Statements and speeches by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at a panel discussion, Society and World Politics, at the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, Sochi, October 16, 2017
I would like to begin by greeting all of you at the World Festival of Youth and Students. We appreciated the proposal to organise a discussion on Society and World Politics, since Russia has always been committed to an honest and frank dialogue on any international subject, even the most complicated and ambiguous ones. This frank and amicable dialogue is especially important for young people.
Your festival has convened thousands of young people from all over the world. It is a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better and to agree on maintaining contact in the interests of trust and mutual understanding among nations. It is also a good opportunity to make up for what “adult” politicians have failed to achieve.
I am convinced that this festival will become a real feast where you will make new friends. Of course, I also suggest that you use it to see the wonderful landmarks of Sochi, a city that has become established as an international sports, discussion, tourism, culture and education hub.
The global situation remains complicated and unpredictable. There are both old and frozen conflicts, as well as new security challenges, primarily the unprecedented rise in international terrorism, which threatens absolutely every country without exception.
We have not yet managed to unite for an effective fight against this common threat. We believe that the main reason for this is that some governments are pursuing their own geopolitical interests and trying to draw benefits from crises and conflicts to the detriment of collective efforts. We see a growing number of attempts to export one’s system of government and to force alien values and reforms on other nations regardless of these nations’ traditions and national identities. The use of military force without a UN Security Council mandate, unilateral sanctions and extraterritorial use of national legislation have seriously undermined the authority of international law. Some countries, which have reason to fear a repetition of the Yugoslav, Iraqi or Libyan scenarios in their territory, have been trying to increase their military might at any cost. This has resulted in a dangerous arms race and the risk of an uncontrollable proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We are deeply concerned about the continued loss of mutual trust, which will be very difficult to restore.
Regrettably, these negative trends have been further compounded by a US decision that amounts to withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme and by Washington’s military plans for settling the North Korean problem.
The growing number of problems is evidence of the failure of a unipolar world order. The world has seen that unilateral action cannot settle global problems. International relations are an extremely complicated mechanism, which cannot be controlled from any one centre.
The geopolitical landscape is changing rapidly. An increasing number of countries are calling for an international life based on truly democratic and fair principles. The new centres of economic power, which exist on all continents, are assuming responsibility for the stability in their regions. The rise of a polycentric architecture of global governance is not anyone’s whim but an objective reality, which reflects the cultural and civilisational diversity of the world and all nations’ desire to preserve their identity and freedom to choose a development path.
Meanwhile, a small group of Western countries are trying to hinder this objective process in order to preserve their domination. It is paradoxical that the countries that consider themselves to be the gold standard of democracy protest pluralism in world politics, which amounts to a betrayal of democratic values.
A case in point is the history of the United States. Attempts are being made to turn a nation whose founding fathers rejected imperialism and upheld the ideals of democracy, equality, justice and the primacy of law into a militarist state that is intolerant of dissent and is willing to violate international law.
International relations have reached a crossroads: either we plunge the world into chaos and instability, or we stop the confrontation spiral and agree to work together based on mutual respect and equal and indivisible security in the name of global well-being and prosperity.
Russia definitely stands for the second alternative, which is the only possible way to counter today’s many threats. Our policy in global affairs does not aim at damaging anyone. We will continue to consistently uphold the values of truth and justice, to respect the interests of other countries and to try to find mutually acceptable compromises. We will continue to advocate a peaceful, positive and future-oriented international agenda and to act as a guarantor of global stability. We will continue to develop equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with anyone who is ready for this, both at the bilateral level and at multilateral venues. Positive examples of this activity are provided by BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Eurasian Economic Union, where decisions are based on balanced consensus with due regard for the interests of every member state.
We are pleased by the development of youth cooperation venues within the SCO and BRICS, which will ensure continuity in the long run. Despite the Russia-hating sentiments of some Western elites, we are open to honest interaction with the United States, the European Union and NATO, but only – I repeat – honest interaction based on the search for a balance of interests. This approach always brings good results.
By the way, the G20, a group that comprises Western countries, Russia and emerging economies, has great potential to promote the development of a polycentric world order.
We attach great importance to the strengthening of cooperation with civil society and Russian and foreign NGOs, including youth NGOs. We welcome the involvement of young interested people in dealing with the key topics on the international agenda. We view this as a major asset in promoting public diplomacy in order to maintain trust on the international stage. We are always ready to listen to your opinions and to support your initiatives.
Dear friends, the day will come soon when you will assume responsibility for the situation in your countries and in the world. President of Russia Vladimir Putin spoke about this yesterday. It rests with you to make this planet a joyous, prosperous, stable and safe place for everyone.
I hope that your participation in this festival will serve you well on the professional and human planes, and that you will make new friends. I wish you success in your work and all the best.
Question: What is the Russian take on the situation in Catalonia?
Sergey Lavrov: We consider it to be an internal affair of Spain. We hear calls for dialogue, professed readiness for dialogue, including on the part of Barcelona. I think this is the only approach to the situation that resulted from the referendum. I hope dialogue will start and a solution will be found in the framework of the Spanish Constitution that would enable all the citizens of the Spanish state to live in comfort, security and close contact with each other. I see no other way.
Question: Could you comment on the creation of an international criminal code in the UN framework as an alternative to the International Criminal Court which is not part of the UN? I was involved in developing this project and it is almost ready. I would like to hear a comment from a living legend. What do you think of an alternative to the international tribunal in the shape of peacekeeping courts backed by a peacekeeping contingent as an alternative that would reduce the costs of administering justice on the territories of hostile parties?
Sergey Lavrov: In order to be able to make comments I must know the substance of the initiatives concerning the international criminal code and international courts. It is hard to provide substantive comments proceeding only from the term and the name of this or that idea. If you propose to set up peacekeeping courts as part of peacekeeping operations, I have yet doubts that it is a good idea (this is my first reaction). It means that peacekeepers will simultaneously perform the function of keeping the peace and judging how that function is performed by those whose peace they are called upon to keep. There may be a conflict of interests there.
There have been instances of ad hoc courts created by the UN Security Council not in the framework of peacekeeping operations, but simply to assign blame to certain individuals for conflicts. For example, the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (which should long have been scrapped) and the Tribunal for Rwanda are still functioning. The tribunal for Yugoslavia has proved to be seriously biased and one-sided. About 80 per cent of the cases it brought were directed against the Serbs while the cases brought with regard to other nationalities very often fell apart. The current prime minister of the Republic of Kosovo, Haradinaj, was a war criminal charged of war crimes and was released for lack of evidence because all the invited witnesses mysteriously disappeared or refused to testify. This is an instance from current practices. However, if you send your ideas on the international criminal code and peacekeeping courts to the Russian Foreign Ministry we would be glad to look at them and to react.
The gentleman in the front row is our “contact,” the head of the Council of Young Diplomats, Mr Kolpakov. You can approach him. Especially since the CYD involves analytical work of young students.
Question: Could you comment on the idea of creating a single codified source of criminal law within the UN framework instead of the Anglo-Saxon legal system?
Sergey Lavrov: I understand that there is the Anglo-Saxon law system, there is Roman law, but to respond to your question and say what I think of a specific new and far-reaching initiative, I have to become acquainted with it and not just know how you call it in your works.
Question: What will be Russia’s role and place in the world 10 years from now? What role will young people play in Russia at that time? What should Russian young people do now and what should they not do to live in a prosperous country?
Sergey Lavrov: The answer to this question could take a long life-affirming philosophical novel.
I am sure that 10 years from now Russia’s role will be very important. We hope that the objective tendency for multipolarity will grow stronger, with new economic and financial powers rising on various continents and translating their power into political influence. I believe that those who are trying to curtail this trend now in order to preserve their unilateral domination will become wiser and will stop trying to swim against the tide of history.
Russia will undoubtedly become one of the poles in a new multipolar world. Russia will bring together its allies, primarily neighbours, including within the framework of Greater Eurasia, an initiative proposed by President Vladimir Putin which provides for developing ties between the Eurasian Economic Union and Eurasian integration on the one hand, and China’s Belt and Road initiative on the other hand. These integration efforts should involve the SCO and ASEAN countries. We live on one continent, so why not spread this initiative eventually to the EU, which is coming to see that, standing alone without Russia, it would gradually lose its influence in the economy and global politics. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker spoke about this several days ago.
As for the role of young people in Russia 10 years from now, you will be 10 years older by that time. I hope that you will be able to make use of the available and potential opportunities offered by social mobility to show your talents. To achieve this goal, you just need to let the natural life cycle take its course, and in 10 years you will see that you have succeeded.
Question: I am enormously proud that our Foreign Minister is well known not just in Russia but also around the world. Do you appreciate young people at the Ministry? How old is the youngest professional working at the Russian Foreign Ministry now?
Sergey Lavrov: That’s a good question. We not just welcome young people, we will not survive without them, just as any other agency whose personnel grows older and needs a revitalising force. MGIMO Rector Anatoly Torkunov will correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know we hire about a hundred young professionals every year (the figure was 115 this year), 85 per cent of them graduates of MGIMO University, Moscow State University, Moscow State Linguistic University, St Petersburg State University and Far Eastern Federal University. This happens every year. At the beginning of my tenure as minster, more than half of them were young women. This year, women accounted for 45 per cent of young professionals we have hired.
I am sorry to say, I don’t know how old the youngest professional at the Ministry is. I should probably have such information at my fingertips when talking to audiences such as this one. Over the past 10 years, many young people have had successful careers and continued to advance, receiving higher positions and ranks – yes, we have positions and ranks, the same as in the army.
So come join us!
Question: German business is against extending the sanctions, because Russia is one of the largest partners who buy quality German equipment. I received onsite training at a company that produces such equipment. Regrettably, it was shut down because of the sanctions. How can active young Germans help improve or normalise trade between Germany and Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: We have been accused of interfering in elections in the United States, Germany, France and Sweden. Do you want us to [be accused of] interfering in your economy as well?
Jokes aside, the policy of blaming absolutely everything on Russia is totally absurd. You are right that sanctions are a double-edged sword that will also strike those who use it. According to the economic law, if you restrict economic ties contrary to free market requirements and WTO recommendations, the side against which these sanctions have been applied has a right to reciprocate, symmetrically or asymmetrically. Our trade has plunged from over 400 billion euros to almost half this figure, which is a direct result of not only the global market situation in the oil and gas sector, but also of the sanctions applied against Russia and our reciprocal measures.
An increasing number of politicians and business leaders say that the situation has crossed all reasonable lines and that we should resume normal relations. This has been said in Italy, France, Germany and several other countries. I believe that common sense will triumph eventually.
Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Franco Frattini): I will carry on our dialogue. Mr Frattini has said that Italy could not do anything alone to prevent the adoption of anti-Russia sanctions because of the way the EU operates. Mr Frattini is a friend and so will not take offence, but five or six of my other colleagues have said the same. In other words, the situation would have been different had they joined forces and said that the decision on sanctions contradicted the EU principle of consensus. I am not saying this to express my resentment at the position of any country. But when our numerous friends in the EU ask us to see that although they are in favour, there is nothing they can do because the EU’s operation is based on the principle of solidarity and consensus, we can tell them that compromises in diplomacy, politics and life always lie somewhere between the extreme positions.
Some EU countries probably did not want to punish Russia for what happened in Crimea in full compliance with the free expression of Crimeans’ will and the decision of the Supreme Council of Crimea, which was elected in keeping with the Ukrainian Constitution and was fully legitimate in terms of Ukrainian law at the time of the referendum.
There probably were, are and will be anti-Russia countries in the EU, and we all know which governments these are, and I believe that it is this Russophobic minority that continues to demand punishment for Russia. For some reason, the 28-member EU expressed its solidarity by joining the position of this aggressive minority. But the situation is changing now.
Franco Frattini has mentioned the slogans under which some parties are winning elections in Europe. They will certainly be accused of playing up to Russia, and we will be accused of interference. However, I am convinced that objectivity will triumph eventually and that Europe will see, at long last, that it should act independently rather than at the prompting of their partners across the ocean, the more so that this prompting has become increasingly confusing, and that Europe must be guided primarily by its own national interests.
Question: What part can town twinning play in the development of international youth relations? Can we, young people, have an impact on its development, so that every small Russian city could improve its political, cultural and sports ties abroad?
Sergey Lavrov: Certainly, the town twinning movement is alive and growing today. We have a lot of twin towns in Italy. Now a growing number of towns are establishing ties in the Crimea. This process is gaining momentum.
If people in the Moscow Region are interested in getting information how to find a twin town, I believe that you should start with addressing those who have business with partners abroad. This is the sturdiest foundation. You could start with exchanging delegations on this basis, including youth delegations, and establishing ties with universities. This is a very promising movement and we intend to support it in every possible way.
Question: You mentioned various regional cooperation sites, including the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), several times today. I am especially interested in this Union because Kyrgyzstan is its member-state. What is your vision for developing the EAEU, do you think it should be more qualitative by building effective common markets that will operate without limits and barriers, or more quantitative by attracting new member-states to this Union?
Sergey Lavrov: You can have it both ways. First of all, EAEU plans are to move forward on lifting all barriers and ensuring the free flow of goods, capital, services and labour. Secondly, on the practical side, we are currently discussing the issue of starting to grow through the institution of observers. The heads of states who recently met here agreed to speed up preparing the statute on observers, which will allow us to engage in the Union’s activities those who want to get a better look at it with a view to joining.
Question: Did the Arab Spring of 2011 influence Russia’s relations with the region’s countries?
Sergey Lavrov: When the so-called Arab Spring began, everyone in the West was euphoric about the people rising up against dictators and for democracy. In that situation, some politicians in the West and the region said that the Russian Federation, which upheld the sovereignty of states governed by authoritarian leaders, was losing its allies and public support in the Middle East and North Africa.
It became clear over time – this did not happen recently but much earlier – that the Arab Spring had an immense destructive potential. The region plunged into chaos. The desire to overthrow some regional authoritarian leaders, such as Saddam Hussein (this happened before the Arab Spring, but this negative experience was not taken into account) and Muammar Gaddafi, has destroyed the statehood of Iraq and Libya. Huge efforts are being taken now to preserve Iraq’s and to restore Libya’s territorial integrity. We are currently seeing similar attempts in Syria.
Russia did not panic in response to the events it could not influence, events that were complemented with foreign interference and the incitement of public opinion [against the authorities]. We worked with absolutely all conflicting sides without exception, and we continue to do this in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Russia is probably the only country that is talking with all the conflicting parties without exception.
Franco Frattini mentioned Libya. Indeed, we hold meeting with the Tripoli government and the rival governments in Tobruk, Benghazi and Misrata. I would say that Syria is the best example in that all members of the Syrian opposition, including the most radical ones, come to Russia and meet with Russian officials.
The agreements on de-escalation zones, which our military helped coordinate with the armed groups on the ground to bring about a ceasefire, dramatically reduced overall violence and ensured humanitarian access. This has shown that we can work in any situation with any real force, whether political or military one.
I don’t remember anyone alleging after this that Russia has lost its influence. On the contrary, I believe that Russia’s influence has increased. It may be immodest to say so, but this is what my interlocutors tell me.
Question: The Caspian Sea is a gem of the Caucasus. It is the world’s largest lake, and we are concerned about its ecology. The Caspian Sea washes the shores of five states: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Iran and Russia. Do they plan to adopt a comprehensive agreement on the environmental protection of the Caspian Sea? If so, when can we expect this to happen?
Sergey Lavrov: We have the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea. Work is underway to draft a convention on the conservation of biological diversity of the Caspian Sea, but this is taking too long. During the third Caspian Summit in Baku back in 2010, the President of Turkmenistan proposed adopting a moratorium on sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea. All parties supported that initiative, but work on it stalled after the summit. I will not go into details now, but there are certain differences in the parties’ positions. It was decided later that this decision should be incorporated in the convention on the conservation of biological diversity. Work is still ongoing, but there is no doubt that it is a highly topical issue and that this very fragile environment must be protected.
This consideration also underlies Russia’s position regarding trans-Caspian pipelines. The marine environment of the Caspian Sea is much more fragile than the Black Sea. Before taking any decisions on laying pipelines, we must carefully analyse the environmental consequences of these projects. We will continue to advocate this position.
Question: How do you assess the relations between Russia and Egypt? Do you see them developing in the economic and political fields?
Sergey Lavrov: I am very optimistic about our relations with Egypt. We have very close political dialogue, regular contacts at the top level, at the level of foreign ministers, economics ministers and transport ministers. Practically all the members of the Russian Government are dealing with Egypt in one way or another. As you know, we are currently promoting a whole number of very important projects, including the creation of a Russian industrial zone in Egypt which will give a boost to joint projects in industry, in various sectors and will help the Egyptian economy, not least in creating new jobs.
Our trade is growing, Egypt is one of the main buyers of our grain, which is very important for the Egyptian leadership in fulfilling its social obligations. We have very close cooperation on regional matters, on the settlement of crises. Egypt has contributed in a very real way to the efforts to create de-escalation zones near Eastern Ghouta and Homs in Syria. Cairo was the venue of the meetings between representatives of the armed opposition where such agreements were reached. We are cooperating closely with Egypt on Libya, and we welcome the mediation efforts Egypt, together with Algeria and Tunisia, is making to promote national dialogue in Libya.
We have close coordination at the UN within the Security Council, where Egypt is currently represented. Just recently we backed the Egyptian draft of a comprehensive framework for counteracting terrorist ideology. The draft was adopted with very active Russian support. The examples are endless, but what I have said must suffice.
Question: Every year many squares in the Czech Republic see events commemorating 1968 when tanks rolled in. Is Russia planning to somehow settle the issue because it greatly affects the relations between the Russian-speaking population and the Czechs? I often hear in the news that Russia forgives its debts to various countries. Why do you do it?
Sergey Lavrov: As for 1968, I do not remember that any of our partners from the Czech Republic at the level of the President, the Prime Minister or Foreign Minister raised this issue in their contacts with their Russian counterparts. I think we have turned that page. There are no obstacles today in the way of mutually beneficial cooperation with the Czech Republic. Historians, of course, should make a note of this date and continue discussing how it happened, what caused it and how to prevent similar situations from arising in the future. Let historians deal with it. I think this is absolutely right.
As for debts, if my memory does not fail me, we have not forgiven any debts to the Czech Republic.
Question: Everybody knows how much the people of Ossetia have suffered – think of Beslan and the events of August 8, 2008. Can the two Ossetias – North and South – unite within the Russian state?
Sergey Lavrov: This used to be the case in the Soviet Union. There was one Ossetia, which was then divided into two parts by an arbitrary decision. At the time, many things were transferred from one republic to another, including Crimea, with scant regard for the Soviet Constitution. I proceed from the fact that we have recognised the Republic of South Ossetia as an independent state. The Russian peacekeepers, the Russian Army helped to prevent the then Georgian President Saakashvili from solving what he called the territorial problem by force contrary to the OSCE resolutions and in spite of the fact that there were Russian, Ossetian as well as Georgian peacekeepers who were pulled out several hours before that aggressive action was launched. We will show the utmost respect and help to uphold the sovereignty of South Ossetia through our very close allied relations.
Question: As part of the Zero Plus International Film Festival we are creating an alternative film fund with films focused on values, that is, short and full-length films promoting universal human values such as, for example, family values and international cooperation. The current reality is war and an atmosphere of conflict. What is being done at the international level to promote values and awareness of the extreme importance of the humanistic approach to life and to interaction with other countries? And more specifically, how can we, our trend-setting team and organisation, and maybe other young people who are not into films, but have something to do with other value-oriented approaches and new projects – how can they contribute to all this?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a big question. The term “universal human values” was first used at the height of perestroika. In 1988 I happened to be one of the group of people charged with writing a speech for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at the UN General Assembly. In giving us this assignment, the Russian Federation Foreign stressed that the speech should include a review of the Soviet Union’s participation in all sorts of international treaties and agreements and announce that we were joining the treaties of which we were not yet members. We were not required to analyse whether we needed to join and why we had not joined them earlier, or the reasons for not joining. The thinking was that if they had almost universal support, that we should join these agreements. Also, universal human values at the time, if you remember, were interpreted as the need to agree with the Western concept of international law, above all humanitarian law and international human rights. I think human rights is a universal human value when everyone agrees on a definition. This is basically the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What is being “sold” to us as “human rights” today is by no means a universally agreed upon value. These are the values of the Western civilisations, primarily. They aggressively demand that everyone follow these norms which have recently been formed in neoliberal political and social systems, and they do not always correspond, and indeed, often directly contradict the values of Christianity, certainly of Orthodox Christianity, but I am sure also of Catholic Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. So when you say “universal human values” it is important to know what exactly you mean.
Being in foreign policy, as regards the international interpretation of values, I would put first the ability to commit, to cooperate, and the ability to reach and comply with agreements.
At this point I would like to make a small digression. We worked very closely with the US under the Obama administration on Syria; we created the International Syria Support Group which comprised all the external players – those who backed Bashar Assad and those who backed his bitter enemies. The two ad hoc groups set up at the time are still functioning: one for a Syrian ceasefire and the other for humanitarian issues. Cooperative work was taking place, which peaked in China in September 2016. After talks between Russian President Putin and US President Obama, we agreed (and former US Secretary of State John Kerry and I signed it) how to coordinate the fight against terrorism in Syria. Everything was written up in detail and it was a very promising agreement. The only thing the Americans had to do for the agreement to come into force was to separate the armed opposition cooperating with them from the terrorists, notably Jabhat al-Nusra. They failed to do this and to this day the members of the US led coalition spare Jabhat al-Nusra. There is a good deal of evidence to show that it is being spared just in case the need arises to fall back on “Plan B,” the overthrow of the current Syrian regime by force. To cut a long story short, an agreement was reached, but the ability to commit has failed.
The same holds for the Iranian programme. An agreement on the Iran Nuclear Programme (INP) was reached two years ago, and it has now been approved by the UN Security Council. The whole world welcomed it. Now Washington is withdrawing from it. Again we face the problem of capacity to commmit as a foreign policy value.
Then there is North Korea which today is often compared to the situation around Iran in 2015. Just like on the INP an agreement had been reached on the North Korean Nuclear Programme, the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula. All the parties began fulfilling the programme. However, several weeks after it was concluded Washington imposed, without consulting anyone, unilateral sanctions and started hounding some kind of bank in Macao which allegedly effected some transactions with North Korea. Instead of trying to find out what it was all about, sanctions were slapped on it at once. North Korea said it would not continue under such terms and that no one was honoring their agreements. I am not trying to justify Pyongyang. Pyongyang is behaving in an arrogant manner flouting UN Security Council resolutions. But how can we expect North Korea to be interested in negotiations if dialogue at this stage is brushed aside and the withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Programme shows that agreements are not worth the paper they are written on?
The situation around Ukraine is an extreme example of lack of capacity to maintain a commitment. The February 2015 agreements were welcomed by everyone and were unanimously approved by the UN Security Council. Fulfillment is held back by the inability or reluctance of the Ukrainian authorities to meet their part of the deal regarding political reforms, above all guarantees of security for the population of Donbass that found itself in the current situation because it refused to back the unconstitutional government coup. For that part of Donbass had not attacked the rest of Ukrainian territory, it was they who were attacked and declared to be terrorists. This is not fair. All they wanted was to be left alone. They said they did not recognise the coup and asked to be given a chance to sort thing out. They are still being accused of terrorism and threatened with legal action although they have signed a document that there should be an amnesty for all the parties to the events, a special status for these territories sealed in the constitution and that there should be elections on the terms agreed to between Kiev and these territories. But all this is being distorted. Again, this is a question of ability to commit, including Germany and France, which together signed the Minsk Package of Measures.
I have strayed from the traditional interpretation of values, but I think this is an important aspect of universal human values if we want to see peace and stability on the planet.
Question: What role does promoting cultural and education projects play?
Sergey Lavrov: A very positive role because culture and education allow young people – and not just young people – to meet more often, to learn about each other’s culture, history and the origin of each other’s traditions. I am all for it. Perhaps, this is the most important thing that should be done in the world today to overcome the abnormal situation when seasoned politicians in many Western countries take decisions to the detriment of their own people. We need to use this festival and other similar events, cultural and study exchange to cultivate a new generation of politicians who would learn to hear each other and take their partners’ views into consideration when making decisions. You know, Anatoly Konstantinov, Head of the Moscow Relocation Assistance Fund, mentioned that this festival will adopt the UN model. The Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) has been applying this approach for a long time. It is a very interesting format when students from one country perform the functions of another in the Security Council. Very often it is a state with a completely opposite approach to problems than their own country. So, you literally have to get into your opponent’s shoes to defend their stance. There are very few other things that are as helpful in developing diplomatic skills as this role playing. I really hope that this model will be adopted successfully. The same goes for cultural and education exchange. It helps you to understand your counterparts better.
Question: How does the Foreign Ministry support the initiators of such projects in Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: We offer moral and political support. The Foreign Ministry does not have the funding to provide. However, there is the Federal Agency for the CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation, which offers funding support. This is where you can go. Also outside the Foreign Ministry, there is the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund (which was in fact established by the Foreign Ministry), whose executive director is Leonid Drachevsky. The fund also provides grants. But you must substantiate your request for all this money in your application.
Question: Against the backdrop of the European sanctions, we can see that Russia’s foreign policy is focused on the East. The latest meetings and the arrival of the King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud confirm that Russia is, justifiably, focused on the East. What do you think about the role of our regional leaders, including the activity of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, who supports the policies of President Vladimir Putin, and who establishes the relevant relations under the Foreign Ministry’s policy? We can see this. I would like to find out what you think about this, and your opinion of what role this might play.
I would like to know the Foreign Minister’s views on the situation in Myanmar. We are witnessing the murder of civilians for religious reasons. What is Russia’s position on this issue?
Sergey Lavrov: We have repeatedly voiced our position with regard to Myanmar. This is a neglected conflict. Extremist actions have been carried out there for many years, but those actions were thwarted. Current developments transcend the boundaries of international humanitarian law, and those supporting the Rohingya people are also violating this law. We firmly advocate dialogue and an end to all violence. We are satisfied that an overwhelming majority of countries have supported this approach. Myanmar’s leaders have already received mediatory missions, including one led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. We expect the Rohingya people to engage in dialogue. We also maintain close contact with our colleagues and friends from Bangladesh that has received many refugees from Myanmar.
Unfortunately, there are many conflicts like this in the modern world. The developments in Yemen are a painful sight. Recently, UN representatives called the developments in Yemen the greatest humanitarian disaster. We are maintaining contact with members of the Arab coalition, the legitimate President of Yemen, the authorities in Aden, Houthi representatives and representatives of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Tragedies like this must be resolved through dialogue, rather than brute force.
Regarding our cooperation with the Chechen Republic, it is very close and useful. As a matter of principle, the Foreign Ministry established the Council of Russian Regional Leaders long ago. Its members meet on a quarterly basis and discuss promising aspects for cooperation, and they help draft useful recommendations for our regions involved in foreign economic and international activities. We have a unique agenda with the Chechen Republic; we cooperate closely on the consequences of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. Our efforts made it possible to release the sailors of Russian fishing vessels who were detained in Libya for a long time. The initiatives of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, and our active support have now a system streamlined which makes it possible to locate and repatriate children whose parents have joined ISIS, and who have become orphans for various reasons. Therefore the Arab and Islamic world recognises the authority of the Chechen Republic, as well as the authority of your neighbors in Ingushetia. We value this as a very important Russian foreign policy asset.
When we received the King of Saudi Arabia, whose visit you mentioned, the leaders of the Chechen Republic, the Republic of Ingushetia, the Republic of Tatarstan and the Republic of Bashkortostan attended the initial welcoming ceremony and the talks. To me, it is very important to use this factor, the multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-denominational wealth of the Russian people, in the relevant directions of national foreign policy. Virtually all of the Russian Federation’s neighbors maintain historical, ethnic and denominational links with various parts of the Russian state. We need to value this priceless advantage.
Question: The Americans want the Middle East to be divided, because a united Arab world is a powerful force. China has created a BRICS infrastructure investment bank. Here is what I mean: when a plane engine malfunctions, energy from the working engines is transferred to the non-working engine so as to balance the plane. The Middle East is on fire, which is why the BRICS bank has been created. What do you think about the BRICS bank contributing to the rebuilding of the Middle East after its devastation? What is Russia’s position on uniting the Arab world in the BRICS format?
Leonid Drachevsky has said that we listen to CNN, which can be described as post-truth journalism with regard to Russia. Can we use the BRICS and SCO format and our allies to create a media centre similar to CNN so as to broadcast our post-truth to all continents?
Sergey Lavrov: The BRICS bank is called the New Development Bank. You have also mentioned the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is a separate structure in which we are involved. The BRICS New Development Bank has been established primarily to finance projects in the five BRICS countries and possibly also in other countries. For example, the African Regional Centre of the New Development Bank has been launched in South Africa to finance prospective projects with African countries. I don’t think the BRICS bank should assume responsibility for rebuilding the Middle East and North Africa. It should be a much bigger scale initiative, as President Putin said yesterday. Many people are thinking now about organising the restoration of Syria and other regional countries. The key priorities at this stage are humanitarian deliveries and mine clearing. We urge the international community, primarily the UN, to stimulate international involvement in these processes as much as possible. Some forces, which want to slow these processes down, above all for political reasons, say they would deliver humanitarian aid to Syria but not to the government-controlled regions. This is trading on humanitarian values. They advance similar conditions regarding assistance to the economic rehabilitation of Syria. I believe this is amoral, and I hope that Christian values will prevail in the EU with regard to the initiative which Federica Mogherini advanced at a high-level event on Syria that was recently held in New York for potential contributors to the reconstruction of Syria.
As for the CNN and how to tackle it, first, it has made a rod for itself by exposing itself and demonstrating its bias and willingness to sacrifice professionalism to short-term political considerations. Second, Russian counter-efforts have produced good results. The efforts taken by the RT network have produced the desired effect, which explains the demand that RT register as a foreign agent in the US under the [Foreign Agents Registration Act]. RT has good lawyers, and I hope they will use every opportunity at their disposal to deal with this situation. However, if US justice imposes this absolutely unacceptable ruling on a media outlet, we will have to reciprocate with regard to US networks whose operation in Russia is financed by American taxpayers.
Regarding the BRICS possibilities, you are a sagacious person, because we are setting up a BRICS television network, which will be allocated the broadcasting frequencies soon. A relevant decision and the necessary administrative steps have been taken already.
Question: Every year we hold a model Arctic Council in our University with the support of Russia’s Ambassador to the council Vladimir Barbin, Rector of MGIMO at the Foreign Ministry Anatoly Torkunov and Director of the International Institute of Energy Policy and Diplomacy Valery Salygin. This is the initiative of our founder and Honorary Chairperson Valeria Ruzakova. Every year she invites young people from all Arctic regions of Russia, the United States, Canada and Scandinavian countries. On December 5-7 we plan to conduct the latest international model Arctic Council in Moscow and want to invite you, Mr Lavrov, and other members of the Presidium to attend it. What do you think about the prospects of developing relations with Arctic countries and how can youth initiatives such as ours facilitate this process?
Sergey Lavrov: Such initiatives can directly facilitate the development of these relations. This is a very important subject. This region attracts significant attention from the majority of large countries. This is a region where priority rights should belong to the countries that are located there, first and foremost the members of the Arctic Council. It is our responsibility to ensure security in the region, improve the environment, prepare the region for potential changes in the climate, and provide normal logistics for transport routes that are becoming increasingly popular. Russia takes part in all formats of the North: the Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States (not quite in the North but close) and the Northern Dimension – cooperation between Russia, Iceland, Norway and the European Union, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council that holds its ministerial session on Wednesday and Thursday in Arkhangelsk where I will go right after my participation in the festival’s programme. If you know the Arctic Council, look at other formats. If you have an initiative to launch a youth movement, I will actively support it.