooperation from investment to cultural and cross-border projects. They cover each and every format of cooperation, including industry and high technology.
Now we are holding cross years of Russia-China interregional cooperation, a project that holds enormous potential for adjacent regions on both sides of the border. By the way, there is a special intergovernmental commission on interaction between the Russian Far East and the Baikal region with Northeast China.
Indeed, this year marks 70 years of our diplomatic relations. We are celebrating this anniversary and our intensified cooperation. There are special events planned – the list is now being coordinated. Russia and China closely coordinate their approaches in the UN and other organisations I mentioned (the SCO, the East Asian BRICS summits, the G20), in many cases they are the drivers of these interstate groups.
I very much hope that the policy Moscow and Beijing are now pursuing will continue and gain traction. This policy is to take into account the approaches of all participants in various associations, not to impose one’s own point of view, as it sometimes happens in other organisations, to try to include in our collective position the requests of other members of BRICS, the SCO or other groups in which Russia and China interact. I think this is a good example of modern-day leadership.
Question: I have participated in many panel discussions recently that have focused on Russia-US relations where analysts have reviewed the developments of the past two years since Donald Trump took office. Strangely, they are not counting on any improvement in Russia-US relations this year, either. Do you agree with their evaluations? When do you think Russia-US relations will be reset?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already mentioned that we have contacts with US diplomats and military. A deconfliction channel was created in Syria which serves to reduce the risk of unintended incidents and is operating regularly. There are also consultations that are not publicly reported, but they continue in general on various aspects of the Syrian settlement. This is useful because the United States is there. Yes, they are there illegally and illegitimately. But in order to prevent unwanted incidents, communication is needed. It is all the more necessary now that the United States has announced that it will withdraw its troops from Syria. It is not clear, though, how and when. Many doubt whether it will do so at all. However, such a dialogue is useful. It is gratifying to know that the United States remains committed to implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the key message of which is that the Syrians themselves should agree and decide on the future of Syria, without external pressure.
I have already mentioned the second issue with which we maintain contact. It is the Korean Peninsula. The Americans are interested in hearing our and Beijing’s advice and assessments. They conduct close consultations with China and the Republic of Korea.
Afghanistan is another foreign policy area where the Americans maintain and, moreover, initiate contact with us. Special Representative for the Afghan Reconciliation at the US State Department Zalmay Khalilzad has spoken several times with my deputy Igor Morgulov and publicly expressed his positive assessment of the efforts that Russia is making with regard to an Afghan settlement, including the Moscow format meeting representing China, Pakistan, Iran, India and the Central Asian countries. As you may be aware, the United States is regularly invited to attend this format, but, at least during the October meeting, they decided they could afford to decline the invitation. I am sure we will continue to invite US representatives to this format.
You can also look at other issues on the UN Security Council’s agenda on which we maintain contact. Unfortunately, they are important, but isolated. There is no dialogue that covers the entire range of our relations.
Yes, I met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Helsinki last year. After that, we have talked over the phone a couple of times. We agreed that we will take an inventory of the entire range of Russia-US relations and do so without delay. We will do this keeping in mind that they are dragged down by lots of artificial irritants all the way down to limiting the scope of work of diplomatic missions or seizing diplomatic property, which the United States has stooped to. According to the convention of diplomacy, we were forced to respond in kind.
Our representatives met to discuss this bilateral agenda. The problems that were artificially created by the Americans were duly noted, but, unfortunately, remained without positive efforts aimed at untying these knots. Their position remains unchanged: Russia is the one who worsened relations, so, they say, it must change its ways. I can understand when they say this in Congress, because the internal political strife is ongoing there, and, as it turns out, anything goes. But when we hear the same figure of speech during closed consultations, there is nothing we can do but conclude that our US partners do not want to work constructively.
Probably, diplomats (they, too, are bureaucrats after all) see what happens between the “big people” who fight like dogs and cats, and believe that keeping it quiet and coming up with no initiatives is the right thing to do. However, it is sad that about the same fate befell strategic stability, which is the most important thing in terms of global security, and not just for Russia and the United States.
We have on several occasions - during the Hamburg meeting between President Putin and President Trump in 2017, their Helsinki summit in July 2018, my contacts with Mike Pompeo and visits to Russia by National Security Adviser John Bolton - suggested to our US colleagues that we begin a structured dialogue on strategic stability, which would include medium-range and shorter-range missiles, the Strategic Offensive Arms Limitation Treaty and outer space, which is now being considered a place where the United States would also like to deploy weapons, which will be a very sad development.
Unfortunately, the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has needlessly put off consideration of the Russian-Chinese draft Treaty on Non-Deployment of Weapons in Outer Space for more than 10 years now. The draft is solid and well worked-through, and was duly presented. It has many supporters, including in Europe. However, the United States prefers not to have its hands tied. It has announced plans to deploy weapons in outer space. It is now clear why they kept refusing to support the draft Treaty that was submitted by Russia and China.
In any case, we issued an invitation to a dialogue. We were told that the time has not come yet. When the United States announced its withdrawal from the INF Treaty, we repeatedly suggested that the United States and us should sit down and discuss our mutual concerns. They had concerns about a missile, data about which they have been withholding for several years, and we seriously had to pry this information out of them. When they identified the missile, we told them that there was nothing secret about it, and suggested discussing it, since we have nothing to hide. The Americans refused to discuss this, or to participate in the demo launch of the missile, which we held in January, or to participate in the briefing, which provided clarification to the effect that the rocket complies with all the treaty provisions. The United States stuck to its position where it refuses to see anything, and Russia should go ahead and destroy this missile under US control. This is not a very polite thing to do even in US relations with smaller countries, let alone Russia. I could go on about Washington’s manners. Perhaps, we should focus on other things now.
We also had concerns about some things that the United States does which, we believe, violate the INF. In January, with great difficulty, we persuaded them to at least get together and hold talks. Perhaps, we’d be better off if we didn’t, because they adopted an absolutely unconstructive, I would even say destructive, position, which I mentioned. They do not want to listen to anything, they do not want to explain anything, or show, or watch what we have to show them, but they want us to destroy the missile, as well as all launchers and associated equipment, under their control, after which they will come to us four times a year and confirm these things.
Clearly, this has nothing to do with the treaty itself, or even elementary diplomatic culture, a culture of talks. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States were able to use this culture which allowed them to reach agreements.
Answering your question about when to expect changes, those in the United States who are now trying to dictate policies with regard to Russia, and do their best to prevent President Trump from fulfilling one of his election promises, namely, to normalise relations between Moscow and Washington, do not want improvement. The only thing they want is to see things get worse. They recently imposed more sanctions. Or, are just about to impose them, I stopped following.
They are imposing sanctions (in their understanding, to punish us) for the same thing over and over again. In particular, they imposed them several times for the fact that people in Crimea were horrified by the government that came to power in Kiev thanks to the support of the United States and the EU and by the fact that this government promised to eradicate Russians in Crimea, and voted to reunite with Russia. This is the purpose of these sanctions that are imposed “to punish and to edify.” This is sad.
We, as President Putin said, including in his address to the Federal Assembly on February 20, 2019, are open to constructive dialogue, of course, based on equality and mutual benefit, not like a teacher-student relation. You can’t talk like that to any country, let alone Russia.
The ball is in the United States’ court. I am not sure if this ball can get off the ground at all, or whether they want to throw it in our court in the first place; I am not sure how they would even go about throwing it if they do, or if the ball would travel far enough. To reiterate, we are open to constructive dialogue as soon as the United States is ready for a peer-to-peer dialogue and to address problems based on a balance of interests rather than ultimatums.
Question: The annual International Arctic Forum will open soon. What projects will Russia offer to China?
Sergey Lavrov: The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue forum will take place in St Petersburg on April 9-10, 2019. Invitations are traditionally sent to the member states of the Arctic Council and to the countries that display an active interest in the Arctic and want to contribute to cooperation in this promising region. We have developed close cooperation with China on Arctic matters.
I mentioned the commission that prepares meetings between prime ministers and is chaired by deputy prime ministers. This commission has several subcommissions, one of which focuses on trade and economic cooperation. This subcommission has a Russian-Chinese working group on Arctic cooperation based on practical projects. We are working together to build railway infrastructure in the subarctic zone of Russia and to modernise ports, in particular, the Sabetta seaport.
Our cooperation on the Northern Sea Route holds great promise just as interaction in tourism and research does. Our cooperation is developing in the framework of the working group I have mentioned and has yielded considerable results. China is an active contributor to the Yamal LNG project. Late last year, we launched the third train of this highly profitable project. I am sure that this is a very positive and forward thinking approach. By the way, we are working in the same spirit on the Arctic LNG-2 project, to which our Chinese partners are contributing and which they will likely join.
Overall, Russia and China are working together to prepare the necessary documents within the framework of multilateral cooperation. In October last year, [environment] ministers from the Arctic Council and other concerned states met in Greenland where they signed an agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing on the High Seas of the Central Arctic Ocean. Russia and China signed this agreement. It shows that although we are interested in developing the Arctic, we also want to preserve its environment and the biological resources. The foreign ministries of Russia and China maintain a regular dialogue on all aspects of cooperation in the Arctic.
Question: Some media write that you have a very difficult job and that you are tired and would like to take a rest.
Sergey Lavrov: I read reports like that two years ago. They write a great deal about me, but I prefer not to comment on this. Those who really want to know can ask me. Your question includes a reference to someone who has written something. There is a lot being written.
Question: Can you comment on the statement by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko that his country is ready to unite with Russia? Is Russia ready for this?
Sergey Lavrov: Everybody is too emotional about this issue and journalists are overthinking it and assuming a lot. Our position is very simple, as is that of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. There is an agreement on the creation of the Russia-Belarus Union State. This agreement includes all the arrangements that form the basis of the Union State. They are related to interaction in the economy and finance, and in the sphere of political and foreign policy coordination. In December, a decision was made to form a working group which is operating now. It should find out the extent to which the agreements that were made have been implemented and what needs to be done taking into consideration the current development of Russia and Belarus. So this is what we are talking about. We are ready to continue cooperation as much as Belarus, too, is ready to do this. Apparently, the Belarusian party proceeds from the same. So I am confident that we will come to an agreement.
Question: When will the armed forces of Turkey, Russia and Iran conduct joint operations in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia, Turkey and Iran are not planning any joint operations in Syria. Russia and Iran are operating in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. Turkey has cited concerns over national security threats, and the Syrian Government is protesting the deployment of Turkish service personnel on its territory. Nevertheless, it has supported the establishment of the Astana format. This pragmatic decision has made it possible to achieve a goal that no one else has managed to achieve, that is, to guarantee a real ceasefire in most Syrian regions and to help launch direct dialogue between the government and the armed opposition. Previously, neither the UN, nor any other organisations or Western countries were able to involve it in dialogue. They supported the opposition, most of whom left Syria a long time ago and live abroad, in the Persian Gulf countries or Europe. So, they are emigrants. But the Astana format drastically changed the situation in that those opposing each other with weapons in hand on the battlefield sat down at the negotiating table. This is the main thing because developments on the ground eventually depend on these people - the Syrian army and the armed opposition.
As I said, a ceasefire is being observed in most Syrian regions. A problem persists in Idlib where it is necessary to disengage the constructive-minded armed opposition and terrorists, as well as in the northeast where the United States has created a lot of problems by backing the Kurds who have started settling on Arab territories, which is irritating them and causing Turkey to feel concerned. Perhaps, Washington wanted to create so many problems in order to supervise the process, as they like to do, later on.
At the latest summit on Syria in Sochi they also discussed the border between Syria and Turkey, as well as Ankara’s concern regarding the use of this border by extremist terrorist elements. We lack consensus as to what members of the Kurdish nation can be considered terrorists. Turkey has a special position. We understand its concern, but it is, nevertheless, necessary to separate the husk from the grain and to see which Kurdish unit is truly extremist and threatens the security of Turkey. They discussed the creation of a buffer zone under an agreement signed by Turkey and Syria as far back as 1998. This includes an agreement to cooperate on eradicating the terrorist threat along this common border, including the Turkish side’s ability to operate in certain border sections on Syrian territory. Today, the final format of this buffer zone is being coordinated with the help of military experts and, of course, with due consideration for the position of Damascus, as well as maximum possible consideration for Turkey’s interests. But we are not discussing any joint military measures. In principle, we know of situations where agreements on the ground regarding a ceasefire, compliance with security measures and the creation of de-escalation zones were accompanied by the deployment of Russian military police units. This opportunity still exists for the above-mentioned buffer zone. But I would like to note once again that military experts are currently completing the coordination of details, while heeding the positions of Damascus and Turkey.
Question: On the one hand, Russia has to maintain partnership relations with Iran but, on the other, cooperate with Israel. How has Russia managed to achieve this?
Sergey Lavrov: This is for you to judge if we are succeeding in achieving this. If you think we are, it means we are doing things right.
Question: We heard yesterday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had postponed his visit to Moscow. Will this meeting take place at all?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the [postponing of the] visit, Israel has officially announced this – it is no secret. As I understand it, today is a decisive day for Israel getting ready for the elections. They asked that the visit be postponed and said they would suggest a later date. As soon as they do, we will agree on the new date.
Question: Has the coincidence of Russia and Vietnam’s interests in Southeast Asia been included on the agenda for the Russian-Vietnamese conference to be held by the Valdai International Discussion Club in Ho Chi Minh City?
Sergey Lavrov: We are looking forward to a very interesting discussion in Ho Chi Minh City at the conference to be held by the Valdai International Discussion Club, which I was pleased to be invited to attend. I accepted the invitation with pleasure.
Vietnam and we have a common position on the development of relations between the Russian Federation and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Vietnam was one of the main supporters of the efforts to reach an agreement – it was signed in Singapore – that gives relations between Russia and ASEAN the status of strategic partnership. Vietnam, among other Southeast Asian nations, was one of the initiators of holding Russia-ASEAN summits and creating a number of agencies to facilitate cooperation, including the ASEAN Centre at MGIMO University under the Foreign Ministry and programmes for economic and cultural cooperation between Russia and ASEAN. It is important that our approaches are 100 percent positive. We are seeking more cooperation and highly appreciate the position on the regional matters held by the ASEAN, which never gets involved in confrontation with anyone and always speaks in favour of dialogue on any issue that will make the involved parties sit down at the negotiating table.
Sometimes ASEAN is criticised for moving too slowly on some issues. This is something that we also have in common. Russian proverbs say: the slower you go, the farther you get, and measure seven times and cut once. This is much more reliable than trying to resolve all issues at once just because you have elections in the coming year. Everyone has elections but I believe it is irresponsible to sacrifice the quality of solutions to international matters for the urge to seize the moment and get additional votes at home.
Question: Japan has expressed hope that during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit in June, Russia and Japan will sign a framework agreement on a peace treaty. Do you think this plan can be implemented? Japan’s plans to deploy the US missile defence system are among the major problems for Russia. Do you think diplomatic efforts can remove this threat?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding Japan’s announcement of their plans for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s June visit to attend the G20 summit and to hold a regular meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, let this lie on their conscience. There were no agreements, and could not even be any, because we never support any artificial deadlines on any issue. We have repeatedly explained this to our Japanese colleagues. The last time I did this was recently in Munich, when we met with my colleague, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Taro Kono. Moreover, no one has ever seen any framework draft. I do not know what our Japanese neighbours are talking about.
Secondly, our position is very simple. Dealing with complex issues requires not only the proper atmosphere, but some real content for relations in the economy, politics and international affairs. If we look at the real situation, Shinzo Abe told the Parliament he definitely planned to resolve the peace treaty problem on Japanese terms. Honestly, I don't know what makes him so confident. Neither President Vladimir Putin, nor I, nor anyone else involved in Russian-Japanese consultations gave our Japanese colleagues grounds for making such a statement. The fact that Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe announced the need to speed up work on a peace treaty based on the 1956 Declaration during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Singapore suggests the opposite: the negotiations are based on this document, not on some Japanese conditions. It clearly states that first of all a peace treaty has to be signed. And, as I have said many times, this means our Japanese neighbours need to recognise the results of WWII in their entirety, including the Russian Federation’s sovereignty over all of the Kuril Islands, including the four islands of the Lesser Kuril Chain. It is strange that our Japanese colleagues do not want to agree with the results of WWII the way they are enshrined in the UN Charter. It says that everything that the victorious powers did is not to be discussed. Even if the Japanese have their own interpretation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty and other documents relating to this region, they have ratified the UN Charter. It would be wrong to withdraw ratification. This will not work.
In a broader context, we had an agreement primarily to create a new quality of relations. Japan joined a series of sanctions against the Russian Federation, although not all of them. This can hardly be considered a friendly move. In the UN, Japan votes with the United States on all resolutions directed against Russia, but opposes or abstains on projects proposed by Russia – that is, generally coordinates its position in the UN with Washington. We are not opposed to Japan cooperating with other countries, but the United States has declared Russia its main enemy – naturally, and China too.
Question: Is there any tangible US influence on Japan?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not know to what extent Japan is being influenced, but it is certainly being discussed. It was recently announced that at the end of May, US President Donald Trump is going to visit Japan, and one of the topics of the talks will be the peace treaty with the Russian Federation. If this is really so, it shows the extent of Japan’s dependence, and I have nothing to add to that. Japan having a military alliance with the United States is also an important factor. It gives the US the right to deploy its armed forces anywhere in Japan and they are already deploying their missile defence system there, which creates risks for both Russia and China (we have spoken about this many times). I repeat, this is happening in a situation where the US has declared Russia its main adversary. It would be a mistake to ignore the fact that, contrary to the declared goal, this actually worsens the quality of our relations.
We are ready to continue the dialogue with our neighbour. We can see good potential here. We have very good cultural and humanitarian cooperation: the Russian Seasons and the Russian Culture Festival are very popular in Japan. We have quite good economic projects.
And my last point: among the agreements on ways to improve the quality of bilateral relations, there is one about the need to create a positive public image of each other. As stipulated in previous Russian-Japanese agreements, the decision on a peace treaty must be supported by the peoples of both countries. In this respect, terms such as “northern territories” and “illegal occupation” used in Japan not only in textbooks, but also in many government documents that underlie the activities of ministries and departments, actually work against this.
Recently, as you know, the Japanese government has been talking a lot about being close to achieving a result. Looking at the response this sparks in Russia, public opinion polls show how wrong it is to act the way our Japanese colleagues do, trying to impose their own vision of a solution. And yes, they even promise not to ask for compensation...
As President of Russia Vladimir Putin said in his message to the Federal Assembly on February 20, we will continue to do our best to achieve agreements that will provide conditions for a solution to the peace treaty problem that will be acceptable to the peoples of both countries. So far, we see that such conditions are totally absent.