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15 August 201918:14

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at the Terra Scientia National Educational Youth Forum, Solnechnogorsk, August 15, 2019

1658-15-08-2019

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Good afternoon.

Thank you for the warm greetings. This is not my first meeting with Terra Scientia students, but it is the first time in this picturesque place. This is more convenient for those from Moscow because it’s closer. In any event, all our previous meetings were fairly useful.

We are fueled by the interest of our society in foreign policy and international affairs, and are always ready to use our knowledge, experience and practical actions to meet this interest on behalf of our citizens. It is particularly important when young people are interested in foreign policy issues. After all, you will shape Russia’s future and its future place in international life.

There is always feedback and an interactive approach. For me and my colleagues (I talked to my deputies and department directors that also meet with representatives of civil society), meetings like this provide very important feedback. If we do not know what specific foreign policy issues are of concern to our people, including above all the young people, we would probably just be groping in the dark. It is important for us to act in the interests of our country, which is certainly represented by our people.

I will not describe in detail the trends that are now developing in the world. President of Russia Vladimir Putin has repeatedly talked about them. Recently, a detailed discussion also took place at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. I will only say that the main trend is the confrontation between a new polycentric, more fair and democratic world arrangement that is objectively taking shape today and the striving of a fairly narrow US-led group of states to prevent this arrangement from coming into fruition. These states are doing all they can to secure domination in every area of international life – military and political domain, the economy, and interpretation of the standards of respect for human rights and history, which is also a very meaningful topic today. Heavy battles are taking place even in sports. For the most part, they are aimed at enabling Anglo-Saxons to set the order, including as regards punishment for doping and identification of the guilty. 

Another major trend that has manifested itself in our Western colleagues’ policies is their desire to replace international law which, by definition, is about universally agreed norms and principles, with certain rules which our Western colleagues develop among themselves and then present as the ultimate truth, which all other members of the international community should follow. If you are interested, I will provide specific examples during our discussion. There are many of them.

New centres of power are emerging in Eurasia, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Africa. However, in the face of an emerging world order that is balanced and based on respect for the interests of all members, the West is trying to maintain its superiority and ensure its dominance despite the objective course of history. However, we must give the historical truth its due: for about five centuries, the West has dictated the rules in the modern world. But the world is changing, and the colonial era is a thing of the past. The centres of global economic growth and global finance are shifting from the West to other regions. To counter this trend, our Western, primarily American, colleagues, are resorting to the most unscrupulous methods and unfair competition in an attempt to secure a unilateral advantage. To do so, they are using economic sanctions, blackmail, threats, ultimatums and direct pressure, including the use of military force, as was the case during interventions in Yugoslavia in 1999, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. The peoples of these countries who came under attack in these acts of aggression didn’t see any improvements in their lives. Libya’s very survival as a state is now in question, though we are all trying to help improve the situation.

In opposition to such an illegitimate and unlawful policy pursued by our Western colleagues, we maintain our stance, which is informed by the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation approved by the President of Russia, a revised version of which was adopted in 2016. First of all, it is based on the need to create the most favourable external conditions for the development of our country, in particular its economic growth, and to address its social problems. To this end, it is our responsibility to provide a safe environment, the most favourable conditions for our citizens and our economic operators across the world. These goals, according to the Foreign Policy Concept, must be achieved solely on the basis of respect for international law, primarily, its components such as the principle of sovereign equality of states, non-interference in internal affairs, respect for the right of the peoples to determine their own future without outside interference, peaceful settlement of disputes and a prohibition on the threat or use of force. These are the principles of the UN Charter.

When we analyse the activities of the UN General Assembly after each of its annual sessions, we can easily see that the vast majority of UN member states adopt positions that are identical to Russia’s. I believe it is simply ridiculous in the current situation to claim that the policy of Washington or Brussels seeking to “isolate” Russia has yielded any results. We never act out of resentment and are always open to candid discussions with our partners in the East, South or West provided such discussions are based on equality and respect for each other's interests, and also seek to find solutions to controversial issues based on a balance of interests.

Question: Yesterday we had a discussion on soft power with Prorector of the Higher School of Economics. What do you think about this concept? And what, in your opinion, are the main trajectories for expanding Russia’s soft power today?

Sergey Lavrov: Generally speaking, soft power is the natural manifestation of technological change around the world. Politics used to be limited to deciding matters of war and peace: someone invades the other, and then they talk, or they try to talk to each other before going to war. This is what foreign policy was all about in the days when technology like we have now did not exist. Today, you can promote your interests in various regions or countries by relying on methods that are far less destructive, without recourse to military power, that is by influencing the public opinion and using the whole range of the available opportunities offered by online resources and social media. I will spare you from a detailed review of all the ways in which we can convey our ideas, assessments and perspectives to anyone who wants to hear what we have to say.

The second important aspect in terms of soft power has to do with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Here in Russia we actively encourage the development of NGOs in the sphere of international relations. We have built partnerships with non-profits interested in foreign policy, and have been maintaining our ties with them. Unfortunately, there are not so many of them. For example, just over sixty Russian organisations have been granted consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is not that we do not assist them in obtaining this recognition. We are always there for those of them who would like to be granted this status. Sixty is quite a good result. There used to be very few organisations of this kind. At the same time, there are thousands of Western NGOs that were granted this status by UN agencies. So Russia’s civil society has a lot of room for improvement. We are proactive in our efforts to encourage the NGO community to work on international matters. Foreign Ministry departments hold monthly meetings with the corresponding NGOs, and my deputies are holding meetings with representatives of NGOs on a more or less quarterly basis. There is also an annual meeting that I attend to sum up the results of these interactions and to discuss what the NGOs need and how the Foreign Ministry can assist them in their efforts.

The media have to be mentioned among the soft power tools. There are a lot of questions here. On a level playing field, Russian NGOs, even though they are not as numerous, are serious competitors and can effectively stand up for justice, truth and international law. Unfortunately, these are not the principles pursued and preached by many Western NGOs who do not shun away from various dirty tricks in order to promote the agenda of their sponsors. In so many cases these NGOs are established and financed by the state. Most of the leading American NGOs receive funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which in turn gets its funding from the US budget. The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute rely on government support in one way or another. These structures provide funding to multiple organisations working on specific aspects of international affairs.

I believe that justice is on our side. We need to continue to defend it and expand Russia’s footprint within the international platforms. So far we are behind in terms of numbers. But let me repeat that if we are talking about the media, RT and Sputnik, just the two of them, created a situation in which they were referred to in the West as the main threat to the public opinion. By the way, London has recently hosted the Global Conference for Media Freedom. RT and Sputnik were not invited to attend under the pretext that they were propaganda mouthpieces rather than media outlets. What do you think about that? For this reason, when soft power is employed using principles and criteria of this kind, it looks like just another attempt to secure unilateral advantages through unfair competition.

We will continue to support all those in the Russian civil society interested in projecting our soft power on human rights, fighting poverty, environmental protection or any other problems that are discussed internationally. We will do everything to support your undertakings. If you are interested, if there are organisations that have not been involved with the Foreign Ministry thus far, please make sure to contact us. We will definitely support you.

Question: The Kuril Islands are part of Russia, but the Japanese side maintains its claims on these territories. What is the strategy for resolving this issue with Japan?

Sergey Lavrov: The strategy is simple. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly spelled out our approach to this problem. It is extremely transparent and clear. Russia is the continuing legal personality of the Soviet Union. All the other republics are successors, but Russia, in addition to succession, is also the continuing legal personality. It was in this capacity that we were recognised in December 1991 and on this basis our permanent membership in the UN Security Council was automatically extended. Therefore, we have reaffirmed and are ready to fulfil the international obligations of the former Soviet Union – including the 1956 Joint Declaration of the Soviet Union and Japan, which clearly stated that Russia and Japan are no longer fighting each other or regarding one another as enemies, and will build relations on peaceful and neighbourly principles. Article 9 of the Declaration stipulates that, based on a friendly attitude towards Japan, taking into account the interests of the Japanese people, the Soviet Union is ready, after concluding a peace treaty, to transfer the islands of Habomai and Shikotan to Japan as a goodwill gesture – after the peace treaty is signed. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia reaffirmed that commitment, among others. As new contacts began to be established between Moscow and Tokyo, this topic was certainly discussed with each of the subsequent Japanese prime ministers. The last time was a few years ago, when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to intensify the peace treaty talks on the basis of the 1956 Declaration, which, as I said, states loud and clear – first we sign the treaty, then consider the transfer in good faith of these two islands, not the return. At the same time, it is our understanding that the signing of a peace treaty should be aimed at recognising the post-WWII realities and the outcome of the Second World War, including the fact that all four islands of the South Kuril Ridge are the territory of the Russian Federation as the continuing legal personality of the Soviet Union.

Still, our Japanese colleagues have not changed their position. They say they disagree with the outcome of World War II in so far as it concerns them and us, even though that position cannot be accepted because it contradicts the UN Charter. The UN Charter states that everything that was done by the victorious powers following World War II is not subject to revision. So far, the situation is all about our Japanese colleagues’ unwillingness to recognise the outcome of the Second World War, which precludes the signing of a peace treaty.

I don’t think we are in a deadlock though. We are being guided by the instructions given to us by President Vladimir Putin following his negotiations with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, namely, to continue the development of relations with Japan in all areas including trade, the economy, foreign policy, and humanitarian issues. This is probably what needs to be done to solve any of the most complex problems.

For example, we have pointed out to our Japanese colleagues that the joint economic activity on these four islands we are offering should be based on the legislation of the Russian Federation. We are offering many additional incentives for investors there: the priority socioeconomic development zone, the free port of Vladivostok and more. Our Japanese colleagues can enjoy all these benefits. If more benefits would help, we are ready to discuss them, ready to conclude intergovernmental agreements. But we cannot agree with ​​having some jurisdiction in our territory that is not governed by Russian law.

The second example concerns security issues. You know that there are American military bases on Japanese territory, a large number of American troops. Under the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Guarantees between the United States and Japan, Americans have the right to deploy their armed forces in almost any part of Japan. By the way, this Treaty was signed later than the Declaration of 1956, creating the conditions that did not exist at the time of the signing of the Declaration. I must note that it would have been possible to implement that Declaration in Soviet times, but it was the United States that prevented Japan from taking this step, not wanting Japan to normalise relations with our country, and always trying to use the islands issue to force some confrontational overtones into our contacts with Tokyo. I emphasise that we are perfectly aware of this.

We would like to have a good relationship with our Japanese neighbours. For this to happen, we need to understand, firstly, whether Japan is ready to recognise the outcome of World War II, since it is a member of the UN, and the UN Charter clearly states that this outcome is unchangeable. Secondly, we need to know the extent of Japan’s independence in foreign policy and security issues, given Tokyo’s strong dependence on Washington arising from this 1960 military-political alliance now embodied in the US material presence on the Japanese islands.

In general, when we talk about the need to resolve all problems on the basis of the full-scale development of cooperation, we cannot turn a blind eye to Japan voting with the United States against Russia at the UN on all the most fundamental and controversial issues.

Neither can we turn a blind eye to the fact that Japan joined, albeit in a truncated version, the unlawful illegitimate unilateral sanctions that the West imposed on Russia for protecting our compatriots in Crimea who refused to accept an unconstitutional coup in Kiev in February 2014. I could talk more about this, but I have just tried to outline the main points.

Question: What do you draw on when expressing Russia’s foreign policy position? In your opinion, which of Russia’s policies is more successful, domestic or foreign?

Sergey Lavrov: In my opening remarks, I tried to briefly touch on Russia’s foundational instruments in foreign policy. There is the Foreign Policy Concept, which, as I said (and I will stress it once again), outlines the main objective: to ensure most favourable external conditions for our development. By conditions I mean the country’s security throughout its perimeter, the opportunity for our citizens to be protected not discriminated against anywhere in the world, support for Russian businesses so that they could compete with their rivals on equal terms. All this is done in conformity with international law.

As concerns comparing domestic and foreign policy, I am not responsible for domestic policy but everything that I said and the entire Foreign Policy Concept manifest one main idea. To a critical extent, our efficiency at the international scene hinges on the successful development of our country, the economy, social sphere, and how successful we are in ensuring security. There is a direct correlation. I am certain the results that we have already achieved in foreign policy are recognised by everybody, including our ill-wishers, and reflect the changes in our economy and domestic life over the past couple of decades.

Question: What institutions do we need to create for Russian citizens to respect Russia as much as foreigners?

Sergey Lavrov: For Russian citizens to respect Russia as much as foreign citizens respect Russia? I do not quite understand. Please explain.

Question: There is the institution of the family. I think it is less important in Russia now. It does not exist. Parents do not bother with their children. This is the problem.

Sergey Lavrov: In Russia you mean? I bother with my children. I do not think there is any lack of attention to our traditional values, including the institution of the family and the protection of childhood and motherhood. In recent years, the President has brought up this topic many times in his speeches, his contacts with the Government and competent public organisations. We advocate for the traditional values and family values in the Council of Europe, in the OSCE, especially in light of the attempts to undermine the traditional, God-given notion of a family and impose neo-liberal approaches that destroy the morals of any civilisation, including the European one.

I believe that our aim should be to vigorously defend these values and prevent any ambiguous concepts from making their way into international law.

Question: In our country, improper waste disposal by individuals is punishable by a fine of 1,000 to 2,000 roubles.  If we look at the experience of some other countries, their measures are much tougher. For example, the same offence in Singapore may be punishable by a prison sentence of up to 12 years. It is prohibited to chew gum or consume food outside and feed pigeons. Japan has similar laws. What do you think of this practice in other countries? Is it possible or necessary to toughen liability in Russia?

Sergey Lavrov: There is an entire group of government bodies in charge of this issue. I follow the discussions on building waste processing facilities and eliminating open landfill sites – not as a minister but as a citizen. I support cleaning up the environment as much as possible. I do not think that Russia can embrace the experience of Singapore, where you could indeed go to prison for smoking outside, throwing away a cigarette butt or any littering at all. Singapore is a small country where it is easy to carry out reforms and ensure compliance. Our territory is huge. It is an advantage but also a disadvantage because we need to take care of this territory. On a similar note, I want to mention the importance of the demographic problem as well, especially when it comes to a more even distribution of population across the Russian Federation. We need to make sure that people are not drawn to Moscow, the Moscow Region and St Petersburg like magnets, and there are competitive conditions in Siberia and the Far East. This problem is of great importance, including for our foreign policy, since Russia is a Eurasian power. It is crucially important that we develop the Far East and East Siberia. It is significant that right now the Government has a special deputy prime minister (who is also a presidential plenipotentiary envoy) in charge of these issues, and a competent ministry.

If we go back to the Foreign Ministry and the topic you mentioned, there are international agreements that we join. There is not a single international convention somehow related to environmental protection that we are not part of. We are finishing the ratification of the Paris Agreement, which was seriously reinforced last December in Katowice, Poland, where the implementation mechanism for this agreement was approved. It was pivotal to us because we needed to understand how the Paris Agreement, which is a framework document, will be translated into practice.

As concerns adhering to the targets in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, we are not violating them. We are one of the leading countries for achieving the targets – for various reasons, but for now it is true. I think we will remain within the normal range for many years ahead. However, we will implement modern technology, including in waste recycling.

Aside from the technology itself, we need to watch people’s conduct in public places more strictly. Moscow and St Petersburg have become cleaner. But the solutions are not perfect yet. 

Question: There are very many accessible reserves with a well-developed infrastructure in the Voronezh Region and all over Russia. How can Russia attract foreign citizens, expand ecotourism and elevate it to a new level? Maybe, you know about projects in other countries that have somehow managed to attract foreign citizens and expand ecotourism?

Sergey Lavrov: It is impossible to give everyone advice from Moscow on how to develop local ecotourism and many other things. The people who live locally know their unique assets better than anyone else, the history of their region and things they are proud of. Quite possibly, it is not that hard to make this attractive to foreigners. All they need are a few skills, and it is also necessary to involve tourist operators and history specialists and to improve the infrastructure. But I cannot offer advice. You know, if we start saying that Finland has a place where Santa Claus lives, everyone will go there. For his part, Father Frost lives in Veliky Ustyug, and people also visit him.  Local specifics are essential here.

The Foreign Ministry is helping towards this goal by consistently expanding visa-free travel opportunities for Russian citizens. Today, 95 countries have signed visa-free travel agreements with Russia. It is now possible to enter almost all the Latin American countries visa-free. I realise that this region is quite far away, but we maintain a visa-free regime with most of our neighbours. We are now moving towards the introduction of electronic visas all over Russia. They are already used at the free port of Vladivostok in the Far East and in Kaliningrad. From this autumn, they will be used in St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. The scope is such that in about 18 months, all our partners should be able to use electronic visas to enter the Russian Federation. Of course, this will promote tourism, including ecotourism.

Question: As of late, drugs are being illegally advertised in Russian cities, and other negative social phenomena are also being promoted. I believe this matter is very important, and that it needs to be promptly addressed. I believe these advertisements must be exposed and eliminated using new methods. Instead of painting over them, they must be removed using sandblast equipment. Do you think it is necessary to speedily remove these signs and drawings? Do you discuss the drug threat at the international level?

Sergey Lavrov: I oppose any drug advertising. Regarding sandblasting, we have special services operating such equipment. I oppose any advertisements, be it on the walls of buildings or on social media networks; the latter also presents a major problem.

Russia voices a principled position. This issue has been discussed for a long time at the international level. Members of the International Narcotics Control Board meet several times a year in Vienna. The UN Office at Vienna houses the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, now headed by a Russian citizen with the rank of Under-Secretary-General.

I attended the ministerial meeting of the International Narcotics Control Board in the spring of 2019, and we reaffirmed our position there. According to the Russian side, there are three fundamental universal conventions on combating various forms of the illegal drug business. They were passed long ago and, in our opinion, they should remain unchanged. Today, many attempts are being made to erode these conventions which ban all use of narcotic drugs. There are many attempts to liberalise so-called soft drugs for medical and recreational use. We all understand what this is about. We believe that this would be the start of a slippery slope. We denounce the actions of states legalising soft drugs, including cannabis and others. This has happened in Canada, and it is also taking place in some European countries. We will oppose the introduction of these norms, and we will see to it that they do not become universal; each country has a right to introduce them, although this violates international conventions. Such attempts are being made.

Some liberal Russian organisations suggest that we should not worry too much about soft drugs becoming widespread because they allegedly help fight stress and act as painkillers when other medications do not help. We oppose this extremely dangerous trend.

I would like to note that the National Anti-Narcotics Union, an NGO established and headed by former drug-dependent young people, is accomplishing a lot in civil society. I attended some of their events, including those with families, children, volleyball and football matches, as well as invited actors. Singer Nikolai Rastorguyev and I attended one such event in Crimea. This is a really healthy movement. It is hardly surprising that the UN has already recognised it, and they have already performed in New York City. The UN Office at Vienna has also recognised them, and they act as partners of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. They promote the drug-free principle that rules out any drugs, including hard, soft, semi-soft, etc., in all their contacts. I believe that they help people resume normal lives using very healthy methods, and we will proceed from this assumption, while promoting the experience of this NGO at inter-governmental venues.

Question: UN member countries, including Russia, have signed the Sustainable Development Goals. Which of these 17 goals is a priority for Russia and will lead to a rapid transition to a cyclical economy? Will international environmental committees be formed?

Sergey Lavrov: All the 17 goals are our priority, because it is very important to avoid breaking this compromise package, which can only be implemented entirely when there is progress on all of the 17 goals. Our Western colleagues seem tempted to “extract” the goals that suit them best and announce their priorities. For example, the SDGs include matters concerning human rights. For obvious reasons, the West is focusing its attention on those, regularly proposing at various forums solutions that would put human rights almost above all other goals. This is not right. Moreover, they interpret human rights only in the civil-political sense. But the socioeconomic human rights are no less legitimate in international law.

There are two key international covenants – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is worth mentioning that the US is not a party to the latter covenant. Our Western partners are trying, in every possible way, to muffle, belittle the social and economic rights at the UN platforms, although it would be in their interests to address these rights. Especially now, with the persisting migration crisis, Europe is showing dissatisfaction with various socioeconomic reforms. If we take the UN documents, they stipulate socioeconomic rights of developing countries. But the ultra-liberal Western-centric model has proved incapable of resolving the economic problems of humanity, incapable of promoting a rise in living standards everywhere, alleviating social problems or accelerating economic growth. This model focuses on living at the expense of others. The actions that we are now witnessing, attempts to maintain their dominance, to secure advantages in the economy and other spheres by unscrupulous methods – this is the policy where the selfish desire to live at the expense of others is manifested. We support a uniform approach to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with emphasis on creating a foundation for addressing material problems, the development of all mankind.

It is necessary to help the Third World countries, at least out of pure pragmatism. Europe began to suffer from an influx of migrants after NATO thoughtlessly and illegally bombed Libya, violating the UN Security Council resolutions. There is an interesting observation when it comes to economics and trade. When they started to think about how to deal with the migrants, they realised that the problem of where to move them and on what criteria has just added to the problem on the ground – at the source of this situation. So they began to talk about the need to help African countries create jobs. Where has this led to? Unfortunately, nowhere. Most of the jobs in Africa, the source of the flow of migrants to Europe, are in agriculture. So to create more jobs there, competitive opportunities for African farm products need to be provided. Europeans cannot do this and are unlikely to be able to, because one of the pillars the EU relies on is huge subsidies pumped into European agriculture. They subsidise their farming, creating one-sided advantages on the food markets. If these subsidies were removed, African farm produce would have an opportunity to compete fairly. But Europe cannot do this. It is a vicious circle. And food security is also one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We support addressing the SDGs in a complex and not artificially isolating specific aspects from the long and carefully agreed package.

As regards organisations, the Green Climate Fund has been established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Russia is a party to it), to which we make voluntary contributions. The latest installment was about $3 million. This is not much, but it underscores our commitment to working together to address climate change and environmental issues in general.

Question: When, in your opinion, will the situation in the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic change fundamentally? What else can Russia do for its compatriots living in these areas suffering from the people who have a grip on the political power in Ukraine?

Sergey Lavrov: We will do everything we can within the agreements that were reached in Minsk in February 2015 and unanimously approved by the UN Security Council. When someone says that Russia’s every step in relations with these republics violates the Minsk Agreements, this is a lie. The Minsk Agreements do not prohibit assisting these areas socially and economically. On the contrary, they say that Kiev, which signed them, is obligated to provide economic interaction and continuous payment of all social allowances and pensions. Instead, a total transport and economic blockade of these areas was announced under President Petr Poroshenko. They created conditions that make receiving allowances and pensions practically impossible. People have to wait in huge lines to cross the line of contact. These are mostly elderly people and it is a real ordeal for them. There are many other obstacles too which are well known. When, to provide these people with social protection, Russia announced that residents of these areas will be able to receive Russian passports using a simplified procedure, everyone began accusing Moscow of undermining the Minsk Agreements. Nobody mentions that Hungary, Romania and Poland have long been issuing passports to their compatriots living in Ukraine. Everybody is fine with that.

There is another matter. Kiev adamantly refuses to take any of the steps outlined in the Minsk Agreements. They include the withdrawal of all forces and equipment, the amnesty for all participants of this intra-Ukrainian conflict and the launch of direct talks between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk on the preparations for the election, adoption of a law on the special status of the DPR and LPR, formalising this status in the Ukrainian Constitution, holding the elections after that, establishing bodies of authority in these areas and then Kiev’s control of the entire border with Russia. These are the steps and the order they must be taken in. Now we are hearing (from Kiev, from Vladimir Zelensky’s team) that there will be no direct dialogue, let us call on the Normandy format and invite the Americans and British, as well as the Poles who also express interest. Amnesty is an issue that can be discussed.  It would be viable to hold elections only when thousands of armed UN peacemakers are deployed in the entire territory of this part of Donbass, and so on. This is doublespeak again. There are the Minsk Agreements, which one needs to read and then see what should be done. Instead they say that Russia must implement the Minsk Agreements and first of all, provide that these republics let the Ukrainian military to their border, let occupational forces under the UN flag into their territory, and these occupational forces will replace all agencies in Donestk and Lugansk and will hold elections the way they want.

I am not exaggerating now. This is exactly what our American colleagues suggest doing and this is how they see the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

In addition to supporting the residents of Donetsk and Lugansk with humanitarian aid, assistance in dealing with social problems, issuing passports to those who cannot otherwise use their civil rights, we will also firmly uphold the need for a strict compliance with the Minsk Agreements on the international scene. We are ready to meet in the Normandy format, but before that it is necessary to implement what the Normandy leaders agreed upon almost three years ago in October 2016. At the latest summit of the Normandy format, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, France and the German Chancellor took two key decisions: on the withdrawal of both sides at three sections on the line of contact, which Ukraine has been sabotaging until recently. The process has begun but has not been completed, and it all depends on the Ukrainian side. The second decision they took was that the law on the special status of the area should temporarily come into force on election day, and on a constant basis – and to be also reflected in the Constitution – when the OSCE observers have published their final report which would prove that the elections were free and just. I was present there when the four leaders, including the Ukrainian president, agreed on this. Since then, both in the Contact Group and the Normandy format Ukraine has refused to document this “Steinmeier’s formula” (the current President of Germany, who was the Foreign Minister at the time) and make it a binding legal document.

The key priority is the establishment of a direct dialogue, Kiev’s obligation to launch a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk. Kiev adamantly refuses to do so. This is a direct violation of its obligations adopted by the UN Security Council. Our Western partners, instead of voicing demagogical, totally unsubstantiated accusations against Russia, should rein in their Kiev colleagues whom they patronise and make them implement the decision of the supreme body of the United Nations.

Question: Due to the quickly growing population and the lack of natural resources in many countries, for example in Africa, is the global community in danger of fighting military conflicts to get hold of natural resources in the 21st century?

Sergey Lavrov: In fact, force has always been used when it comes to fighting for natural resources. If you take a look at 21st century history, you will see Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. In both cases, military force was used to determine the outcome, under a far-fetched pretext, rudely violating the UN Charter, as any serious analyst will tell you, due to the fact that these countries are rich in hydrocarbons. There is always such a risk. As you understand, on practice the international legal demand to settle disputes peacefully does not stop our colleagues, the Americans first of all. They are sometimes supported by the United Kingdom, France, Germany once (when the operation in Libya began). We will not start a military conflict with them. It would be crazy and it would only escalate the situation. We do not need this. We are interested in stability. But we have called and will call the international community to counter such illegal steps, demanding that they should answer for their actions in the UN. Collecting votes condemning such practice will play a certain role. It wouldn’t quite cool down the hot heads in the current US Administration, who continue with their belligerent statements (they are about to deploy weapons in space, which is absolutely unacceptable for most countries and would contradict the position of the UN majority on preventing an arms race in space).

Nevertheless, these plans have already been announced, as well as the deployment of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles (after the US has destroyed the treaty that banned such land-based missiles) in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to this, nobody asked the countries where the US is going to deploy the new types of the missiles when the statement was made.

When referring to Latin America, Washington stated that the Monroe Doctrine is still here; the regime in Venezuela must be changed, and that Cuba and Nicaragua will be next. If we combine all of this, it sounds like people who say such things and are going to implement them live in a different era – colonial or postcolonial – and are not in touch with today’s reality. In this sense, I will also mention the latest US doctrinal documents, which significantly decrease the application threshold of nuclear weapons and allow for low-power nuclear explosives.

On the whole, the US – and we can say this bindingly – has taken the course to destroy the entire armament control system that provided for international strategic stability. They have just destroyed the INF Treaty after their withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty at the beginning of the century. We can hear statements that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which expires in February 2021, have also been out of date and they say that it does not comply with US interests, there is no sense in preserving bilateral contacts with Russia on armament control, and that China must be involved instead, while they understand clearly that China will not agree to this. According to some statements from Washington, the ground is being prepared for finally giving up on the US’s participation in the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was once the greatest achievement of international diplomacy.

There may only be one goal when it comes to such negative and unconstructive steps: to give the US a free hand in solving the tasks of their military policy without any binding international agreements. This is sad. This is an enormous step back after all the achievements in armament control made in the second half of the last century and at the beginning of this one.

Question: I represent the unrecongised state of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. I would like to ask a question about the status of our country. Russia is the only state that has recognised our independence from Moldova. Russia supports us. The referendum showed that our people want to join Russia. Does the Russian government have any plans for this?

Sergey Lavrov: I must specify. The Russian Federation has not recognised the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. Russia is a participant in the process that should settle this conflict based on the corresponding principles.

First, this means the republic’s special status as part of Moldova agreed upon with Tiraspol, understanding that Moldova will preserve its sovereignty, which means it will not be assimilated as a state and remain neutral, or join no military and political blocs.

These principles were agreed many years ago, back in the early 2000s. A document was signed according to them: the “Kozak Plan” developed by today’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak and initialed in Tiraspol and Chisinau. But at the last moment, when all the participants at the ceremony were about to gather and sign the document, our EU colleagues prohibited Vladimir Voronin, who was president of Moldova back then, to sign this document because of one simple reason: because it would mean a diplomatic success for the Russian Federation. These are all the criteria our Western partners often use in many crises in today’s world. This is why the principle I have mentioned – the special status as part of sovereign and neutral Moldova – is the best. The “five plus two” mechanism is set on it, where “two” means Tiraspol and Chisinau, and “five” means Russia and Ukraine as assisting mediators and settlement guarantors, OSCE as a mediator and the US and the EU as observers. This mechanism is used sometimes, then there is a pause, and then there are disputes whether talks on a political solution must begin within this mechanism or small steps, such as restoration of roads, license plates and the repairs of bridges, must be made first.

We believe that both these things should be done at the same time. Of course, small steps will strengthen the trust between the two banks of the Dniester. But the goal must remain the same. At least, this is Russia’s position in the contacts with our friends in Tiraspol and the Moldovan government.

Question: Stories dealing with Russia’s allegedly “predetermined” geopolitical solitude are being published more and more often. They say that, owing to this country’s grandeur, it cannot have any friends, and that it will always have to deal with rivals. Is this viewpoint correct, and is any friendship possible in global politics?

Taking this opportunity, let me say that I am an international affairs student, and I would like to undergo advanced training at the Foreign Ministry.

Sergey Lavrov: As I see it, I don’t have to answer the first question.

Jokes aside, what isolation can we speak about? Just look, how many people visit us. Regarding foreign ministers, about 50 of them have already come here since the start of 2019, not to mention their deputies and directors of departments. I  am regularly invited to visit other countries, and I certainly do not impose myself on anyone. What political solitude are we talking about here?

This year, I visited eight African countries, nine Latin American countries and a number of European countries. Their representatives came to Russia, and I also visited these states. German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas and Maltese Minister of Foreign Affairs Carmelo Abela are to visit Russia in the next few days. There is an endless flow.

Speaking of top-level relations, it is possible to analyse how many global leaders are interested in maintaining contacts with the President of the Russian Federation, who are asking to be received in Russia or who are inviting Vladimir Putin to visit them. This coming Monday, the summer residence of French President Emmanuel Macron will be the venue of a meeting to discuss important global and European matters, including those linked with strategic stability.

As I have already mentioned, UN voting results show that an overwhelming majority of UN member states support us, they voice their solidarity with our positions.

I would like to emphasise the fact that, of course, we do not renounce our independence. Russia is among those few countries that can afford the luxury, judging by modern standards, to be independent and self-sufficient. The number of these countries is not very large. We will always defend our right to voice our opinion reflecting our approaches and interests in international affairs. We will defend our interests at any talks, but we will always be ready for compromises hinging on a balance of interests. If the balance of interests of the parties to the talks is equitable, and if it is formalised in line with international law, this highlights a movement forwards, as well as greater stability and predictability in any specific sphere being negotiated. I would like to emphasise once again that we cannot renounce our independence. But this independence was not invented by us, and it relies on respect for international law formalising the principles of the states’ sovereign equality and the unacceptability of interference in their domestic affairs.

This is a serious matter. As you remember, at the beginning of modern Russian history, after the breakup of the Soviet Union and until the late 1990s, we had illusions that the European Union and NATO were expecting Russia to join them. Many representatives of the Russian elite, as it is now customary to say, were tempted to merge with the Western world, to carve out their own niche there and to be part of Western civilisation. But no one expected us there. As soon as the West realised in the early 2000s that Russia did not want to lose its face and to become dissolved in the Western world (it presupposes a very rigid one-state-rule principle, and you know where the “boss” is) and to integrate itself inside this liberal system, the West immediately started voicing claims with regard to a new Russia. They immediately started eyeing us closely and voicing various preconditions that prompted President Vladimir Putin to call things by their proper names at the 2007 Munich Security Conference and to indicate that Russia could not work in line with preconditions that the West tried to impose on it and which relegated this country to a subordinate status. The Russian President invited everyone to engage in honest, democratic and equitable cooperation on the basis of equality. Western reluctance to respond to this proposal remains the root cause of current developments being witnessed by us in our relations with the United States, the European Union and other Western countries.

Sometimes they say that Russia turned eastwards after becoming disillusioned with the West. This is a simplistic approach. We have never turned away from the East. We cannot do this because we are located there. We cover most of the Eurasian continent. I have already said that we need to develop this territory more actively. Current measures are expected to produce results. After the main driving force of global development shifted from Europe to the Asia Pacific region, we, of course, started paying more attention to the Eastern direction.

When Russia and the People’s Republic of China started implementing numerous mutually beneficial nuclear and hydrocarbon energy projects, those in the field  of space exploration and many other high-tech spheres; when we obtained a highly promising potential in relations with countries that are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); when they started actively inviting us to Asia Pacific organisations, including East Asia Summits, the ASEAN Regional Forum [a key forum for security dialogue in Asia], the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, then we, of course, could not shy away from this. We were interested in ensuring the full-fledged involvement of Russia’s part located in Asia Pacific in all integration processes there for the sake of benefiting Russia as a whole.

With due consideration of our destiny, geographical location, history and the heroic feats of our ancestors, we cannot turn either westwards or eastwards.  It is hardly surprising that the Russian state emblem has featured a two-headed eagle since the times of the Russian Empire. Solitude does not threaten us. We will always have allies, like-minded partners and friends, provided that our interests are always complied with.

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