Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a plenary session of the Raisina Dialogue international conference, New Delhi, January 15, 2020
Good morning and bon appetit to those who have some food on their tables.
I would like first of all to thank the organisers of this conference for the invitation. I understand this is a young forum, but it managed already in a few years to acquire importance, popularity and reputation. It is indeed very appropriate that we get together more often than in the past to discuss where we are in international relations and which way we are heading.
We are convinced that the overriding trend of global development is the objective process of the formation of a multipolar world. New centres of economic might, financial power and political influence emerge. India is obviously one of them. And it is important to make sure that no serious matter of the global dimension is considered without these new centres of influence.
As President Putin recently mentioned, we believe that the equitable and democratic world order should be based not on the balance of brutal force, but rather should be built as a concert of interests, models of development, cultures and traditions. Actually, such structures are being organised in international relations. I would mention BRICS and RIC, which was the first step towards the creation of BRICS and brought together Russia, India and China. I would also mention the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which India joined recently and made even more embracive, if you wish.
And I would mention the G20. The creation of the G20 was the recognition that the G7 cannot anymore decide any issue of any significance. The G20, which embraces the G7, BRICS and like-minded countries who support the BRICS’ position on many occasions. This is a workable organisation, especially in a situation when the developing countries have grievances regarding the lack of progress in the reform of the Security Council. Since I mentioned the reform of the Security Council, I would say that the deficiency, the main and probably the only deficiency of the Security Council, is the underrepresentation of developing countries. And we repeatedly reiterated our position that India and Brazil absolutely deserve to be on the Council together with an African candidate, and our position is that the purpose of the reform is to make sure that the developing countries enjoy a better treatment in the central organ of the United Nations.
The UN Charter is the anchor of any discussions that we are having as well as the principles, such as the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in internal matters, respect for territorial integrity, peaceful resolution of disputes. They should be applicable to each and every situation in the world. They should be the guiding point for any discussion to develop any new ideas in the world arena.
Unfortunately, those who do not like the emergence of a multipolar, more democratic world, they try to hamper this process. If you have noticed, our Western friends use the language of international law less and less. Instead, they coined a new concept, which they call rules-based world order. And what kind of rules they offer, you can easily understand if you take a look at what is going on in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, when in gross violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which requires a consensus on any new ideas, they voted through by minority of the member states of this convention a decision to give the Technical Secretariat a function to attribute guilt. This is a very blunt example of how they perceive the rules which they promote, the rules designed in a very narrow circle and then presented as the final solution for any world problem. I think that this way is very dangerous. By unilateral matters, by trying to impose upon others your own egoistic ideas, we are getting farther from the situation when we must handle the global issues of transnational nature, such as terrorism, drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime, food security, water security, as well as many other things, including the dangers of bringing weapons to outer space, the danger of weaponising cyberspace and many other risks. We can handle them only together.
Speaking of this region, we have the common continent, the vast huge continent of Eurasia, and many people were trying, many great people were trying to promote the ideas of making this continent really united and competitive in the global world. You remember when Charles de Gaulle had a vision of Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains. Then the ideas were broadened from Lisbon to Vladivostok. I believe now we can indicate that what we actually have in mind when we speak about Eurasia is the entire space from Lisbon to Jakarta. And when we had a summit in 2016, the Russia-ASEAN Summit, President Putin shared his vision of the Grand Eurasian Space, which would include the Eurasian Economic Union, the ASEAN members, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation members, and we should be open to all countries who are part of this common geopolitical space, part of this huge continent, including members of the European Union and any other countries that are not members of any organisation but that have been established on this territory.
And we have been promoting Asia-Pacific Cooperation in the context of these ideas together with our friends from ASEAN and all partners, dialogue partners of ASEAN, developing what we called cooperative structures, cooperative architecture for the Asia-Pacific Region, centred on the various formats invented by ASEAN: the ASEAN Regional Security Forum, ASEAN plus dialogue partners defence ministers, many other institutions have been respected and have been usefully promoting cooperation between ASEAN and all its partners, and of course, not least, the East Asia summits were very successful.
Speaking of the rules-based world order, unexpectedly a new concept was coined, Indo-Pacific Strategies, not Asia-Pacific but Indo-Pacific Strategies, initiated and promoted, first of all, by the United States, Australia, Japan and the Republic of Korea. When we asked the initiators about the difference between Indo-Pacific Strategies and Asia-Pacific Region cooperation, they said: “Well, Indo-Pacific is more open, more democratic.” If you look at it closely, I would not go into details, it is not at all the case. It is an attempt, I think, to reconfigure the existing structures of the Asia-Pacific Region and to move from ASEAN-centred consensus-seeking forms of interaction to something that would be divisive. You know what is meant by these Indo-Pacific Strategies, and we appreciate the position of ASEAN itself and the position of India, the position which clearly says that these Indo-Pacific Strategies should not be discussed in a way which would imply that somebody should be contained by this cooperation.
And of course, when we ask those who promote this new terminology whether the Indo-Pacific region includes East Africa, for example, they say “no”. Does it include the Persian Gulf as part of the Indian Ocean? No. So, it is rather tricky, you know, and we have to be careful with this terminology, which looks very benign but might mean something else.
Since I mentioned the Persian Gulf, we are very concerned about what is going on there. There are many ideas floating around. The Americans want a coalition and the Europeans want a coalition, but with a slightly different mandate. Recently we had military exercises with China and Iran, exercises meant to see how we can ensure the safety of shipping in this area, which is crucial for the global economy.
Many years ago, in a situation which was less dangerous than today, we suggested to the Persian Gulf countries to start thinking about a collective security mechanism, something like the OSCE for Europe, starting with confidence-building measures and inviting each other to military exercises. We talked to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Three of them supported this initiative immediately, and three other countries said they needed more time. Recently we revived that idea and had a conference in Moscow in September on the collective security system and a confidence-building system in and around the Persian Gulf. Iran has proposed a non-aggression pact for the GCC countries. Our proposal is a bit broader and more far-reaching. It is not just about not fighting with each other, but about being more transparent and cooperative with each other. We believe that, apart from the Gulf countries – the GCC plus Iran – the participation of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the EU, the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is necessary. The idea is still on the table and we hope it will be looked at.
The last thing I wanted to say is about Eurasia. The Eurasian economic project could be very promising in harmonising various integration groups in this space, including the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. The interest we see in the activities of the Eurasian Economic Union, which Russia created together with its neighbours, is proof of this. We have already signed free trade area agreements with Vietnam, Singapore and Serbia. We signed agreements with Iran and China. We are negotiating with Israel and Egypt. The Eurasian Economic Commission has an agreement with ASEAN. I believe this process will certainly be moving forward.
The 21st century is the time when we must get rid of any methods of dealing in international relations which smack of colonial or neo-colonial times. Unilaterally imposed sanctions are not going to work. This is not diplomacy, so I don’t believe we should discuss sanctions and other non-diplomatic means when we think about the future of the world.
I would like to conclude by recalling that 20 years ago Russia and India signed the Declaration of Strategic Partnership. Some years later “privileged” was added to the term “strategic partnership”, and a few years ago our Indian friends proposed to call our relations “an especially privileged strategic partnership.” We want to develop such relations with all countries of the region and we hope our Indian friends will be promoting the same ideology.
Thank you very much and I am ready to take your questions.
Question: Across the Atlantic there is a lot of talk of a deal-making. But most of the deal-making seems to have been done by Russia. You’ve intervened decisively in Syria. After that we’ve seen your actions over the last few years and in the last few months particularly in Libya, where something that was happening under the Berlin process has been taken over by Russia. You almost got a ceasefire agreement signed, but then something went wrong. How hopeful are you of things turning out the right way in Libya now, after Haftar has walked out of the agreement as it seems?
Sergey Lavrov: Commander of the Libyan National Army Marshal Khalifa Haftar and President of the Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk Aguila Saleh said they needed more time to consult with their people. Aguila Saleh was saying that he is the head of parliament and the parliament members must be briefed, must be informed.
We are not overdramatising the situation. These things happened in the past. There were meetings on Libya held in Paris, Palermo and Abu Dhabi. When they met in France, a date of elections was even announced, which is past two years ago. Then there were Palermo and Abu Dhabi. It is a pity that the Abu Dhabi deal failed, because it was really about the key political matters, such as power sharing and sharing the wealth of the country in a way which will make everybody satisfied.
Actually, the ceasefire which President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for has been announced by both groups – the Libyan National Army and the fighters who support the Government of National Accord in Tripoli. Unfortunately, the document was not signed by everybody. But it was signed by Prime Minister of the GNA Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj and Chairman of the High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri. As I said, Haftar and Saleh said that they needed more time for consultations. We never pretended that this would be the final meeting to resolve each and every issue. We have been promoting this meeting in Moscow as a contribution to the conference in Berlin, which will be held this coming Sunday, to which we recommended the conference organisers to invite all Libyan parties. I believe they are considering our proposal positively. It would be really crucial to make sure that whatever is decided in Berlin is acceptable to all parties.
This is a process, it is a thing in the making, and we will continue to contribute to the success of this endeavour.
Question: Let me turn to the idea of Greater Eurasia, which you spoke about. You spoke at length about the Asia-Pacific. Here I would say – forget labels, forget what they call the Indo-Pacific, forget who owns which label. But the fact remains that, by whatever name you call it, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean is the key to the idea of a united or economically integrated Afro-Eurasia, which includes the Greater Eurasia. Now where do you see Russia’s role in this? You know, Russia has become a very active player, even when you talk of an Indo-Pacific strategy, even if you want to call it something else – Russia has just held major exercises, which you described.
Sergey Lavrov: You know, it’s not that we are against philosophical terminology. But terminology must be understandable. We used to say “Asia-Pacific Region”. There is the Indian Ocean Commission, which embraces all littoral states, as you know, and when people say, we want to develop cooperation in Asia-Pacific in the form of Indo-Pacific strategies, you immediately ask questions – do you include African countries or the countries of the Persian Gulf? No. And do you include all those who have been known as part of the Asia-Pacific Region? Yes. Why do you need to call it Indo-Pacific?
And you know the answer. The answer is to contain China. And it is not even hidden. And as I said, our Indian friends are smart enough to understand this trap and not to get into it. We prefer to promote formats which are not divisive but which unite. And I mentioned the format which was created at the initiative of the late Minister and Prime Minister Primakov, RIC – Russia-India-China. We are going to meet this year, I think in March or April. This will be our 17th meeting in this format. Subsequently, it was this format that gave rise to BRICS, which is also a unifying format, which is not against anybody.
The same is true for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, where under one roof we now have the former Soviet republics, India, China and Pakistan; Iran is an observer, and we are supportive of the Iranian request for full membership. Most of the countries support this request and I am sure it will be satisfied.
And these organisations, they also extend the offer of cooperation to others. BRICS, when it meets, we always have an outreach meeting. Now, at the initiative of China, we have the BRICS+ format in addition to the outreach. Outreach is normally for the neighbouring countries of the country where the conference is held, the summit is held. So BRICS + is also a new cooperative proposal.
That’s why we need to understand what is behind some terminology. By the way, what is wrong with “international law”? Why do our Western friends insist at each and every conference, whenever you have a declaration, a statement or communique, that the rules-based world order must be key, not international law?
Think about it. The international law is resolutions of the Security Council on Palestine. The rules which the Americans want to apply to Palestine – the Golan Heights, the embassy in Jerusalem, then the legitimacy of the settlements – I am not challenging the sovereignty of the United States to do whatever they please. But then, if you ignore the rules embodied in international law, in the United Nations Charter, then let us discuss how we treat international law in general.
Or take the situation I mentioned already in the OPCW. In UNESCO, there are attempts, in the absence of consensus, to promote the adoption of a comprehensive anti-doping convention, giving the Secretariat the right to attribute [guilt] – as in the case of the OPCW.
Now, speaking about weapons of mass destruction. there is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BWC) , which has been with us for about 20 years already, and from the day of negotiations on this convention, we, together with many others, have been promoting the need to have a verification mechanism, like the Technical Secretariat at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Most of the participating states were in favour and still are. The Americans almost single-handedly blocked the creation of such a mechanism. Instead, we suddenly heard last year from the United Nations Secretariat a reference to the resolution of the General Assembly of 1987, and the 1988 UN Security Council resolution providing for the creation of a UN Secretary General’s mechanism to investigate cases of possible use of chemical, biological and toxin weapons. The UN Secretariat proposed the idea of creating an “intermediate potential” for investigating suspected use of biological weapons. We said, wait a moment. There is the Convention. How does this initiative relate to the provisions of the Convention?
And there are many other examples.
There is another interesting point. Our good friend Ban Ki-moon, before he left the post of Secretary-General, in one of his annual reports coined a new expression: preventing violent extremism. This term was immediately supported by many speakers when this report was circulated. We asked why only violent extremism should be prevented. Why should we all not prevent extremism in any form? And then we understood what happened, because it was not the Secretary-General and the Secretariat that explained the meaning to us. It was a group of our Western friends. And in a nutshell, their vision of this prevention of violent extremism concept is as follows: extremism is born in authoritarian societies where the dictators do not give enough democracy to the people. Therefore, the concept goes, the international community must reach over the heads of these dictators to civil society and explain to civil society how to make their country democratic. As simple as that. Ignoring all principles of international law which make the states primarily responsible for fighting extremism, terrorism and any other criminal methods. So it is not just terminology. It’s a very important substantive trend that we are witnessing. And we want to stick to international law, to the United Nations Charter, making the world more democratic on the basis of the principles enshrined in it. The UN Charter, for instance, endorses sovereign equality of states. But we all know that practice is different.