Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s remarks at the Primakov Readings International Forum, Moscow, November 30, 2016
Esteemed Ms Primakova, Ms Matviyenko and Mr Ushakov, ladies and gentlemen, friends,
Today we again honour the outstanding statesman, political and civic leader, diplomat, scholar and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yevgeny Primakov.
He was a politician of truly global stature, and his reputation as an authoritative figure was sterling, even unquestioned in this country and beyond. I’d like to make a special mention of the prominent diplomats that are present here: Lamberto Dini, Javier Solana and Amr Moussa, who knew Mr Primakov well and were his friends. I’m confident that they, like everyone who dealt with Mr Primakov, would agree that he upheld national interests and was also a reliable partner who commanded sincere respect that only became stronger and deeper with time.
Mr Primakov’s career was truly all-encompassing. Ms Matviyenko has already described in detail his achievements in the late 1990s-early 2000s in preserving peace and accord in society, overcoming the systemic crisis we faced and creating the prerequisites for Russia’s dynamic development. Most important, representatives of all political forces in the country invariably supported and appreciated his efforts in the Government, and subsequently the State Duma of the Russian Federation.
For obvious reasons I’d like to focus today on Mr Primakov’s diplomatic legacy, primarily from the period when he headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr Primakov came to Smolenskaya Square in early 1996 when this country was facing many critical challenges at home and abroad. It seemed to many analysts that the breakup of the bipolar system had led to what Francis Fukuyama described as “the end of history”, that the world would be ruled by an “exclusive club” and that, having lost part of its capacity as a result of the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia would no longer be able to play the active role in international affairs that comes naturally to the country, and would be doomed to be a permanent follower.
Mr Primakov was among the few who managed to look beyond the horizon, and predict the trajectory of global development for decades to come. Relying on his encyclopaedic knowledge, brilliant analytical skills and vast experience from years of work in academia and intelligence, Mr Primakov convincingly demonstrated that the attempts to create a unipolar international order have no prospects and that just one or several states, even the strongest and most influential ones, cannot cope with the numerous problems of our time.
He made an invaluable and, I would argue, decisive contribution to formulating and promoting the concept of multipolarity. At that time many analysts considered this theory to be speculative and utopian, but today the redistribution in the global balance of forces is accelerating, new players are emerging and the cultural and civilisational diversity of the world is on vivid display, and the majority of serious politicians and experts recognise that we are objectively moving towards a polycentric global architecture.
Mr Primakov is the author of key provisions of Russia’s current foreign policy doctrine. The principles he formulated, including our independence in world affairs, have stood the test of the time and proved effective in practice. He fully realised that the country was capable of overcoming the difficulties it was facing and that Russia could not become a peripheral, second-rate state by virtue of its centuries-long history, unique geostrategic position and substantial military-political, economic, cultural, and, most important, human potential.
Mr Primakov consistently believed that the emerging polycentric world would require a multi-vector foreign policy and a positive, unifying agenda with foreign partners and integration associations in all parts of the world.
He paid special attention to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and emphasised the need to develop cooperation between its members in all formats. In effect, he formulated the doctrine of multispeed integration in the post-Soviet space, which implies the formation of a core of countries ready for a more advanced level of integration cooperation. The Treaty on the Commonwealth of Belarus and Russia, the 20th anniversary of which we are celebrating this year, became the first step on this road. Later on work on this foundation was continued in the Customs Union, and is now being developed and expanded in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
Mr Primakov was upset by the Ukraine crisis triggered by the unconstitutional coup carried out with the help of armed extremists. He thought a lot about finding a way out of this crisis without breaking off the centuries-old brotherly relations between the peoples of Russia and Ukraine. Today, some spoke about his remarks at the Mercury Club in January 2015.
In addition to foreign economic aspects of the international situation, Mr Primakov spoke about Ukraine. He spoke about ways of re-directing the situation onto the settlement track. Just a month later, in February 2015, the general ideas he had outlined at the Mercury Club were included in the Package of Measures to implement the Minsk agreements agreed upon by the Normandy four presidents.
Despite his extremely busy schedule, Mr Primakov always, in whatever position he held, closely followed developments in the Middle East, which he studied most of his life. Better than anyone else, he understood the inherent danger of projects to “democratise” the Middle East and North Africa, which began to take shape in the late 1990s. The Middle East and the world in general are now reaping the fruits of this short-sighted and terribly planned social engineering project. Like no one else, Mr Primakov understood the threats that come with the split in the Muslim world, or the attempts to use the differences between Sunnis and Shiites for the purposes of geopolitical engineering and promoting projects from outside the region that are alien to its peoples and that were designed and implemented in the interests of the states located far away from that region.
On many occasions, I mentioned that Mr Primakov was never a proponent of isolationism or confrontation. Lamberto Dini mentioned today that Mr Primakov firmly defended the interests at stake without ever aggravating relations with his counterparts. The “U-turn above the Atlantic” which was mentioned several times today serves as a reminder of the futility of attempts to use the language of ultimatums when talking to Russia. It was a message that it is important to respect international law, fundamental norms, and even the etiquette of state-to-state communication. President Putin suggests building Russia-US dialogue precisely on this basis, that is, the principles of equality, mutual respect of interests, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. Pragmatic and mutually beneficial cooperation is in the interests of our countries, international stability and security. In this sense, the traditions introduced by Mr Primakov in our foreign policy remain at the core of our activities.
Mr Primakov made considerable efforts to ensure a decent place for Russia in the global financial and economic system, and did much to establish good relations with the leading European countries, including in the interests of a joint search for effective responses to the many challenges of our time. During his time at the Foreign Ministry, the agreement on partnership and cooperation with the European Union came into force, and Russia joined the Council of Europe and the G8. It is not our fault that our partners used false pretences to drop the G8 format, which had allowed us to cooperate productively on a wide range of international issues. However, when it comes to harmonising the key states’ approaches to dealing with such issues, the centre of gravity has now firmly and objectively shifted to the G20.
Mr Primakov’s diplomatic and people skills, as well as his ability to achieve mutually acceptable compromises, made it possible to sign the Russia-NATO Founding Act. Back then and afterwards, many saw it as an attempt to contain the enormous damage to the security interests of Russia and Europe in general caused by our partners’ treacherous actions, promising not to expand NATO or deploy military infrastructure near our borders, and then grossly violating these promises as Mr Dini mentioned. In any case, in accordance with the provisions of the Founding Act, the parties have agreed not to regard each other as enemies, and the North Atlantic Alliance undertook a number of specific commitments regarding military restraint. This, of course, should be cherished. We continue to regard the Founding Act as one of the key agreements in the sphere of European security, and urge NATO members not to depart from its underlying principles and code of conduct. Unfortunately, such attempts do occur.
Mr Primakov’s ideas about launching trilateral Russia-India-China cooperation, the RIC format, deserve special mention. This trio was later used to form BRICS, which has already established itself as an innovative association that meets the needs and realities of the 21st century. The results of the recent BRICS summit in Goa, India, confirmed the strategic nature of the partnership within the Big Five, and every participant’s willingness to promote cooperation across many areas.
In closing, I would like to take a moment to discuss Yevgeny Primakov’s professional style. He took good care of his employees and fostered a friendly environment in the ministry. Thanks to his efforts, the diplomatic profession has regained its appeal and prestige for talented young people, including graduates of MGIMO and other leading universities. He really brought us all together and taught us to uphold Russia's foreign policy interests. This legacy passed to Igor Ivanov, whom I am pleased to welcome here today, and we are now trying to be good stewards of it as well. Many ministry employees have photos of Yevgeny Primakov on their desks. You can feel how he continues to wisely and consistently guide our efforts to implement the foreign policy approved by our country's leadership.