Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks during the opening of an international scientific-practical conference in memory of Vitaly Churkin, Moscow, February 20, 2019
Esteemed Ms Churkin,
We have gathered here today to pay tribute once again to our comrade and colleague Vitaly Churkin, an outstanding Russian diplomat and a top-class professional who passed away in the line of duty two years ago. I am happy to see very many familiar faces in this conference room, people who personally knew Mr Churkin and who appreciated his multi-faceted talent and efforts to defend the interests of the Russian Federation. I avail myself of this opportunity to thank the managers of the Diplomatic Academy for organising this event which, as I understand it, is already becoming a tradition.
Mr Churkin had a long and glorious diplomatic career, starting out as an interpreter who was involved in the strategic arms limitation talks and who worked his way up through the ranks to the post of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. He worked fruitfully with the North American Department and contributed a lot towards the launch of the Foreign Ministry’s current information activities. He headed diplomatic missions in Belgium and Canada and successfully conducted difficult negotiations on cooperation within the Arctic Council’s framework.
Vitaly Churkin’s involvement as a Special Presidential Representative in settling the political crisis in the Balkans was a remarkable event in his biography. Churkin’s contribution to the efforts to reach the Dayton Agreement was very significant and concrete. Later, in 2015, the Russian delegation in the UN Security Council, led by Vitaly Churkin, vetoed Britain’s biased draft resolution on Srebrenica, which helped block the groundless accusations of genocide that were being leveled at Serbia. As a reminder of this event in the UN Security Council, a monument to Vitaly Churkin was put up in East Sarajevo [Istocno Sarajevo] with “Thank you for the Russian ‘No’” inscribed on it.
The pinnacle of his diplomatic career was his work as Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN. His vast knowledge, erudition, ability to work and remarkable knowledge of English and Russian, something also very important, allowed Vitaly Churkin, in his post in the Security Council, to energetically and effectively promote our priorities and simultaneously contribute to the expansion of broad international partnership. His impeccable reputation earned him the respect of his foreign colleagues, regardless of their political views and biases. It was not surprising that he was called the “maestro of diplomacy.” His role in enhancing the authority of the UN was greatly appreciated at a UN General Assembly special meeting on March 21, 2017.
No doubt, Vitaly Churkin’s achievements will be part of the history of international relations and diplomatic service. As for us, we will continue doing our best to perpetuate the memory of him. Secondary school No. 1522 to the northwest of Moscow, where he studied, bears his name, as well as the Moscow International Model United Nations that is held by the United Nations Association of Russia every year. Tomorrow, a monument to Vitaly Churkin will be unveiled in the village of Marinkino in the Kirzhach District, Vladimir Region, where his father was born. The monument was made in Serbia and given to Russia as a gift by the Serbian-Russian Brotherhood Society and the Srpski Krivak Society. A postal card dedicated to Vitaly Churkin is expected to be stamped during the ceremony.
We have received more proposals from Russian artists for perpetuating the memory of Vitaly Churkin. We will describe them as soon as they get underway.
Of course, today’s conference is not limited to remembering Vitaly Churkin. The subject of the upcoming panel discussion has to do with diplomacy’s potential to ward off new challenges and threats. The efforts of our Permanent Mission to the UN at a time when it was headed by Vitaly Churkin were focused on finding a solution to this important issue. Today this approach certainly remains on our agenda.
I have expressed many times that in today’s world, when international relations are undergoing dramatic changes, becoming increasingly more complicated with many conflicting interests and less predictability, diplomacy plays a special, actually, a key role in developing the best solutions based on a balance of interests for various areas of inter-state relations. Clearly, only by joining forces under international law can we find adequate answers to the challenges posed by the modern world, including terrorism, drug-trafficking, other forms of organised crime and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Only if we come together can we find solutions to crises and conflicts, the number of which in the modern world is, pitifully, overwhelming.
There are quite a few examples of collective actions that are underpinned by international law, an indication of their effectiveness. For instance, the Russian-American top-level agreement of 2013 helped carry out the chemical demilitarisation of Syria and avoid the use-of-force scenario with respect to Damascus. I remember quite well how in September 2013 this agreement between the Russian and US presidents was formalised in New York – with the involvement of then US State Secretary John Kerry, your humble servant and the permanent representatives of Russia and the US to the UN – as a resolution by the UN Security Council on the chemical demilitarisation of Syria, which was unanimously approved. After that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical was given the Nobel Prize for Peace.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme, which was later approved by Resolution 2231 of the UN Security Council, was also coordinated through collective efforts. Vitaly Churkin was also directly involved in the discussion and drafting of that resolution. Unfortunately, the US decided to pull out of the JCPOA, threatening the agreements on the Iran nuclear deal, which may lead to higher tensions in the region and the erosion of the nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime.
Getting back to Syria: thanks to effective cooperation in the Astana format the country’s statehood has been preserved, a decisive blow was delivered to international terrorism and conditions were created for the social and economic restoration of the country and the return of the refugees. The Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi in January 2018 proved a major diplomatic success. Based on the decisions approved by the congress, the stage was set for launching a political process. To facilitate it, the creation of the Constitutional Committee with the involvement of the major Syrian political forces is near completion.
Of all regions, I will note the long-suffering Balkans, which are associated with some of the most remarkable events in Vitaly Churkin’s professional life. The West is pursuing an unscrupulous policy towards absorbing this region into NATO, caring neither about the will of the people living in these countries, nor the lessons of history or common diplomatic ethics.
Russia has long and consistently called for getting back to the beginning, that is, to the basic principles of international life that are built into the UN Charter and OCSE documents, including the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs, non-use of force or the threat of force, and resolving disputes only through peaceful means. We will continue working to restore the culture of diplomacy and dialogue. It is increasingly in demand now as it serves the interests of making the situation in global affairs healthier and shaping a new promising international equal and indivisible security architecture and, ultimately, ensuring sustainable development and the well-being and prosperity of mankind.
I believe the upcoming discussions will produce significant practical results, thereby contributing to our joint efforts to preserve the memory of Vitaly Churkin and carry on the cause he dedicated his life to.