Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a news conference following the BRICS Foreign Ministers' Meeting via videoconference, Moscow, June 1, 2021
Good afternoon, friends.
The meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs / International Relations via videoconference is over. For the time being, the epidemiological situation has prevented us from resuming in-person contacts. I am sure we will soon overcome this problem.
We exchanged views on all urgent issues related to maintaining international peace and security, and discussed the impact of the coronavirus crisis on international relations. We focused on strengthening the BRICS strategic partnership in three key areas: the political, economic and humanitarian ones.
Our detailed and sincere conversation demonstrated our identical or similar positions on many regional and global issues. We paid special attention to the situation in hot spots. We reaffirmed the commitment of the BRICS countries to the settlement of disputes by political and diplomatic means with reliance on international law and the UN’s central role. This is reflected in a joint communique we agreed upon following the meeting. This detailed document is already being published, so you will have an opportunity to read it.
We spoke about joint efforts to counter the terrorist threat. BRICS is actively working in this area. BRICS set forth its priorities in the counter-terrorism strategy adopted last year. We are helping build up the potential of the established Counter-Terrorism Working Group and its thematic subgroups.
We emphasised the need to promote cooperation in ensuring international information security (IIS) and countering cybercrime. At present, this issue is becoming increasingly urgent because of the growing conflict intensity in cyberspace and its more active exploitation by criminal groups. All BRICS countries favour the drafting of a universal document to regulate the efforts to ensure IIS. We are convinced that security in this area can only be ensured by collective efforts based on respect for each other’s interests. In turn, we thanked our partners for supporting the relevant Russian resolutions at the UN General Assembly.
I would like to make special mention of the unanimous statement by the foreign ministers of the BRICS nations in favour of strengthening and reforming the multilateral system. All of them agree on the need to make the leading international institutions, including the UN, WHO, UNCTAD and WTO, more effective.
In the context of the current epidemiological situation, all BRICS countries expressed their solidarity with India and its people. Russia is willing to continue helping our Indian friends counter this dangerous virus. Our partners emphasised their readiness to step up efforts on the Russian initiative to establish a BRICS comprehensive early warning system for the risks of widespread infectious diseases.
We had a useful discussion on a number of other issues pertaining to the expansion of BRICS cooperation in innovative and humanitarian fields, and the prospects for the New Development Bank. Amid the coronavirus-caused crisis, we give priority to invigorating business, trade, economic and investment ties inside BRICS. In this context, we consider it important to implement the BRICS economic partnership strategy endorsed by the leaders at a summit in 2020. We support the initiatives of the chairmanship. Thus, we reaffirmed our willingness to cooperate in drafting plans of action in agriculture and innovations.
We wish our Indian friends success in preparing and conducting the 13th BRICS summit. It is bound to be productive and promote our strategic partnership. We will do everything to make this happen.
Question: Yesterday you said the Russian Government and the Central Bank were preparing to respond to Russia’s likely disconnection from SWIFT. Is the possibility of creating an alternative payment system being discussed in BRICS?
It was earlier reported that the parties to JCPOA on Iran’s nuclear programme would conclude their negotiations in early June. Can we be hopeful that an agreement is reached before the presidential election takes place in Iran scheduled for June 18?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the matter concerning SWIFT, I answered the question I was asked in connection with the calls to disconnect Russia from SWIFT that are being heard in some of the European countries. These are the most radical representatives of the Western world, who are driven exclusively by Russophobic sentiments and are trying, with reason or, even more often, for no reason at all, to intensify, in every way, the sanctions against our country.
We are not interested in destroying the mechanisms underlying the functioning of the international currency system and, generally, the international economic system. We believe that this will harm all parties to multilateral communication, without exception. However, since threats like this are being made, we have to draw some conclusions. I believe that the relevant agencies in our Government will continue to take all the necessary measures to safeguard Russia’s and our partners’ interests, regardless of how the situation evolves.
In BRICS and in the Eurasian Economic Union alike, we are working hard to promote payments in national currencies. Under any circumstances, this will only make our relations more reliable.
As for JCPOA on Iran’s nuclear programme, negotiations continue and they are progressing well, however, no final decision has been taken so far. Some issues that are yet to be finalised require political decisions to be taken in the capitals of the most involved countries, primarily the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
We and other parties to JCPOA are trying to create as favourable conditions as possible for securing the final solutions. It seems to me to be counterproductive to start guessing if this is going to happen within the next few days or in a couple of weeks. Negotiators in Vienna are working to achieve a result as soon as possible.
Question (retranslated from English): My first question concerns the results of the past BRICS Foreign Ministers Council meeting. Have you discussed the differences of opinion in different nations’ approaches to sovereignty and territorial integrity?
When will India receive the promised S-400 missiles? What is the situation with making the Sputnik V vaccine available to India?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already mentioned the final documents of the BRICS ministerial meeting. They include a detailed communiqué and a declaration in support of strengthening multilateral principles in international cooperation, primarily with an emphasis on reaffirming inviolability of the UN Charter principles, which, of course, include respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nation states, sovereign equality of all UN members, settling disputes by peaceful means and, of course, figuratively speaking, respecting the right of each nation to determine its own future. We did not have any differences when discussing this important document.
As for the second document on strengthening multilateralism, it is also of key importance, because all BRICS countries stressed the need to strengthen multilateralism and to do so not in an abstract or narrow format, but exclusively in a universal format based on the UN Charter. In general, the UN embodies multilateralism as nothing else in this world. We will uphold this approach, especially in the face of our Western colleagues’ attempts to promote an alternative concept, which they call a “rules-based world order.” Almost all manifestations of this concept show that it is not universal. It is designed to impose Western ideas and values that are not shared by many other countries on everyone else as an absolutely indispensable criterion.
We can see this in several initiatives. Now, they are talking about convening a Democracy Summit, which will determine the future of the world, although the list of its participants will not be universal. Our European partners are talking about a new concept of effective multilateralism. France and Germany are pushing forward this initiative. To our question whether their desire to strengthen multilateralism includes all countries on the planet, we got an evasive answer. From the explanations we hear, it turns out that our European partners consider the European Union to be a case of effective multilateralism which comes up with numerous initiatives, and then all other countries are encouraged to support them.
This agenda divides countries instead of uniting them. So, the statement by the BRICS foreign ministers in support of multilateralism in its absolutely universal understanding is playing a fundamental role at this point and is of great importance.
As for our cooperation with India, we are making progress in the economy, politics, culture and the military-technical sphere, as well as in healthcare in full accordance with the agreements that are being reached at the highest level. I would like to note the implementation of the contracts for the supply of S-400 systems to India. We see no changes here, and the Indian leadership has reaffirmed its commitment to these agreements.
Today, we are sending another batch of the Sputnik V vaccine to our Indian friends in addition to the steps that have already been taken in the challenging situation India is facing in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.
Question: Recently, the United States and Britain have been urging the World Health Organisation (WHO) specialists to go to China again in search of the source of the coronavirus. The Americans believe that the first trip made by a WHO delegation to China failed to fulfil its mission, so that now it is necessary to conduct transparent and timely research. What do you think about this? Will this help counter the pandemic or is it an attempt to politicise this global problem?
Sergey Lavrov: All of us, at least all the BRICS members, support the WHO’s central role in this field of international cooperation. At China’s invitation, the WHO established a group of experts that visited China some time ago. They went to Wuhan, visited the relevant laboratory and spoke with specialists. They made their own assessments that were then circulated. This information is available to the public. If someone has additional questions, it is necessary to discuss them with all the other countries in the WHO.
The attempts to politicise the current situation are certainly being made. They amount to what President of France Emmanuel Macron called “the war of vaccines.” But, to our great regret, and contrary to facts, he declared that Russia and China are the main initiators of this so-called new “world war.” Meanwhile, the facts that all the interested experts have, show that the Western media themselves primarily describe problems with Western vaccines. Russian journalists just report to the public the assessment of various vaccines in the West, whether they are described as dangerous, safe or effective. Nowadays, politicians should not try to score points and enhance their appeal by using the coronavirus infection and the situation with different vaccines that undergo registration at the WHO.
We are confident about the need to pool efforts and to focus not on searching for those guilty ones but on countering the disaster that is truly global and affects all countries. Now the main task is to coordinate the distribution and certification of vaccines, to regulate the movements of people and to coordinate the documents that will be issued to vaccinated people. Probably, the European Union has the right to create its own rules in this field. But if these rules discriminate against non-EU participants of international communication, there is an opportunity for additional efforts to ensure global security. Nobody can save itself from such threats. We always favour the broadest possible cooperation.
Let me recall that when President of Russia Vladimir Putin announced the development of the world’s first vaccine against the coronaviurus in Russia in August 2020 (Sputnik-V), he emphasised our interest in developing the broadest possible open international cooperation in developing and improving medication that can help us counter this pandemic. Since that time, we have unequivocally supported greater openness and consideration of interests of all countries, not only wealthy countries but also states that cannot develop or buy vaccines themselves. President Putin instantly supported the idea to suspend the license protection of the developed vaccines. This idea does not yet enjoy support in the West but both the Russian Federation and the PRC believe that the entire international community must unanimously make this important decision in the interests of the developing, poor nations.
Question: You said that the EU and even NATO politicians sometimes use Cold War-era terms in their relations with Russia. The United States has embarked on a course of indirect confrontation and is increasing NATO's military presence near Russia’s borders and conducting many military exercises in the region. What does Moscow expect from Washington in the future in terms of ensuring favourable conditions for holding the Vladimir Putin-Joseph Biden summit? How important is it for ensuring strategic balance that NATO puts an end to its expansion to Russia’s borders?
Sergey Lavrov: When, in response to our Western colleagues’ numerous hostile actions over many years, the Russian Federation introduced the term “unfriendly states” into circulation and President Putin issued an executive order in which the United States and the Czech Republic were referred to as unfriendly nations, the West started showing some unwholesome interest. We were accused of aggravating relations and whipping up our rhetoric. In recent years, the West has been doing nothing but coming up with new descriptions of the Russian Federation. In 2019, my good friend Josep Borrell, who is now at the helm of the EU foreign policy, stated on his own behalf but as an EU official: “Russia, our old enemy, is once again saying, 'here I am' and has returned as a threat.” In terms of doctrinal documents - take the US Concept of National Security or the Concept of Nuclear Deterrence and see for yourself how Russia and China are portrayed there. The US law has us officially pegged as an “adversary.” The EU is promoting concepts with regard to Russia which put rebuffing Russia in the first place.
Only an enemy gets a rebuff. When we consider this kind of behaviour unfriendly, we are absolutely not bending the truth. If someone calls us an “adversary” or a country that spreads “malicious influence all over the world,” is that a friendly approach? Of course, not.
I would encourage our Western partners not to get carried away with rhetoric, which they have been fomenting with regard to our country for a very long time now, but to look at the situation as it is and to what extent their actions meet the fundamental national interests of the European countries and the United States as well for that matter.
As for the upcoming summit between President Putin and President Biden in Geneva on June 16, we have already commented on the forthcoming talks. We do not have any illusions, and we are not trying to create an impression that it will result in any breakthroughs or historic and fateful decisions. But the very fact of a conversation between the two leading nuclear powers at the level of top officials is important. It must be promoted in every possible way. The presidents will exchange views on what threats each of the sides is seeing in the vicinity of their countries and in the global arena in general. In this sense, military exercises, the number of which has dramatically increased in quantity and quality and in the number of engaged heavy equipment and the number of participating countries and, most importantly, in their geographical proximity to our borders, by no account contribute to a normal dialogue or coordination of efforts to tackle real, not fictional, issues that are common for all.
For many past years, we encouraged NATO to coordinate concrete, practical de-escalation measures. First of all, this concerns the distance our and the bloc’s aircraft and warships should keep from each other. This was our first proposal. Second, we proposed coordinating a distance from the contact line beyond which NATO and Russia will not hold their military exercises, so they will not have hysterics over Russia’s military drills in its own national territory while NATO holds wargames called Defender Europe, when 30,000 troops and a huge number of military equipment, including deployed from across the ocean, are amassed directly on our border. This equipment was delivered from the countries that do not have a common border with the Russian Federation. The use of this strategy and tactic is extremely confrontational and hazardous because it is provocative.
Our initiative is on the table. If anyone discerns any far-reaching, dangerous plans in Russia’s position, we are ready to discuss this. Regrettably, NATO is not willing to do this. Then we are invited to meet with our NATO colleagues and to resume the functioning of the Russia-NATO Council, we say we are ready for this. Let our militaries discuss the situation on the ground, including with due regard for NATO’s serious violations of the agreements reached in the late 1990s, when NATO pledged not to deploy considerable armed forces in the territory of new member states. This decision has long been forgotten and buried. NATO troops have been permanently deployed in the Baltics and Norway. They say it is rotational deployment, but this rotation is becoming permanent.
We are open and will always be open to an honest conversation. When we are invited to the Russia-NATO Council to discuss Ukraine, we know that we will not hear anything new, that such discussions will not bring any additional value. Everything we have heard during meetings in such formats is nothing more than a repetition of the public statements our NATO colleagues make almost daily. Going to Brussels only to listen to unsubstantiated accusations of non-implementation of the Minsk Agreements again, to hear how our NATO colleagues protect the Ukrainian leadership’s policy of “purging” the country of the Russian language, education and media outlets, and, in general, of any opposition forces (they tell us that Ukraine is “a beacon of democracy” and they need to protect Kiev’s policy in every possible way)? This is not a subject we are ready to discuss with NATO countries.
I would like to point out once again that we are always ready to discuss military de-escalation on the contact line and the revival of the principles which NATO countries and Russia adopted at the top level. As I have already mentioned, our concrete proposals are on the table in Brussels. We hope two years was a sufficient period of time to see their essence. Our proposals are quite simple, but an agreement to implement them would lead to practical de-escalation, even if on a small scale.
I have already said that stopping the advance towards Russia’s borders was one of the pledges NATO made. We have become accustomed to the fact that our Western colleagues are disregarding many of the positive commitments they signed in the 1990s. When we urge them to reaffirm their pledges, such as the principle of indivisible security, according to which no country in the Euro-Atlantic region can strengthen their security to the detriment of others’ security, they shy away from this principle, afraid of doing this. The conclusion is very simple: this is because they have malicious intentions regarding Russia. I wish I were wrong. To make sure that our Western colleagues really do want to restore normal relations with Russia, we want to see practical action. Our concrete proposals are on the table. But we have not seen any answers yet.