Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s address on Russia’s International Activities for Russian Regions’ Development, delivered at Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU), and answers to questions from students and faculty, Vladivostok, July 8, 2021
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here. I have returned from a short Asian tour, during which I visited Indonesia and Laos. We also held a meeting of the Russian and ASEAN foreign ministers in a hybrid format. What we do during our foreign trips and talks with our foreign partners is not done for its own sake. We do it to implement our foreign policy, which was approved by the President of Russia in the Foreign Policy Concept adopted in 2016. Its main goal is to create the most favourable conditions for ensuring the country’s security and consistent development, for improving the wellbeing of our citizens and protecting their rights during international trips. This also applies to the rights of Russian business people.
Here you can see especially clearly that Russia is not only a Eurasian but also a Euro-Pacific power. It is historically predetermined that we must pursue a multipronged foreign policy, building good-neighbourly and mutually beneficial relations in all parts of the world, including with the countries of Asia Pacific, which is the current and, as academics predict, future driver of the global economy for many years ahead. It is for a reason that stiff competition is gathering momentum in the Asia Pacific Region among the leading world powers for the ability to influences the processes underway here.
I am pleased that we are meeting on Russky Island at Far Eastern Federal University, Russia’s academic outpost in the Asia Pacific Region. This research centre has been training top-notch professionals in a great number of spheres for the past 120 years, if I am not mistaken, including for the Foreign Ministry during the past few years. FEFU also has a special role to play in strengthening academic and cultural ties between the peoples of Russia and other regional countries, namely China, India, Japan, Vietnam and other ASEAN nations. You also provide the venue for the annual Eastern Economic Forum. FEFU is developing cooperation with the Foreign Ministry of Russia. We appreciate this and will do our best to promote this practice.
The world is becoming globalised, which is connecting our country’s development ever closer with our foreign policy. The more successful our policy of strengthening Russia’s economic and, overall, national independence, the more confidently will we be able to act on the international stage and to make more effective use of the advantages of interaction with our foreign partners. There is a direct interconnection that can ensure our efficiency, provided we act honestly and professionally.
Not all countries are happy with Russia’s development along the path that has been outlined and is being implemented. It is not to everyone’s liking that we have overcome and left behind us the difficulties of the freewheeling 1990s and are dealing effectively with the problems that have accumulated over many years, if not decades. By doing this at home, we are simultaneously strengthening our international standing.
Our greatest achievement is maintaining civil peace, consolidating society on the basis of our nation’s moral values, respect for the memory of our forefathers and their heroic feats in defence of our country’s freedom and independence, and educating our young people in the spirit of the continuity of generations.
It is true, and our Western colleagues are making no secret of this, that many of them would prefer to deal with a weak Russia that has lost its guidance and is ready to make any concessions. Attempts are being made almost every day to influence our domestic and foreign policy. Our Western colleagues are using a broad set of instruments, including military provocations, one of which was undertaken recently by NATO warships off the coast of Crimea. Incidentally, these warships are also headed here, to the South China Sea, which shows that their ambitions are truly boundless. Other instruments they are using include illegal economic sanctions, the abduction of our citizens abroad and the presentation of complaints that should be settled in accordance with international treaties for which the West has no regard, as well as large-scale information attacks.
We can assume that new attempts will be made before the State Duma elections to unbalance and destabilise the situation and to incite protests, possibly violent ones, as the West likes. And later they will orchestrate a campaign for the non-recognition of the outcome of the elections. There are such plans, and we are aware of them. But we will take the lead primarily from the opinions and positions of our people, who are able to evaluate the authorities’ performance and to express their views on the future development of the country.
I can say with full responsibility that this Western scenario will not materialise, as the President of Russia pointed out on numerous occasions. During his annual Address to the Federal Assembly, he cautioned those who are trying to use this tone in relations with Russia, when he warned that those behind provocations against us would regret what they have done.
We have taken a number of steps to strengthen our self-sufficiency and independence. Amendments to the Constitution, approved at a nationwide referendum in July 2020, played a tremendous role in these actions. Apart from formalising socio-economic guarantees for the population in the Fundamental Law, and as well as clear principles for the development of key state and civil society institutions, they stipulate serious additional steps that have direct foreign policy implications.
I would like to note the Russian state’s historical continuity which is formalised by the Constitution. The protection of this country’s territorial integrity has been elevated to an entirely new level. This was actively debated here, in the Far East, during the discussion of amendments. From now on, the Constitution clearly notes the unacceptability of any actions aimed at sequestrating part of the Russian Federation’s territory or urging such actions.
The Constitution’s new clauses also state expressly that Russia’s Fundamental Law shall prevail over international law. I would like to explain the meaning of this. Many people, including Russian citizens, are trying to accuse us of a certain legal nihilism and an attempt to shy away from principles and norms of cooperation on the international scene. This is not so. We completely respect international law, conventions and treaties, but solely in the form in which Russia joined them. If Russia joins an international treaty, the Federal Assembly, including the State Duma and the Federation Council, will ratify this document. After that, it is submitted to the President for signing. If necessary, members of the Constitutional Court will provide their findings. Following such ratification, this international treaty becomes part of national legislation, in full conformity with the Constitution. When, however, an inter-governmental or interstate body is established under any specific treaty, and begins to make decisions, to start voicing claims with regard to Russia on the basis of certain procedures that are not stipulated by this treaty and violate its essence, then we reserve the right not to fulfil such decisions. I would like to note once again that they are illegitimate, and that they run counter to the relevant treaty whose provision the above-mentioned interstate agencies allegedly want to implement.
I would like to note another group of amendments. The Constitution formalises the Russian Federation’s obligation to help enforce the rights of compatriots living abroad, protect their interests and to preserve their national cultural identity. These amendments are also directly linked with Russian foreign policy, all the more so as the Foreign Ministry and the Foreign Minister are in charge of the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad. At their meetings and in between them, the Commission’s members review practical tasks to support compatriots. We see to it that these measures help unite the multi-ethnic Russian World, strengthen ties between the historical indigenous Russia and the diasporas and communities in the post-Soviet space and all over the world. The inclusion of the relevant amendment in the Constitution underscores the fact that the Russian state pays great attention to this issue. Compatriots living abroad often face discrimination and difficult situations. We discuss these matters, in a quite tough manner, with countries permitting such developments.
Increasing attempts are being made to rewrite our history, revise the outcome of World War II, downgrade the role of our country in the routing of Nazism, and put the Soviet Union in the same league with Nazi Germany. This is why it was especially timely that an amendment to the Constitution was adopted on the inadmissibility of distorting the historical truth or belittling the heroism of our people in defence of our Fatherland. As the heirs of our glorious victories, we consistently uphold the principle of the continuity of the common centuries-long history of our homeland. We carefully preserve the legacy of our forefathers, for which we paid an extremely high price.
As you know, Russia’s foreign policy is determined by the head of state. This crucial constitutional provision is inviolable. Our activities on the international stage do not depend on election cycles, unlike in many Western countries, or on political or any other factors. Our foreign policy, which President Vladimir Putin has approved, is long-term and strategically calibrated. This is our major competitive advantage, which helps to strengthen Russia’s international prestige and image as a reliable, predictable, strong and fair partner, who keeps its word and can be trusted.
We are expanding our ties with the overwhelming majority of states on this basis, including in Eurasia, Latin America and Africa, as well as with our closest allies and like-minded state members of the CSTO, CIS, EAEU, SCO, and BRICS. Taken together, these countries account for over 80 percent of the world’s population. Any unbiased person can see that it is not a case of Russia’s isolation, contrary to what our Western colleagues claim. Moreover, the number of our friends is increasing, even though the United States and its allies have been trying to prevent this.
Our Western colleagues are especially active in the Asia-Pacific Region, where the main new centres of economic development and political influence are located. I am referring to our truly strategic partners – China and India, which have been actively and consistently strengthening their political, economic and technological sovereignty as well as their cultural and civilisational identity.
One of the main priorities for our diplomacy is using the large-scale potential of the Asia-Pacific Region to boost the comprehensive development of the Russian Far East and improve the well-being of local residents. In accordance with the presidential instructions, the Government of the Russian Federation is taking systemic measures to enhance the role of the Far Eastern Federal District as an economic hub for interaction with the countries in the region and is doing its best to ensure the largest possible practical effect from international cooperation. We have been pursuing this line at APEC, which held its summit meeting at FEFU in 2012.
The spread of the coronavirus has certainly taken its toll on the efforts to implement investment opportunities in the Russian Far East. However, the progress made in recent years, including as regards the “priority development areas,” the open port of Vladivostok and special economic zones, allows us to move forward with confidence. The Asia-Pacific countries are participating in energy and transport programmes, and are also investing in healthcare, food and chemical industry projects. The volume of transit cargo hauled via the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Northern Sea Route is growing. Scientific and academic ties are expanding, and the University is well aware of all this.
Almost two-thirds of the foreign direct investment attracted to the Russian Far East comes from China. This includes over 50 projects in a whole variety of fields. We are trying to maximise the use of these investments for breakthrough projects in order to increase our competitiveness. There is a Russian-Chinese government commission (one of five) dealing with investment projects on both sides. We are trying to encourage businesses from the most developed Chinese provinces – Guangdong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang – to participate in its activities. We are maintaining communications with our Chinese partners in order to promptly resolve any problems that inevitably arise amid massive cooperation. Now, in the coronavirus era, we also have to deal with the difficulties involved in cargo transportation across the common border. We are regularly looking for ways to bring gradual and sustainable solution to this problem. Our Chinese colleagues share our concerns and will take the necessary action.
We are paying great attention to attracting investment from the Republic of Korea, with which we are implementing 25 major projects. Trilateral cooperation with the participation of the DPRK will become a reality in the future. There are plans to connect the Korean railway with the Trans-Siberian Railway. However, for this to happen, it is important to normalise the situation on the Korean Peninsula, both in terms of the epidemiological restrictions and in terms of normalising the political situation and relations between the North and the South.
With the participation of the Indian capital, cooperation within the “priority development areas” and the free port of Vladivostok is expanding in this region. The Indian ONGC Videsh is participating in the Sakhalin-1 project with an investment of $1 billion. The Indians have allocated another $1 billion as a credit line for the Russian Far East. Speaking of the region’s potential as a transport and supply chain hub, we are working on the early launch of the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime transport corridor. Vietnam is becoming increasingly more interested in implementing projects in this region. Now specific plans are being discussed in depth.
Speaking of Asian countries in general, prospects are good for attracting their capital to the region to create textile, clothing and timber industries, as well as to build soybean processing factories. Other projects include upgrading the airport infrastructure and building marine LNG transshipment hubs. Importantly, these are everyday things that people need in their daily lives and that enjoy demand on global markets. However, the key goal is to focus the investors’ efforts on high-tech breakthrough areas.
The Eastern Economic Forum will give an additional boost to coordinating these projects. This has become a good tradition. This year, it will be held on September 2-4. It is in our interests (the organising committee is working on it) to focus the discussion on the projects that will sharpen Russia’s competitive edge in the future. This presupposes diversification of trade and economic ties with our partners. All of this will be part of the forum’s agenda.
We advocate adopting additional steps to resume and expand regional cooperation in tourism which was hit hard by the pandemic. As the situation stabilises, we will help rebuild tourist flows back to their high pre-pandemic levels and increase them further. The day before yesterday, when I met with the ASEAN countries’ foreign ministers in Jakarta, we came up with an initiative to this end. It received enthusiastic support, as did our proposal to expand academic educational exchanges. These proposals will be worked through in-depth by the Russia-ASEAN summit tentatively scheduled for October.
The anti-pandemic efforts are our top priority at this point. The corresponding production facilities for producing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine are being deployed, in particular, in China and India. We are increasing the supply of vaccines, medication, test systems and PPE to our neighbours. A Vladivostok-based specialised international centre is providing training courses for epidemiologists from ASEAN countries. We have initiated and are energetically promoting the anti-infection track on a high-profile multilateral platform, such as the annually held East Asian Summits with the participation of the ASEAN countries and their key partners from the region, including Russia, the United States, China, India, Australia and Korea.
Russian Railways has teamed up with Japan’s Marubeni to open a medical diagnostic centre in Khabarovsk. Many foreign partners are showing interest in the international medical cluster that is being created here, on Russky Island.
Amid the challenging international situation, we are constantly advocating a unifying agenda. The initiatives put forward by President Putin are more relevant than ever. Among them, I will highlight a proposal to promote the creation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership – an entity that would help combine the potential of countries and interstate associations on the vast Eurasian continent. In the first place, this initiative was addressed to the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN countries. We underscored that everyone living on this continent is welcome to join these discussions and practical actions seeking to harmonise all integration processes. This also applies to non-aligned countries of our continent as well as the EU. We believe that we must make the most out of the competitive advantages offered by our logistics and our region’s enormous natural comparative advantages in terms of creating the most globally convenient transport routes and pipelines, and ensuring what is now generally known as connectivity.
The EAEU and China are now discussing projects that can form the backbone of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. I’m talking about economic corridors that will help reinvigorate the region and lift up entire industries. We will see this fairly soon as the Russia - Mongolia - China corridor becomes a reality.
Greater Eurasia is also about a set of agreements on liberalisation and free trade which have already been signed by the EAEU with Vietnam, Singapore, Iran and Serbia. Talks with India and Indonesia are about to begin. The EAEU signed an agreement with China, which is a step towards harmonising the EAEU processes with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
We will continue to work to ensure consistent implementation of the agreements signed as part of the Russian President’s initiative.
I would like to mention one more of President Putin’s proposals. Despite the West’s unfriendly moves towards our country, he proposed holding a summit of the UN Security Council permanent members – Russia, the United States, China, France and Great Britain – in 2020, since, under the UN Charter, these countries have a special responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. Taking into account the accumulation of disquieting developments, challenges and threats, including those to military-political stability, President Vladimir Putin proposed reviewing the risks arising in the international arena from the perspective of the fact that practically all arms control elements have become nonexistent. New START is the only treaty that remains in force after the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty, the INF Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty.
At the Geneva summit with US President Joseph Biden, President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed every proposal we had made to the previous White House administration and reiterated the current proposal concerning the need to seriously discuss the reduction of military threats, arms limitation and arms control, and to ensure a nonproliferation regime. When we talk about the need to discuss every dimension of strategic stability, we have in mind all the factors that influence it, including nuclear and non-nuclear strategic weapons, as well as offensive and defensive strategic systems. We should also keep in mind that the Americans are currently working on a programme to launch attack weapons into outer space as part of their plan to deploy a global missile defence system.
Cyberspace is another area of focus. We see heated debates flaring up in the wake of developments unfolding in that area. We are constantly being accused of committing “hacking attacks,” so to speak, and undermining the interests of almost all Western countries. But so far, our numerous proposals to seriously cooperate in avoiding unfounded accusations and to substantively address the emerging issues, and to deal with real rather than far-fetched challenges, have remained without concrete responses. Although in Geneva, President Joe Biden, in response to yet another reminder by President Putin, instructed his team to think about setting up such a dialogue in addition to a dialogue on strategic stability.
Nevertheless, this is only about Russia and the United States, whereas the backlog of issues that need to be resolved in order to defuse tensions is much larger and includes the situation in various corners of the world where bloody conflicts continue unabated and new ones emerge. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council must fulfill their responsibility and review the most effective ways of building this line of work. In addition to the items on its agenda, the purpose of this summit should also be that, realising its responsibility, the Big Five should stop “speaking” in different voices and, most importantly, its members should get rid of the confrontational rhetoric that only serves to further aggravate tensions. Showing responsibility means, among other things, rising above the desire to prove one’s own exceptionalism and superiority and proving one’s own ability to do honest work. Let’s see whether our partners are ready to do this. At least, China and France stand strong with our idea to hold this summit. The new administration in the White House has yet to respond to our reminder. They are in the process of considering it. I think Great Britain, as always, is waiting for the US response. We are used to this, it’s business as usual.
In closing, I would like to say that Russia will always be a responsible and predictable actor. We will work to strengthen the world order based on the UN Charter and push for the democratisation of state-to-state communication. Our ultimate goal is to use foreign policy and other resources for the benefit of our multi-ethnic nation in the interest of improving the quality of life for all our citizens.
The last point I would like to make is that the Asia-Pacific Region has become an arena of tough geopolitical struggle. What the West is promoting here is not the principles underlying the UN, which are universally accepted by all countries, but its rules in the form of what our US colleagues refer to as “Indo-Pacific Strategies” designed to erode the central role of ASEAN in the regional architecture, to engage NATO and build a coalition to contain China. Russia is not invited to join these new formats. This policy directly contradicts the goals of peace and cooperation in the region. It does not meet the interests of our country, or the interest of forming an environment for promoting a strong and economically viable Russian Far East. It is critically important for all healthy political forces around us to align their actions based on the fundamental interests of their countries, rather than the desire to play along with the Western leaders who are pursuing a confrontational policy of their own. We discussed this candidly in Indonesia, in Laos, and during a meeting with ten ASEAN foreign ministers. Just like any other normal country, what we need is not upheaval in the APR, but an atmosphere of trust and cooperation as the most favourable condition for promoting the rise of this important Russian region.
Question: Is Russia’s policy on preserving historical memory causing problems at the international level in the Asia-Pacific Region? How is Russia resolving these problems?
Sergey Lavrov: Our Western partners are actively and, I would say, even aggressively rewriting history. The results of World War II are the hardest hit. These include the verdict of the Nuremberg Trials, and the United Nations and its Charter. The UN has ensured stability and the lack of global war for 75 years now.
Similar attempts are also being made in this region. We are talking straight with our Japanese partners. Their historiographical literature and school textbooks describe the prelude to WWII in the Pacific and the end of the war in a way that does not quite match reality, putting it mildly. We uphold the truth about that war, saying how the Soviet Union fulfilled its commitments by completing the rout of militarist Japan.
Our position is absolutely clear and honest. We have nothing to hide or be embarrassed about. I am sure that we will also celebrate the memorable date of September 3 this year – the Day of Combat glory, the Day of the End of WWII. We will emphasise that we are a peaceful nation and want to live in peace with all our neighbours.
There have been attempts to rewrite history in the past and they will continue. Here’s an example. Every year we and a large group of co-authors submit to the UN a draft resolution on combatting the glorification of Nazism, which is endorsed by the overwhelming majority of UN members. The entire EU abstains while the United States and Ukraine vote against it. When asked why, they say that they find it unacceptable to condemn the glorification of Nazism because they see it as a violation of freedom of speech. I think no comment is required here. If Goebbels propaganda, the glorification of those who carried out misanthropic theories and killed people in gas chambers is presented as freedom of speech, there is nothing to talk about.
Here’s another example from local reality. Our Japanese colleagues periodically submit resolutions in memory of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the UN. Not a single of these resolutions mentions that hundreds of thousands of peaceful civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered due to the use of nuclear weapons by the US. They simply state: “a nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Public opinion polls, especially among the younger generation, in schools and universities show that many young people blame this on the Soviet Union. Permanent tough criticism of the USSR for its supposedly improper entry in the Pacific war is associated with the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, our Japanese friends politely avert our attempts to specify in the resolutions who exactly dropped the bombs. Their bottom line is: “Let us not stir up the past."
We don’t want to stir up the past, either. We have a proverb that can be translated as “Let bygones be bygones.” We also have a saying about Ivan without roots. We must remember everything, but we must not turn it into today’s problems as our opponents are trying to do. This is not our choice, and we will conduct a tough polemic with them.
Last year, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin wrote a special article on attempts to revise, rewrite the history of WWII. Now the West has launched a similarly aggressive campaign to turn upside down the gnoseology of the Ukraine conflict. President Putin is going to set forth his views on the history of Ukraine, Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians in another article.
Unfortunately, these attempts to justify one’s sponsees as is happening in this case with Kiev that is twisting its Western curators as it sees fit (at least in Europe, since they obey the Americans) will be with us for a long time. All these attempts to replace the Minsk agreements with some new steps that Russia must take for some reason, and the refusal to talk with Donbass (Kiev is dead set against this), all this amounts to rewriting not even history but international law. When the Minsk agreements were endorsed by the UN Security Council they became a document of international law.
This is going to last for a long time. It is serious. Starting with the outcome of WWII and up to this day, the West has tried to throw out many agreements and rewrite the understandings of the past. This also applies to assurances that “NATO would not expand eastward” (as President Putin mentioned as well).
So, academics, and among them I hope to see you, have something to work on. We count on your help.
Question: I like Vladivostok a lot and truly believe that our city is the centre of European culture in the Asia-Pacific Region. What can we expect from Russia’s cultural relations with other countries during the next 10 years? How can Vladivostok and the Primorye Territory, which is Russia’s outpost in the Far East, respond to these tasks?
Sergey Lavrov: Fortunately, culture has not suffered irreparable losses from the point of view of international cooperation so far. We continue to hold cultural events with the countries that we have poor political relations with, in particular, the UK. Many other European countries hold years of culture and cross years of language and literature with us. We have this tradition with China and the Republic of Korea. We regularly hold such events with India: Days of Russia in India and Days of India in Russia.
We will strongly support everything that the region – Primorye and other regions in the Far Eastern Federal District – comes up with to promote cultural ties (exchanges of performing groups or film and theatre festivals). If necessary, we will help ensure that the efforts of the governor and the region get organisational and material support.
There are no specific recommendations except one. Talk as much as possible, invite them to come over and go to visit them. The effect will be strong and positive, about the same that we had when we hosted the FIFA World Cup. Everyone was gloating and looking forward to Russia being a country of bears roaming the streets, rude drunkards and so on. And the effect was absolutely the opposite, when they came and saw with their own eyes how people live in our country. I’m convinced that a visit to the Russian Far East will also back up what you just said – that there is European culture there. That is why our neighbours find it interesting to be here.
I remember, back in the old days, about 10 years ago, Russia-EU summits. One of the summits was held in Khabarovsk. The head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso arrived with a delegation the day before. We took them for a walk along the embankment. He marveled at what he saw saying that it took them 13 hours to get there from Brussels, and it was still Europe.
Invite them. Let them see everything with their own eyes, feel our hospitality, and try to reciprocate when they invite you. This is important for a Russian region like Crimea. On international platforms, they continue to demand that we stop the annexation in a mechanical and boring language, to let in some kind of inspectors so they can see the “human rights violations.” We don’t say no to anyone; instead, we say: “please come.”
There are special commissioners, representatives at the OSCE and the Council of Europe, who are in charge of human rights, and the UN also has such a department. However, all of them, whenever they receive an invitation to visit Crimea and see how people live there with their own eyes, they say they cannot enter Crimea from Russia, but must enter from Ukraine. It’s up to you then: if your job is to monitor human rights, you must enter at our invitation and do what you need to do based on your mandates. If you want to be used in a political game and prove that you came to Crimea from Ukraine, because allegedly “Crimea is part of Ukraine,” then human rights is not your real goal. Go into politics, for example, the European Parliament – there are many Russophobes there, and you will be part of the competition. But these kinds of international officials have no business working in human rights.
You will have our full support if you need any kind of help with visas, feel free to ask.
Question: In your answer, you mentioned the infamous incident of the Hiroshima bombing and its role in politics. Why do you think the potential of this incident is not fully used by our diplomats to oppose the alliance between the United States and Japan?
Sergey Lavrov: I think it would be an incorrect thing to do. Our diplomacy is guided by somewhat different moral and ethical principles. Saying that the Americans bombed you, so stop being friends with them is not a good argument. Of course, we are interested in Japan, our neighbour, following a normal course of development. We always say that each country picks its allies itself which is the sovereign right of any state. In this sense, the military alliance between Japan and the United States is a show of sovereignty for these two countries.
Another thing is that our Japanese colleagues are constantly talking about their desire to move as quickly as possible towards concluding a peace treaty, which they see exclusively in the form of a solution to the “territorial problem” which doesn’t exist if you ask us. But it would be nice to sign a peace treaty even though we do live in total peace with Japan with full diplomatic relations and regular contacts through established bilateral cooperation mechanisms. The formal absence of a peace treaty in the traditional sense does not interfere with anything.
We suggested that our Japanese colleagues conclude a forward-looking peace treaty, which would provide a comprehensive basis for interaction in the economy, culture and foreign policy. That is, an agreement seeking to form a partnership. Simply putting in writing the fact that we “are no longer at war” would be a ridiculous thing to do.
They have our proposals, and they are reviewing them. Among other things, we put in writing specific factors and our concerns, not about the alliance with the United States itself, but about what it is aimed at.
The Japanese government claims that the United States is Tokyo’s key military ally, and the US will deploy various anti-missile defence systems in Japan. The Americans would like to deploy intermediate and short-range missiles banned by the INF Treaty, from which Washington withdrew, in Japan and South Korea. Tokyo is also saying that the United States is Japan’s main defender and stronghold. In deploying its attack weapons in Japan, the United States is saying that Russia is a “hostile state.”
If they say that the US is their main ally, and this ally has an enemy, this cannot but cause concern for Japanese politics. We are familiar with US policy. But Japan, which has repeatedly assured us that it will never allow the deployment of weapons that pose a threat to Russia on its territory, is now doing so. And the United States declared Russia an adversary and a “hostile” and “unfriendly” state. And Japan claims that the United States is Tokyo’s main ally.
We are discussing this with our Japanese colleagues. There’s absolutely no need to remind them about Hiroshima and Nagasaki every time we see them. However, we cannot forget which country was the only county in the world to use nuclear weapons, how it all ended and how it affected people.
I hope that the questions that we have prepared for our Japanese counterparts about the threat to our security posed by their military alliance with the United States will be taken seriously. When the dialogue is resumed (many channels remain severed), I hope we will receive clarifications and will be ready to discuss them.
Question: You were recently included in the “top five” in the United Russia party federal list. What was the reason for your decision? What are your goals and objectives? Why this party?
Sergey Lavrov: I received the proposal along with the other members of the “top five.” The proposal came from President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the United Russia congress. I thought the President’s proposal was an honour to me. We work hand in glove with United Russia as well as with the other parliamentary parties. We regularly attend their briefings and hearings at the State Duma and the Federation Council plenary meetings, we attend meetings of the committees on international affairs, on the Commonwealth of Independent States, on compatriots.
As the leading party, United Russia plays the decisive role in codifying critical foreign policy decisions, as well as in securing ratification of the agreements signed by the President and ministers with our foreign partners, in formulating the fundamentals of our foreign policy, in the legislative consolidation of the doctrinal documents signed and approved by the President in foreign policy, national security strategy and development of military capability.
I mentioned amendments to the Russian Constitution aimed at strengthening our sovereignty and protecting our legal system from various manipulations, which can be observed more and more often in the activities of multilateral executive agencies that are distorting the substance of the treaties we ratified. The initiatives I’m talking about, including the prevention of trade in territories, were vigorously promoted by United Russia during the work on the amendments. We actively consulted our colleagues in the working group on amendments in the State Duma, United Russia as the leading faction, as well as the Communists, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and A Just Russia.
Traditional diplomacy is not the only option available now. Many countries, just like our country, are developing public diplomacy, people’s diplomacy, parliamentary and party diplomacy. We are active in assisting our parties, above all United Russia (because it has the greatest number of partners), to maintain international contacts. The United Russia party as well as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation keep well established ties with the Communist Party of China. Similar party interaction is being developed with political parties in other Asian countries and a number of countries in Europe.
Today, when we are forced to make certain concessions, give up our principles and, as they say in the West, “change our ways,” that is, behave ourselves (as we were taught in school), what we need is to mobilise all resources of our society, government agencies, including diplomacy, as well as the activities of our parliamentarians and the core parties, primarily United Russia.
Question: We all remember Goethe’s lines:
When on the spindle, spun to endless distance,
By Nature's listless hand the thread is twirled,
And the discordant tones of all existence
In sullen jangle are together hurled,
Who, then, the changeless orders of creation
Divides, and kindles into rhythmic dance?
Since 2019, we have had quite a few jangles thanks primarily to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are within the walls of a global university, which has been one of the top 500 universities since 2020 and is moving up through the rankings. Foreign students, over 3,500 of them, are among our top priorities. Many of them have been able to continue their studies in person.
Our country was the first in the world to register a vaccine, and has already produced three vaccines. The registration of a fourth vaccine is underway. Recently, we began to vaccinate foreign workers with the Sputnik Light vaccine. But our foreign students (I think all global universities share this concern) cannot get the jab, because the country has not issued permission to do so. When do you think this will be issued? When will we receive this authorisation? This could be an additional advantage for our country and our universities during admissions.
Sergey Lavrov: This doesn’t depend on the Foreign Ministry, even if we wanted to do it. From the point of view of our external relations, we are interested in having as many students as possible study at our universities without interruption in accordance with the curricula.
But in this case, it’s up to the sanitary authorities to decide, primarily the Emergency Response Centre for preventing the import and spread of the novel coronavirus infection, led by Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, which includes Minister of Healthcare Mikhail Murashko, Head of Rospotrebnadzor Anna Popova and Head of the Federal Medical-Biological Agency Veronika Skvortsova. By virtue of their positions, they are responsible for sanitary safety and public health in our country. I do not think it’s correct or even ethical to tell them to turn a blind eye to this, let them come and get the jab somehow. I wouldn’t go that far. Professionals must make decisions within their scope of responsibility.
Question: You said that not only traditional diplomacy works. Tell us about the “inner workings of diplomacy.” Are diplomats always “buttoned up” when communicating with each other, or are there other forms of communication that are free of protocol? Are you, diplomats from different countries, friends?
Sergey Lavrov: Just like any other life situation, we are friends, but not equally with everyone. With some people we maintain formal and consistent relations. We discuss things and even agree on some of them. But sometimes there’s personal rapport, and that goes along with professional communication.
I have quite a few friends abroad, including foreign ministers in Asian countries. I was in Indonesia yesterday. The Foreign Minister of that country, Retno Marsudi, is my good friend. Foreign Minister of Laos Saleumxay Kommasith, who graduated from MGIMO and speaks perfect Russian, is a very close friend. President of Laos Thoonglun Sisulit and Prime Minister of Laos Phankham Viphavanh also graduated from Soviet higher education institutions. They speak Russian. That is, all three of my counterparts in Vientiane yesterday - the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister - are graduates of our universities, and I can speak Russian with them.
There are meetings when you arrive in a country in the evening and the talks are scheduled for the next day, and your partner invites you for dinner, or you invite them to dinner in order to “warm up” and have an informal chat. It can be a shirt and tie event or a jeans and sweater outing if it’s really informal. But we wear a jacket and a tie for official talks, although not every time.
I was in Turkey last week for a meeting in Antalya. It was an important meeting covering international issues and bilateral matters. It was hot. My colleague, Mevlut Cavusoglu, called me just as we were leaving for the talks and said: “Let’s have a no-ties required meeting, it's too hot.” So, we went without ties for the photo op and then talks. Truth be told, the other members of the delegation were wearing ties, I’m not even sure why.
As for the “buttoned up” approach in a figurative sense, everyone follows their own manners and guidelines for promoting foreign policy. We have had examples in history where a person never opened up. Many diplomats under Stalin, and then Khrushchev and Brezhnev were guided by an approach that everything must be strict and there could be no reason to smile. This is obsolete now. Even then, I think it was not very effective. Even in the days of the Cold War, the best results were achieved when people broke the ice through personal communication. This was a famous hallmark of the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin, who used his personality during the Cuban Missile Crisis to remain in constant communication with the Americans and to make sure that both sides realise that we were already at the end of the rope, and we both needed to take a step back.
I always advocate humour whenever appropriate. And humour is appropriate even when discussing the most serious matters, as it is, in fact, in regular life. Openness is always welcome, but not when it borders on naivete, which does not help much in diplomacy.
Question: As Russia’s Diplomat No. 1, do you have a hobby? What bad habits did you have to get rid of because of your work?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think I ever had any bad habits. An overwhelming majority of Russian citizens live according to certain traditions, and there are certain customs that blend well with diplomatic traditions and the diplomatic protocol. No, I would not say that this is the main aspect of a diplomat’s activities.
Question: Why should we remember our history? What is the essence of patriotism? How would you define a patriot of Russia? And is it possible to measure patriotism?
Sergey Lavrov: It is impossible to measure patriotism which should be in one’s heart. It is impossible to teach patriotism. We can only do our best, so that people don’t forget history. I know the reasons for remembering our history. You remember your parents, grandfathers and great-grandfathers. This reflects the best trait of our people. This also concerns family-level and nationwide memory, as well as the entire society’s memory. You see, the life of the state and the people is based on the history of each family.
It is impossible to force someone to be a patriot and to feel proud of his or her country. This must in their genes. Unfortunately, our Western colleagues are also trying to actively influence this natural desire to be part of one’s country, its history and to continue this history. For example, they are doing this through our so-called non-systemic liberals. I was really amazed to read an article dealing with a Royal Navy warship that had entered Russian territorial waters. Some of the liberal critics of the authorities started saying that we did not have to expel the ship, that nothing would have happened if it had sailed past Crimea, that mutual relations are already so low, and that they should not be buried even deeper. In effect, they suggested that we swallow a direct insult and disregard the will of Crimeans who had first chosen independence and then reunification with their historical homeland.
There were some other statements on another topic during the Russian military exercise near the border with Ukraine. The West was nervous at that time and said that Russia was preparing an invasion. We explained calmly that the exercise was over, and that the Russian forces had returned to their permanent bases, and President Vladimir Putin recently dealt with this issue. In turn, the West has deployed dozens of thousands of soldiers and dozens of thousands of pieces of offensive military equipment along the line of contact with Russia, rather than on its own territory. The West claimed that it had “threatened” Russia and persuaded it to withdraw its forces. No one wants to hear that this exercise had been officially announced, and that it had ended after Russian troops had accomplished their tasks. After that, our liberals said that Russian forces withdrew from the Ukrainian border after US President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin. And if Joe Biden had not called, no doubt Russia would have attacked Ukraine. People who had been respected in the past and who have engaged in politics for many years said this.
Speaking of these anti-patriots, the following statement is typical of this segment. Quite recently, someone contributed an article about how the West and Russia treat each other to an opposition media outlet. According to those assessments, the situation was developing so nicely in the 1990s when the Soviet Union had disintegrated. We had such a warm relationship, and everything was so good. And why did we start retorting later on and drifting away from the West? If we had followed the example of Germany and Japan after WWII, we would have created the same well-developed society. I believe that there is nothing else to say. In effect, after losing the Cold War (as they believe), we were supposed to let the West occupy this country and allow it to create the foundations of a new state here.
For me, patriotism is the most important trait. People who do not feel this patriotism through the ages will hardly score any successes in diplomacy or in any other work linked with real state-development tasks, including the economy, culture or military science.
Question: You pointed out today that China is our strategic partner in the Asia Pacific Region. On July 1, 2021, China celebrated the 100th anniversary of its Communist Party. It is an important event in China’s political life in 2021. President Xi Jinping said that the party had to overcome various obstacles, such as poverty, to create a “moderately prosperous society.” Does Russia’s policy on China take into account our partner’s goals and aspirations, and does the Primorye Territory have a special role to play in this endeavour?
Sergey Lavrov: China is indeed our leading strategic partner. This formula has been included in the policy documents approved at the highest level by President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping. It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that our relations with China are currently at the highest level ever. We have resolved all our territorial issues. Free from any burdens of the past, we are now developing a positive agenda.
Our relations with China are the most ramified among all our partners. Regular meetings are held between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping, and our heads of state meet every year. Relations between our governments include five commissions chaired by deputy prime ministers, including on the economy, investment, joint projects and social issues.
There is also a special group that is analysing the possibility of attracting Chinese investors to the Far Eastern Federal District. We have clear regulations on all matters related to such investments. The main goal is for these investments to benefit both sides and to give our partners an opportunity to profit from them. They must be used to increase the competitiveness and gross regional product of the Far Eastern Federal District.
We will continue to develop these relations, including on the foreign policy stage. Russia and China have identical views on international developments. Both Russia and China are advocating full respect for international law, first of all, the UN Charter. We reject the Western policy, which is being imposed on other countries consistently, of replacing international law with a rules-based international order. These rules are not universal. They are created by the West, which is presenting them as holy writ.
I also mentioned in my remarks our other great friend, India. Our relations with India are officially described in documents as a privileged strategic partnership. This is telling. We have been closely cooperating since the Soviet era, when India became a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement and led a number of campaigns. It worked together with the Soviet Union towards the adoption of the UN declaration on decolonisation. We joined forces on many other issues, and we continue working together actively. I visited India in April this year, and Minister of External Affairs of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will come to Moscow next week.
Since I have mentioned both China and our Indian colleagues, I would like to say a few words about our common mechanism, RIC (Russia, India and China). It was introduced by Yevgeny Primakov when he was Foreign Minister of Russia. It is not a well-known fact, but since then our foreign ministers met about 20 times. We are planning to hold the next meeting as soon as the coronavirus situation permits.
Other issues on our agenda have to do with a joint transport outlook and economic projects. Our three countries have common borders, Russia with China and China with India. The situation on their border is not simple, but this trilateral format can be used as a platform for additional contacts and dialogue. We would like India and China, our two big friends, to develop independently and to continue to grow stronger as vital independent pillars of a rising polycentric world.
Question: As far as I understand, your visit to Asia was timed to coincide with several anniversaries in the relations between Russia and ASEAN: 30 years since the establishment of the relations and 25 years of their dialogue partnership. Last January, there was a meeting of senior officials representing Russia and ASEAN, which covered, among other things, a comprehensive development plan for Russia and ASEAN across all areas of cooperation. Is there a role for the Russian Far East in this plan, and if yes, what role?
Sergey Lavrov: The Russian Far East will play a very substantial role. Since the plan is not approved yet, it would not be ethical to disclose its details, although there are no secrets. The plan will include positive projects designed to fulfil our strategic partnership and the Far East will be extensively involved. The plan is called the Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Russia−ASEAN Strategic Partnership for the period of 2021-2025.
Indeed, this year we celebrate a big anniversary in our relations with ASEAN. We have just reviewed this comprehensive plan at a conference of ASEAN foreign ministers in Jakarta. The plan was approved in principle and will be submitted for the approval of the heads of state, who will meet at the Russia−ASEAN summit next October.
There are other new developments in our partnership. For example, this year, the secretaries of the security councils of Russia and ASEAN had their first meeting, at our initiative. This year they met online. Also, a decision was made to create a framework for consultations on cybersecurity. The decision has been made. The first meeting will involve experts who will be responsible for this area of cooperation.
Our strategic partnership is growing and getting stronger. There is a whole number of other interesting initiatives, including our proposal on targeted and systematic cooperation to counter infectious diseases and drug trafficking. This proposal received extensive support. So, the practical aspects of this partnership are forming, which is good for Russia and for our ASEAN friends.
Question: I have a question about shipping goods across the Chinese border. Businesses in the Primorye Territory and the Russian Far East in general are greatly dependent on shipments from China, particularly, the fish industry. Recently, checkpoints at the Chinese border have appeared to be in a poor state, which was noted by Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev. In addition, China seems to be creating obstacles for Russian shipping companies – for example, by introducing mandatory certification for both drivers and cargo. In some cases, rules are introduced without any respective regulatory documents on China’s behalf. As a result, the waiting time is huge and businesses suffer losses. Could you tell us more about talks with China on this matter? When can Russian businesses hope for restrictions to be relaxed?
Sergey Lavrov: It would be irresponsible of me to give you any deadlines because the Foreign Ministry is not conducting these talks. These talks are being held by transport and sanitary authorities. There is no political motivation or any reason for diplomatic initiatives. We can only stress how important it is that all these problems get resolved. Russia, too, monitors the quality of foreign imports. Regardless of the state of bilateral relations, we often have to suspend certain supplies, such as meat and fish. Every country has the right to use its own instruments for control and supervision.
I do not see any politics here. I hope this issue will soon be resolved through professional agreements between sanitary authorities and those in charge of monitoring the epidemiological situation. Our representatives are working to achieve this. On the one hand, it is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On the other hand, there are phytosanitary regulations to be observed.
Question: How much damage is done to Russian statehood by the falsification of history from abroad? How powerful is this tool in interstate relations? How is Russia countering it?
Sergey Lavrov: We have already talked about this. I don’t think all these attempts to falsify history do real damage to our statehood. Our country is powerful and its endurance is not determined by detractors that try to pull up misleading accusations with overtly Russophobic ideas from the past. Our power lies in our wise nation that regularly makes its choice at election stations giving its estimate of our country and its leaders. Far from everything is ideal in our country. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and our Government talk about this all the time, but we will deal with our problems ourselves. As for those who try to deprive us of our past, they simply do not know us. They are not worth much as politicians because if politicians decide to make historical allegations, they should understand basic history and the foundation and makeup of the nation they want to target with their aggressive accusations.
Question: How can the problem of the Kuril Islands be settled with Japan in the next five years? Can historical memory be used to influence the solution?
Sergey Lavrov: Our main task now, as President of Russia Vladimir Putin and the former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe agreed, is to sign a peace treaty, which will not only formalise the end of the war but will also outline in a global, comprehensive way our countries’ goals in the development of bilateral cooperation and concerted actions on the international stage. So far, no consultations have been planned. Last year we held several rounds, during which our Japanese colleagues avoided responding to our concerns over their military alliance with the United States. Since the United States, which is playing first fiddle in that alliance, has declared Russia a hostile country, the alliance is spearheaded against Russia, isn’t it? Japan has not answered this question. They tell us that this is not so, that Japan will never permit, and so on. But this is simply words. As for deeds, we can see them in the practical activities of the alliance and the deployment of US weapon systems in Japan.
Some Japanese politicians are advocating the adoption of an Indo-Pacific Charter. They say quite openly that the charter would play a role similar to that of the 1941 Atlantic Charter. In June this year, US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed a New Atlantic Charter on the sidelines of the G7 summit. Its idea is that the West will call the tune in the Euro-Atlantic region, and all other countries will have to accept this. They want the Indo-Pacific Charter to play a similar role.
Our negotiating positions are clear. We want Japan to answer all our questions and to start working on a big, comprehensive and serious interstate treaty. They have turned the agreement reached between President Putin and Prime Minister Abe upside down, saying that first we should come to an agreement regarding the islands and only after that sign a good treaty. This is not what we agreed to do. We agreed to sign a treaty.
Progress in this matter is also hindered by Japan’s nervous reaction to the development of the Kuril Islands, the exercises we hold there to strengthen our defences in that region, and visits by Russian government members to any of the four islands or all of them. We cannot understand this. We respond harshly every time, reminding Japan that the islands are an integral part of the territory of Russia, which was incorporated based on the results of WWII, which has been sealed in the UN Charter. Our Japanese colleagues can cite the San Francisco Treaty, but Article 107 of the UN Charter precludes any revision of the decisions made by the victorious powers based on the results of WWII. Japan ratified the UN Charter when it joined the organisation.
We must step up our activities on the islands. As far as I am aware, there are plans to build an international airport on Iturup or Kunashir. I have heard that special preference enrolment quotas can be approved for South Kuril school leavers. Work is underway on a special federal programme of the socioeconomic development of the Kuril Islands.
As for historical facts, we do not shy away from discussing them. The important thing is that historical facts must not be used to hinder the solution of problems, including the very real security problems that are being created for us.
Question: Not long ago, the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan which led to terrorist organisations becoming more active in that country. What is in store for Kabul? Where will we – “the polite people” – be?
Sergey Lavrov: The United States is not just withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. It is withdrawing them de facto having admitted that their 20-year-long mission failed. The terrorist threat has not diminished. On the contrary, it has increased many times over since 2001, when the Americans went there. The drug threat has increased by orders of magnitude. Moreover, there are materials in the West that indicate that US soldiers likely participated in transporting drug cargoes.
The main problem is the one that you mentioned – the threat of terrorist attacks there has increased. The Taliban have become more belligerent, because the existing agreement presupposed the formation of a transitional government that would prepare conditions for forming more stable government institutions. Unfortunately, the Kabul leaders are reluctant to organise anything transitional. They fear that this will remove them from their active political work. It turns out that they and the Americans, who are withdrawing from the country, are leaving the situation to be resolved by military force. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that, in addition to the Taliban, universally recognised as part of Afghan society, and as a result of stalling political processes and the ensuing resumption of hostilities, niches are being formed for the ISIS militants, not Taliban. Moreover, ISIS is deliberately and purposefully establishing itself in the northern provinces of Afghanistan on the border with our allies.
A number of Afghan security forces and military personnel found refuge in Tajikistan (more than 100 of them, I believe). We are allies with Tajikistan under the CSTO. We have a military base there. If Tajikistan comes under attack, it will immediately come to attention of the CSTO. Representatives of the CSTO Secretariat visited the Tajik-Afghan border. Following the visit, the situation was reviewed at a Permanent Council meeting. The other day, President Putin discussed matters, in particular this one, in detail over the phone with the leaders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. We will honour our commitments.
Someone asked whether we would send troops to Afghanistan. I think the answer is clear.
Question: Which Russian cities are now open to foreigners? Is quarantine necessary when entering Russia if a person is vaccinated?
Sergey Lavrov: I cannot give you this information, because I do not have it. The situation is changing quickly. The Emergency Response Centre is monitoring the actual situation with the spread of the coronavirus infection on a daily basis. I do not want to mislead you.
Question: In your remarks, you mentioned that Russia has traditionally diversified its allies in the international arena, and you mentioned Latin America. Do you think Russia-Venezuela relations are truly beneficial for Russia, or is it more important for us to have an opposition to the United States in the region?
Sergey Lavrov: Our relations are mutually beneficial. They originated during the rule of President Hugo Chavez almost 20 years ago. Back then, no one called Venezuela a rogue state, a centre of authoritarianism, totalitarianism or human rights violations. We had a calm and balanced relationship. President Hugo Chavez appreciated friendship with our country and personally with President Putin. Above all, we focused on oil projects which were mutually beneficial. This cooperation continues, albeit in a slightly different form. We have to take into account the illegal unilateral sanctions that the United States has imposed on Venezuela, including its oil business.
There is nothing anti-American about our relationship with Venezuela. We firmly stand with Venezuela in the face of US illegal actions. But this does not mean that we are friends with it only just to spite the United States. Not at all. We have repeatedly emphasised that if any country in Asia, Latin America, Africa or Europe comes up with a mutually beneficial project, we never miss an opportunity to discuss it. We do so based solely on mutual interests.
Speaking about the current Venezuela-related situation, we would be remiss not to note that the attacks, a diplomatic attack on Venezuela, accompanied by military sorties of armed formations from neighbouring countries, are not only about the West’s desire to change the regime in the country from independent to obedient, but also a reflection of the West’s policy to replace international law with the rules that it wants to impose on everyone else. As is in the case of Syria, Cuba and Nicaragua. While promoting relations with these countries we, in addition to mutually beneficial projects that we are trying to implement, are upholding justice in the international arena and defending the UN Charter.
Question: From the point of view of international relations, what stands in the way of developing the Russian Far East and realising its great potential?
Sergey Lavrov: Nothing. This is exactly what we are doing. I would like to say what needs to be done additionally. First, it is imperative to implement the plans that our state has adopted for the region. President Putin has repeatedly said that the Russian Far East is our priority. Second, we must arrange things in such a way that external partners who come here help us to implement our plans. I do not see anyone trying to hinder the development of the Russian Far East. Those who do not want to work here, for goodness sake, that is up to them. But increasingly more people are willing to work here. I think such aspirations should be encouraged.
Question: Today is a wonderful holiday – Family, Love and Fidelity Day. Do diplomats have any special secrets about how to keep the family hearth fire burning?
Sergey Lavrov: We must work well. Work is what matters most to us.
I would like to thank Primorye Territory Governor Oleg Kozhemyako for his close cooperation with our ministry. We are aware that Primorye has, in a good sense, a “taste” for foreign economic international contacts. We will continue to help in every possible way.
I hope that the students complete their studies with good grades. Good luck to those who have graduated from the university and are working in various fields.
It was good to talk to you.