Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy and answers to student and faculty questions, Bishkek, November 27, 2019
Ms Adamkulova, colleagues, friends,
I would like to begin by saying that I am honoured to be awarded the title of Professor Emeritus of the Foreign Ministry of Kyrgyzstan’s Diplomatic Academy. I am aware that many outstanding people have been given this honour, and of course, I am flattered to be among them knowing that the great writer Chinghiz Aitmatov, the great son of the Kyrgyz people, also was a Diplomatic Academy professor emeritus. I am deeply grateful for this gesture of appreciation.
This honour wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t make a common effort to advance our interests and prepare new generations to uphold the goals of our peoples and countries and ensure the most favourable external environment. Interest in an environment like that is natural for any nation, and we are interested in having it. This is a critical prerequisite for the peaceful, stable and safe development of any state. In this regard, I note with satisfaction that Russia and the Central Asian countries are more than just good neighbours, but are time-tested partners as well. Our peoples are connected by a centuries-old common history, cultural heritage and, most importantly, friendship and mutual sympathy.
Russia’s policy in Central Asia is free from hidden agendas or double standards. We do not look at the region through the lens of geopolitical confrontation or as an arena for zero-sum games. We are not confronting these states with the artificial choice of either with us or against us. We are not politicising the assistance and support that we provide to the countries of the region. We are building cooperation with all Central Asian countries without exception on a solid foundation of international law, equality, mutual respect and a balance of interests. This philosophy underlies the Central Asia plus Russia (5+1) format which went live successfully. Two informal meetings of foreign ministers from the five Central Asian countries and Russia have already taken place this year as part of this format.
We do not approve of the extra-regional players who are trying, in line with the outdated Big Game Theory, to exert influence on the foreign policies of the states in the region in order to promote their interests, to impose plans or development and behaviour blueprints on their peoples. Ukraine is a sad example of the outcome of such a policy. It is a country forced to make a false choice between Europe and Russia, which fell prey to a coup engineered from outside, that came under external governance under the previous government and, as a result, found itself thrown back having lost its strong industrial base. The conflict in Donbass and the deep split in Ukrainian society have yet to be overcome. As a member of the Contact Group and the Normandy Four, Russia will do its best to help overcome the intra-Ukraine crisis based on the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.
We are building Russia’s policy in all areas in a constructive spirit only. In cooperation with our Central Asian partners we have established over 10,000 successful domestic companies and joint ventures that are contributing to the development of their economies. Russian investment in the region is some $20 billion. Over four million Central Asians work in Russia, making a tangible contribution to their GDPs.
We continue to help our Central Asian partners upgrade their infrastructure and social sphere. Since 2008, the total amount of voluntary aid via bilateral and multilateral channels has exceeded $6 billion. Thus, we allocated over $70 million to Kyrgyzstan via the World Food Programme. The total amount of Russian grants earmarked to support the Kyrgyz state budget added up to $311 million. Last year, all of Kyrgyzstan’s debt to Russia, $240 million, was written off.
Special water and environmental projects in your country, as well as in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are being implemented via the Russia-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Trust Fund. We will continue to promote this cooperation, including support, assistance and consultations on water use in the region.
The closely linked transport systems of Russia and Central Asia are an important unifying factor. Using technical standards that ensure the compatibility of the CIS transport system, we are developing the East-West and North-South international corridors together to common advantage.
The consolidation of the integrated cultural and humanitarian space also meets the common interests of these states. Joint universities and secondary schools are functioning in the region. Russian universities are expanding their networks. Thus, preparations are underway to open a branch of Lomonosov Moscow State University in your country. About 170,000 Central Asians study at Russian universities, including about 60,000 students on Russian federal grants.
As part of cooperation between defence ministries and special services, we help our CSTO and CIS allies and partners strengthen their defence potential and border security, fight terrorism, drug trafficking and cross-border crime, and train their law enforcement personnel. High levels of coordination were clearly seen during the CSTO strategic command post exercises such as Centre 2019 and Indestructible Brotherhood 2019. Russian military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan remain an important regional security factor.
We maintain productive interaction with our Central Asian friends at the EAEU and the SCO.
With a combined GDP of over $2.2 trillion and over 182 million consumers, the Eurasian Economic Union is an integral part of the global landscape. There are common markets for goods, services, capital and labour. Mutual trade is up, and trade with third countries is growing. Deeper integration improves living standards. The Central Asian states that have not yet joined the EAEU are contemplating the advantages that come with membership.
We work together at the SCO to ensure security, improve trade and economic ties, expand transport infrastructure and coordinated national development strategies and integration processes throughout the Eurasian continent.
The strategic advantages offered by our common region must be used to the maximum in today's highly competitive world. In this regard, President Putin advanced an initiative to form a Greater Eurasian Partnership with would include the EAEU, the SCO, ASEAN and other stakeholders in Asia and Europe. Work to this end is already underway, including through aligning the EAEU and China’s Belt and Road initiatives. An agreement on trade and economic cooperation between the EAEU and China entered into force just a month ago on October 25.
Progress in all these areas of interest will not only contribute to the all-out growth of our countries, but also help lay the foundation for building a territory of peace, stability, equal and indivisible security in the vast Eurasian space between Lisbon and Jakarta.
Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. We will be pleased to see a delegation from the Republic of Kyrgyzstan among the participants of the celebratory events in Moscow on May 9, 2020. The peoples of the former Soviet Union made a decisive contribution to defeating Nazism and saved civilisation from the horrors of the brown plague at the cost of enormous efforts and millions of victims. Our common victory laid the international legal foundations for the modern world order, which are embodied in the UN Charter. We stand united in rejecting any and all attempts to revise the outcome of World War II or to falsify history. Keeping the memory of the heroic deeds of our ancestors alive, we will consistently maintain our collective efforts to prevent wars and conflicts in our region or elsewhere in the world.
Relying on our joint experience, it is in our common interests to maximise the potential of relations between Russia and the Central Asian countries for the benefit of our citizens. I am confident that future Diplomatic Academy graduates will contribute to this cause wherever they may work.
Question: Does Uzbekistan’s accession to the EAEU mean it will join the existing EAEU agreements or will it become a member on special terms?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia cannot have an individual opinion on this issue. The EAEU sets the conditions for its full members. The EAEU is an open organisation. Any application, whether from Uzbekistan or any other country, needs to be reviewed by the bodies that are in charge of EAEU activities. These include the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, the EAEU Commission and inter-governmental agencies. We are interested in all countries setting sights on our experience, especially those that are close to us, with whom we have lived side by side for centuries and have existed within a single state. Receiving EAEU observer status is also an alternative. The Republic of Moldova took this approach, for one. Observers do not assume any obligations but are in a position to learn more about EAEU activities and understand the advantages of pooling efforts in the integration framework. I think there should be no special problems because, at any rate, if a country wants to join the EAEU, its application will be reviewed at talks based on the approved basic charter documents.
Question: Is a CSTO Academy likely to be opened in Kyrgyzstan?
Sergey Lavrov: Once again, this question should be addressed to the CSTO. There are many organisations in our common space, including the CSTO, the CIS, the SCO and the UN. There is the Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Turkmenistan.
There is also the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS). We do not need to change its mission but to expand it, and include in its mandate not only the struggle against the terrorist threat but also against drug trafficking and other challenges with organised crime. There is already competition on where to place the new centre or where to establish an additional affiliate. I understand that it is probably desirable to host an international organisation but it is necessary to weigh the pros and cons, review the financial aspect and analyse whether the geographical location is the best for carrying out the designated tasks. Honestly, I haven’t heard about any discussion on the CSTO Academy in practical terms, but any country has a right to make a proposals. I can assure you that we will discuss them in a constructive spirit and seek commonly acceptable agreements based on consensus.
Question: Do the goals and objectives of the EAEU and the Belt and Road Initiative overlap? Why wasn’t this initiative widely embraced in Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: You are asking the question as if you already have the answer. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the Belt and Road Initiative wasn’t widely embraced in Russia. In my opening remarks, I mentioned the fairly intensive efforts aimed at harmonising the processes unfolding as part of the EAEU and China’s Belt and Road initiatives. Both major initiatives offer an opportunity to review and improve matters related to transport infrastructure and logistics. The Central Asian countries will benefit from the corridors that will be built between eastern and western Eurasia. China invited Kyrgyzstan to build a road to Uzbekistan across Kyrgyz territory. This project is currently under discussion.
Kyrgyz economic interests are what matters most when considering these initiatives. We believe that such a railway should connect cities and towns in the country it passes through rather than go across barren land, because otherwise it will do nothing to boost the economy of the land under the rails. There is a process underway. This is one minor example of how these processes can be coordinated. I am sure a generally acceptable solution will be found based on the principles underlying the EAEU and the CIS transport system programmes.
There are no fundamental differences between what we are doing in the EAEU and what China is proposing. Of course, China’s finance and experience in creating modern and efficient companies and implementing infrastructure projects is a major advantage. Most importantly, the EAEU’s leaders, including Russia and Kyrgyzstan, on the one hand, and China, on the other, fully realise that these projects will be harmonised, which will be a key consideration in this work.
There is a clear understanding that there will be no competitive approaches between them. The economic cooperation agreement between the EAEU and China, which I mentioned, lays a cornerstone in a major foundation which we will use to build what I referred to the Greater Eurasian Partnership as it was called by President Putin. After all, the Eurasian continent includes the ASEAN countries as well. Many of them are continental states, there are also island nations, which are part of our common continent as well. The EU countries and other European countries that are not EU members are also located in Eurasia. There is nothing to prevent these regional associations and projects from establishing relations and doing what they should do without bias for their obligations to these regional associations. It is not about setting a specific goal and sorting things out as they should be, but rather doing things based on real-life circumstances and identifying opportunities where we can benefit from combining our efforts. This approach is now used in EAEU-China relations. I think this is the only approach that really works.
Question: In 2020, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. What joint events will the Russian Federation and the Kyrgyz Republic hold to honour the feat of those who made a great contribution to our Victory?
Sergey Lavrov: In the CIS and the CSTO, we have a list of approved events. Tomorrow at the CSTO summit, we will also give this topic additional attention. There is a decision within the CIS to produce a commemorative medal for all war veterans based on the number of applications that have already been received from each country. This will be done in a solemn atmosphere in every state. I hope that at the parade in Moscow on May 9 next year, we together with foreign guests, including many heads of state, will do justice to remembering the contribution that all veterans made at the front and in the rear, and we will always bring the younger generation up with respect for this feat.
Question: What do you think about the prospects for the socialisation of labour migrants in the Russian Federation?
Sergey Lavrov: This primarily depends on labour migrants themselves. If they are interested in working in Russia, there are a number of steps that need to be taken, including learning about Russian realities, the Russian legal system and the Russian language. I am very pleased that the Russian language is traditionally spoken very well in Kyrgyzstan. There were discussions that Russia should contribute to the retraining and continuing education of teachers. We are now developing such a programme, we will improve it. Of course, migrants are socialised through the linguistic environment, if they feel comfortable in it.
The second main requirement is obeying the law. Unfortunately, there are offences in any diaspora of migrant workers. Here it is also necessary to carry out preventive work in the country of origin, from where labour migrants are sent to Russia. The Main Directorate for Migration of the Ministry of the Interior of Russia and its colleagues hold training seminars for those wishing to legally move in special groups to the Russian Federation. Moving legally is always much more reliable for the person, because if you go at your own peril and risk, you may find yourself in an illegal situation when you hardly get your salary, when you even may be asked to leave your passport for security. Therefore, an organised legal move is the only reliable one.
Question: What do you think about the possibility of introducing a single EAEU currency?
Sergey Lavrov: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The EAEU has specific plans to increase the integration level and to create common markets, such as a common energy market. At this point, special focus is on improving foreign exchange settlements with an emphasis on greater use of the EAEU countries’ national currencies. At this point, we are pursuing these goals. If at some point the member countries find this of interest to discuss the option you mentioned, we will discuss it.
Question: Which option, do you think, is most acceptable for overcoming the Western sanctions imposed on Russia? How does this affect Russia’s allies?
Sergey Lavrov: Saying no to imperial ambitions and habits dating back to a bygone era when someone imposed their will on everyone and pronounced their judgment on everything is the best way to put an end to this abnormal state of affairs.
As you may be aware, the sanctions were imposed under the pretext of the events in Ukraine. Our Western colleagues are telling us now to do something about Ukraine and implement the Minsk Agreements, after which they will be glad and even relieved to lift the sanctions. We cannot comply with the Minsk Agreements since Russia is not even mentioned in them. As a member of the Normandy four, which includes Ukraine, Germany and France, Russia supports the framework that underlies the Minsk Agreements and that provides for resolving all issues through direct talks between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. It depends, primarily, on the conflicting parties in eastern Ukraine. We heard from the previous Ukrainian administration that they would never engage in direct talks with Donetsk and Lugansk. We have heard statements like that from President Zelensky’s new administration. We have also heard other statements that not only call the Minsk Agreements into question, but simply mean a refusal to comply with them. We will discuss this during the Normandy format summit in Paris on December 9. This date was confirmed. I think President Zelensky will need to provide details on his actions to implement the Minsk Agreements, to which there is no alternative. All our partners, including the EU, the United States and many others are saying this. This is the point.
In our contacts with the Europeans, they tell us quietly to do something first, and then they will respond with something as well. We keep telling them to go back to the roots of the Ukraine crisis. They prefer to look at the Ukraine issue starting at the moment when Crimea opted, by an overwhelming majority of votes in a free referendum, to reunite with Russia and return to the Russian Federation. Naturally, Russia let the Crimeans, including Sevastopol residents, come back to their “native harbour" as Vladimir Putin said.
Everyone knows why this happened. A coup took place in Ukraine in February 2014. The first thing the putschists did after seizing power was repeal the law guaranteeing the rights of the Russian-speaking and other ethnic minorities. The same group of people, who seized power, made statements to the effect that Russians must be banished from Crimea, because they would never speak Ukrainian, think Ukrainian or honour the heroes of Ukraine, such as Bandera, Shukhevych and other fascist minions. This was more than just talk. So-called Friendship Trains with armed militants were sent to Crimea. There was an attempt to seize the building of the Supreme Council of the then Autonomous Republic of Crimea. But for some reason, our European colleagues prefer not to discuss the situation starting with the coup and the ensuing openly Russophobic actions of the putschists who seized power.
The coup took place on February 22, the next morning after a settlement agreement between then president of Ukraine Yanukovych and the opposition was signed and countersigned by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France. When we ask our partners why they say nothing about the fact that they were blatantly ignored and their signatures were trampled upon, they remain bashfully silent. I’m not saying this to rehash the past, but we must not forget this, either.
When our Western colleagues side with Kiev in its face-off with Donbass, they also forget that they are supporting an operation that was called an anti-terrorist operation. It has been renamed since, but it was originally called an “anti-terrorist operation,” even though there has not been a single terrorist attack by Donetsk or Lugansk. No one has ever reported one or provided any evidence of that.
Furthermore, after the coup, eastern Ukraine simply said they do not recognise the putschists’ actions and asked to be left in peace. They wanted to figure out what would happen next. They didn’t attack anyone, didn’t move their armed units into neighbouring Ukrainian regions, but simply asked those who committed the anti-constitutional coup to let them be for a while. For this, they were declared terrorists. When we remind our European friends about this, they appear to be unwilling to provide any assessment of those events. That’s all there is to it.
The sanctions were imposed because we were unable to leave the Russian people and other peoples of Crimea who live there with Russians side by side, in trouble, and protected them from a direct threat. Crimea is a peaceful place now, and life there is improving. Go and see for yourself. More and more Western parliamentarians and politicians see by themselves that the talk of a disastrous situation with human rights in Crimea is nonsense and fiction.
By the same token, we want Donbass to have full guarantees of security, rights for using the Russian language and other rights outlined in the Minsk Agreements. I digressed into history to point out the fact that EU and US sanctions (we are talking about Europe now) stem from the events that followed the coup as a response to it. Our Western partners have nothing to say about why they swallowed this situation without making any noise and why this situation became possible in the first place. I want to end my remarks on a positive note, because there are the Minsk Agreements, and no one denies their existence, and they must be acted upon. Everyone agrees with this, including the Europeans. We will see if the hopes that many are pinning on the Paris meeting on December 9 are realistic.
Question: This year we will mark 27 years of diplomatic relations between Russia and Kyrgyzstan. What are their current priorities?
Sergey Lavrov: We have very close ties in all spheres of human communication, including in the economy, which covers numerous bilateral projects, and the development of economic ties in the context of integration processes underway in the EAEU. We also maintain ties in the spheres of defence and security, where we are implementing a number of bilateral programmes, including our contribution to the defence capability of the Kyrgyz armed forces and the training of personnel for defence and law enforcement agencies. We must do this, so as to be able to combat terrorism and to block drug trafficking routes, which, regrettably, exist in the region because of unresolved Afghanistan’s problems. We also have ties in culture and the humanitarian sphere and maintain educational exchanges. Actually, we are collaborating in nearly all spheres.
Our relations are the relations of allies and strategic partners. I believe that at this stage they can be described as very mature. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov will meet tomorrow on the sidelines of the OSCE summit to compare views and discuss the implementation of their instructions that are based on the agreements reached at the previous top-level meetings. We will adjust our subsequent actions to these instructions.
Question: The EAEU space has been recently expanding. One interesting initiative concerns a free trade zone with Iran. What opportunities does it offer to Iran? Will this help it overcome the negative impact of Western sanctions?
Sergey Lavrov: This is what our Iranian neighbours and colleagues should consider first of all when they think about the advantages of any agreements with external partners. The EAEU is actively developing ties with other countries. It has signed free trade zone agreements with Vietnam and Singapore, and several other ASEAN nations look forward to signing such agreements as well. ASEAN as an international organisation is interested in holding such talks. Serbia has signed a free trade deal, and there is a framework arrangement with Iran, which is a step towards signing a free trade zone agreement. Israel has shown interest and is negotiating with the Eurasian Economic Commission. Latin American countries and Egypt have indicated practical interest as well. It is a highly promising process that allows both sides maximise their benefits by joining efforts and lifting trade, tariff and other barriers.
As far as I see and understand it, the EAEU countries analyse all the possible risks of creating free trade zones and seek to reach agreements with the countries that accept the principle of mutual advantage and will not try to create threats to our markets and producers. I believe that the Iranians have scrutinised all the advantages of a free trade deal. All things considered, the facilitation of trade with traditional partners through the lifting of barriers will have a positive effect on the economy of Iran and any other country that develops such ties with the EAEU. It is notable that there is increasingly more focus on settlements in the national currencies aimed at avoiding the influence of the dollar, which has proved to be unreliable and susceptible to market and political fluctuations in Washington.
Question: The US foreign strategy is known to be directed at containing China and reducing Russia’s influence directly in the Central Asian countries. Recently, we see the growing rate of players’ involvement in the “big game” around Central Asia. What is your view on enhancing Russia’s role in the context of developments in the Middle East? I am referring to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Syrian issue, and a possible spillover of conflict to northern Afghanistan, that is, a likely surge of terrorist activities close to the Central Asian borders. What will be Russia’s foreign policy strategy towards the Central Asian countries under these circumstances? After all, some Central Asian countries are not members of either the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) or the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The US will tend to work with big Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan in the Afghan sector.
Sergey Lavrov: The United States has started working with all the Central Asian countries a long time ago. You know all about this. Moreover, secrets are impossible to keep when a lot of people are involved. We know for certain that our US colleagues’ approach to Central Asia is based, unfortunately, on the zero-sum-game principle – “either-or.” We know that they are directly dissuading the Central Asian countries from further developing relations with Russia, despite the fact that they in their majority are our military and political allies. We have never done the same. On the contrary, we believe that Central Asia, like any other region, must not become an arena for confrontation between major states, be it the Middle East, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc. You can always find a mutually beneficial way of cooperating with this or that country, while promoting your own interests and not trying to impinge on this country’s legitimate interest to promote cooperation with third partners.
Regrettably, the United States does follow this line. Kyrgyzstan is not the only country affected by its policy. Washington is working in this manner with practically all of our foreign partners in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. When we meet with our US colleagues, we draw their attention to this fact. We think that this is wrong and that we should cooperate. Actually, this collaboration is advancing in a number of spheres, including in Syria, although the United States and the coalition it leads are in that country illegally. We do not want the Syrian people to have more problems, over and above those that they already have. We do not want threats to be created for our military, who are there [in Syria] at the request of the legitimate government and help to fight terrorism and ensure stability. There is a channel between the Russian and US military, which is operating in a professional way and removing risks of unintentional incidents.
We are working with the United States on Afghanistan in a more specific manner. There is a Russia-US-China format that has been joined by Pakistan. This format considers practical steps that make it possible to promote dialogue between all Afghans and create conditions for a direct negotiating procedure between the government and the Taliban. This matter is very complicated and has nuances of its own. But at least the sides are talking in a rather positive way and are honest towards each other.
In a number of other cases, the United States is unwilling to cooperate. Today they have a new fad holding us to blame for whatever is happening in Libya, although they are trying to meet with the same people we are working with. But they do not want to meet with certain parties. By contrast, Russia – in any crisis, including in the Middle East or in any other part of the world, where we are somehow involved in political efforts – has contacts with all the sides without exception. We are not trying to isolate anyone. Nor do we put a stake on just one internal political force, while attempting to bring pressure to bear on its opponents. On the contrary, we call on everyone to sit down at the negotiating table and look for solutions.
This is true of any situation, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Regrettably, the United States is doing its best to erode and destroy the international legal basis for regulating this protracted Arab-Israeli conflict, a basis that has been unanimously approved and is legally binding. Some cases in point are its unilateral decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, its recognition of the Golan Heights as an original Israeli territory rather than a territory occupied by Israel, and its recognition of Israeli West-bank settlements as legitimate, although these are illegitimate from the point of view of all the resolutions approved by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly. This is a step towards the direct approval of the annexation of these territories, something that will shut the door on the settlement option based on the so-called two-state solution envisioning the creation of a Palestinian state and the State of Israel, which will live side by side in peace and security with all their neighbours.
This reflects a strategy adopted by the United States and its closest allies. They consistently disregard and undermine international law that implies legally binding, universal and universally coordinated approaches (in the shape of conventions, etc.). They do not even use the term “international law;” instead, they say “rules-based world order.” This seems to be one and the same thing, but in practice they are inventing the rules, which they refer to, for their own convenience every once in a while. Later they would palm them off as the ultimate truth and urge everybody to implement them. In the field of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, for example, their discourse and practical actions have put paid to everything related to the international legal approach to this problem. Instead, they are offering rules of their own, as is the case with Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and so on.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) aimed at resolving the situation around the Iranian nuclear programme is a second example. The plan was approved by a binding UN Security Council resolution and therefore became part of international law. The United States has withdrawn from this agreement. Apart from merely refusing to fulfil it, the United States forbade all other countries to trade with Iran. However, the UN Security Council resolution and the JCPOA directly presupposed that precisely trade with Iran amounted to the international community’s contribution to resolving this problem in response to Iran’s readiness to terminate many types of activity in the area of the nuclear power generation. Moreover, by withdrawing from the JCPOA, the United States forbids all others to manufacture what Iran is supposed to receive. At the same time, the US side demands that Iran fulfil its obligations. This is some kind of paradox and another set of rules that have been invented to replace international law. There are many such examples.
Speaking of northern Afghanistan, the threat of bad guys showing up there has already materialised, and ISIS fighters have already surfaced in the region. Our questions remain unanswered as do those of many Afghan leaders and governors of national provinces. Helicopters without any insignia regularly head northwards from central Afghanistan. We suspect that militants and weapons are being airlifted there. We ask the Americans because it is precisely they who control local air space, and we have failed to receive any answer so far. This is another dialectical example.
We maintain good contacts while preparing favourable conditions for a political settlement, but we have failed so far to get a US response dealing with the situation on the ground, with efforts to expose specific terrorist threats and drug trafficking routes. We are not interested in this for abstract reasons. First, this is a threat, if several thousand terrorists who have already showed up in northern Afghanistan become entrenched there. They don’t bother to conceal the fact that they want to establish a local bridgehead for continuing their expansion in Central Asia. We want our allies and Russia to feel safe. There are no borders between us. If they enter Central Asia and any country neighbouring on Afghanistan, this would spell trouble for all of us. This is why all our security organisations, primarily the CSTO, are so important and essential. Participants in tomorrow’s session will also review future steps to strengthen our common borders with Afghanistan.
Question: In what economic spheres have Russian-Kyrgyz relations made the greatest headway? What economic sector should our countries develop?
Sergey Lavrov: It would probably be better to address this question to specialists dealing with economic collaboration. We have many projects. I would like to single out the hydropower sphere which is important because it is a pressing aspect of relations between Central Asian countries and those located in the upper and lower reaches [of local rivers]. All of us know this.
In its time, the Soviet Union undertook many projects and research on how to regulate water flows more effectively, including for agriculture and the power industry. We believe that the involvement of Russian specialists could help Central Asian countries find optimal solutions and avoid unilateral steps that could cause quite serious tensions. In this connection, there is the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea. A long time ago Russia attempted to obtain observer status in the fund, but not everybody was willing to grant it. I believe that it would be right for us to take this step, and in an unobtrusive manner, using the expertise accumulated while all of us were part of the Soviet Union, to look for mutually acceptable solutions.