Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s address at the meeting with representatives of Russian non-profit organisations, Moscow, June 1, 2016


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Colleagues, friends,

We are glad to welcome you to our regular meeting in the Russian Foreign Ministry with representatives of Russian non-profit organisations or NPOs. This is a long-standing tradition. Dialogue in this format has become a very useful mechanism of communication between our Ministry and representatives of civil society.

Over 70 events were held as part of the cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and Russian NPOs since our meeting in this format last year.

Today we are witnessing very important changes in the world arena. Russia is part of a global world that is changing literally before our eyes. New centres of growth and influence, primarily the Asia-Pacific region, are emerging and consolidating. We are also witnessing the unusual phenomenon of Europe turning into a region that projects instability rather than prosperity, as it traditionally has. There are many other characteristics of the current turbulent developments in the world.

They are unfolding against the backdrop of growing mistrust in international relations, the accumulation of crises, growing cross-border threats and an unprecedented upsurge of international terrorism.

Under the circumstances, and in a bid to counter unilateral actions and attempts to resolve issues through ultimatums, Russia stands for the continuation and promotion of collective work.

Speaking at the May 9 Victory Parade, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasised again that we are ready to unite efforts with all states and build a modern system of international relations that is free of blocs.

Largely owing to this Russian policy, last year we achieved agreements on the Iranian nuclear programme and the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, launched the Vienna process on the political settlement of the Syrian crisis and are seeking the implementation of another major document that was largely adopted at our initiative –  the Minsk Agreements to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.

Understandably, current problems cannot be resolved exclusively by the methods of classic diplomacy and for this reason, we greatly appreciate the contribution of public diplomacy of which you are part. We are devoted to the continuation and buildup of productive cooperation with civil society and value your contribution to our common efforts. We see Russian NPOs acting at international venues, including the UN, not as observers but as actors trying to promote their own initiatives and actively taking part in discussions and the adoption of key decisions.

At the same time, only 64 Russian NPOs have consultative status in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In all, over 4,000 NPOs from all countries maintain consultative relations with the UN. So, Russian NPOs account for just 1.5 percent. We are confident that the prestige of Russian civil society among its foreign colleagues is far higher than this figure suggests. We will encourage our NPOs to make more applications to international agencies for consultative status. We are ready to advise you and believe this is in our common interests.

Issues related to the OSCE and the Council of Europe are among the more pressing in our dialogue. The activities of civil society organisations at these venues are meant to facilitate closer humanitarian, economic, and cultural ties among European nations. One of the problems in this sphere is the mass denial of citizenship in the Baltic countries. This problem is not being resolved. On the contrary, the sphere of accepted use of minority languages is narrowing, and the reforms of the educational system to date have ignored the size of the Russian-speaking population. We will continue supporting your vigorous efforts to draw the attention of relevant international human rights agencies to this outrageous problem.

Regrettably, the number of people who are willing to exploit the historical record is not decreasing. We are witnessing continued cynical attempts to place victims and executioners on the same level. Absolutely immoral campaigns against monuments, primarily to the heroes killed in the struggle against Nazism, have been launched in a number of European countries. We must work consistently, through official and non-governmental channels, to ensure full respect for the results of the Victory because they are enshrined not only in our hearts but also legally in the UN Charter. We hope we will work together to oppose attempts to rewrite history.

Human rights is another thematic rather than geographical sphere of our cooperation. We hope that you will continue resisting the politicisation of these discussions at venues for non-profits and help present Russia’s human rights record to the world. We are self-critical in this respect – nobody is perfect. We believe objectivity should be the watchword, and that attempts to exploit this issue are unacceptable. In this context, it is necessary to disseminate objective information about elections in this country, including the elections to the State Duma of the Russian Federal Assembly next September.

I believe that Russia-EU civil society dialogue is also stagnating just like our official intergovernmental relations with the EU. It is very important for Russia’s relations not only with the EU but the West as a whole to always have channels for informal discussion of any issues, even the most urgent. If our official partners in the European Commission are trying to avoid restarting all the mechanisms they have frozen, I think your European partners among NPOs should be more alert and open and less bound by bureaucracy and bloc discipline.

Understandably, there can be no “business as usual” in our relations with Brussels. This business boiled down to attempts to impose on us agreements and cooperation patterns without taking our interests into account. That era is long gone. We are advocating the improvement of various dialogue formats that would allow Russian and EU NPOs to cooperate on an equal footing and pursue joint humanitarian and cultural projects, while at the same time preparing the ground to encourage governments to seek ways out of the crisis created by EU ultimatums. I know that the measures adopted by the EU included the cessation of ECOSOC’s cooperation with the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation. Its resumption would be important and interesting.

Eurasian integration is steadily moving ahead. Yesterday Astana hosted the EAEU summit. As you know, we favour dialogue between the EU and the EAEU (about which Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke and formally offered Brussels more than once) in order to see how we can use the potential of these two integration projects to our mutual advantage. They are not limited to the economy.

As you know, we advocate universal approval of the long-standing goal of creating a common economic and humanitarian space based on equitable and indivisible security from the Atlantic to the Pacific. EAEU-EU humanitarian, educational, and cultural exchanges are in high demand. Today cultural and humanitarian contacts are particularly topical in the post-Soviet space. Public diplomacy has made a very important contribution to developing ties with the CIS, CSTO and EAEU, in my opinion. We welcome the initiatives pursued by many NPOs to develop informal non-governmental dialogues, including with such countries as Georgia and Ukraine.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about ethics in media practices. We consider information wars, propaganda, misinformation and simply the dissemination of blatant lies to be unacceptable. Journalism should be honest and responsible. We are profoundly concerned over the attempts to restrict the work of journalists for political reasons. They are being blacklisted, denied entry, deported and subjected to physical and psychological attacks. We will always staunchly support the work of journalists and media associations, with which we cooperate closely. When some of your colleagues are subjected to similar unacceptable actions, we will always be prepared to defend them in cooperation with you.

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