Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the MIC Izvestia multimedia information centre Vladivostok, September 4, 2019
Question: Is it possible to say that at this stage, international relations have reached a kind of balance, even though unstable and in the negative zone?
Sergey Lavrov: Much has been said about this, such as hitting the bottom and having the bottom knocked out...
I would say that international relations continue to get steadily worse. It is a process that cannot be stopped yet. You see how our American colleagues along with their closest, most loyal allies are actually aiming to undermine the entire international legal system that developed after the Second World War, including the strategic stability and arms control agreements reached over the past decades. In the early 2000s, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was unilaterally terminated. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty has just fallen apart, and it is not clear whether the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3 or New START) will get extended. In general, the international law institutions that were created after the Second World War and developed on the basis of universal agreements are now undergoing the most severe trials. The very term “international law” is used less and less often by our Western colleagues. They prefer to talk about some “rule-based order.” As practice shows, they invent these rules on the spot to suit their current needs and try to convince everyone else that these are multilateral decisions that everyone must follow.
What we probably need to do now is to look to the remaining supports, first of all the UN Charter. It must be defended by all means. I would like to point out the stabilising effect of the G20, which represents all the key regions of the world and the global centres of economic and financial influence. The G20 reflects the recognition of the new polycentric world order. It is against these realities that the West is fighting in a bid to maintain the domination it has enjoyed for the past 500 years, when it called the tune in all international affairs. The very fact that the West has taken an interest in the G20 shows that it has to accept this new reality. The G20 members do not communicate through ultimatums or unilateral demands, but on the basis of mutual respect and search for a balance of interests. I would like to note that the organisations in which Russia participates, such as BRICS and the SCO, work in the same way. Overall in the Eurasian space, we are guided by the same principles as we work to promote what President of Russia Vladimir Putin designated as the Greater Eurasian Partnership with the participation of the EAEU, SCO and ASEAN. The processes are developing; they are not consistent, but we will make sure that they move along the lines of mutual consideration for the interests of all participants in international dialogue.
Question: We repeatedly witness some of our partners unilaterally violating the rules established by international organisations like the WTO, for example. Various barriers and duties are being introduced. Isn’t it time to reorganise these institutions with certain reforms?
Sergey Lavrov: Naturally, no organisation can remain “frozen” in its original form, it has to respond to the imperatives of time and the real changes occurring in the world, be it the invention of new technologies or the emergence of new geopolitical realities. In this context, the backbone of the entire system of international relations is the UN Charter. The basic, “core” principles enshrined in the charter, such as respect for the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in their internal affairs, the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the unacceptability of the threat of force and its use, respect for the right of all nations to independently choose their development path, are not subject to changes and revision, like the Ten Commandments. However, all conventions in different areas of human activity that rely on these principles can evolve. There have been a number of relevant examples lately at the UN itself. For instance, a special Peacebuilding Commission – at the juncture of peacekeeping and creating conditions for normalising the socioeconomic situation in a country exiting a crisis was set up in addition to the bodies established under the UN Charter, in view of the interdependence between conflict resolution efforts and the subsequent return to peaceful life.
A while back, the UN Human Rights Committee was set up (previously there was a Human Rights Commission) on radically new principles, which ensure the consistent review of the human rights situation in each country. There are no privileged participants in this respect that are exempt from being discussed in terms of human rights. A number of other new organisations are being established, including some to combat climate change. This is, in part, a response to the natural processes that are occurring in the world and that pose grave challenges for all countries without exception.
The main body – the UN Security Council – certainly also needs reforming. This was recognised a long time ago. A negotiating process was launched with all UN member states, a special entity was established within the UN General Assembly. Without doubt, the end product of these talks should reflect the changed geopolitical reality. This reality involves the emergence of new centres of economic growth and financial power. They boast growing political influence. They must be able to have more opportunities to contribute to working out common decisions on key issues of peace and security. In this context, I will note that the key drawback of the current composition of the UN Security Council is the apparent underrepresentation of the developing regions of the world – Asia, Africa and Latin America. Thus, the key element of our position is the need to expand the UN Security Council primarily with candidates from these three regions of the developing world. Asia offers India as a candidate nation and Latin America – Brazil. We believe both these nations have every right to increase their representation in the UN, including in its Security Council. Of course, it is necessary to similarly raise the representation level of the African continent along with meeting the wishes of the Asian and Latin American regions.
The World Trade Organisation that you mentioned is also going through serious trials, which reflect the same attempts to impose some new rules instead of the universally agreed upon standards. These attempts include illegitimate sanctions that run contrary to WTO commitments. As you know, the sanctions announced against Russia by the US, Europe, Japan and other Western countries do not fit into WTO principles. Trade wars, ongoing mutual tariff increases – this is a chain reaction that concerns not only the immediate parties to the conflict but also the rest of the world, because the world economy suffers from the trade war between the largest economies – the United States and China. We need to go back to the principles the WTO was founded on. These principles were a subject of many years of negotiation as to the conditions for each country to join the organisation. This must be respected.
The WTO has a mechanism for dispute resolution. While being a leader in starting trade wars and imposing conditions favourable for itself on its partners, the United States still does not reject the need to invoke this mechanism for settling disputes. This gives some hope. However, the negotiating venues are in for a difficult struggle.
Question: Can you say in these complicated circumstances who is Russia’s key partner and who is its main opponent?
Sergey Lavrov: There is always a temptation to find simple answers to difficult questions. This is understandable: tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.
We have many partners. I will not name any countries, because we don’t want anyone to feel offended. Our relations are closer and more confidential with some countries, stable with others and consistently negative with still others, although we never forget about the importance of communicating with each other. We will have to communicate even with a country that we cannot develop close cooperation with while problems are piling up, especially if it is a large country with a certain standing on the modern international stage. You need to reach agreements. By and large, this is what diplomacy is about – the ability to reach agreements.
We are always ready to communicate with any country without exception, provided our partner is willing to talk with us on the basis of mutual respect and equality, not only because they want to send a certain signal to the public ahead of elections but so as to be able to coordinate mutually acceptable agreements based on the balance of interests. This is the key to any international efforts.
I believe that the main danger in international affairs is some countries’ inability to see the global threats coming from the new challenges such as terrorism, organised crime, uncontrolled migration, humankind’s inability to ensure food security, climate change and so on. Industrial accidents and natural disasters wipe out state borders. You cannot remain immune to the disasters that hit different parts of the world, be it global warming or poverty. The root cause of the migration wave which has swept over Europe is the lack of jobs and any other prospects, especially for young people in the Middle East and North Africa. You cannot block out these problems, and you can deal with them only by pooling efforts. Therefore, when some of our colleagues, primarily in the West, act exclusively from self-centred or geopolitical considerations, for example, by using extremists in the Middle East to overthrow any regimes to win political points for future elections, that is a threat. When they do not understand the global nature of modern challenges, that is a threat. This is why we are working persistently with our partners at the CSTO, the CIS, the SCO, BRICS and the G20 to promote the importance of creating truly collegiate structures that would find the most effective solutions possible to all these threats.
Regarding the fight against terrorism, addressing the UN General Assembly session back in 2015, President Putin proposed abandoning the policy of double standards and any attempts to divide terrorists into the “good” ones, who can be used, and the “bad” ones, who must be eliminated. He also called for creating a really broad anti-terrorist front under the UN auspices. Certain progress has been made towards this goal. The necessary mechanisms are being created at the UN and at regional organisations. But the path to open, honest and trust-based operations without double standards is very long. We continue our efforts towards this.
Question: Earlier in our conversation, you mentioned the strategic arms treaties between the United States and Russia. What is the future of these agreements? Will a third party be joining these treaties as Washington insists on?
Sergey Lavrov: With regard to the future of these treaties, some are already history, such as the ABM Treaty or the INF Treaty. Now, we can talk seriously only about the future of the New START Treaty, which expires in February 2021.
We, including President Putin, have publicly and repeatedly urged the United States to begin to work on extending this treaty for a five-year term, as provided for in the text of the document. The response we are getting from the United States is not very clear. They either say that renewing the treaty is unlikely, or that it is impossible to do so given the new weapons, primarily the hypersonic weapons, which President Putin announced in his Address to the Federal Assembly last year.
However, those who are familiar with the text of this treaty are aware of the fact that it does not cover these weapons. If the United States is interested in discussing aspects of strategic stability and arms control that are beyond the scope of the treaty, it should have accepted the invitations that we have extended many times and for some time now, and to resume a regular strategic stability dialogue covering the offensive and defensive aspects. This is a very important balance reflected in the START Treaty, which was exposed to major risk after the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty. In other words, anything can be discussed. This is what the dialogue on strategic stability is for. It can be used to raise any issues that pose a threat to strategic stability, for which the United States and Russia bear most responsibility.
You mentioned the START-3. We have repeatedly emphasised that new topics that are not covered by this treaty should probably be discussed. But at the same time, the treaty itself must not be jeopardised, because if it expires, there will be a total vacuum in arms control, and there will be no core document to rely on. The United States is proposing the inclusion of China in this process. Beijing has repeatedly officially stated its position on this matter: they do not plan to do so. They cite the incomparable size of the nuclear potential of Russia, the United States and China. However, the United States, while continuing to mention China as a likely participant of future talks that could save the START Treaty, for some reason fails to mention its allies – Britain and France – which are also nuclear powers.
To reiterate, our position is that, before we identify ways to promote a dialogue on maintaining strategic stability in a new situation, we do not have the right and cannot afford the luxury of losing the START-3 Treaty. We must make sure that it remains valid as we conduct discussions on strategic stability, which of course, must cover each nuclear country’s matters of concern.
Question: Am I right in thinking that this uncertain position of Washington’s is largely associated with the internal political processes underway in the United States, and is part of these processes? So how do we go about building a dialogue with Washington or restoring US-Russian relations? Do they need to be restored to their former level?
Sergey Lavrov: Bilateral relations have indeed been undermined, and this process, unfortunately, continues. We are not trying to force our friendship on anyone. But we have proposed ways to fix this relationship, including during meetings between the Presidents and during my meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as with US National Security Advisor John Bolton. These proposals cover the spheres of strategic stability, economic, trade, and investment cooperation, as well as interaction between political scientists and civil society experts on issues that are important for relations between Moscow and Washington. We have many common interests in the world, many common responsibilities, including, as I said, ensuring international peace and security. Undoubtedly, the potential contacts in trade, in the economy, culture and the humanitarian sphere as a whole would benefit our peoples and the entire international community.
You are absolutely right. Unfortunately, despite the intentions repeatedly confirmed by US President Donald Trump and his team to bring relations with Russia back to normal, nothing is actually happening at the tangible level. The dynamics remains “bearish.” Our American colleagues continue to impose unilateral sanctions, without even bothering to present any arguments, out of the blue. This contradicts the attitude that the President of the United States is constantly projecting.
It is also clear, and you said quite correctly that US relations with Russia have become hostage to internal American inter-party contradictions. Outgoing US President Barack Obama, frustrated because the Republican candidate defeated the Democratic Party in full accordance with the US electoral system, decided to slam the door and ruin or at least severely undermine any mechanisms or channels of interaction between Moscow and Washington created by his predecessors and himself at the initial stage of his own presidency. The fury of those trying to accuse the US Administration of clandestine ties with Russia, to find reasons to start the process of Donald Trump’s impeachment shows that, despite the negative conclusions made by the Mueller commission, the Democrats have not backed down from playing the Russia card and are going to use it in the next election campaign, preparing for the presidential election in 2020.
This is sad and regrettable. We are always ready to resume bilateral relations in any formats the US is comfortable with at this stage. I must note that at the very least, our antiterrorist dialogue is resuming in some way. We have long been proposing launching a dialogue on cybersecurity with the Americans, because in this sphere, the number of myths is simply incredible. But so far, there has been no intelligible reaction. It’s good that humanitarian ties are developing – the Fort Ross Dialogue, aimed at strengthening the memory of our shared history in California, when Russian immigrants helped develop that part of the United States. As for strategic stability (and this is probably the most important topic), no stable dialogue has been established apart from some sporadic contacts. This is the most important thing now.
Question: On October 1, the People's Republic of China will celebrate its 70th anniversary. Some sceptics believe that modern China plays the role of the elder brother to Russia. Is it appropriate to use such designations in international relations and in Russian-Chinese relations?
Sergey Lavrov: I think it is wrong to describe in this vein relations between Russia and China and in general any relations between two countries, at least those in which Russia takes part. We have emphasised many times in our doctrines and in practice that we favour relations between sovereign states that are based on mutual benefit rather than domination of one side, regardless of whether this is China or some small country.
There is always a wish to derive some benefit but if you want to derive it from relations with your partner you should realise what you can give in exchange. In that case you should look for compromise and consensus. This is exactly how our relations with China are developing. They have reached a truly strategic level. These are relations of multi-faceted partnership and strategic cooperation. Their mutually beneficial nature is not only set out in numerous treaties and other documents but is being consistently implemented in practice.
Let me repeat that the same principles form the backbone of China’s foreign policy. Out of the nuclear powers, only Russia and China initiate the protection of the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. This movement is gaining strength and we will actively continue it. It seems to me that our companies, citizens, corporations and private companies that are taking part in cooperation with China obviously derive benefits from it, just as the Chinese participants of this process.