Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Kazinform International News Agency, Moscow, December 1, 2020
Question: Mr Lavrov, you may be aware that on December 1 we celebrate the Day of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In your opinion, which features distinguish Kazakhstan’s experience of building an independent state?
Sergey Lavrov: The history of modern Kazakhstan is inseparably connected with Nursultan Nazarbayev.
What is the mainstay of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s achievements? I believe that it is his inherent focus on constructive work. Using his rich political experience, wisdom and sagacity, he has rallied the people of Kazakhstan by offering them a unifying and forward-looking agenda. He has achieved impressive results in creating efficient institutes of power, maintained internal political stability, strengthened ethnic and religious accord, and ensured the growth of prosperity and quality of life for the people. A number of his initiatives aimed at peace and environmental protection have won international respect for Kazakhstan.
Your First President has made an especially valuable contribution to the development of allied relations and strategic partnership with Russia. Nursultan Nazarbayev initiated the drafting of the Russia-Kazakhstan Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Alliance in the 21st Century, which was signed on November 11, 2013, and, incidentally, stipulates a coordinated foreign policy. We have been working together to ensure regional security and to contribute to stability in Eurasia as a whole.
Nursultan Nazarbayev is one of the architects of economic rapprochement in the post-Soviet space. As you know, it culminated in the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) on January 1, 2015.
Mr Nazarbayev never stopped in his endeavours. As the Honorary Chairman of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC), he continues working to improve the mechanism of Eurasian integration and align it with other integration initiatives.
I would like to use this occasion to wish Mr Nazarbayev health, well-being and many years of active life.
Question: During the General Debate at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed creating an International Agency for Biological Safety and a UN-led network of Regional Centres for Disease Control and Biosafety, one of them in Kazakhstan. Is the international community ready for a new and more powerful global healthcare system in the format proposed by Kazakhstan?
Sergey Lavrov: We have taken note of the Kazakh President’s idea of creating an International Agency for Biological Safety, which would be accountable to the UN Security Council and based on the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). We hope that our Kazakhstani partners will provide information about the essence of that initiative in the near future, including when it comes to the possible parameters and operating procedures.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of the world as a whole. The people would like to see closer international coordination and interaction in epidemiology. This public demand has been reflected in a number of UN documents, including UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. Work to satisfy this demand has already started: during the 73rd World Health Assembly in May 2020, the WHO member states adopted a resolution on an independent evaluation of the pandemic response measures by consensus.
We are waiting for the results of this evaluation. We believe it is important to strengthen the existing mechanisms, primarily the WHO, and to comply with its Guidelines on Sanitation and Health. We are ready for partnership and interaction with Kazakhstan in this sphere.
Question: What impact can the victory of the Democratic party’s candidate, Joe Biden, in the US presidential election have on Washington’s relations with post-Soviet countries, in particular Russia and Kazakhstan, considering the statements he made during the campaign? How will the new US administration’s policy influence security in Europe and Asia? Could it become a challenge to the regional interests of Moscow and Nur-Sultan, first of all in Central Asia, the Caspian region and Afghanistan?
Sergey Lavrov: We believe that it would be premature to discuss the consequences of the US presidential election for international affairs before the official results are announced. This is our principled approach. Of course, we are closely monitoring the developments on the other side of the Atlantic, and we are ready for any turn. Forecasting, especially at the current stage, is an unrewarding exercise. Nevertheless, judging by Mr Biden’s statements and speeches, we can assume that the US foreign policy, if he is declared the winner, would largely conform to the principles promoted by Barack Obama.
As President Vladimir Putin said, “We are analysing the situation very calmly, in a routine way. We will accept any decision of the American people and will work with any administration.” Of course, we will do so only based on the principles of honesty, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In this context, we have every reason to hope that Washington will at long last start taking into account the legitimate interests of other international players, including Russia and Kazakhstan, and their integration associations.
Question: What is Moscow’s view on the further development of bilateral integration processes, including Russia-Kazakhstan interaction within the framework of the EAEU, the CSTO and the SCO? What are your priorities for the near future?
Sergey Lavrov: You are aware that the idea of the Eurasian Economic Union was proposed by First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who put it forth back in 1994 during a lecture he delivered at Lomonosov Moscow State University. Since then, Nur-Sultan has been one of the driving forces of Eurasian integration based on the principles of voluntary participation, equality, respect for the sovereignty and interests of all EAEU member states, the principles which we wholeheartedly support.
Russia and Kazakhstan have been working together to build up our integration, primarily in order to achieve the main declared goal of the EAEU, which is ensuring the four freedoms: the free movement of goods, services, capital and workforce. The main efforts of our countries in this context are focused on lifting barriers, exceptions and restrictions on the domestic market. Whatever disputes there may be, they are settled constructively through mutually acceptable arrangements.
The main venue for these efforts is the Eurasian Economic Commission, the permanent supranational regulatory body of the Eurasian Economic Union where we have developed relations of pragmatic cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual respect.
The next issue on our agenda is the adoption and implementation of the Strategic Directions for Developing the Eurasian Economic Integration until 2025 (Strategy). Elaborating on the provisions of the Declaration on Further Development of Integration Processes within the Eurasian Economic Union, signed on December 6, 2018, the Strategy stipulates over 300 events in the fields of customs interaction, digital policies, cooperation projects, information systems, foreign trade, research and innovative development. In this context we pin our hopes on our Kazakhstani friends, who will take over chairmanship in the EAEU bodies next year.
The common interests of Russia and Kazakhstan, just as of their allies, within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation are peace and stability in the CSTO space.
As CSTO members, we coordinate our joint efforts in the fight against international terrorism and extremism, the trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, transnational organised crime, illegal migration, and other threats and challenges. We are grateful to our Kazakhstani colleagues for their initiatives aimed at creating and developing the CSTO Collective Forces as a crisis response mechanism. We will continue working together to build up their peacekeeping potential. We share the view on the importance of coordinating common approaches to the main issues of our time.
Russia is holding the CSTO Chairmanship this year. We appreciate Kazakhstan’s comprehensive support to the priorities of the Russian Chairmanship in keeping with the allied nature of our relations.
In 2018, the CSTO leaders met in the capital of Kazakhstan, where they agreed to expand the organisation’s ties with interested countries and international institutions and signed a package of documents on the establishment of the status of CSTO partners and observer countries. Like our colleagues in Nur-Sultan, we believe that it is very important to expand this circle of friends.
We are energetically cooperating with Kazakhstan in all priority spheres of activity of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, focusing on stronger security, economic cooperation and humanitarian ties. The outcome of the November summit has shown that our countries are resolved to continue strengthening the SCO potential and fruitful cooperation in all spheres of its activities.
I am sure that the 2021-2025 Action Plan for the Implementation the SCO Development Strategy until 2025, the Concept of Cooperation of the SCO Member States on the Development of Remote and Rural Areas in the Digital Age, and the Comprehensive Plan of Joint Action to counteract the threats of epidemics in the region, which were adopted at the November summit, as well as the first SCO Member States’ Heads of Regions Forum will offer additional opportunities for deepening our friendly partnership.
One of the main objectives of our joint efforts is to create a broad and open space of common security and mutually beneficial economic and humanitarian cooperation in Greater Eurasia. An increasing number of our partners have supported President Putin’s initiative to establish a Greater Eurasian Partnership of EAEU, SCO and ASEAN member nations, as well as other interested countries and multilateral associations. This was set out in the founding documents of the EAEU and in the Moscow Declaration of the SCO Council of Heads of State adopted several days ago.
We are convinced that the promotion of such cooperation on the principles of equality and mutual respect in the best interests of each other will help us to strengthen stability and connectivity and to stimulate sustainable economic growth. This is exactly what Russia, Kazakhstan and our other partners in the region need.
Question: The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has become a new challenge for the entire global community. Kazakhstan and Russia share the longest common border and a common economic space. The exchange of passenger flows was one of the most important areas of cooperation. However, there are currently only two flights per week operating between our two countries. Last September, at a meeting with your Kazakhstani counterpart Mukhtar Tleuberdi you mentioned working out the issue of the entry of Kazakhstani students who study in Russia. As of now, Kazakhstan is ready to increase the number of mutual flights. At what stage is this work and is Moscow considering opening parts on the land border?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, I would like to say that the strategic task of cooperation of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan in education is to promote direct contacts between educational and research organisations, to intensify student and teacher exchanges and to create favourable conditions for the training of skilled personnel.
Last academic year, almost 74,000 citizens of your country studied at Russian universities, and over 30,000 of them received a Russian state scholarship. At the same time, over 9,000 school graduates from Kazakhstan successfully fill state-financed openings at Russian universities every year. It shows the popularity of Russian education.
As for increasing the number of flights, this issue is being discussed in detail with our Kazakhstani colleagues. We believe it is too early to lift all restrictions. It also should be kept in mind that given the difficult epidemiological situation, the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education has developed special programmes of remote education so that all students, both Russian and foreign, could continue their studies. The creation of a safe environment for university students is our absolute priority.