11 September 200816:22

Interview of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, Published in the Polish Newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza on September 11, 2008


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Question: How do you assess the development prospects for Russian-Polish relations?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The potential is huge; for it is steeped in centuries of our shared history, which I believe has more bright pages, although some of our opponents try to argue the opposite. Take for example our peoples' joint fight against Nazism, commemorated by the hundreds of graves of liberating Soviet soldiers reposing in Polish soil. We are grateful to the Poles for their care of them.

The volume of our trade has hit 18 billion dollars and continues to grow dynamically. Cross-region ties are being developed. The Season of Russian Culture in Poland, along with the Russian Song Festival in Zielona Gora, was a success. Presently, as part of the Season of Polish Culture, superb art groups from your country are performing before Russian audiences. Days of Polish Science are due to be held in Russia in October.

Yes, we do have differences in approaches to a number of current international issues. We regret that Poland's leadership has given its consent to host elements of a US strategic antimissile system near Russian borders.

We do not share the assessment, made by a number of Polish politicians, of the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict. Aggression unleashed by the Saakashvili regime forced Russia to take adequate military-political measures. Their objective was to repel invasion, to defend peacekeepers and civilian residents and to prevent genocide against the people of South Ossetia. Russian actions at all stages remained politically and militarily commensurate with the threat and guaranteed the nonresumption of aggression. We did not go further than this and we hope that objective, undistorted information, which is abundantly available, will enable foreign partners to realize what has happened and is happening in the region.

In pursuing our foreign policy, we strictly observe the five principles articulated by President Dmitry Medvedev: the rule of international law; multipolarity of the contemporary world; readiness to develop friendly relations with all countries, including Poland; defending the life and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be; and, lastly, attention to regions where Russia has its own privileged interests. We're convinced that this is a comprehensible basis for deepening international partnership.

Question: What are Russia-EU relations in the current situation?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Of course, we are not overelated by the EU's decision to postpone talks on a new Russia-EU basic agreement. At the same time, however, we see that a line on building strategic partnership on the basis of mutual consideration of interests has prevailed. The chief thing is that a majority of the EU member states at the September 1 summit in Brussels showed a responsible approach, realizing all too well the importance of cooperation with Russia, where quite a bit has been achieved in recent years. We are bound together with the united Europe by economic complementarity, common civilizational approaches and values, and we have a common historical heritage and undoubtedly a common future – because Russia has always been part of European civilization. Interaction with the EU, of course, is one of the key directions of our foreign policy.

As global players, Russia and the EU are mutually dependent, our security is indivisible. Therefore we consider it essential to view the problems of European security and stability in a comprehensive way, without shutting ourselves off from such themes as, for instance, US antimissiles in Eastern Europe and the situation surrounding the CFE Treaty.

We highly appreciate the efforts by the French EU Presidency and the French President personally, resulting in the six-point Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, which was endorsed on August 12 in Moscow and must be rigorously put into effect. We have fulfilled our part of all the obligations assumed.

By their aggression against South Ossetia and by the violation of their international obligations, the Tbilisi leaders themselves gave up Georgia's territorial integrity for lost. We call upon our partners to follow Russia's example and acknowledge the new realities.

We regard the statements by certain states' leaders concerning Russia's "imperial" and "revisionist" policies as completely untenable. Historically we have always sided with the weaker, even at the risk of making some hegemonic power or other angry. The moral rightness of our position is undisputed.

Question: How can the deployment of the antimissile base in Poland impact Russian-Polish relations?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Elementary military analysis shows that the European base of US global missile defenses does not have, and will not have for years to come, any targets other than Russian missiles. We believe that any unbiased expert understands that Iran does not pose any missile threat to Europe, much less to the United States. We carried out a series of consultations with Warsaw, we explained in detail our and foreign evaluations of the plans for the third GMD site. We regret that the Polish leaders still decided to host US interceptor missiles on their soil.

I will present our position in detail. For many decades, the basis for strategic stability and security in the world was parity between Russia and the United States in the sphere of strategic offensive and defensive arms. However, in recent years, the US administration chose a course towards upsetting that parity and gaining a unilateral advantage in the strategic domain. Essentially it's not just about global missile defense. We also note that the US has been reluctant to stay within the treaties on strategic offensive arms, and that it is pursuing the Prompt Global Strike concept and developing projects to deploy strike weapons in outer space. This, understandably, will not reinforce the security of Europe or of Poland itself. It is a great pity that Warsaw, perhaps not fully aware of the consequences of its decision, found itself drawn into attempts to destroy the parity nature of Russian-US agreements relating to strategic stability. We would like our Polish colleagues to understand that aside from the political and military benefits that come from establishing a "special allied relationship" with the US, they will have to share responsibility for the risks involved. It's up to Poland to decide how justified they are. We object in principle to our relations with third parties being a function of Russian-US disputes.

We leave the door open for serious talks. If the United States and Poland are really interested in guaranteeing that the antimissile base is not directed against Russia, we remain ready to consider their specific proposals. But we ought to be talking about guarantees, not about cosmetic political gestures.

Question: How are Russian-Polish relations evolving in the context of Russia's energy policy?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Possessing huge reserves of energy resources, Russia holds one of the leading positions in world energy.

Russian-Polish cooperation in the fuel and energy sector forms the basis for bilateral economic and trade relations. It accounts for more than 85 per cent of Russia's exports to Poland. Imports from Russia satisfy 97 per cent of Poland's demand for oil and more than 60 per cent for natural gas. In addition, Poland is for us one of the most important partners handling the transit of Russian energy resources to Western Europe. More than 21 million tons of oil was pumped through Poland in 2007.

Russia wants secure and uninterrupted supplies of energy resources to Europe and hence our efforts to create a North European Gas Pipeline. Implementation of this Europe-wide project, long ago approved by the European Commission, will not only enable the volume of gas export to Europe to be increased, but will also help strengthen the Russia-EU energy cooperation infrastructure as a whole.

Nord Stream does not infringe Poland's interests. No reduction is planned or will be introduced in the traditional transit flows of Russian gas through Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus. As to the choice of an export route, our country, as the supplier, reserves that right for itself. The main criteria for the proper decision are the project's economic effectiveness, stability, and security, including ecological safety.

We believe that in the modern world, energy security is indivisible. Energy producers, consumers and transit countries, figuratively speaking, are in the same boat and can, therefore, ensure that security only by acting together like partners or, at the very least, not against one another. With those who share this view, and they are the majority in Europe, we easily find a common language.

Question: During the long-standing conflicts in the Balkans and Chechnya, Russia stood firmly for the primacy of territorial integrity over the striving of national minorities toward self- determination. With the events in Georgia you adopted the diametrically opposite position. Does that change bear only a conjunctural or still a permanent character? Will Moscow return to its previous position, if for instance one of the peoples of the Russian Federation expresses a desire to secede from it?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Russia has always stood, and continues to do so, for the strict observance of international law. We responded on its basis to the events in South Ossetia. Georgia had made a perfidious, aggressive attack against Russian peacekeepers who were there lawfully, as well as against the citizens of Russia and the population of South Ossetia, causing numerous casualties and massive destruction. Russia exercised its inherent right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which states that if an armed attack occurs then a state may so act. The Georgian action falls completely within the definition "aggression," adopted by the UN in 1974.

International law places the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity on an equal basis, they are dialectically interrelated. This is straightforwardly confirmed in the 1970 UN Declaration on Principles of International Law Governing Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States, and enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the CSCE. We, of course, recognize both these principles, proceeding from the norms of international law and the above documents.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia were de facto independent states. Completely legitimately pursuant to the USSR law of April 3, 1990, these autonomous republics self-determined themselves, and seceded from Georgia, the lawfulness of which cannot be disputed, because Georgia itself seceded from the USSR under the same law. South Ossetia and Abkhazia held referendums, their peoples proclaimed independence, adopted constitutions, and created parliaments and governments which exercised jurisdiction on their territory. For the last 15 years they possessed a certain juridical personality – the right to participate in international intercourse, though not on the same scale as full-fledged subjects of international law, UN members, but in their capacity as internationally recognized parties in conflict. The constitution of present-day Georgia ceased to operate on their territory.

In respect of the principle of territorial integrity the 1970 Declaration stresses that a state possesses territorial integrity if it observes the rights of the peoples under its rule and undertakes no action violating these rights. But the leaders of Georgia repeatedly attempted to subdue South Ossetia by armed means, they restricted the rights of and discriminated against its residents in every way, up to and including mass killings; that is, trampled their right to life.

Based on this, there can be no talk about any change of Russia's positions regarding the basic principles of international law. We believe that in Kosovo, which some western countries have recognized as a subject of international law, there were no such legal, historical or other factors for self-determination as there were and are in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Belgrade was fulfilling all its obligations, approved by the international community in 1999, and did not try to use force against Kosovo after this. Tbilisi, on the contrary, kept violating its settlement obligations, agreed on after Georgia's war in the early 1990s against Abkhazia and South Ossetia; it resorted to armed provocations more than once and on the night of August 7-8 trampled all the previously existing agreements and started a new war against South Ossetia while planning a similar blitzkrieg against Abkhazia.

Also completely incorrect is the parallel with Chechnya, which in 1998 received de facto independence, was left to its own devices, became a haven for international terrorists and a year later started direct aggression against the Russian republic of Dagestan.

In the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia it was just the opposite: they were not a source of terrorist or any other threat to Georgia, never attacked it or encroached upon Georgian lands, whereas Tbilisi ever since the breakup of the USSR repeatedly undertook actions of force against them, culminating in the bombardment of a sleeping city of Tskhinval on the night of August 7-8. If we had not stopped the war and had not taken Abkhazia and South Ossetia under our protection, then the Russian authorities would have acknowledged their own inability to fulfill the Constitution of Russia and its international obligations and commitments.

Question: The actions of Russian units in Georgia that were destroying the country even after the conclusion of an informal truce, and the bellicose rhetoric from Moscow politicians have led to the fact that people in the world, particularly in the countries sympathetic toward Russia, now again perceive your country as an aggressive and dangerous neighbor. Russia is trying to pretend that it is in a position to disregard this criticism. Can your country really not fear isolation?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I cannot agree with you assessment of the world's perception of Russia. Yes, there are politicians and journalists who would like to present the situation in just this light and are attempting to impose their vision upon others. Either the lack of understanding of what's going on or a deliberate and unscrupulous distortion of the obvious facts underlies this. The leadership of Georgia committed an act of aggression, seeking to militarily extend its jurisdiction to South Ossetia, which was under the protection of the OSCE-endorsed agreements for settlement. Georgia's Grad multiple launchers, combat aircraft and artillery bombarded the South Ossetian people whom, Saakashvili had used to say he considered a part of his country. By the same token the Tbilisi regime with its own hands made the question of Georgia's territorial integrity not relevant anymore. Such are the realities which everyone will have to acknowledge, sooner or later.

I leave the comment on the actions of our troop units in Georgia after the conclusion of the truce, as well as on the allegedly bellicose rhetoric of Russian politicians to your conscience. There are the facts that were presented daily at the press conferences in Moscow, there are the testimonies from eyewitnesses and Russian and foreign journalists working in South Ossetia, and there are the impressions of officials from the UN, Council of Europe, ICRC and other international organizations who visited Tskhinval.

There is no isolation of Russia, one of the centers of the emerging multipolar world, nor is it in principle possible. Same holds for the isolation of the US, Europe, China or other major powers. We are convinced that pragmatism, common sense and a positive agenda devoid of self-deception and illusions will triumph in interstate relations, as has repeatedly been the case in the past. The EU's decisions testify exactly that a sensible, realistic point of view did prevail after all.

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