11 September 202103:43

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a modern journalism forum All of Russia 2021 in Sochi, September 10, 2021

1796-11-09-2021

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Good evening, friends.

Thank you very much for the invitation.

First of all, I will fulfil the request of President of Russia Vladimir Putin to read out his address to the participants and guests of 25th forum All of Russia 2021.

“Friends,

It gives me great pleasure to greet you at the opening of the 25th forum All of Russia 2021 in Sochi.

First held in 1996, the forum has proved its importance convincingly and has been trying for many years to promote the development of modern, high quality media in the country as a whole and its regions, to improve the standards of working with information and to build up respect for and the prestige of the journalistic profession.

Your meetings invariably become a major, high profile event in the media community and have always been noted for a busy agenda and substantive and involved interaction of the participants.

I would like to wholeheartedly congratulate the winners of the TEFI Multimedia National Award for Excellence in Journalism, which will be presented during the forum for the first time today. In this age of digital technology, this truly unique project has brought together the representatives of all media spheres and focus areas, including respected masters and new talents, and is aimed at promoting the best traditions of Russian journalism.

I am confident that the All of Russia 2021 forum will be held, as usual, at a high organisational and creative level and that its participants will be able to discuss a broad range of current topics and exchange experience, new ideas and interesting plans during the forum’s meetings, presentations and roundtable discussions.

I would like to wish you successful discussions and all the very best.

Vladimir Putin.”

It is always a pleasure to be able to talk with journalists in an open and direct dialogue. It is the most productive method. We are living in an age of information explosion. We can see that any political moves, including on the international stage, are more effective if they receive media coverage. I did not say that it is positive or negative coverage; the important thing is that it should be truthful and objective.

Two days ago we marked International Journalists Solidarity Day. Yours is a high-risk profession. These days we are commemorating our colleagues who have died in the line of duty, doing their jobs to the last minute, including Andrey Stenin, Anatoly Klyan, Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who died in 2014 in south-eastern Ukraine.

Our conversation today will be based on your requirements. I am ready to answer any questions and provide the necessary comments. We need to understand what you think about our work. We appreciate what you write about our efforts, including your critical comments. We often see useful hints in them, which we use actively. Today the information space is filled with breaking “real” and “fake” news, which spread around the country and the world within half a second.

It is important to support honest journalism based on reliable facts and respect for your profession. I would like to talk about this based on any examples you may find interesting.

Question: How did the Russian Foreign Ministry respond to the Ukrainian President’s statement?

Sergey Lavrov: Which one? He has made many statements.  

Question: It seems that he wants to go to war.

Sergey Lavrov: The Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council said they would occupy Donetsk and Lugansk if the Commander in Chief issues the order. Unfortunately, tens and maybe even hundreds of thousands of people would lose their lives as a result. This logic speaks volumes. As far as I understand, President Zelensky’s statement was made in response to this. Later some people from his office (I have lost count of them) said this was unlikely at the current stage. There are probably various stages.

Here is what President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky said during his address at Stanford University, which was part of his lengthy visit to the United States. He said that Ukraine will be a strong, confident and successful country and a European leader. He said he was sure that this will happen because everything is possible. It appears that the “everything is possible” concept also includes a war with the Russian Federation. I believe that these comments do not even merit our attention. We have got used to these groundless statements which are completely permeated with Russophobia. It is unfortunate that President Zelensky, who took office under completely different slogans and who was also supported by people in eastern Ukraine, is now making a statement that anyone who lives in Ukraine and considers himself Russian should get out and go to Russia because he has no business there.  He has voiced another statement today. Replying to a question whether he would run for the second term, President Zelensky said: “No, I would rather fulfil all my promises during the first term and then relax.” We can see how he fulfils his promises.

One can comment on this endlessly. The entire chain of legislative motions clearly aims to undermine every provision of the Minsk agreements. My response is negative. I can see an echo of the KVN comedy show here. Perhaps this is the way to win the voters’ hearts. It is regrettable if there is no other way.

We always underscore our readiness to resume normal relations with Ukraine because, for us, the people of Ukraine are a close and fraternal nation. President of Russia Vladimir Putin, who wrote an article about this, has repeatedly said so. The saying “people get the leaders they deserve” does not work here.

Question: Given your considerable experience of collaboration with your foreign counterparts, whom would you include in your personal threesome or real professionals regardless of whether you found working with them hard or comfortable? Lavrov’s top three foreign ministers? 

Sergey Lavrov: I really wouldn’t like to offend anyone. The overwhelming majority of my partners and opposite numbers are top-rate professionals.  I am afraid to list one, two or three, or even ten names lest I offend anyone. The main objective facing every foreign minister is to uphold the interests of their countries. We are guided by the same considerations. Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept says that the aim of our foreign policy is to create maximally favourable external conditions for Russia’s development, for its economic growth, better social services and living standards, and its security in every sense. We should defend the rights of Russians internationally, be it just travellers, or nationals living abroad for some or other reasons, or Russian business people, who often face discrimination.  

Today, in working to create favourable external conditions for our domestic development, we have to take into account the policy that the West has pursued towards us for a number of years now. It was launched long before the Ukrainian events. The first sanctions were introduced long before them. This policy is about the US-led West being displeased with the loss of dominance it enjoyed for several centuries. New power centres have emerged, centres of economic and financial might, centres of political influence. The West wants to contain the development of these alternative power centres in every way. But it is unaware that it is engaging in futile attempts, given the objective nature of the processes that are shaping the multi-polar world. Openly declaring the course for the containment of China and Russia reveals the essence of the Western plan.

The trans-border threats that are leaving no one alone, threats like the pandemic, international terrorism, drug trafficking, food security, and fresh water shortages, have exacerbated numerous problems affecting the entire mankind without any exception. Solving these problems is only possible by joint efforts, because threats and risks know no borders or respect them.  

The US-led West has entered into an unprecedented confrontation with Russia.  It is introducing illegitimate sanctions and using other tools of unscrupulous rivalry. They are attempting to slow down our development. Taking into account this approach, we engage in import substitution in the broadest sense of the word in a bid to replace all that depended on our technological relations with the West.  I am referring not only to food but also high technologies and defence technologies. Our aim is to do away with dependence on others in spheres that are crucial to our security and everyday life.

But we are not lapsing into autarchy, self-isolation or confrontation.  We are open to cooperation with all parties that are ready to do so on an equal basis without ultimatums or diktat and with reliance on the experience of negotiating diplomacy and a search for compromises and a balance of interests. If the West is prepared to accept this, we will resume our relations on a mutually beneficial basis at a moment’s notice. At the current stage, however, we are not and cannot be sure of our partners’ reliability. We must secure ourselves while remaining open to the world. But we will not depend on this world in the critically important fields of our life and development.

But let us go back to the beginning of your question. Occasionally you come across a person who is working to ensure the interests of his or her country, albeit formulated to the detriment of others. This is highly interesting. If he or she is a good professional, they will invent arguments, although inventing them against the pooling of efforts for the common good is a tall order. But there are specialists of this sort and I respect them. They have assignments set by ideologists in high places and they are performing these. I won’t name any names right now.  Basically, the overwhelming majority of those involved are professionals. It is another matter that a professional is like a lawyer and will try to prove what is expected of him or her, now on the side of the defence, now on the side of the prosecution.

Question: When can we expect reciprocal recognition of anti-COVID vaccines by Russia and the EU countries? After all, everyone is aware that the living would be much easier if there were an opportunity for the reciprocal recognition of the vaccines. Don’t you think that the failure to recognise our vaccines is yet another kind of pressure that the collective West is bringing to bear on Russia? Serbia has “accepted” a Russian vaccine and produces it on its territory. People are being successfully inoculated, including with a Chinese and other Western vaccines. We, as a country, are taking the view that geopolitics must not be involved where people have to be helped. 

Sergey Lavrov: You are quite right that it is inexpedient to involve geopolitics. It is one of those areas that I have mentioned in answering the previous question. The obvious, global interest is being sacrificed to the immediate geopolitical calculations; [vaccines] are included in the arsenals used to contain others, to prevent them from cooperating with partners. Speaking concretely about the EU, there is the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Its representative said the other day that they would need some extra time. They hope to register all the vaccines they are analysing – or at least pass the final verdict – in late 2021 or early 2022.    

Russian health organisations have worked with the EU in this field for quite a long time. There are also objective factors of delay, because this was the first contact between Russian specialists and European experts. There were no talks or professional discussions before that.

It has transpired that we do not take into account a number of matters that are mandatory for clarification in accordance with the EU principles. This is neither good, nor bad – just a different methodology. Practice is providing the best testimonial to Sputnik V. There has not been a single accident. I am not even attempting to compare it with other vaccines that have a somewhat different “record.” Were the discussions professional, the [positive] result, I am confident, would have been achieved long ago.

The overwhelming majority of EU countries are obeying the bloc discipline. They expect a go-ahead from the EMA. But the EU laws, the EU rules in no way ban any country from accepting national decisions, registering Sputnik V and using it.  Hungary was the first to do this, followed by Slovakia not so long ago. No one has “chastised” or punished them.  Talking with the majority of our partners, I feel that they would prefer positive decisions as soon as possible. Those who wanted to do this based on a national decision, have done so. The door is open to all others as well.

Now let us talk about the politicisation. I remember how early in the year President of France Emmanuel Macron made emotional statements, accusing Russia and China of wishing to promote a “vaccine war.” The French foreign minister was also saying something of this sort. In spring, Ursula von der Leyen declared that [Europeans] should rely on Western vaccines rather than mess around with the Russian vaccine.  Now let us look at the Western vaccines. The EMA has signed purchase contracts for various Western vaccines before registering them. If one goes by commonsense, one could reach non-trivial solutions rather than activate bureaucratic procedures.  

Yet another example is the State of San Marino. They asked us to supply the Sputnik V vaccine for their entire population. This is a small country with a population of 30-40 thousand. We did. They got their jabs. And now they are facing a huge demand from vaccine tourism. San Marino is a small enclave inside Italy. The Italians do not recognise Sputnik V, but a San Marino resident with a Sputnik V certificate can enter Italy. I was in Rome recently and talked with the prime minister and my counterpart. I drew their attention to this fact. They said they were aware of this irregularity: as of October 1, San Marino residents inoculated with the Russian vaccine would not be able to visit Italy. This is a true story.    

More than a year ago, when President Vladimir Putin announced the creation of Sputnik V, he emphasised right away our openness to the most broad-based cooperation. In April of this year, while attending the online G20 summit dedicated to the fight against the pandemic, President Putin supported the decision to waive the patent protection of all vaccines while fighting the disease. This is a financial loss and an act of humanism. No other vaccine-producing country has done this to date. But our position is on the table. Everyone is aware of this. Brussels made some timid attempts (that ended in nothing) to talk about reciprocal recognition of vaccines. We are totally prepared for this. Just a  few days ago now, the G20 health ministers were meeting in Italy, where Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko supported this approach, suggesting that the G20 countries come to terms on recognising national decision-based certificates. All of this is “in the air” and there is no shortage of constructive ideas on our part.    

We are being accused of attempting to unleash “vaccine wars” and inspiring the “anti-vaccination movement” (with people taking to the streets to demand the lifting of quarantine restrictions). It is embedded in the [Western] thinking that they must constantly contain the Russian Federation, invent aggressive and even malicious fake charges against us. We can’t do anything about it, although our door is always open.

Question: We are all watching the developments in Afghanistan and along the borders of the former USSR, and many among us remember the ten-year Afghan war of the 1980s. In your opinion, is the presence of the Taliban near our border dangerous? How is the situation expected to unfold moving forward, and what does Russia intend to do? Do you expect the international community to recognise the Taliban?

Sergey Lavrov: There have always been risks and danger in this region. Neutralising these risks is precisely the main task of the associations established by the Russian Federation, our neighbours, partners and the CSTO and the SCO.

We have been maintaining continuous dialogue with the Taliban for several years now. And we were not alone, since the Americans, the Europeans, the Chinese and other countries have also been talking to them. UN Security Council resolutions have been providing a solid foundation for our actions: they stipulate that all work on the Afghan issue must be conducted through an inclusive dialogue involving all the Afghani political and ethnic forces, which includes the Taliban movement. Pashtuns account for about 40 to 45 percent of the country’s population. It is obvious that the only way out of the current situation consists of making sure the Pashtuns, the Uzbeks, the Hazaras, and the Tajiks all come together within a single political process. This is what we have been advocating all along, ever since President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul and the Taliban took control over much of the country’s territory. We have heard and welcome the statements by the Taliban that they have no intention to usurp power, and that they want to form an inclusive government and do not intend to cause any problems for their neighbours, including the Central Asian countries. They have no plans of invading their territories, and are committed to fighting terrorists remaining on Afghan territory, including ISIS and Al-Qaeda units. So far, there has been nothing to contradict these stated intentions.

We are working closely with our Central Asian neighbours, and have held a virtual summit in the CSTO plus Uzbekistan format. Uzbekistan is not a CSTO member, but President Shavkat Mirziyoyev joined the summit. We also maintain military-to-military contacts, and have held a series of military exercises in Tajikistan with our colleagues from Uzbekistan. We are keeping our powder dry, as the saying goes. For now, nothing suggests there is a real threat that this unrest may spill over into the territory of our allies. We are doing everything to be prepared for any such eventuality.

At the same time multiple conferences are taking place, calling for a peaceful settlement and articulating the settlement principles along the lines that I have mentioned: an inclusive political process, security, the fact that keeping the hotbeds of terrorism on Afghan soil is unacceptable, and fighting drug trafficking. Heroin production increased several times over the years of the US presence in this country. Today, Afghanistan accounts for 90 percent of the world’s narcotics production.

Other matters need solutions, including the rights of women and girls, although regional stability remains an uncontested priority for us. The UN Security Council is currently discussing this subject. They are exploring the parameters for extending the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. It has been working there since 2002, and a decision has been made to renew its mandate in this new environment. Our embassy is working. We have had to trim its staff by sending almost all family members, women and children, back home. Those who stayed behind are “mission capable.” We receive valuable information from them, and use it in our contacts with our foreign partners.

Our colleagues have suggested holding a UN Security Council P5 ministerial meeting on Afghanistan. Just a few days ago, there was a meeting of countries neighbouring Afghanistan including three Central Asian countries, Pakistan, Iran and China. There are other proposals, for example of the Group of Twenty, currently chaired by Italy, to convene a conference on this subject. Our proposal of reviving the Moscow format still stands. This framework includes all five Central Asian countries, as well as Iran, Pakistan, China, India, Russia and the United States. This format has been driven in recent years by the troika formed by Russia, the United States and China, or the extended troika (plus Pakistan). We are also interested in Iran joining this conversation, as well as India. We are not seeking to convene a conference just for the sake of getting some media coverage, never mind who actually gets to sit at the negotiating table. What we want is to bring together those who can have a real impact on the developments in Afghanistan and on various political forces within it not in words but in deeds.

Question: Do you think that the international community will recognise the Taliban?

Sergey Lavrov: Everyone is now talking about the need to maintain ties with the Taliban, including those who, unlike Russia, moved their embassies out of the country. A number of other countries also left their diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. Almost everyone will definitely have to talk to the Taliban, or already have to do this.

I think that the specific modalities of recognition will depend on how the Taliban delivers on its stated objectives and principles.

Question: You have already mentioned Ukraine. President Vladimir Zelensky and his government have repeatedly allowed themselves rather undiplomatic statements regarding Nord Stream 2. You, on the other hand, are quite clearly explaining Russia's position to the Western media. Do you think this signal is reaching people through conventional media? Or have communications changed so much that they need new forms of information delivery? What advice would you give to modern classic journalists?

Sergey Lavrov: I would not say the form in which information is presented is of fundamental importance. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Modern technologies have made information a “hot” product, which can sway public opinion overnight, even in a minute, can create a sense of risk, or, conversely, somehow “lull” the audience. Very often, fake news has this effect. Therefore, it is so important to rely on facts, to double-check them. But fakes will not go anywhere either. They have become an aspect of the media landscape, and more than that – they have become part of many of our Western partners’ activities in the international arena. Look what they are writing about us, how focused they are on stating that Russia is acting wrongly on the global stage.

In their documents, they emphasise that they are ready to normalise relations with Moscow, only Russia has to “change its behaviour” first. Changing behaviour means giving up Crimea, “withdrawing from Ukraine” (although no one saw us there), “taking hands off Moldova,” “giving up Abkhazia and South Ossetia” and more such demands. So we begin to cite the facts that have caused the current geopolitical situation in our space. We remind them that, in fact, Mikhail Saakashvili invaded South Ossetia and attacked our peacekeepers (there were casualties – that was a direct attack against a state). In 2009, the European Union commissioned a special report on the causes of the August 2008 war. A group of experts headed by Heidi Tagliavini (Switzerland) concluded that the order was given by Saakashvili, and that triggered the conflict. They do not listen. We could post this in blogs, on social media, or we might as well print a double page spread – they do not want to hear it. It is their policy.

Again, my colleague, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba says in a statement that they are now working on convening a Normandy format summit, where the parties will sit down and fully solve all the problems regarding the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. At the same time, head of the Ukrainian presidential office Andrey Yermak declares that these agreements have already lost relevance. Head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Contact Group in Minsk Leonid Kravchuk says the same thing – we need to revise the Minsk Agreements, so that, for instance, the militia should relinquish control of the border first, and other issues, including the Russian language, their status, amnesty, and the new elections, will be considered after that. This proposal, which runs counter to the Minsk Agreements, is clearly and obviously absurd. Next, they say the Normandy format is good, only it needs to be expanded to include the United States, the UK and Poland.

So when they urge us to hold a Normandy format meeting, we ask them to explain first how it all fits together. The policies depriving the Russian-speaking population of the right to use their own language, refusing amnesty to the participants in the 2014 events, and denying Donetsk and Lugansk a say in organising the local elections – these are the Minsk Agreements in reverse. They are being derailed. These policies have been enshrined in Ukrainian legislation.

Our colleagues from Germany and France have proposed that the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine meet in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. We are talking to them, trying to ascertain their attitude to what Zelensky and his team are doing, legally cancelling out any possibility of fulfilling the Minsk Agreements. They say we need to get together and discuss things there. This is not a serious and professional discussion. We ask them point-blank: when you insist that Russia fulfil the Minsk Agreements (this is included in their guidelines for relations with Russia, five principles with one of them for Russia to comply with the Minsk Agreements, even though there is not a word there about Russia, only ‘Kiev – Donetsk’ and ‘Kiev – Lugansk’), who do you think the parties are to the conflict? Do you want to know what the answer is? You will not believe it. “Let's keep this matter in the plane of constructive ambiguity.” What kind of ambiguity are they talking about?

The Minsk Agreements say all issues must be coordinated between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. What kind of “constructive ambiguity” is there? In such a situation, to attend this meeting would mean to have no respect for oneself, because these people have no intention whatsoever of fulfilling the Minsk Agreements, and neither are they going to comply with the decisions of the December 2019 Paris summit of the Normandy Four on the status (which was to be permanently enshrined in the constitution in accordance with Minsk and Paris), on the amnesty and the elections.

Returning to your question, in short – I can picture a classic journalist who goes home, opens their computer and becomes a blogger. As for the reverse, I can’t picture this so far.

Question: Thinking back to the Soviet times, many young specialists and diplomats dreamed of going to the West in order to see a new life and enjoy exciting things; probably, the salaries were good as well. If you look at Russia, at our capital, life in Moscow not only successfully competes with Western countries, but, in some respects, even surpasses them. What do young diplomats and specialists think about such tours now? Does the West still hold sway for them?

Sergey Lavrov: You are right in the sense that the quality of life in our country is in no way inferior, and in many respects even exceeds what exists in most Western countries.

President Putin made decisions on a significant increase in diplomats’ salaries over 10 years ago (it took us a while to get there). After the 1990s, the situation was the other way round, when mid-level diplomats, “workhorses” and analysts – the backbone of the departments they worked at – went into business, because businesses needed people speaking foreign languages. Former analysts became translators or airport greeters. A presidential executive order significantly increased salaries of diplomats working in Russia and abroad. Now, we are approximately at the average European level in terms of salaries.

There are many people in our profession who do not want to go anywhere. They feel fine staying here with their families, parents and friends. However, when applying for a job, we sign a paper where, in accordance with the law On the Specifics of the Federal State Civil Service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, we agree that we will be subject to rotation. Rotation means that after a certain number of years in the job, you must go for a tour abroad. The country and the duration of stay are agreed upon based on the interests of the Foreign Ministry and the diplomat in question. But this has to be done.

There are not so many cases when people refuse to go or ask for an exception from the rotation rules. The overwhelming majority of our employees are perfectly aware of the fact that in order to become a real professional, one has to work abroad and experience this vital part of our profession. Without it, it would be hard to assume leading positions at the Ministry for they would lack experience.

The overwhelming majority of our employees are ambitious people. They want to build the most prominent and advanced career. We have no shortage of employees at our foreign missions or people willing and ready to go to work abroad.

Question: Thank you for your good work. We all understand that Russia is under a lot of pressure. In these difficult circumstances, you continue to uphold Russia’s interests and, in my opinion, you are doing it expertly and competently. Thank you very much for this.

At a plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum, Rossiya TV journalist and session moderator Sergey Brilev asked President Putin whether he would be sorry to see Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoigu leave for the State Duma, to which Vladimir Putin gave a short answer: “I will.” What about you? Would you be sorry to leave? What will you miss the most as Foreign Minister?

Sergey Lavrov: President Putin gave a short answer, but it was more than one word. He said: “It's a shame ... It’s up to them to decide.”

First, we need to wait for the election outcome. I prefer not to get ahead of myself. At this point, I do not rule out any option regarding my further employment.

Question: How do you see South Ossetia’s status going forward?

Sergey Lavrov: South Ossetia is an independent state. Russia recognised its sovereignty on August 26, 2008. It was a deliberate decision which we made after doing much thinking in the face of the completely frenzied position of then Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who was absolutely “out of his mind.” Apparently, he came under the bad influence of NATO, announcing during its summit in April, 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine would become NATO members. I think this brought him down psychologically and gave him an illusion that NATO would fight for him and take back the lands he was oppressing.

Concurrently, Abkhazia declared independence as well and did so because during this war, caches were discovered in that Republic with weapons and documents showing that Abkhazia was next on the list after South Ossetia.

We immediately recognised the independence of these republics, because we realised that only our protection could save them from Georgian “militarism” led by Mikhail Saakashvili.

By the way, NATO’s statement of April 2008 to the effect that Georgia and Ukraine would become part of NATO has now “reached” the ears of Kiev leaders. They are obsessed with it. They keep saying that they are “ripe” and even “overripe” for NATO membership. It electrifies their minds. I think I can understand them. They have completely failed with their economy, social policy and tariffs. Their belligerent rhetoric to the effect that “they are in Europe,” they are “the leaders of Europe” and that “they should have joined NATO a long time ago,” and “have been sitting in the waiting room for too long” distracts voters and makes, as they think, interesting news.

Our NATO colleagues must know that you cannot take back things that have been said. If they proclaimed at this level that Ukraine and Georgia would join NATO at some point, and have now realised perfectly well that this path leads “nowhere” and is an absolute non-starter, that means they should not have uttered these words in the first place.

South Ossetia is independent by the choice of its people. Its future depends on its people’s will.

Question: Elections are round the corner. We know that United Russia has been winning them since 2003. There is little doubt about the upcoming elections too. 

Sergey Lavrov: I will communicate your forecast.

Question: My colleague said that today Moscow was no longer inferior to the leading world capitals. Things are different in the provinces, some are still inferior.

Fierce disputes are in progress on the subject of the elections. Journalists, our colleagues, are giving their reasons. In a nutshell, one party says it [a United Russia victory] would be a good thing, because it means stability. The other party claims it would be bad, because there would be no development; cronyism and corruption start to rise when the same people stay in power for a long time, including in the regions.

As a person, who has decided to consider and solve this country’s domestic problems, among other matters, how do you see these two forces? How can a compromise be found between stability and development?

Sergey Lavrov: I agree with you that life in the regions is different from that in Moscow. In this sense, the decisions on the need to develop the Russian Far East and East Siberia and to introduce incentives for investment and for people who would like to move there, which President of Russia Vladimir Putin announced at the Eastern Economic Forum, are of immense importance. All these fundamental decisions have been spelled out. The next step is to translate them into laws.

I am travelling around this country. Business trips aside, I am fond of Altai, where I always try to find time for recreation [rafting] on mountain rivers.  I see how people live in provincial cities and villages. It is a fact that the presidential and governmental agenda is prioritising the interests of regions.  The Government has drafted a series of measures that will be formalised quite soon. They are sure to be supported by the regions.  

As for stability and development, the main thing is that these two notions should not negate each other in practice. Stability is certainly an important thing.  We can see how in some post-Soviet countries it has been sacrificed to ambitions and the desire to seize power based on some promises.

I agree that more can be done and with better quality. This is obvious. Any person in any field is able to do more and work better. I also agree with those saying that you should promise what you are in a position to achieve. As our leading political force, United Russia is aligning its electoral programme. It is well aware of this country’s budget potential: like any other faction in the State Duma it has access to this information.  It will not promise anything impracticable. But I think it useful that every election campaign prompts any party to better realise its responsibility.   

It is people who will go to the polls. People would like to have more development. I listed the examples showing how the Government, on the President’s instructions, will respond to these wishes. I am confident that people do not want a recurrence of [Ukrainian-type] “Maidans” and colour revolutions. Neither do they want the “big brother” from abroad to do the decision-making on our domestic and foreign affairs. We went through this earlier.  Perhaps many of those present here did not live in that epoch, but many remember, or at least their parents have told them about the first post-Soviet years, when it was believed that we were in our Western friends’ pockets. Their advisers held important positions in the Government, at banks, etc. and determined our actions.

Unlike other post-Soviet countries (I don’t want to offend anyone), the Russians have a special feeling of national dignity. Dignity should be combined with family prosperity. I think the merger of these two things will be an optimal combination. The Government and the President are certainly out to achieve this. They understand the importance of this task as no one else does and they are willing to address it.

Question: Everyone knows you are a football fan. Are you following the renewed Russian national team’s performance in the qualifying matches for the World Cup? What do you think about the new coaching staff’s first steps?

Sergey Lavrov: How can one talk about Valery Karpin and not mention Spartak? They are inseparable. Once a Spartak member, always a Spartak member.

Of course, I’m following it and I don’t go to bed until a match is over. I'm rooting for them. Of course, not everything is working out as we would like. There were headlines in Sport-Express like “The Result is There, but There was no Game.” This is probably a harsh thing to say. All the more so, since Karpin hit the ground running. He did not even have one week to test out his ideas in practice.

Recently I read a sizable interview with Dmitry Alenichev who is a good friend of mine, the Spartak legend and the legend of Russian football, in general. He made it clear that Karpin should make it. I really do hope this will be the case.

I think it was unfair to fire Karpin from Spartak mid-season, when the team ranked second. It was a shame because he did a great job working in the team. He has all my support. Judging by how the players respond to what is going on, he is doing the right thing.

Question: Since we are in a resort town right now, I would like to ask you a question about holidays. You travel a lot. You visited different countries and different Russian cities. Can you share with us your favourite holiday spots? What impressed you most in Sochi?

Sergey Lavrov: Everything in Sochi is impressive. Most certainly.

I have already covered the holidays part. I love rafting on mountain rivers during the summer months. In winter I try to go to Siberia with my friends which we manage to do more often than not.

By the way, I visited your native North Ossetia. They took me to a gorge, where a table was set and there were three pies and that was not all. Now that I remember North Ossetia, why not that place? It is spectacularly beautiful.

Question: I own Serafim YouTube channel. They call us bloggers.

Sergey Lavrov: Youtubers, no?

Question: I like it better that way. I committed it to memory. I would like to invite you to our channel. We are young people. I’m 24 years old. We discuss a variety of matters, primarily the ones related to religion, but also politics and art, among other things.

More recently, you covered the situation surrounding Orthodoxy around the world. In your first quote you are saying that the Russian Orthodox Church has come under strong pressure from a number of Western states, primarily the United States, which has set itself a goal of destroying the unity of world Orthodoxy.

At the beginning of our conversation you said that journalists must validate the facts. Could you elaborate on why this categorical expression - “conceived a design” and “set themselves a goal” rather than simply “acting” and, at the same time, “harming” Orthodoxy? It turns out that this is aimed specifically at destroying the Eastern Christian Orthodox religion?

You mentioned that the Russian Orthodox Church is spreading its values ​​across the border which helps the Russian Federation achieve its foreign policy goals. Don't you think that such statements are not helpful if we want to improve the reputation of the Russian Orthodox Church throughout the world, given the way Russia’s foreign policy is seen today in a number of Western countries? Does it mean that the cooperation that you are talking about may be damaging for the reputation of the ROC as a religious institution?

Will you join us on our channel?

Sergey Lavrov: Your first question was about how serious and substantiated the claims are that the United States had set itself the goal to undermine the position of the world Orthodoxy. We know this for a fact. They are not even making a secret out of it. Under the Trump administration, they had special Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. His scope of duties included freedom of religion. He did quite a bit to try and persuade Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to give tomos to Ukrainian schismatics. This is how the non-canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine came into being. They “pushed aside” the Ukrainian clergy who opposed this and appointed their own metropolitan. Now, the main concern is to take property away from the canonical Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (churches and parishes). Bartholomew made a point of visiting the celebrations on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's independence. I read Ukrainian media. They talk about it openly, at least those who are trying to assess the situation without bias.

Question: What goals does the United States pursue?

Sergey Lavrov: Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is directly dependent on the United States and on those who work in different areas in the US, including finance. This applies not only to Ukraine. Reportedly, they are now trying to create a similar autocephalous non-canonical church in Belarus. You saw what happened in Montenegro when the Serbian Patriarch came to the enthronement of the Metropolitan of Montenegro. The Montenegrin Orthodox Church is part of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Quite tough protests were stoked. Everyone knows that the President of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, who is still reeling from the shock of his defeat in the parliamentary elections, tried to create problems for his government, and, while doing so, to show his US and other Western colleagues that he is willing to oppose Orthodoxy. They are twisting the arms of the churches for them to recognise the schismatic head of the so-called Orthodox Church of Ukraine Epiphanius.

The Greek churches have settled on a compromise with their conscience. Both the Greek Orthodox Church and the Cypriot Orthodox Church are now working on the Antioch Orthodox Church (which has parishes in Syria, Lebanon and a number of African countries). There were also attempts to try and persuade the Patriarch of Alexandria, the Patriarch of Jerusalem and church leaders in Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania to go down the same path. The efforts are quite extensive, and these clergy have come under a lot of pressure. So, we know what we are talking about. We are publicly calling to leave the Church be.

With regard to the claims that the ROC’s international activities are helping advance Russia’s foreign policy, we are not looking up to the West's reaction to our foreign policy moves. The Russian people are our main concern, and their interest in having spiritual memories wherever they go, so that they can enjoy the traditions they are familiar with. The values ​​promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church include family, children, youth, and their upbringing, and all of this is included in our state guidelines.

The most recent decisions made by President Putin also reflect the original soul of our people and the essence of our domestic policy. We must do our best to support these values outside the country. The fact that the Russian Orthodox Church stands for traditional family, spiritual and moral values and vehemently opposes the attempts to impose aggressive neoliberal approaches on everyone and resists this pressure on the people, as well as the attempts to stupefy everyone everywhere with their neoliberal ideas, is, in many ways, one reason for it coming under the attack.

Question: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is viewed as “Putin’s” church not only in the West, but also in Ukraine. This is what people think about the unification of churches.

Sergey Lavrov: Have you seen the demonstration against the arrival of Bartholomew and the way he lobbied for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine? It was not Vladimir Putin who led people into the streets. People took to the streets because they believe, while in the West faith, as one of the pillars of human nature, is becoming in short supply. Some countries there resist efforts to impose neoliberal values on them. Hungary adopted a law to this effect, so that they leave children alone. Just look at the backlash Hungary has had to face. This is all the same.

Question: Will you come to a YouTube channel?

Sergey Lavrov: Maria Zakharova is in charge of all the bloggers and Youtubers.

Question: In 2019, you spoke in Kirkenes, Norway, during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of northern Norway from Nazi invaders. King Harald V of Norway attended the ceremony. This was a large-scale celebration. You said that Russia’s border with Norway is probably the most peaceful border in Europe, since we have never been at war with Norway, which provides a solid foundation for our neighbourly relations. This was all in 2019. In March 2020, the borders closed, but we remained in touch with foreign journalists, our colleagues, although instead of face-to-face contacts, we have had to communicate remotely. Still, I have been noticing an unusual coolness recently. In your opinion, how Russia’s isolation from European countries affected the perception of our country, primarily by the Western community? How can journalists change this situation? Will we return to a pre-pandemic world or will there be a new world, relations of a new kind and a different attitude towards our country?

Sergey Lavrov: Let me go back to what I said at the very beginning of this meeting. We are open to cooperation, as long as it is equitable, fair and mutually beneficial. We do not want our neighbours or any of our partners taking steps towards Russia that jeopardise our security. There is a law in Norway prohibiting the permanent deployment of foreign armed forces on its soil, but they are now bypassing this law as part of NATO’s eastward expansion and in violation of the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act that stipulates that there will be no additional permanent peacetime stationing of substantial combat forces. NATO infrastructure is approaching the Belarusian border, and consequently is drawing near our border. In the Baltics, Canadian, British and German units are coming to Norway. When I asked my colleague, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, how does this rhyme with their laws, she answered that they are stationed on a rotational basis, and hence nothing has changed.

But you are right. One can feel a chill in their attitude, which is sad, since we have not given them any cause for concern. We always seek to resolve matters that may arise with our Norwegian colleagues, our neighbours in a peaceful manner and to mutual benefit. The same applies to the Treaty Concerning Maritime Delimitation and Cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean that we signed in 2010. It required extensive preparations, and is a case in point of how the two sides found the strength to balance their interests and find a compromise. Norway and Russia have introduced visa-free travel for people living near the border.

I was really touched by their attention in 2019 during the visit to Kirkenes, and I also visited this place five years before that to mark 70 years since Finnmark’s liberation from Nazi invaders. King Harald V of Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide attended the ceremony. The square where the main celebrations were taking place in 2019 was packed with people. Children wore special costumes painted in the colours of the Norwegian and Russian flags and were singing, although it was freezing outside. It was cold there. After that, we went to the monument to Soviet soldiers, together with the King and the Prime Minister, to lay a wreath.

Not everything is perfect in our relations with Norway, and there are some points of contention that have to do with our economic interests. In particular, they are quite reluctant to hold consultations on Spitsbergen regarding the application of the 1920 treaty. Still, we are discussing these subjects. If you have a feeling that they are losing appetite for working with us, I will try to find out if this is the case, and I will refer to what you said as a person who experienced this kind of feeling.

However, I believe that the pandemic, when everything closed down, is definitely to blame for these developments. But there will be a gradual opening, at least I hope so, although it is hard to say when we will reach the end of the tunnel. Doctors and scientists have so far been struggling to understand this pandemic, and how it will affect us in the future.

Question: The North Caucasus is renowned for its tourism potential. Today, the development of the hospitality industry is a high-priority task for North Ossetia. What should we do to attract Russian and foreign tourists?

Sergey Lavrov: If you are asking me what should be done to attract tourists to North Ossetia, I would like to ask you what should be done to improve our relations with Norway. If you are responsible for information in North Ossetia, then the republic, most likely, has experts on winter and summer tourism. You should do everything necessary, so that your home republic thrives and prospers and becomes more beautiful.

Question: We are now witnessing all-out restrictions on the work of the Russian media abroad. We can see how foreign authorities are constantly harassing RT, Sputnik and other media outlets. We are forced to respond by adopting symmetrical sanctions. What do you think about this situation and this undeclared media war? How promising is it, and what might the eventual outcome of all this be?

Sergey Lavrov: War has now been practically declared. Maria Zakharova regularly discusses this subject in detail, and she provides material and, most importantly, facts. We waited for two years, while expecting the British authorities to issue a visa for a TASS correspondent who had been denied accreditation, and whose visa has not been extended since 2019. We warned them that we do not want journalists to suffer from these media wars or any others, but that we will be forced to respond because they have already violated all ethical norms. We asked a BBC correspondent to leave the country after explaining the entire situation to her. She understood everything very well, nodded and felt distressed. After leaving, she started to say that this situation was a disgrace. The BBC made certain statements. There are many examples of this. It was announced today that a RIA Novosti correspondent will not be accredited for a memorial event marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, without explaining the reasons.  There are many such examples.

Question: The Union of Journalists has already expressed its indignation.

Sergey Lavrov:  I have read this. When members of the Anonymous group disclosed documents and files showing that the British Foreign Office directly cooperates with the media and provides them with materials as to how they should blame the Russian Federation for everything, nothing came of it. Facebook has obliged Russian media outlets to mark their products as created by the state-controlled media. This applies to RIA Novosti and ITAR- TASS and some others. At the same time, the BBC is also financed by the state. We have given them this example, but they have replied that they have a democratic system, while everything in Russia is authoritarian. This would sound funny but it really happened.

They promote their own approaches, including via international organisations, and establish certain platforms outside universal organisations. For example, UNESCO, among its other responsibilities, deals with the media and information. It would appear that they could discuss anything they wanted there and introduce certain innovations in international cooperation. On the contrary, French authorities have established a certain international partnership to fight fake news and ensure freedom in cyber-space. This partnership involves several dozen people who obviously share French approaches.  We ask them why it is impossible to do this at UNESCO. They reply that we will prevent them from drafting the required provisions. This means that they are drafting certain provisions in their own inner circle without any alternative opinion, and later present them as the ultimate truth.

We are also witnessing alarming trends at UNESCO. Unlike other NGOs, Reporters Without Borders that, by sheer coincidence, also has its headquarters in Paris, is feeling quite at ease there. It receives certain instructions and certain extra-budgetary funding. It implements projects under UNESCO’s flags, although UNESCO, as an inter-governmental organisation, did not make such decisions. And they stepped aside when Sputnik suggested signing an agreement with the UNESCO Secretariat. One of the arguments was that Sputnik was denied access to news conferences at the Elysee Palace.  Is it normal for an international organisation to cite such arguments?

Technically speaking, the French are quite advanced in this field. For example, they passed a law on combatting fake news about 18 months ago. Members of the lower house of parliament approved it, but the Senate did not. Nevertheless, they have enacted it. Under this law, one judge has the right to block any media outlet without any adversary trial in the space of 48 hours and revoke its licence on this basis. One judge is all it takes. The law remains in force, although the Senate did not support it. Therefore freedom, equality and fraternity are not very free in this situation. It is necessary to fight for the truth.

Question: You mentioned not so long ago that Russia would not defend the rights of our compatriots abroad by force. This is not our style, but nevertheless we will hold wrongdoers accountable for violating these rights and inciting hatred for compatriots at any international venues. Doesn’t it seem to you not only as a minister but also as a man, who heads the list, as we hope, of prospectively one of the biggest parliamentary parties that it is necessary to pass a law on defending the rights of our compatriots? We have Article 69 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, where in its Part 3 we undertook these commitments.   It will be easier then and more effective to bring them to account and perhaps this law might have an exterritorial status. In this sense, colleagues from the Council on Human Rights and we have devised a formula of Russophobia.  We believe that this notion must be maximally wide and include such things as incitement of hatred not only for our compatriots but also for our history, state symbols and also the language. What is your attitude to the idea of this law? It is clear that if you support it, this will be done by the next Duma.

Sergey Lavrov: The ideas you have just brought up, particularly those related to Russophobia and our past, are already implemented in practice.  At the initiative of United Russia and the Prosecutor General’s Office, work is under way to draft a law that will criminalise the denial of all that we hold sacred following the Great Patriotic War outcome.

As for a law on supporting our compatriots, we have this law, but it needs to be amended under Article 69 of the Constitution. I head a Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad. There is an understanding that we will start analysing what amendments could be introduced to this law. I totally agree that we must cover in detail the things that directly affect the rights of our compatriots, including their rights under the laws of countries of residence. This is a serious thing.

Question: I represent a traditional media outlet that has a website and social media. Today we see increasingly more people turning to non-traditional media for information. There are increasingly more bloggers, there are TikTokers. Many of them pretend they have the right to be public opinion leaders and some of them are really such leaders. What is your attitude to the new media that are not operating under the media laws? What are the information sources from which you prefer to get your information? Are they traditional or new?

Sergey Lavrov: I regard the modern media as imperatives of our time and something inevitable.  Technologies are developing. A mere 20 years ago, no one knew that telephones could be portable, enabling you to keep track of all the developments. I was around when no one would know where you were and whether you were late for a meeting or not, if you had no two-kopek coin to drop into the slot of a public pay telephone.  All these are signs of public progress. It is tempting, of course (and this is covered at length in print media and there are social media and television reports), for young people to decide that it is easier to keep a blog, particularly if he or she is popular and enjoys support, than get a higher education. But they are few and far between. I am confident of this. But these opportunities should be accepted as a fixture and we must use them.

You mentioned that you belonged to the traditional media, but you are present in the social media and you have a blog. The same is with us at the ministry. This is particularly so under Maria Zakharova: over the last five years we have been expanding our presence in the social media with every passing day, including in foreign languages. We are also tapping other potential of the internet. To what extent does this compete with or is complemented by the classical media? Your example shows that combining is possible. I am not an expert when it comes to these technical things. Perhaps it is possible to combine the communication of all forms of information to your viewers, listeners, and readers with an appraisal of what is more efficient.  Feedback could be identified in some way or other. I am confident that now all of this is possible. There is no serious obstacle to this. I see the main challenge in somehow transferring the quality of classical journalism, of its best specimens, to the blogosphere and internet.  

Question: When the pandemic started, many of our compatriots had to leave their countries of residence and return to Russia. Russia welcomed them and offered resettlement programmes, but at that time, many people did not have enough time to benefit from them. It was not clear for how long people would have to leave and whether they would be able to return. Now these people are in limbo, and we are talking about a large number of people. They are very grateful to Russia for the repatriation flights, but they now find themselves in a situation where they cannot return to the countries where they used to live (and left temporarily), while they cannot stay here, since many things have changed in this country. For many years, they have been promoting the Russian language and culture, and Russia needed them as a soft power, but now they are unable to resettle in Russia and do not know whether they will be able to return to their countries of residence. Do you not need us anymore?

Sergey Lavrov: Compatriots surrounding us, especially in the post-Soviet space, are our reserve, our soft power. What matters most is that they feel comfortable over there, so that they can project this soft power, including in relation to the Russian language, culture, traditions, and that they can promote better relations with the country of their residence. This is a multi-ethnic process. It requires various ethnic groups to come together in harmony, which is especially important considering the historical path of the Russian state from the time of the tsars to the present. I have not heard any complaints from these compatriots to this effect, at least our commission that deals with these matters has not received any such complaints.

Question: We will make sure that we bring this problem to your attention. It does exist. Will there be any programmes to support people who cannot return because their businesses were destroyed and property plundered?

Sergey Lavrov: I am trying to understand what you are referring to. They cannot return, but they cannot stay either. But what do they want? Do they want to stay?

Question: They have already returned to Russia. They cannot start a new life in Russia.

Sergey Lavrov: You said that they do not know when they will be able to return to the country where they used to live.

Question: We are all in limbo. We do not know whether we will go back or not. In addition, everything has been destroyed, plundered, we have lost our businesses. Society has changed. They do not want to see us there anymore. But for many years our job was to act in the capacity of compatriots. We cannot find work here. There is no profession of this kind here.

Sergey Lavrov: What do you mean by working as compatriots?

Question: I headed a Compatriots’ Union in Thailand for many years. We worked on bringing youngsters to international events.

Sergey Lavrov: I have heard about this. If you find yourself in this situation, someone has to bring people like you together, so that they can articulate what they want.

Question: I think this is the way to go.

Sergey Lavrov: Overall, it is the Interior Ministry and its Main Directorate for Migration that decide on who gets included in the voluntary resettlement programme for compatriots. At the outset, people were quite sceptical about this initiative, but despite the persisting red tape, hundreds of thousands of people have resettled in Russia. Resettling in Russia outside of the pandemic context is one thing. People fill in some forms, they know where they are going to stay when they arrive before they get on their feet. But with people fleeing from the pandemic this becomes a spontaneous process, so they need to be organised in order to understand the scale of the problem.

Question: This is a disorganised process. When I came to the Migration Directorate in Krasnodar, they told me that in order to benefit from the resettlement programme, I needed to apply at the embassy of the country from where I arrived. But I cannot go there.

Sergey Lavrov: You are already here. This is what I am talking about. People like you fall into a new category. So you need to somehow articulate the problems you are facing.

Question: We will try to raise this issue at the Congress, during which we intend to start a campaign for establishing the Compatriots’ Day. I ask you to support it.

Sergey Lavrov: Let us do this. Good idea.

Question: Russia is one of the six countries the Taliban invited to the inauguration (Iran, China, Turkey, Qatar, Pakistan and Russia). It is good to be included in such a limited group of those with whom the Taliban are willing to negotiate. Who will represent Russia? Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said Russia would not attend. Then the Taliban announced that the inauguration was moved from September 11. What is happening there? What kind of undercover game is this?

Sergey Lavrov: Exactly what you said. The Taliban change their plans every day, including with regard to the inclusive political process. They have announced a 100 percent Taliban government – three Tajiks, one Uzbek, and the rest are Pashtuns). When people here and elsewhere began to point out that was not an inclusive government, they said it was “transitional,” suggesting a more inclusive one will be set up later, and elections will be held. The inauguration was announced, but the plans were revised again.

We were not going to recommend the country’s leaders attend the inauguration. We believed from the start that the Ambassador is a good level to represent Moscow there, taking into account the specific developments.

Question: But later we cancelled again, even at the Ambassador's level. Mr Peskov said Russia would not attend.

Sergey Lavrov: No, we did not. The inauguration was cancelled. Mr Peskov meant no one from Moscow would go. The obvious problem is that the Taliban seem confused about what they should do as a matter of priority. There are no undercover games or discord.

Question: Another round of talks between the presidents of Russia and Belarus, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, ended a few days ago. About 30 agreements have been signed. As a participant in the process, would you say it was a long-awaited breakthrough in our relations? What agreements do you believe are the most important? How realistic is having a single currency, a single parliament, or other unified bodies in the near future?

Sergey Lavrov: The presidents did not sign anything. On September 9, they met in Moscow and in principle reviewed the documents prepared by the two countries’ governments. I was in Minsk today to attend a meeting of the Union State Council of Ministers. The prime ministers, in the presence of government members of Russia and Belarus, signed the Union State Council of Ministers' resolution to implement the provisions of the Union State Treaty in 2021-2023 and 28 Union programmes as one document aimed at harmonising all aspects of the economy and society with legal aspects (currency, monetary, social, customs, and tax policy).

It is a framework document that contains political commitments, and is subject to translation into legal documents the two governments will develop in the near future. The most important thing is that they significantly strengthen the positions of the economies of Russia and Belarus and create additional foundations for the development of a full-fledged Union State economy.

As for a single currency and a single parliamentary assembly, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko gave detailed comments on these matters in Moscow yesterday. They have not ruled out a single currency, but it is too early to discuss, and the same goes for the parliamentary assembly. The presidents agreed to proceed gradually. We need to implement the most important economic agreements first, and then, as they said, we will see what other steps towards integration our citizens will need.

Question: Foreign citizens now can obtain e-visas and go and visit Sochi. The same visas are valid in other Russian cities too. Will this programme continue to expand? Will e-visas be available all over Russia? What do you think about the possibility of fully resuming tourism? When can this become possible following the end of the pandemic and vaccinations?

Sergey Lavrov: From January 1, 2021, e-visas have been valid everywhere in the Russian Federation. Prior to that there were pilot regions including the Far East and Kaliningrad, while St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region joined them some time later. E-visas are now valid all over Russia. Their practical use has been suspended due to the pandemic. This is the function of the Emergency Response Centre for Preventing the Import and Spread of the New Coronavirus Infection in Russia headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, rather than mine. The Centre brings together all the sanitary authorities. This is their direct responsibility. We cannot simply tell them to hurry up and lift the restrictions, so that tourism can develop. This matter is far too serious.

The pandemic seemed to have stopped in Israel, but another wave later began. On September 9, Foreign Minister of the State of Israel Yair Lapid visited Moscow. The other day, they decided to admit foreigners with vaccination certificates listing vaccines approved in Israel and the European Union. I expressed baflement why Russian vaccines were not included in the document. He promised to work on this.

The transition back to full-fledged tourism will be a gradual process. Egypt has already been opened. Actually, no one has ever shut down Sochi. Everything will be eased stage by stage. I repeat, I am not a specialist, but I meet with colleagues in charge of the sanitary safety. The entire world is wandering about in the dark. No one knows whether there will be another wave and what it might look like. There is too little information for making any long-term analytical conclusions and for adopting the relevant decisions at governmental level. Everyone is interested in resuming tourism as soon as possible. For example, the authorities in Singapore have decided that the pandemic has come to stay and will remain with us forever. They will vaccinate people, conduct tests and lift all the restrictions.

Question: We know that you love poetry and write and publish your own poems. You authored the anthem of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. We have gathered at the anniversary forum of the Russian Union of Journalists. Perhaps you will write an anthem for the All Russia forum of modern journalism? You know as much about journalism around the world as any of us.

Sergey Lavrov: Thank you for your kind words. As Andrey Voznesensky once said, “poems are not written; they happen, like feelings or a sunset. Soul is their blind accomplice. I did not write it: it just happened.” Let’s wait and see.

Vladimir Solovyov: Mr Lavrov and I went to the same school in Noginsk. You wrote poems about our school. Everyone still remembers it.

Sergey Lavrov: I spent my childhood there at my grandparents’ wooden house. There was a stadium, Spartak, 100 metres from the house. This is how it started. First, we played football; then there was the Golden Puck tournament.

I have a funny anecdote to tell you. The mayor of Noginsk once visited me. I could not believe my eyes and ears. He showed me a sketch of a memorial plaque for the school, dedicated to me. I politely explained that it was not necessary. Although I kept the photo.

Vladimir Solovyov: There are still three portraits hanging in a place of honour at the school: the portrait of Patriarch Pimen of Moscow and All Russia, yours and mine.  

Question: There is a project called Russia – Land of Opportunity. What can we do to help former Soviet republics see that Russia is truly a land of opportunity, for them as well? Do you have a recipe?

Sergey Lavrov: The recipe is to develop this kind of project. Russia – Land of Opportunity, Leaders of Russia, which has an international track starting this year. I was asked to be this competition’s curator and I held an online meeting with foreign participants. The contest received over 10,000 applications from 150 countries. If we include Russia, there are hundreds of thousands of applications from ambitious young people. They are looking for opportunities and social mobility options. It is their chance to pursue a career and build expertise. It motivates them to learn and explore areas of interest. They have my full support.

Question: Your colleagues in the West probably ask you: what is Russia like? What do you say? It is the simplest and most difficult question.

Sergey Lavrov: One should read Sergey Yesenin, Alexander Pushkin and many other great authors. Russia is your hometown, your ancestors whose memory you keep and whose graves you visit. Russia is your parents, God bless them if they are alive. It is your friends and the feeling that you have roots. Whoever has this cannot be defeated. All these things combined are our Fatherland, our love for this country and genuine patriotism. This is how I see it. We should tell children about this in school. President Putin has said many times that it is a shame that some history books contain enormous omissions, especially when it concerns the Great Patriotic War. We should take care of this.

Today, when our children are stuck in all these devices, it is important to raise them with a love for their home and the place where they were born. It is still deep in our genes. Americans are born in one place; then they go to study elsewhere, then cross the country or go to Europe for a job, as a matter of course. We are slightly more conservative, in a good way. We should cherish this.

Vladimir Solovyov: A representative of Serbia is here, Goran Petronijevic. He is a lawyer who collected information about all the NATO crimes during the Yugoslavia bombings. His book, NATO at the Bar of History, was recently published in Russian. He would like to give you a copy. 

Sergey Lavrov: Thank you. I wish you a good forum.

 

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