Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at a plenary session of the international conference Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities, Tashkent, July 16, 2021
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to join my colleagues in the expression of gratitude to President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev for initiating this conference. The representative nature of this event is vivid proof of the increasing demand for a unification agenda in Eurasia and the rest of the world.
Regrettably, we have witnessed a rapid worsening of the situation in Afghanistan over the past few days. The hasty withdrawal of US and NATO troops has dramatically increased military and political uncertainty in and around that country. The Afghan crisis is aggravating the threat of terrorism and illegal drug trafficking, which has grown to an unprecedentedly high level. It is obvious that the current situation is fraught with the danger of a spillover of the instability into neighbouring states. The risk of this scenario is a major obstacle to the efforts to involve Afghanistan in regional cooperation.
We believe that the plans for promoting transport, logistics and energy projects, which are connecting Central and South Asia, must fully take into account the security situation on the ground. Only a comprehensive settlement of the internal Afghan conflict will create the conditions necessary for the successful implementation of economic projects and initiatives involving Kabul. Therefore, we think that the establishment of a strong peace in Afghanistan must remain a collective priority both in the region and on the international stage.
I would like to reaffirm Russia’s interest in promoting dialogue between the contending Afghan sides with a view to putting an end to the years-long war and helping Afghanistan develop as a peaceful, independent and neutral state. Only direct and inclusive intra-Afghan talks held with the support of international partners can lead to a lasting peace. The necessary conditions for this can be created through the tried and tested mechanisms of the Moscow format, the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group and the extended Troika comprising representatives of Russia, China, the United States and Pakistan. Other influential external players are welcome to join the Troika. We are discussing this possibility with our colleagues.
Of course, we are ready for broad international cooperation on all aspects of the Afghan settlement. We are particularly grateful to our Uzbek friends and all other colleagues for their contribution to the peace process.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are regarding the issue of connectivity between Central and South Asia primarily through the prism of the integration processes that have picked up high dynamism throughout the Eurasian region. Russia has been consistently in favour of forming the Greater Eurasian Partnership, a congregative integration contour in the entire space from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, one that is maximally free for the movement of goods, capital, the workforce and services and open, without exception, to all the countries of our common continent, Eurasia, and the integration unions created there, including the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. They have displayed an interest in the Russian initiative. Implementing this long-term project will make it possible not only to accelerate the economic development of all participants but also to create a reliable material foundation of common security, stability and prosperity.
Intensifying and expanding integration collaboration within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union is an inalienable part of the process of emergence of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. I would like to note with satisfaction that Uzbekistan joined the EAEU as an observer state in December 2020.
The coordination between integration unions operating in Eurasia is being pursued, among other things, as part of the efforts to align the EAEU plans and the Belt and Road project implemented by the People’s Republic of China. Jointly with our partners, we are working to create an interconnected space between the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the SCO, via implementing a set of coordinated measures in the trade, transport, digital, energy and other spheres.
Transit and logistical initiatives are being carried out according to plan. I am referring primarily to the establishment of the North-South International Transport Corridor linking Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia with the Indian Ocean coast, as well as to the Europe-West China transcontinental transport route. A large-scale overhaul of the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian railway lines is in full swing to increase their effectiveness. Russia’s port infrastructure in the Arctic, on the Baltic, Caspian and Black seas, and on the Pacific coast is being upgraded.
In this broad context, higher connectivity between Central and South Asia is opening new vistas for the development of trade, economic and investment processes on the Eurasian continent.
First, this implies an expansion of transport routes, particularly railways, between the two regions. This would become an important element in creating a seamless, united logistical space that would link the southern ports in Iran and India with northern cities in Russia and EU countries. Russian Railways, jointly with its partners, is ready to take part in making feasibility studies for relevant projects.
We have accepted with interest President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s proposal to align the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Europe-West China corridor with new regional projects. We are ready to discuss this initiative in detail.
The idea to align the energy infrastructure of Central and South Asia is showing great promise.
The EAEU is working to form a united electric power market. This process could be synchronised with power supply projects in Central and South Asia.
Russian economic operators are making a weighty contribution to the strengthening of the energy sector in Central Asian states. Let me single out in particular our cooperation in the peaceful use of atomic energy with Uzbekistan, where Central Asia’s first nuclear power plant project is being implemented. We are also interested in participating in the construction of new gas transportation facilities, including the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline.
It is increasingly a priority to introduce advanced information and communications technologies.
Russia is implementing a national programme titled Digital Economy, an important element of which is creating a set of electronic platforms for the transport sector. We are ready for an exchange of best practices with regional partners in this regard.
The EAEU is introducing mobile apps Work without Borders and Travelling without COVID-19. Both are aimed at an early revival of business activity. A plan to establish an ecosystem of EAEU digital transport corridors has been drafted and approved.
We are implementing projects of this kind on the bilateral basis as well, including with Uzbekistan. We are ready for collaboration with other partners, too.
The implementation of our economic development plans requires the mobilisation of our political will and joint action to ensure regional security. I am not only referring to Afghanistan, but also to the general military and political trends in Asia, where new strategies and concepts are emerging, aimed not at uniting efforts towards collective work but at the containment and isolation of rivals. Such strategies are unlikely to help create a favourable atmosphere for achieving the high goals set before this conference, the importance of which for the prosperity of regional countries has been pointed out by President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in his remarks.
We believe that it is necessary to rise above such geopolitical schemes, so as to work together towards creating the most favourable conditions possible for the development of our historical economic ties, with the use of modern technology and in the interests of creating a common Eurasian space based on equality, mutual respect and a balance of interests.
At the same time, the further development of mutually beneficial ties between Central and South Asian states and their neighbours in the investment, infrastructure, humanitarian and other spheres will help to promote unification processes in Eurasia and also in a broader political context. Russia is interested in promoting this constructive agenda. I am confident that the results of this conference will contribute to this as well.