Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the Moscow Conference on International Security, Moscow, April 24, 2019
I am grateful for this invitation to once again speak at the Moscow Conference on International Security organised by the Russian Ministry of Defence. On behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I would like to welcome its participants coming from various countries and multilateral organisations.
Russia is interested in combining efforts to stabilise the situation in the world and to discover the best answers to the many problems of our time. I am confident that the high level of representation of foreign guests will contribute to this in every possible way.
Collaboration is especially relevant today, with the dangerous accumulation of conflict potential in the world. We can see how efforts are being intensified to dismantle the architecture of international security formed following WWII. The fundamental rules of interstate communication stipulated in the UN Charter are being grossly violated.
This destructive trend did not emerge just yesterday. This year marks two tragic anniversaries in modern history. Twenty years ago, NATO forces bombed Yugoslavia, including a TV centre, passenger trains and other civilian facilities protected by international humanitarian law. It is amazing that NATO leaders today refer to those criminal actions as their achievements in the fight for democracy, trying to justify aggression against a sovereign UN member state. With their policy of dismembering Yugoslavia, NATO members have destroyed the principle of the inviolability of borders in Europe documented in the Helsinki Final Act.
The other event is also well-known to us. Five years ago the US and the EU openly interfered in the domestic affairs of another sovereign state – Ukraine. They provoked and supported an anti-constitutional coup, that is, committed yet another serious violation of international law. As a result, Ukraine ended up in a fratricidal stand-off, having become a major source of regional instability. We believe the new Ukrainian leadership will assume responsibility in full and will help overcome the crisis in the country, by scrupulously implementing the Minsk Package of Measures as a party to the Contact Group and the Normandy format in full compliance with resolution 2202 of the UN Security Council. Germany and France are expected to play a significant role in preventing any attempts to revisit the Minsk Agreements on resolving the situation in Donbass that were approved by the UN Security Council.
We wish the Western countries would learn their lesson considering what happened to Yugoslavia and Ukraine, as well as Iraq, Libya and Syria. So far, there are, unfortunately, no signs of this wish coming true, judging by the situation in Venezuela and threats that are simultaneously being made to Cuba and Nicaragua.
Strategic stability has been seriously dented by the irresponsible measures taken by Washington, such as the withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the concurrent deployment of the US national missile defence system, which, as is now clear to everyone, aims not to counter some narrowly defined regional missile threat but rather to establish global military superiority. It is not clear if the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) will be extended. After Washington has refused to join the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the future of this document remains unclear. All these moves are likely to jeopardise the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a key mechanism for ensuring nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Today, the US and their allies have embarked on the path of re-writing the generally accepted norms of international law and replacing them with their own rules-based order, that is, an order based on rules which they themselves invent for their own purposes but change every now and then, so they suit their own political ends. We are deeply concerned about the attempts by the West to dilute the principle of the sovereign equality of countries and make international organisations serve their parochial and selfish ends, by privatising their secretariats. This approach can be seen in the OPCW, UNESCO and other organisations. Whenever they fail to succeed, they create narrow formats to take unilateral decisions which, afterwards, they impose on the entire international community. It turns out that in international relations the countries which regularly call on everyone to support democracy are guided by standards that are far from democratic. It has become standard practice in the US to punish those who disagree with the US policy of dictating to them, as well as unfair competition by imposing unlawful sanctions.
It’s sad that global and regional security have become hostage to the geopolitical games of those who seek to achieve dominance at any cost and do not recognise the realities of the emerging polycentric world based on the UN Charter. The unending NATO expansion and the buildup of its anti-missile capability and military infrastructure on the eastern flank have led to a major crisis of trust in the Euro-Atlantic region. We urge our partners to stop escalating confrontation and to observe the commitments taken at the OSCE summits and in the Russia-NATO Council not to strengthen their security at the expense of others. All the more so, as in the absence of systematic Russia-NATO contacts at the West’s whim, primarily in the military sphere, the price of an unintended error or simply a misunderstanding will be very high.
It is good that there are representatives of several European NATO countries here today. We know that you are here despite pressure from Washington on your capitals demanding that you boycott our conference. By the way, the United States similarly forbade its allies to take part in the 9M729 missile show hosted by the Russian Defence Ministry in January to make sure that its characteristics correspond to the parameters stipulated by the INF Treaty. Perhaps, if someone is avoiding a substantive discussion, it is an indication that their position is weak and that their argument will not stand up.
I am convinced that even in the most difficult circumstances one cannot deprive oneself or others of the opportunity for dialogue. A dialogue is needed to find ways to normalise and restore mutual trust, the dangerous lack of which is a major obstacle to maintaining security in Europe.
In the current situation, the OSCE is called on to make a productive contribution to alleviating tensions. The “structured dialogue” launched as part of it at the initiative of Germany can become an important tool for military-political de-escalation, helping to better understand each other, thus reducing risk and preventing incidents. Most importantly, this dialogue shouldn’t become an endless dispute. It is important to look for common ground. We are ready for a candid and rational conversation on any platform. More than once, we have passed specific proposals regarding practical steps to strengthen strategic stability to our colleagues from the United States and NATO. As President Putin said, all these proposals remain “on the table,” and it’s now up to the political will of the West.
Colleagues, today the leading international centres should not compete with each other, but unite their efforts in the name of an effective fight against threats that are common to humanity, primarily, international terrorism. Despite significant progress in suppressing ISIS and other groups, this scourge has not yet been completely eradicated. The terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka are the latest evidence of that. Foreign terrorist fighters represent a particular danger.
Once again, we call for setting up truly collective and coordinated work without double standards in line with the well-known initiative advanced by President Putin to form a universal anti-terrorism front under the auspices of the UN. Our proposals for harmonising the Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Chemical and Biological Terrorism, the draft of which was submitted to the Conference on Disarmament in 2016, remain fully relevant. So far, it hasn’t been reviewed due to the position of the West. Unfortunately, there is another document “on the table” of the Conference without motion due to the US position: the Russian-Chinese draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space.
The intention of some states to militarise the information space and unleash a dangerous cyber weapons race is also a source of concern. Russia facilitates the consolidation of efforts to enhance international information security and prevent the regulation of the information space by force. We also favour a concerted effort to counter cybercrime. The UN General Assembly resolutions adopted last December at Russia’s initiative are aimed at resolving these tasks.
Obviously, it is impossible to ensure international security without settling the many crises and conflicts, primarily in the Middle East and North Africa where a number of states have fallen victim to geopolitical “engineering.” This triggered a wave of terrorism, organised crime, illegal arms trafficking and illegal migration.
Russia’s assistance to the lawful government of the Syrian Arab Republic has largely helped preserve Syrian statehood and prevented the appearance of yet another “black hole” in the region. Cooperation in the Astana format has created the groundwork for political settlement under the decisions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. For the first time after the adoption of Resolution 2254 by the UN Security Council, these decisions laid a realistic foundation for its implementation. Now the immediate goals are to establish the Constitutional Committee, eliminate the terrorist hotbed in Idlib, stop flirting with extremists and curb separatist plans on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, facilitate Syria’s recovery and create conditions for the return of the refugees. Our military is doing a lot in all of these areas.
We must put an end to the procrastinated domestic confrontation in Libya, the territory of which is still being used by terrorists and other criminal groups to derail the peace process and reach out to other neighbouring states.
There is no alternative to political settlement via nation-wide dialogue with the participation of all ethnic, religious and political groups in Syria, Libya and Yemen, to name just some. It is essential to make sure that external players do not exert unilateral influence on this or any similar situation and that they coordinate their actions with a view to reaching mutually acceptable compromises under the UN aegis.
Obviously, lasting stabilisation in the Middle East and North Africa is unrealistic without overcoming the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict, including the creation of an independent, viable and territorially integral Palestinian state in the safe and recognised borders of 1967 with possible exchanges and with the capital in East Jerusalem. The attempts to promote non-transparent plans that contradict UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative cannot bring a lasting or fair solution and merely perpetuate old hotbeds of confrontation and create new ones. The same applies to the Washington-imposed concept of a Mid-Eastern strategic alliance, which leads to the deepening of regional divides and provokes new splits, in part, by the very dangerous religious factor. Judging by all of this, the principle is the same – “divide and rule,” and in this case – try to rule.
Russia’s proposal is to unite, rather than divide, the countries of the region. We promote the idea of strengthening transparency measures in the Persian Gulf and building trust between Arab countries and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Russian strategy stipulating the creation of a collective security system in this strategically important region for jointly responding to common challenges aims to accomplish this task.
The earliest possible implementation of the UN decision on convening a conference to establish a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East should facilitate the overall improvement of the regional situation.
We are interested in the safe development of the Asia Pacific region, the driving force of global economic growth that also faces serious challenges, including the problems of Afghanistan and Northeast Asia, as well as territorial disputes.
By the way, a constructive and trust-based exchange of views and assessments between Russia, China and the United States has been launched as part of multilateral efforts on Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula. This is a good example for establishing cooperation in other conflict situations as well.
Russia will continue its efforts to forge a reliable, open and non-bloc system of equal and indivisible security in the Asia Pacific region. We cooperate with China, India, Vietnam and many other countries on these matters. We invite all our partners to cooperate, to pool and coordinate efforts at various regional platforms, including East Asia summits and other ASEAN partner mechanisms, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and all other organisations that can contribute to maintaining stability on the huge Eurasian continent.
It is impossible to reliably neutralise numerous threats, including terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in conditions of an emerging multipolar world, unless the potential of diplomacy is activated more fully. Reliance on international law, efforts to strengthen the UN and other universal institutions whose activities aim to find a balance of interests of all states, large and small, is a highly important factor of success. Joint efforts are needed to reinstate the culture of interstate dialogue, the culture of consensus and compromise.
I would like to wish successful and productive discussions to conference participants.