Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab daily, October 3, 2019
Question: Today, many are talking about the emergence of a new world order with a balance of forces that is different from what we observed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Do you agree with this idea?
Sergey Lavrov: The year 1991 drew a line under the era of bipolar confrontation. There was a real chance to build a fair, sustainable, cooperation-based world order that would meet the interests of all participants of international affairs without exception.
Unfortunately, the “historical West” countries ignored this opportunity. Having come to believe in the end of history theory and declaring that it had won the Cold War, Washington and several other Western capitals opted for establishing dominance in global affairs. The United States and its allies chose military power, sanctions, blackmail, pressure and misinformation as the methods to achieve that goal. A series of interventions and wars in violation of international law have destabilised entire regions. Despite the obvious failure and destructive nature of their policy, unfortunately, even today, the idea of forming a West-centred world order in one form or another still possesses the minds of certain elites on both sides of the Atlantic.
But the course of history cannot be stopped. Since the beginning of this century, dramatic changes have occurred in the global geopolitical picture, primarily due to the emergence and strengthening of new centres that are joining global governance processes, very successfully and efficiently, and confidently taking responsibility for maintaining security and stability in their regions. For example, over the past three decades, the share of G7 states in the global economy in terms of purchasing power parity has declined from 46 to 30 percent. And the weight of countries with developing markets, on the contrary, is growing steadily. It is no coincidence that the key, major issues of our time are submitted to the G20, which is establishing itself as the most representative and respected mechanism of collective leadership of leading states that meets the 21st century realities. The authority and influence of new type multilateral associations such as the SCO and BRICS are also increasing.
The objectively evolving global multipolar architecture reflects the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world, and peoples’ striving to independently choose their paths that comply with their traditions and customs. The emerging polycentric world order is more representative and, consequently, fairer. It is important that it remains stable and comfortable for all states.
In this context, it is difficult to overestimate the role of diplomacy. Only on the basis of a mutually respectful dialogue, relying on international law, primarily the UN Charter, can we effectively overcome the numerous global problems such as terrorism, arms and drug trafficking, migration and climate challenges, and prevent the emergence of deepening interfaith and inter-ethnic conflicts. Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, one of the key guarantors of global stability, will contribute to this in every way.
Question: Some people in the West accuse Russia of ceaseless attempts to weaken the West and to infiltrate Europe via Ukraine and Turkey. How would you comment on this?
Sergey Lavrov: There is a large-scale information campaign against Russia underway, and Russia is being accused of all deadly sins, including attempts to split the European Union or to weaken the so-called Euro-Atlantic solidarity.
This is not true. We do not think in such categories. It is against our principles to coerce partners, to give them a “with us or against us” choice or to interfere in their domestic affairs. By the way, this is our principled and crucial difference from Washington and some other capitals that perceive such practices as almost normal. Examples are plentiful. Suffice it to recall the military intervention in Iraq and foreign interference in the Arab Spring developments or support for the armed seizure of power in Ukraine in February 2014. The latter developments were aimed at pitting two fraternal nations against each other and creating a permanent hotbed of tensions near Russian borders. We are now witnessing attempts to destabilise the sovereignty of Venezuela.
Therefore those who are accusing us should stop playing geopolitical zero sum games and dividing regions into spheres of influence. At long last, they should start guiding themselves by generally accepted rules of interstate communications, formalised in the UN Charter.
Russia has always been and remains open to honest, equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation with all states and integration associations without exception. We see every foreign partner as unique. This also concerns the European Union, our neighbour, with which we also maintain extensive trade and economic ties.
Question: What are your expectations from President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? How would you describe Russian-Saudi relations and prospects for cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in resolving crises in Yemen, Syria and the Palestine-Israel conflict?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia and Saudi Arabia maintain friendly and multifaceted relations based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and consideration for each other’s interests. The leaders of our countries – President Vladimir Putin and King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – personally set the pace of this work. Maintaining permanent contact, they chart the main aspects of bilateral ties and oversee the implementation of high-priority projects. The Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud makes a substantial contribution to these efforts.
Our countries expand their collaboration in the most diverse areas. They have launched intensive political dialogue and delegation exchanges. The Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation is working fruitfully. Direct contacts between business circles, including in the framework of the Russian-Arab Business Council, continue to develop. The investment aspect of our relations deserves special mention. The Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia coordinate prospective projects at their jointly established $10 billion platform. Such areas as industry, energy, agriculture, infrastructure, transport, natural resources and cutting-edge technology have an impressive growth potential. We should also include close coordination on the global oil market among our common assets.
We are grateful to our Saudi friends for their traditional hospitality extended to Russian Muslim pilgrims performing the Hajj.
Moscow and Riyadh display solidarity on a number of topical matters on the international agenda. We firmly advocate the resolution of crises in the Middle East, including Syria and Yemen, by political and diplomatic methods.
I would like to single out the role of Saudi Arabia in addressing the Palestinian issue based on the two-state solution principle for both nations. Let me remind you that the late King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud authored a fundamental document, or the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, constituting the internationally recognised legal framework for the Middle East peace settlement.
Our countries support resolute efforts against terrorism. We know firsthand the sorrow and destruction brought by extremist ideology. Therefore, we will never prevaricate, dividing the radicals into “those who are with us” and “those who are against us”, nor will we use them to achieve our goals.
In this context, it is hard to overestimate the significance of the upcoming visit of President Vladimir Putin to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am convinced that the Russian-Saudi summit will provide an additional strong impetus to our multifaceted partnership, help elevate it to a new level and strengthen mutual understanding between our nations.
Question: Russia has introduced the concept of collective security in the Gulf area. What has the response been? Is this proposal in competition with the US plan? Do you fear that the US sanctions against Iran could lead to an armed conflict in the region?
Sergey Lavrov: The developments in the Gulf area have reached a dangerous line. The explosive situation in the region is largely the consequence of Washington’s irresponsible policies. Not only has the US refused to comply with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme, which was approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, but its provocative actions are encouraging further escalation. This is resulting in an enhanced risk of a large-scale military clash. This scenario is giving rise to much concern in Russia. The region must not be allowed to be drawn into a destructive armed confrontation fraught with disastrous consequences not only for the Gulf countries but also for the world at large.
Russia has summed up its proposals aimed at reducing tensions in the region in the Security Concept for the Gulf Area. The Russian Foreign Ministry officially presented its revamped version in July this year. The initiative involves the implementation of a positive, unifying regional agenda and the creation of mechanisms for joint response to common threats and challenges. I am referring to the launch of a smooth, stage-by-stage process that will take into account the views of all participants without exception. This is the key difference between the Russian proposals and other projects based on the friend or foe principle and implying the imposition of new dividing lines.
We have encouraged a high-quality study of our ideas by the political and expert communities. On September 18-19, the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences held a roundtable involving over 30 experts from Russia, Iran, Arab states, China, France, the UK, and India. We hope that the number of parties participating will expand.
Question: What’s you take on the prospects for a political settlement in Syria? Are you in favour of adopting a new Syrian constitution or returning to the 2012 edition? Russian military intervention has saved the Syrian regime. Is it true that saving the regime is easier than convincing it to make political changes?
Sergey Lavrov: Our country has invariably advocated a political and diplomatic settlement of the conflict in Syria through a comprehensive intra-Syrian dialogue. Now that the backbone of the terrorists had been broken, proper conditions are in place for stepping up the political process. Recently, a major step was taken on this track – the Constitutional Committee has been formed in accordance with the decision of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi in 2018. As a guarantor of the Astana format, Russia has done a lot to make this happen, including through active contacts with the Syrian government and the opposition.
We believe that launching the Committee in Geneva will give a boost to the settlement process in Syria. The Syrians themselves, without pressure from outside, must determine the future of their country, as UN Security Council Resolution 2254 says. This also applies to the Constitution, and the Astana three guarantor countries will facilitate this process.
Progress on the political track brought back the issue of the long-overdue need to return Damascus to the Arab family, that is, the League of Arab States. Much will depend on Saudi Arabia’s position, whose voice matters both in the region and beyond.
Regarding the subject of “saving the regime,” I would like to note the following. Our foreign policy has never focused on specific individuals. We do not hold on to specific persons and do not make friends with someone in order to oppose someone else.
We responded to the Syrian government’s request and helped it fight terrorism. As you may be aware, thousands of nationals of Russia and the CIS countries fought in Syria on the side of the terrorists, and could later return to our country to carry out terrorist attacks or to conduct other subversive activities. In other words, it was about destroying – at distant approaches – the radicals who tried to create their own quasi-state caliphate in vast Middle Eastern territories. Clearly, implementing such a scenario would be catastrophic not only for the Middle East and North Africa, but the world in general.
Question: Can Russia push Iran from Syria or reduce its influence? What do you think about the risks of a major conflict between Iran and Israel if the latter continues to carry out attacks on Iranian military sites in Syria? Why is Syria the only place where Russia and the United States can join efforts?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the military presence of external players in Syria (as well as any other country), I would like to say the following: an invitation from a legitimate government or a relevant UN Security Council resolution can be the only legitimate reason for such presence. Iran is present in Syria at the request of Damascus. Unlike, for example, the United States, which “became famous” all over the world due to its unlawful anti-Syrian military actions. In particular, I’m talking about the missile attacks of April 7, 2017 and April 14, 2018. Today, when the bulk of ISIS terrorists in Syria have been defeated, questions arise regarding the purpose of the continued US presence in Syria. There’s the strong feeling that Washington’s goal is to prevent the restoration of Syria’s territorial integrity, which is a direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We look forward to the United States delivering on the promise President Trump made in December 2018 to withdraw US troops from Syria.
However, despite the differences, Russia and the United States have shown that they can cooperate on the Syrian dossier. It was the Russian-US agreement on chemical demilitarisation of Syria in 2013 that made it possible to prevent a military scenario. Also, the cessation of hostilities in Syria was introduced in 2016 for the first time in accordance with the decision by Moscow and Washington.
Our militaries really managed to establish good interaction in Syria in order to ensure flight safety. There’s a special mechanism for providing assistance in the event of a crisis, and there are rules for the crews to follow. Thanks to this, incidents threatening the safety of Russian or American military personnel were prevented.
With regard to Israel’s arbitrary air strikes against Syria, we have never concealed our negative attitude towards such actions, which further destabilise the situation and can escalate and even take the situation out of control. Syria should not become an object of someone’s plans or a site for “settling accounts.” Bringing peace back to Syria should be the main goal for all responsible forces.