Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the 27th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, Moscow, April 13, 2019
I would like to thank you for inviting me to speak at yet another Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy (SVOP). I am not an outsider at this organisation; each time, I eagerly expect an invitation, new meetings and an opportunity to mix [with SVOP members] not only in front of the cameras but also in an easygoing, informal setting. These discussions generate fresh ideas that are always in demand in our work.
We welcome criticism. I think we will dwell upon this in more detail later today. Criticism and good ideas are of great importance for us, especially in the current situation, where we more and more often have to look for unconventional solutions.
The theme of today’s debate is sensitive to the extreme: what should we expect – a world war or a revolution? Some ten years ago, this question would probably have seemed unthinkable, but today it is accepted as almost normal. This is so because many people have a definite sensation of anxiety, particularly foreign policy professionals with quite an experience of crises in preceding historical periods.
We proceed from the assumption that we must be realists, but at the same time, of course, we wouldn’t like to dramatise the situation. In the final analysis, maintaining international peace and security is one of Russian foreign policy priorities. Our stance today is based – and we have repeatedly emphasised as much – on the recognition of Russia’s special responsibility for universal security and global stability, this along with promoting national interests (later, I think, we will have a detailed talk on how to understand these interests). We have duties of our own as a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. This says a lot.
Throughout history we have gathered experience, particularly when it comes to those lessons of the 20th century that teach us that it is necessary to have a well-considered and balanced policy in international affairs. It is important to prevent the implementation of a scenario summarised by a well-known formula: “no one wanted war, but war was inevitable.” We are trying to work with all our partners in a maximally active and detailed manner; we introduce proposals on how to enhance predictability and trust in the field of international security. I would like to remind you about the idea to sign a treaty on Euro-Atlantic security, the Russian-Chinese joint initiative on preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space, and the proposal to draft a convention to counter acts of chemical and biological terrorism. There are other proposals, too, that remain on the negotiating table. We have been working to elicit a coherent reaction to these proposals from those who are evading a concrete, honest and professional discussion on these definitely outstanding problems. As I understand, the problem is that our colleagues in Washington, Brussels and other Western capitals are as yet unprepared for this kind of professional discussion.
As far as the US administration is concerned, it seems to be increasingly warming to its role as a wrecker of international legal order. It is obvious that the US is unwilling to reconcile itself to the 21st century realities and this unwillingness is highly destructive. There is no question that America remains a mighty power. But its total influence in the world is waning. So, to preserve what they call their “sublime exceptionality,” the Americans intend to press or drown other countries.
Washington has set a course for dismantling arms control agreements. They have engineered the collapse of the ABM Treaty and next in line is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). That done, it cannot be ruled out that problems will crop up with the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1). All of this will have pernicious consequences not only for those spheres of international life that were regulated by these treaties, but also for the remaining nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation mechanisms. I am referring to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). If we assess Washington’s moves in this field, we are able to come to the conclusion that the supporters of a new arms race have prevailed.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin has repeatedly responded to these processes. I would like to emphasise once again that they will not succeed in involving Russia in these costly exercises.
The Americans are openly meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. Venezuela is on everyone’s lips. Their regime-change blitz has failed. But the Americans are not giving up their aim to topple the legitimate president. Mike Pompeo’s interview yesterday, where he stated in no uncertain terms that an armed intervention was not ruled out, is direct evidence of this. The Americans have even dug out of mothballs the notorious Monroe doctrine. They are threatening that Cuba and Nicaragua are next, as if they don’t understand that thereby they are setting themselves against the entire Latin American (and not only Latin American) world. I think this behaviour is just unacceptable.
The same can be said about Washington’s policy to dismantle the entire framework of the Middle East settlement that has been approved in the UN Security Council resolutions and has thereby become part of international law.
It is quite clear that the US and its close allies intend to create a parallel international reality, where they would set the rules and hold court all on their own. I am referring to their persistent attempts to force upon everyone a “rules-based order.” These rules are being invented in order to circumvent norms of international law that are “inconvenient” for the West. And they accuse us of breaching the “rules,” on which they are out to build their order.
For example, my German counterpart, Heiko Maas, told an audience in Washington not so long ago that the West’s relations with Russia had deteriorated because of Russia’s “improper behaviour.” Allegedly, Russia has violated all the rules. They are dragging in “annexation of Crimea” and interference in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as if the West doesn’t know the sequence of events that has led to the Ukrainian crisis. Everyone knows that it is the United States and Europe that were the violators: they openly supported and largely provoked the coup in Kiev, failed to deliver on their guarantees under an agreement that Viktor Yanukovych had signed with the opposition, and palmed off the Maidan putsch as a “democratic revolution.” But the responsibility for the chaos, terror and the conflict unleashed by the nationalists was laid on Russia. Obviously, these are the “rules,” on which our Western colleagues want to build that order.
In the autumn of 2014, there was a military coup attempt in Gambia. The Director of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Public Affairs made a tough statement that the United States would never accept an unconstitutional change of regime. This happened just a few months after the US masterminded exactly the same change of regime in Ukraine.
In any case, this should be kept in mind, while facts must certainly settle down.
Quite recently, they have invented a new thing, the “true sovereignty” concept. It is used as a cover to put pressure on most developing countries in various regions of the world. Simultaneously, they are working to restrict these countries’ cooperation with Russia, China and other independent power centres.
As you know, the United States accuses us of revisionism in world affairs, even though we support preserving and enhancing all the existing mechanisms of international stability. These mechanisms certainly need to be updated, because life goes on. But it must be done on the basis of consensus within the legal framework. Consider the projected reform of the UN Security Council – this part of the international law indeed needs to be updated. We support the most effective reform, which would address the main current problem and would reflect its solution – the under-representation of the emerging countries of Africa, Asia and South America on the UN Security Council. Incidentally, there is a UN Commission on International Law, which is responsible for the codification and progressive development of international law – a permanent function recorded in its terms of reference. So we should do this within the framework that was agreed upon when the United Nations was created, rather than claim that these mechanisms are outdated, are too cumbersome and unmanageable, and therefore the Western cohort will invent their own rules and make everyone else live by them.
By the way, we are probably rather conservative in terms of compliance with international law. We are confident that today’s world needs legal regulation even more than during the Cold War years, when the superpowers restrained each other on the brink of a nuclear conflict. We have a lot of supporters of this assessment about the need to strengthen international law. The idea of creating an informal group of countries to defend international law is being seriously discussed in New York today – largely under the influence of developments in Venezuela. Moreover, some time ago, the Americans created an informal group in support of democracy, I think when Madeleine Albright was secretary of state. I think international law is as important a value in international relations as democracy, especially since this American group defended democracy only within countries, but not in the international arena.
Russia is pragmatic in its foreign policy, as President of Russia Vladimir Putin has said on a number of occasions. At least we are trying to act this way. Our foreign policy is designed to neutralise external threats, promote international cooperation and create an enabling foreign policy environment for accelerating national socioeconomic development. I have no doubt that we are all aware how urgent this is in today’s world.
We want out policy to be rooted in real life and respond to challenges and opportunities that emerge on the international arena. Our approaches are underpinned by the traditions of Russian diplomacy as well the inherent values of Russian culture, history and mentality. We always seek to stand up for justice, legality and equality. The sovereign equality of states is one of the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. Yes, I do know that some believe that nuclear states are not well positioned to talk about equality. As a matter of fact, the UN Charter established a legal framework in which the sovereign equality of states is one of the fundamental principles. Since then, no one has challenged these principles despite the existence of nuclear states. Moreover, after the emergence of five nuclear states, the signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons reaffirmed the principle of the sovereign equality of states.
Russia seeks to promote a positive agenda, which is essential. We contribute to multilateral efforts on climate, Millennium Development Goals, counter terrorism and many other global problems. We also work constructively with all stakeholders without losing hope of finding common ground with those of our partners with whom our relations are not smooth. We are open to dialogue and are ready to be flexible as long as this does not contradict our interests and enables us to come to mutually acceptable compromises. By the way, we work with the US whenever it suits the interests of both Moscow and Washington.
We have finally succeeded in our protracted efforts to resume dialogue on counter terrorism. The so-called deconflicting mechanism in Syria provides what I believe to be an effective military-to-military channel. There is also dialogue on the political aspects of the Syrian settlement. At the initiative of the US, we also maintain contacts on Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula. Of course, there is practical cooperation regarding outer space.
There is also potential for working with the Donald Trump administration on protecting Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, which is another urgent issue. There are other examples as well. Of course, we would like to see more of them. Still, I believe that we are moving towards an enhanced dialogue with Washington.
In general, we stick to the philosophy of mutual benefit, voluntariness, and mutual respect. It is on these principles that our interaction with like-minded people is based – primarily members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), CIS, EAEU, SCO, and BRICS. By the way, unlike NATO, none of these platforms is targeted against anyone. Their statutory documents lack such a confrontational tone.
Speaking of the EAEU, I would like to note that a significant part of its internal trade – more than 60 percent − is serviced in national currencies, and this proportion is constantly growing. We are gradually moving away from the dollar and the associated risks in a situation where the international monetary and financial system is being used, manipulated when the US abuses its position in it, I mean the position of the dollar.
In only a fortnight, President Vladimir Putin and a dozen other leaders will take part in the second forum of the Belt and Road initiative in China. Our partnership with Beijing is not only an example of mutually beneficial and comprehensive relations. Russian-Chinese cooperation also has a sobering effect on those who promote non-legal methods of resolving international problems. This was the case in the UN Security Council when it considered Syria, and unilateral unlawful resolutions were adopted. Another example was when our two countries recently imposed a double veto on the US draft resolution on Venezuela, which went beyond all imaginable interpretations of international law or even basic diplomatic ethics. Another good example is our joint work with Beijing on an action plan for a comprehensive parallel settlement of the Korean Peninsula crisis.
In the east, we also work closely with India, Turkey, Iran, Vietnam, Indonesia and other ASEAN countries. Our dialogue with Japan is advancing. Speaking of the Middle East, our strong advantage there is the ability to talk with all the players, even when they cannot communicate with each other.
The eastern track of our foreign policy as a whole is growing stronger. China, the CIS countries, the Asia-Pacific region (APR) and the BRICS have replaced the EU as our main trading partners. According to the Federal Customs Service data for 2013−2018, Europe’s share in Russia’s trade has decreased from 49.4 per cent to 42.7 per cent while the share of the CIS, China, other APR countries and the BRICS has increased from 40.2 percent to 45.2 percent. This is our response to the pessimists who did not believe in our ability to quickly reorganise and join Asia’s rise in a way that was profitable to us.
As for Europe, and the West as a whole, we are still ready to build cooperation with the European Union and individual Western states. With Europe, we have a lot in common in the historical, cultural, and humanitarian sense. We are still open to building the long-promised and proclaimed common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And more broadly, we can see the prospect of forming the Greater Eurasian Partnership, as President Vladimir Putin suggested a few years ago at the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi.
We will certainly insist on any interaction being mutually beneficial. The “integration of integrations” is not removed from the agenda either. What I mean by this is the beginning of contacts between the EAEU and the EU. The first steps – so far at the expert and technical level – have been taken. I think that this process will conform to the realities of the 21st century.
On the whole, I think, we are trying to be objective in assessing the international situation and the difficulties of the current historical stage which is about forming a polycentric world order that might be more chaotic than the bipolar world, but it is these risks – ones related to the emergence of numerous influential actors – that require us to be more careful with what we call diplomacy. We should work to ease contradictions and develop a model that would suit everyone and be stable. In any case, several power centres, perhaps even from the point of view of physics, is something more stable and reliable for the surrounding world than two, let alone one centre.
We see in a situation, where turbulent processes are unfolding and major powers are out to determine their place in the world’s future configuration, not only challenges but also opportunities for positive development.
We are always interested in having independent estimates of our work and in being criticised, because criticism helps us to have a better understanding of where we stand and to keep ourselves, as the saying goes, in trim. We proceed from the assumption that any constructive criticism will be useful in the future as well.
In conclusion, I would like to reaffirm our interest in maintaining dialogue with the expert and analytical community. For our part, we are doing and will continue to do our best to promote national interests and our country’s development goals in a difficult international setting. What are these interests and goals? We have a Foreign Policy Concept, but life does not stand still and its principles need to be specified and adapted to present-day realities. I am quite hopeful that the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy meeting will help us to be better orientated in this difficult situation.