Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the 29th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy (CFDP), Moscow, October 2, 2021
Thank you for inviting me. I am no stranger to the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy. In fact, I stood at its origins, since its founders kindly asked me to take part. As we were entering this room today, I saw many young faces, and Sergey Karaganov told me that he does not know many of you. This is good to see. What matters the most is that more young people go beyond just absorbing information and make it into the Council Board.
Fyodor Lukyanov: We were discussing this right before you arrived. You are spot on.
Sergey Lavrov: Great minds think alike. This goes to show that so far you have been keeping pace with the time. This is essential for all of us not only as we go about our daily lives, but in international affairs. It is not my intention to spend too much time in my opening remarks discussing the ongoing international developments. There are many articles on this subject, including by researchers present here at this table, and many other CFDP members.
The current stage in global development consists of a transition to a global multipolarity, which has been going on for many years now. This transition from a US-led model with the West at its core to a more democratic and sustainable world order will take a long time.
Everyone understands that as far as international affairs and development are concerned, the centre of gravity is shifting from the Euro-Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific, and Eurasia as its essential component. International relations are becoming increasingly inclusive and open to a diverse mix of influences. It builds on a multitude of intertwined factors such as development and statehood models, political traditions, cultural and civilisational codes, and much more. All these processes need to be conceptualised. One thing is clear. The traditional balance of power will not bring about a sustainable and lasting solution to this issue. What we need is a balance of interests.
In a recent article Fyodor Lukyanov wrote that this is a challenge, butwhen you try to agree on something, and there is always a chance that you will when you start talking, decisions that are based on consensus and compromise will always be more durable, resilient and lasting than the deals concocted in a narrow circle and then offered to everyone else as some kind of an ultimate truth. This is what is currently happening with the Western concept of a rules-based world order. It emerged at the turn of the century and circulated among political scientists. However, after the government coup in Ukraine and the will expressed by the people of Crimea to reunite with Russia, the West decided to vent its frustration over its failed project on the Russian Federation and pushed ahead with this rules-based world order concept propelling it into US, EU and NATO doctrines. Building on this initiative, the West has been coming up with multiple formats such as the French-German Alliance for Multilateralism, the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, the Global Partnership to Protect Media Freedom, the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, the Call for Action to Strengthen Respect for International Humanitarian Law – all these initiatives deal with subjects that are already on the agenda of the UN and its specialised agencies. These partnerships exist outside of the universally recognised structures so as to agree on what the West wants in a restricted circle without any opponents. After that they take their decisions to the UN and present them in a way that de facto amounts to an ultimatum. If the UN does not agree, since imposing anything on countries that do not share the same “values” is never easy, they take unilateral action.
One of the fashionable trends today is the US-invented Indo-Pacific strategies embodied in the foursome QUAD – the United States, Japan, India, and Australia – and the recent creation of the bloc [known as] AUKUS. All of this tends to erode the universal formats in the APR, which have existed for the last few decades under the ASEAN aegis and have been ASEAN-centric. I am referring to EAS, ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, and a number of other formats. These were based on consensus and involved, without exception, all of the key countries of the region, including China, India, Japan, and Russia, on terms of equality and regard for each other’s interests.
The Indo-Pacific concept is aimed at breaking up this system that relied on the need to respect the indivisibility of security and has openly proclaimed that its chief objective is containing China. These rules are being manifested here as well. High on the agenda is the Summit for Democracy the United States is convening in December. It is quite clear who will select the candidates for it. This being an American initiative, the Americans will decide who merits the title of “democracy” in their eyes. It will be interesting to see just for the sake of it who will be invited. As I hear, there are already speculations to the effect that a number of key US allies, particularly in the Middle East, are not eligible for being called democracies, but they can’t afford to leave them uninvited. We’ll live and see. This will require a lot of diplomatic resourcefulness. But the first is the worst, as they say.
Here is a fresh example: yesterday or the day before yesterday, it was announced that US President Joe Biden was convening a cyber security summit later on this month. It was said that approximately 30 states were being invited, although the UN has discussed cyber security, at the initiative of Russia and many other countries, for decades – for almost 20 years, to be exact. Early this year, a resolution was coordinated, approving a five-year schedule for negotiations within an open working group, that is, a format open to all UN members. We will discuss pressing cyber and cyber-space security problems. This trend, regrettably, was gaining momentum for quite a while and now it has reached its apogee. This situation shows that international relations are getting increasingly more complicated, multi-layer and non-linear, which suggests that a high-quality expert analysis is needed here.
The Russian Foreign Ministry follows closely the activities of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, as well as debates at the political science circles and think tanks, specifically discussions analysing not only the international situation but also Russia’s foreign policy and related problems. We borrow many useful ideas. Let me be quite frank about it. We take them into consideration in a bid to improve our own performance and while working on new conceptual documents. We hear criticisms, for which we are certainly grateful. The CFDP’s criticism is always constructive and aimed at finding solutions that would be of maximum use for this country. We see this criticism as a model and example of not indifferent attitude to and concern for the common cause. So, thank you for your tips.
We are sometimes criticised that there is not enough ideology in our foreign policy, compared to the West, which is enforcing its principles everywhere, including through the concept of the “rules-based world order.” With all our respect for those who sometimes say this, I have my own opinion on the matter. I believe that not only Soviet but also international experience show that the ideologisation of foreign policy is a dead-end road. Messianism is a confrontational approach by default. It distracts people from their national interests. There are many historical examples to prove this. I believe that we made correct conclusions after applying this approach in the Soviet Union. The goal of our current policy, which has been formalised in the Foreign Policy Concept approved by President Putin, is to create maximally favourable external conditions for our internal development in terms of security, economic objectives, the social situation of our citizens and the improvement of our positions within the country. Unlike the United States – trust me that this is so indeed – we have no ideological likes and dislikes, or any taboos in relations with our foreign partners. This is our methodological and practical advantage, because it allows us to play an active mediation role during the settlement of conflicts, which we consider important to keep on our agenda, to maintain contact with all the players without exception when it comes to both irreconcilable state entities and to antagonists within the countries in the flames of conflict.
We will always uphold international law and the central role of the UN. I have already quoted Fyodor Lukyanov, and now I would like to quote Sergey Karaganov: “We always know that the truth is on our side.” Let us regard this as our ideology or the ideological content of our foreign policy. Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and part of all reasonably important mechanisms of global governance, first of all, G20, but also Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and many other formats.
Multilateral associations with Russia’s involvement are playing an increasingly large role in the development of not only the regional agenda, but also global development trends. BRICS, the CSTO and the SCO have recently held their summit meetings. Their results show convincingly that the importance of these organisations is growing. Our relations with China and India have an inherent strategic value. President Putin’s initiative on convening a summit of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council is aimed at strengthening the collective diplomatic leadership.
Relying on our resource, political and strategic potential, we will continue to actively promote a positive agenda focused on creating conditions for building a new world order, which will not cancel out the previous one but will help us return to the roots set out in the UN Charter.
Getting back to the “rules” invented by the West, we are not against rules as such. I spoke about this at the UN General Assembly. Essentially, the UN Charter is a set of rules, but these rules are universally applicable and acceptable. This is why in my address I proposed a hashtag #UNCharterIsOurRules. I believe that this reflects the objectives which we want to attain through our international efforts.
In conclusion, I would just like to say a few words about the experience of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy and expert support for our foreign policy. This is what we do want very much. In my opinion, it is very important that the Council’s activities during the past few years have increasingly demonstrated that our expert community is not only, and not so much analysing Western political surveys and analytical studies but is formulating our own global estimates from the viewpoint of Russia’s interests.
Therefore, I would like to thank you once again for inviting me. I am looking forward to having some interesting discussions, and I would also like to know what you talked about while I was away. You have roused my curiosity.