Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech and answers to questions at Belgrade University, Belgrade, February 22, 2018
First of all, thank you very much for inviting me to speak at the University of Belgrade, along with my counterpart and friend, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic, before a representative audience of professors and students. We welcome your university’s contribution to joint efforts aimed at strengthening the bilateral cooperation of Serbia and Russia.
Our states are tied together by centuries-old bonds of friendship, solid traditions of mutual assistance, and common spiritual and cultural roots. This is the foundation of our strategic partnership, which is evolving on the basis of the declaration signed by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic in Sochi. Key issues of our cooperation were discussed at length when President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic visited Moscow and held talks with President Vladimir Putin last December. We are now working, including within the framework of this visit, on ensuring the steady implementation of all those agreements. First Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Serbia Ivica Dacic performs exceptionally useful work in this respect by chairing the Serbian section of the Intergovernmental Committee on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation.
This is an anniversary year. It marks 180 years since the establishment of our diplomatic relations. We dedicated a whole series of events to this memorable date. These include my joint article with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Dacic, which was published in the Politika newspaper yesterday, a series of exhibitions and today’s solemn exhibition at the Church of St Sava. Moscow invariably appreciates Serbia’s independent multi-vector foreign policy and its principled position towards developing constructive neighbourly relations with all countries, including all Balkan countries.
This balanced policy is especially important now that tension continues to persist in our common European home. The conflict potential as well as the number of crisis areas is growing.
We pointed out repeatedly that this situation is the logical result of a policy that the US-led Western countries waged after the Cold War to reinforce their domination to the detriment of the other members of the international community. Instead of building a territory of peace, stability and equal security throughout the Euro-Atlantic region, which Russia strongly advocated, our Western colleagues opted for taking over new geopolitical territories, primarily through NATO’s eastward expansion.
They regularly violated the basic standards of international law and acted contrary to the UN as the key international institution. Back in 1999, they bombed Yugoslavia for two and a half months, trampling underfoot the principle of the inviolability of the European borders. Ten years ago, they unilaterally declared the independence of Kosovo in an attempt to retroactively legitimise their aggression. We will continue to provide all-round assistance to our Serbian partners in their efforts to uphold Belgrade’s legitimate rights and interests in the Autonomous Province of Kosovo based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
Another deplorable result of the Western policy in the region that forced the regional countries to choose between the West and Russia was the coup in Ukraine, which was provoked and supported by Washington and Brussels. Failing to learn the lesson of this negative experience, our Western colleagues are again trying to force the Balkan countries with the same old choice between the EU/NATO and Russia. They are forcing the regional countries to make a choice. They are working actively to drag them into NATO. It is obvious that this has nothing in common with their declared goal of strengthening the Balkan countries’ national independence, because nobody is threatening them. However, joining NATO will force them to take sides in a military and political confrontation the philosophy of which the Americans and NATO are forcing onto Europe.
NATO is unable to provide an answer to the only real modern threat – terrorism. Moreover, the NATO states’ actions in Iraq, Libya and, currently, Syria as well as other regional countries are engendering extremism and chaos and are creating fertile ground for the recruitment of new terrorists.
Everyone knows that a considerable part of anti-Russia directives in the Balkans and the rest of Europe are initiated in Washington. Their obvious goal is to reinforce the US military-political domination and economic leadership, including by forcing Russia to withdraw from the local energy markets and by making Europeans import more expensive LNG from the United States. This policy, which the EU has adopted, has had a negative effect on the interests of Serbia and several other countries when Bulgaria succumbed to foreign pressure and prevented the implementation of the South Stream gas pipeline project.
We hope the regional countries will draw conclusions from this lesson. At least, we now see a more reasonable attitude to such major projects as Turkish Steam and Nord Stream 2.
Russia has never viewed the Balkans as a place for geopolitical zero-sum games. Our unconditional priorities are respect for territorial integrity, stronger security and stability in the region, as well as the prevention of ethnic and religious strife. We are focused on the promotion of a positive and unifying agenda rather than an agenda that can split the region. There are many things we can offer the regional countries, from energy projects and economic initiatives to our experience in the sphere of emergency relief.
We highly appreciate and support Serbia’s policy of military neutrality. We also hope that Belgrade’s aspirations for European integration, which it is discussing with the EU, will not hinder the build-up of our cooperation with Serbia at the bilateral level and within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). I am sure that our Serbian partners will be able to derive considerable benefits for themselves by promoting mutually complementing relations with the EU and the EAEU.
This well-thought-out line is now acquiring special significance when the situation on our European continent and all over the world remains tense. The conflict potential continues to expand, and new hotbeds of crises are emerging.
We have repeatedly noted that this situation is a logical consequence of the post-Cold War policy implemented by US-led Western countries for the purpose of consolidating their dominant role in global affairs to the detriment of other participants in international life. Instead of building a peaceful and stable infrastructure stipulating equal security for the entire Euro-Atlantic region, as insistently advocated by Russia, our Western colleagues moved to take in new geopolitical regions, primarily through NATO’s eastward expansion.
They systematically neglected fundamental norms of international law and acted in circumvention of such a key institution as the UN. Back in 1999, they grossly violated the principle of the inviolability of the European borders, formalised by the Helsinki Final Act, and bombed Yugoslavia for two and a half months. Ten years ago, they unilaterally recognised the independence of Kosovo in an effort to legitimise their aggression post factum. We will continue to provide all possible assistance to our Serbian partners in defending Belgrade’s legitimate rights, as regards the Autonomous Province of Kosovo, while relying on the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
The world is changing before our very eyes. International relations are becoming increasingly more complicated and complex. It is obvious that no one country or even several countries alone can effectively deal with terrorism, cybercrime, drug trafficking, climate change and other major modern threats. New centres of economic power – and hence political influence – are emerging and growing stronger. More and more countries seek to pursue a pragmatic foreign policy based on their own national interests. The world’s nations want to be free to choose their socioeconomic development model and their destiny. This is why the polycentric architecture and the multipolar world order are not anyone’s whim but objective reality, which the majority of experts in international affairs accept, including in the West.
Europe in its present state is facing multiple challenges and is no longer the centre of global politics. European countries must combine their potentials to ensure each of them a befitting place in the rising world order. The attainment of this goal is impossible without the architecture of truly equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic region. Russia previously advanced the idea of signing a Treaty on European Security to formalise this principle. We will work to ensure the implementation of the political declarations that were adopted at the top level at the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council, when the leaders of the countries concerned publicly pledged not to strengthen their security at the expense of others’ security. We urge everyone to abandon once and for all the vicious practice of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, including by supporting the unconstitutional change of government.
We believe that not only security but also economic development must be indivisible. In the past, our strategic goal was the development of a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and this goal remains important. Moreover, in light of the rapid global changes, we have advanced a new philosophy that is built on and expands the above principle, making it even more comprehensive. As you know, President Vladimir Putin has proposed considering the idea of a Greater Eurasian Partnership that would include the member states of the EAEU, the SCO and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The doors to this partnership will be also open for the European Union. I am sure that the gradual implementation of this initiative would ensure the harmonious development of all countries on our common Eurasian continent, including those that are not members of the above associations.
Russia is working hard to find effective solutions to the common global challenges and threats. Our actions on the international stage are designed to protect the universal values of multilateralism, justice and equal cooperation based on mutual respect. We share these approaches with our Serbian friends. We are ready to continue to further develop and strengthen our strategic interaction.
Question: Yesterday was International Mother Language Day. Unlike Russian, which is well protected, Serbian is terrorised in Serbia. Unfortunately, we care about it less; the Cyrillic alphabet has almost disappeared from the media, and foreign companies use Latin letters or foreign languages in their advertisements. How has Russia managed to protect its language? What can Serbia do in this vein?
Sergey Lavrov: Let me be honest, I haven’t noticed that Serbia is losing respect for its language or the Cyrillic alphabet. I just do not have enough facts about it. I can say that every self-respecting nation should, first of all, protect its language, so that its children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would know that language and the literature written in it. I have never had any reason to doubt that Serbians care about their language as much as Russians do about Russian.
Question: My question concerns Serbia’s military neutrality. How firm do you believe it is?
Sergey Lavrov: It was a sovereign decision of the Serbian leadership. The Serbian leadership reaffirms its status regularly; we have no reason to doubt it. Let me say it one more time: it was a sovereign decision of Serbia, and we respect it. Let me stress that this status is, in fact, a factor that provides stability not only in the Balkans but in all of Europe.
Question: I am a young politician, and I represent a district in Belgrade which supports Russia, like the rest of Serbia. We take an active part in Russian-Serbian projects; I participate in the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and attended the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi. We learned about an interesting format, the Council of Young Diplomats in the framework of the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund. We believe this is a very good format, and we would like to do something similar. How do you think youth diplomacy will develop in the future? What is the benefit of youth diplomacy today?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, thank you for taking part in events organised in Russia. It is true that we have the Council of Young Diplomats as well as the Council of Veterans at our Ministry. These two organisations work together closely. Veterans help our young colleagues as mentors, and the youth helps take care of veterans. This is a very human kind of cooperation, and we absolutely support it. I can see no reason against creating a similar council in Serbia, at the ministry headed by Ivica Dacic. I have known Mr Dacic for a very long time; he likes young people and encourages them in every way. So it’s only fitting.
Let me also note that our Council of Young Diplomats held its first international meeting of young diplomats as part of the World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi. They decided to create a permanent structure (congress, or maybe it will have a different name) for young diplomats from different countries to communicate regularly.
I believe its importance is obvious. When young people start communicating with their colleagues and counterparts from other countries at the very beginning of their careers, they will not have to search for a common language later, when they will hold senior positions in various departments; they will have found it during their younger years.
Question: Is the popularisation of the Russian language and the Cyrillic alphabet an important foundation of relations between our countries? What is your view on this score? How else can it be possible to expand the Russian language’s potential among young people?
Sergey Lavrov: We have a number of state-sponsored programmes to strengthen and consolidate the Russian language’s positions abroad. We open schools, and we are doing this under separate projects and as part of activities of Russian centres of science and culture. Some of them offer Russian language courses, and schools are opened, including in the neighbouring CIS countries.
I can only say that, in our opinion, the Russian language’s stronger positions highlight respect towards Russian citizens who live outside their Motherland for various reasons and towards our foreign colleagues who want to learn the Russian language, to read Russian classics in the original language and to enjoy Russian art created through it.
As I have already said in my reply to the first question, a frugal attitude towards one’s own language is a sign of a mature and self-respecting nation. It appears that it is possible to exchange experience in this context, including within the Forum of Slavic Cultures International Foundation that was established about ten years ago. The languages have very much in common. As I see it, experience exchanges regarding the preservation of these languages and their development are also in high demand. Exchanges between universities, mentioned by the rector today, are also part of our common work. In turn, we are doing everything possible to enable Russian citizens wishing to study Serbian and other languages, especially those of countries with which we maintain a spiritual and historical similarity, to receive this opportunity.
Question: I would like to ask on behalf of my colleagues and myself who are studying Russian and are future lecturers. How do you perceive our role in Serbia and Russia? How can we promote Russian-Serbian cultural ties?
Sergey Lavrov: You can do this by nurturing a creative, responsible and efficient attitude towards your profession. I have nothing else to add here.
Question: In the 1990s, you witnessed discussions in the UN regarding our country and media coverage of all this. Authorities in Pristina are also waging an information campaign against our country today, with the support of Western countries. How can we deal with this?
Sergey Lavrov: It is necessary to deal with this because we always have to defend the truth. It is hard to deal with this because this campaign is orchestrated and implemented on a large scale. This also concerns attempts to slander Russia. You know that these attempts do not abate, but, just like the Serbians, we maintain restraint, personal dignity, and we will always tread the path of truth and justice. In the 1990s, I did not only watch the military and psychological attack on Serbia, but I also took part in discussions at the UN at that time. We played a decisive role in passing the current version of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
I want to mention an episode when G8 members coordinated a preliminary text. Then they brought it to us at the UN Security Council, and they said this resolution had to be passed. We noted that it said nothing about Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It was precisely Russia which had insisted on passing this resolution only if it included this highly important principle. We discussed those years with Mr Dacic today and with President Aleksandar Vucic yesterday not for the sake of bemoaning the developments of that period but for learning our lessons from the assurances that were made and are being made by our Western partners. If necessary, they quickly and easily renounce their statements. This is not the way we are used to doing business in the country, with our comrades or with our foreign colleagues.
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