Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Khabar Agency, Kazakhstan, for Maya Bekbayeva’s project The Era of Revival, Moscow, December 9, 2018
Question: Which of Kazakhstan’s peace initiatives do you see as the most important and why?
Sergey Lavrov: Since it gained independence, Kazakhstan has become a leader in advancing initiatives designed to improve the situation in the world and primarily in our region. One of the first such initiatives was Nursultan Nazarbayev’s idea of Eurasian integration, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which he put forth during the remarks he delivered at Moscow State University. Many years later, his forward-looking initiative has become reality that is benefiting all the EAEU countries.
Another notable idea advanced at the early stage in the history of independent Kazakhstan is President Nazarbayev’s proposal to convene the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), which has developed into a unique venue. CICA is probably the only platform, apart from the UN, that brings together representatives from the United States, Iran, Israel and Arab countries. CICA was created as a platform for discussions, but the participating countries eventually started using it to coordinate common approaches and to formalise them in documents, which was a humble beginning. Anyway, this is a very important, positive and forward-looking strategic initiative.
Kazakhstan now holds a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council, where it is providing active support to the efforts aimed at creating a nuclear-free world, fighting the threat of a global armed conflict and international terrorism and promoting a settlement in Afghanistan. One of Kazakhstan’s greatest achievements at the UN Security Council was the adoption of the Code of Conduct Towards Achieving a World Free of Terrorism, which was adopted at President Nazarbayev’s initiative and opened for signature in late September on the sidelines of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly. Russia was among the first to sign this code.
As we are on the theme of Kazakhstan’s peace initiatives, I must speak about the contribution made to the Syrian settlement by your capital, Astana, which hosts a process that is now known as the Astana Format. It has brought together representatives of the Syrian Government, the opposition groups that are fighting the Syrian Army on the ground, the guarantor countries – Russia, Iran and Turkey, plus observers from Jordan and the United States. The contribution of a hospitable, delicate and constructive host is highly appreciated.
Many peace initiatives have been advanced, and I am sure that Kazakhstan will advance many more of them.
Question: What can you say about our president? What are his main features as a politician?
Sergey Lavrov: Nursultan Nazarbayev is one of the most experienced and wise leaders in the post-Soviet space and on a larger scale. He has a very broad horizon of responsibility for his people and his country. He understands that it is impossible to ensure the prosperity of the nation in isolation from the rest of the world. President Nazarbayev is not only trying to make use of the advantages of our common geopolitical space, where we had lived within a single state for years, creating complementary infrastructure, economic, financial, management and other capacities. He also knows that in this world one must make use of the opportunities offered within a broader geography.
Kazakhstan’s multi-vector policy is certainly the brainchild of President Nazarbayev. It has very much in common with the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. Russia also wants to maintain good and mutually beneficial relations with all countries that are ready for this in the east, west and south.
Question: How would you describe Kazakhstan’s contribution to the settlement of a conflict between Russia and Turkey in 2015?
Sergey Lavrov: It was a very tense period. Of course, we all knew that it was a tragedy that can be settled if the other side offered an apology. I can say without going into detail that President Nazarbayev, who is a very experienced person, found the words of apology which Turkey offered and Russia accepted.
Question: As a diplomat, you surely know and admit that since it gained independence Kazakhstan has developed a distinctive style of diplomatic behaviour on the international stage the main achievement of which is that Kazakhstan has not had a single open conflict with any other country.
Sergey Lavrov: You are spot on there. Kazakhstan has a distinctive foreign policy. It is implemented under the guidance of your president and based on the legislative decisions adopted in the country. Kazakhstan’s foreign policy comprises a series of areas that are connected with Russia and our other neighbours. It includes allied relations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), high-level integration ties within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and, lastly, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which has a number of mechanisms created by the heads of state that are actively used to deal with current problems of great importance to our nations.
Kazakhstan also has its obligations within the framework of the UN, the OSCE and the organisations that have been established in Central Asia, such as the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS).
When I spoke about Kazakhstan’s contribution to the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, including in Afghanistan, I failed to mention the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre for combating the illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors (CARICC), which was created long ago and is successfully operating in Almaty.
In short, Kazakhstan’s foreign policy can be described as highly responsible and stipulating independent actions with due regard for the activities of the integration organisations which Kazakhstan has joined at its own initiative in the best interests of the people.
Question: Will you please comment on the outcome of the Fifth Caspian Summit?
Sergey Lavrov: The Caspian Summit held in Aktau has completed the more than 20 years of work on the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. It was necessary to do this primarily so as to make the best possible use of the benefits of the Caspian Sea, that is, its energy and biological resources as well as transport routes.
I believe that the best part of the convention is that all the five Caspian states have clearly confirmed their responsibility for everything taking place on the sea. They will solve issues related to the Caspian Sea falls within their exclusive competence. States that are not parties to this convention are invited to cooperate with the five littoral states on the conditions coordinated in the convention.
Another important thing is that the five states have coordinated the criteria for discussing the subjects related to the delineation of their sovereign and fishing zones. It is a very important achievement. The parties have also mapped out their activities in the area of ecology and conservation, plus the conditions of economic operation that will be beneficial and environmentally safe. There are many more parts. I have only named the most important of them.
I believe that this convention will give a powerful boost to the development of cooperation between the Caspian states in the economy, the ecology and the conservation of the sea’s biological resources for the future generations. In other words, the signing of the convention was a major success of the summit.
Question: Another global topic on today's agenda: the trade war is now unfolding between the United States and China. Surely Russia will support its ally, China, in this matter. What should Kazakhstan prepare for, as any change in the economic situation in Russia is felt very strongly in our country?
Sergey Lavrov: We primarily care about Russia’s interests. In any case, trade wars do not benefit anyone, not even the participating sides. We care about the economic interests of the Russian Federation and our partners in the Eurasian Economic Union.
China is certainly our leading trading partner. This year’s mutual trade is approaching $100 billion. But we also have partners in Europe, in the European part of our common continent, and in the Eurasian Economic Union. Another of Russia’s partner, Iran, is also the target of very tough US sanctions. However, we prefer dealing with these problems not through taking sides in a trade war, but through applying legitimate legal procedures of the World Trade Organisation, something we are doing now. China and the European Union are doing the same with the United States.
We would like the global trading system to remain open, and to remain in place in general. Of course, Washington’s actions are doing little to help – the US has already reshaped the North American free trade zone and abandoned the Trans-Pacific partnership. It is difficult to say now what will come in their stead. Our American colleagues clearly believe that their economic muscle, as President Donald Trump said, is such that they are capable of resolving any matter alone, not really worrying about any multilateral platforms or working to fulfill the obligations the United States had assumed before and that the current administration deems obsolete.
However, I am confident that in the end, the US administration will come to understand the need to work collectively and continue following the rules that have been adopted for decades for the World Trade Organisation.
Question: How does Russia feel about Kazakhstan’s transition to the Latin alphabet? Is this seen as a breakaway?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a sovereign decision of Kazakhstan and its leadership. If they feel it is in the interests of the Kazakh people, we cannot make any comments here. This is your sovereign right.
There is no dictatorship in our “common home,” the CSTO, or the EAEU, unlike in other alliances, like, say, the North Atlantic Alliance. We never impose anything on anyone. When we are told that there is complete consensus in NATO, and our countries sometimes vote unequally in the UN on important political matters, the answer is very simple – we know what it costs NATO to reach that consensus. This is not a partnership at all; there is no comradely approach; but there is dictatorship. True, there is a minority that is always ready to listen to the Big Brother; as for everyone else, they are persuaded, or forced by threats, in different ways.
With our country, this never happens neither in the CSTO, nor in the EAEU, nor in the CIS. The consensus that is reached in our organisations is indeed the consensus of equal partners, and does not reflect the dominance of the minority over the majority (or vice versa); it reflects the balance of interests of all the participants of an association without exception.
I repeat: we will view everything that is in the interests of the Kazakh people in this way.
Question: When we watch Russian channels in Kazakhstan on the subject of the Syrian crisis, your journalists often accuse other CSTO member states of “non-interference.” They claim that Russia alone is actively involved in this process. Does the opinion of your journalists reflect the opinion of the state?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not think our journalists will blame other CSTO countries for not participating in resolving the Syrian crisis.
Question: Vladimir Solovyov does.
Sergey Lavrov: It is his private agenda. He has many interesting guests, smart people who have their own idea of what is happening there.
But for me, there is an objective fact: some of our allies, including Kazakhstan and Armenia, participate both in peacekeeping operations not mandated by the UN (in Afghanistan, for example), and in full-format UN missions (Kosovo); yet, they never participate in any efforts to stabilise Syria. In Afghanistan, there is a NATO operation, and in Syria, we would be ready to organise a CSTO humanitarian mission. The first steps in this direction are being made.
Not so long ago, together with our Armenian colleagues, we initiated a joint campaign for the delivery of Armenian humanitarian aid by Russian aircraft to the Syrian people. I am confident that Kazakhstan is interested in participating in such humanitarian initiatives. We are discussing this with our partners from Kazakhstan and other CSTO countries.
When, say, the French contingent participates in the UN peacekeeping operations, they always fly the EU or NATO flag over their headquarters in Africa alongside the French flag. With the European Union, it is understandable. It is no longer an economic cooperation mechanism, but also a political and defensive alliance; therefore, EU members also associate peacekeeping with this common flag. I see no reason why the CSTO flag should not be there with a national flag at command posts, where military contingents, observers, or police from the CSTO countries participate in peacekeeping operations. I am confident that here we have nothing to be ashamed of – we always try to help the UN peacekeeping efforts.
When we work together to meet humanitarian goals not only around us, in our space, but also use our humanitarian capacity to help ease tension in other parts of the world, I think it will only benefit our common authority, and reputation of our organisation and each of its members.