Interview of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with the Daily News Sri Lankan newspaper, published on January 13, 2020
Question: Since the end of the Cold War and the inception of the multipolar world order, you have spent many years engaged in international affairs and geopolitics. Are there any peculiarities in the relations between Sri Lanka and Russia originating in that period?
Sergey Lavrov: The relations between our states have always been intrinsically valuable and independent from international developments. They have always been and continue to be based on the principles of equality, trust, mutual respect and consideration of one another's interests. The peculiarities specific to certain periods of history are of marginal significance, since they do not affect the inviolability of the bonds of friendship uniting our peoples.
The only thing to have undergone major changes over the past 25-30 years is probably the model of our trade and economic cooperation: the leading role has shifted from the public sector to the private sector, primarily due to the market transformations in the national economy.
Question: The Indian Ocean has become a ground for turf wars, especially in the context of the Indian Ocean states and coastal countries increasing their engagement in politics and economy and international trade flows continuing to play a crucial role for major world markets and industrial centers. How important is Sri Lanka's location in the Indian Ocean in terms of Russia's strategic interests?
Sergey Lavrov: The Indian Ocean should not be a cockpit of rivalry but an area of cooperation between costal and island nations jointly creating the conditions for sustainable social and economic development within regional entities, such as, for instance, the IORA, SAARC or BIMSTEC. This would also benefit Russia, given that the Indian Ocean region partly covers the territory of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. For example, Sri Lanka is a SCO dialogue partner.
Unfortunately, we have recently been witnessing persistent attempts of extraregional powers to reshape the established order to serve their narrow interests. The concept of a "free and open Indo-Pacific region" promoted by the United States has not a unifying but a destructive potential. Its true objective is to divide the regional states into "interest groups", weakening the newly-established regional system of inter-state relations to assert dominance.
Any new idea regarding the strategic development of the region should facilitate the establishment of a common area of cooperation. The regional architecture should be built in a concerted effort based on the principles of indivisible security, rule of international law, non-interference in the internal affairs, peaceful settlement of disputes and non-use of force or the threat of force.
It is known that Sri Lanka is located at the crossing of transit routes through the Indian Ocean. In this context, its significance can hardly be overemphasized. We welcome the plans of the new leadership of the state headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to transform the island into a major commercial and financial center of Asia with focus on developing transport infrastructure, modernizing the agricultural sector and attracting high-tech investments. We believe that the execution of these plans would benefit both Sri Lanka and its foreign partners in the region and beyond.
Question: Sri Lanka first maintained close economic ties with the Soviet Union and now enjoys ones with Russia. Are there any particular fields of economic cooperation that you plan to discuss during your visit?
Sergey Lavrov: In recent years, the Sri Lankan-Russian turnover has been floating around 400 million dollars. It clearly does not reflect the existing potential, which was also pointed out during the talks between President Maithripala Sirisena and President Vladimir Putin held in Moscow in 2017. The heads of our states set a target of increasing the turnover to 700 million dollars. In this respect, the Sri Lankan-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation is instrumental. It is its prerogative to elaborate concrete measures.
However, it can already be said that one of such measures could be diversifying the Sri Lankan export. It is dominated by just two items, tea and textile, accounting for about 90 percent of the country's trade. Russia is willing to offer Sri Lanka the products of its domestic industries, particularly the air-craft industry. Collaboration in the energy sector, as well as cooperation in agriculture and in the introduction of advanced information and communication technologies look quite promising. Tourism remains another important area of joint action, since Sri Lanka has become a popular tourist destination among Russians.
I expect these and other issues related to practical interaction to be substantively discussed during my visit to your country.