Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the First Global Forum of Young Diplomats in the framework of the World Festival of Youth and Students, Sochi, October 16, 2017
It’s a pleasure for me to take part in the First Global Forum of Young Diplomats organised in the framework of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students.
I am glad to note that this is the initiative of the Council of Young Diplomats of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is heartening that it has gained such wide support; I understand that more than 50 foreign policy services of various countries are represented here.
I think it would be a good idea to hold such meetings traditionally. We have such plans, for example, to set up an international association of young diplomats. We will actively support such initiatives to the extent that we can support them, without trying to impose anything on you. In general, we are not imposing anything on anyone – this is the principle of our foreign policy. We try to understand our counterparts, and find a balance between the interests of Russia and its partners.
I am sure that you have made the right choice in choosing the diplomatic career. Diplomacy is one of the most exciting, necessary and also very important, promising professions because international relations are becoming ever more complicated and many-sided. This increases many times over its role in the search for effective answers to the massive challenges of our time. Diplomacy today, unlike in the earlier centuries when diplomats dealt mainly with the problems of war and peace, is engaged in every sphere of human activity from sustainable growth of the world economy in all its segments to climate change, food security, control of air traffic, sea lanes and much more. Therefore today’s diplomat has to be an erudite and well-rounded person. In that regard, of course, your communication, discussion of topical and burning issues on the international agenda is very important.
I am sure that the role of diplomacy will continue to grow. Not even the most modern information technologies can replace it. They may merely be helpful in your daily painstaking work because without direct eyeball-to-eyeball contact, without direct exchange of assessments and arguments in live dialogue it is impossible to fully understand the position of your partners, understand the opportunities for compromise and find a balance of interests in international life I have referred to.
Present-day challenges can only be met through collective political and diplomatic efforts. This is a universal approach that applies to practically any problem on the international agenda.
When a commitment to unilateral approaches, illegitimate pressure and coercion gains the upper hand while diplomacy is shoved into the background, nothing good comes out of it and the results are lamentable.
I need hardly go to any lengths to explain to this audience that unstinting compliance with international law by all the parties to inter-state communication without exception is the key guarantee of global and regional security and stability. Therefore Russia, in the current turbulent situation, is persistently calling for a return to the sources, the fundamental principles of international life sealed in the UN Charter: sovereign equality of states, non-interference in their internal affairs and resolution of disputes by peaceful means.
As I said, Russia is not telling anyone what to do; our diplomacy is doing all it can to improve the international situation and bring about an effective solution to the numerous problems facing all humankind. I am pleased to note that our approach based on joint efforts to create a system of equal and indivisible security and promoting equal mutually beneficial cooperation is shared by the majority of the members of the international community. We are prepared to go on working closely together with all those who are willing to do so on the basis of mutual respect and taking into account each others’ interests.
We are witnessing the emergence of a new, more just, more democratic and polycentric world system. This reflects the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world, the wish of the peoples to determine their own destinies themselves. When these processes develop rapidly, when the parameters of the future world order are in fact being determined that would reflect the realities of today in all areas, then, I think, the time of true resurgence of diplomacy comes. So we believe that today’s forum will be successful in launching a new tradition, will help young diplomats to communicate, and if this takes place on a regular basis then, once you occupy the leading positions in your foreign policy establishments, I think the contacts you establish in the course of events like this one will come in handy to you.
I think this is a very useful and very important initiative. We will do our best to back it.
Question: Is it possible to unite Slavic states? It would be great if we didn’t fight but achieved really useful results together.
Sergey Lavrov: It is not just possible – it is already happening. Around 10 years ago, Slovenia and Russia initiated the Forum of Slavic Cultures, which has operated successfully since then. Cultural events take place regularly as part of the forum, as well as discussions of mutually beneficial projects in the economy, social sphere, education and Christian affairs. I think this format has proven to be popular and has very good prospects.
Question: After Muammar Gaddafi’s murder, Dmitry Medvedev said in a speech that Russia consciously abstained during the UN Security Council’s vote on the decision to create a no-fly zone over Libya. Was that a bargaining chip in Russia’s accession to the WTO? Because right after the vote in the UN, Russia was accepted to the World Trade Organisation.
Sergey Lavrov: There was no bargaining and could not have been. The United States was equally interested in Russia’s accession. To make it happen, they even repealed the Jackson–Vanik amendment although the reason for its enactment in the first place (the ban on emigration from the Soviet Union) did not even exist anymore. The US political system allows certain members of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the US Congress to make up any excuses to block long-outdated laws. Therefore, there was no bargaining. There was an aspiration to prevent bloodshed and that is why we did not object to the no-fly zone over all of Libya. This meant only one thing: that the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Air Force was not allowed to fly – and it didn’t. The UNSC ruled that any means necessary can be used to ensure the no-fly regime. This wording implies that force can be used only if an aircraft violates the no-fly zone. Instead, our colleagues from NATO sent their Air Force to bomb Gaddafi’s army and helped the rebels (among which there were many terrorists) to kill the leader of the Libyan Revolution as he was called. Everybody saw how much the US television channels savoured the reports on Gaddafi’s brutal murder.
As President Putin said, the UNSC resolution was breached and trampled most gravely. This characterises our Western partners’ ability to adhere to agreements. That was simply foul play and dishonesty (which sometimes happens to our Western colleagues).
Question: I would like to thank Mr Lavrov as Russia’s diplomatic activity benefits not just the Russian Federation but the whole world, including Africa. I am sure that your professors at MGIMO would give you A+ for your skills, but as regards relations with Central African states, you would probably get a C–. You visit Western Africa, but Sub-Saharan Africa does not interest you as much. We lack developed infrastructure, but we have mineral resources and we have people who greatly appreciate Russia’s foreign policy. Are you planning to visit Central African states, including Chad? Do you have a plan for developing cooperation with these countries? A visit by President of the Republic of Chad Idriss Deby to Russia was planned recently upon Russian President Vladimir Putin's invitation, but it failed to take place. Could you explain why that meeting was cancelled?
Sergey Lavrov: When you speak of Central Africa, I assume you mean the region as a whole and not just the Central African Republic. We regularly communicate with representatives of those countries and I meet with my counterparts on a regular basis. A visit by the President of the Republic of Chad will undoubtedly take place when the sides agree upon its content. There are no political connotations here; simply it is always necessary to understand what results this or that visit may produce.
You mentioned mineral resources. Surely, there are projects that your country is interested in. There are Russian partners who are ready to cooperate in those projects, but we need to agree upon what will crown such an important summit as a visit by the President of Chad. I am convinced that such agreements will be reached.
Apart from mineral resources, we are tied by many decades of history, beginning from the African countries’ fight against colonialism. Our country’s contribution to this fight and to helping African countries develop as sovereign independent states is permanently present in our dialogue with African countries. They express their gratitude to us and accentuate their desire to build current relations, above all, proceeding from this very close political cooperation, the similarity of views on the modern world and on how states should communicate with each other. It is a very valuable achievement. Today, the main task that we need to address is how to translate this wonderful level of political relationship to the economic and other areas of cooperation.
You are absolutely right: we need to work with each other more intensively. Projects that will help us to build closer cooperation should be mutually profitable and meet the interests of partners in the Republic of Chad and other African countries and in the Russian Federation.
Just recently, the President of the Central African Republic has been in Sochi and I held useful negotiations with him. Let me note that this year alone several African representatives, including from the CAR, have visited the Russian Federation. As for my plans, I am planning to go to Africa next year. So far, I cannot say where and when as we need to address issues that would be topical at that moment. I heard you. We will be expecting your government to confirm the invitation.
Question: Could you comment on Dmitry Medvedev’s words that Russia consciously abstained from voting at the UN Security Council?
Sergey Lavrov: Did you think that we voted unconsciously? When Russia votes, it votes consciously. What we managed to achieve is to confine that resolution within the framework I have mentioned, namely the no-fly zone regime and the possibility to adopt all necessary measures needed exclusively to ensure the implementation of the no-fly zone regime. Anyway, we doubted that this resolution was necessary, yet chose not to veto it as it did not authorise any use of force against Muammar Gaddafi’s army if there were no planes flying in that area. And not a single plane crossed it. So, NATO behaved in an absolutely illegal way.
Question: Russia has good relations with Iraq and Kurdistan. Currently, there have been clashes between Kurdish forces and volunteer fighters who support the Iraqi leadership. What is Russia’s position on this issue? Is Russia ready to help the leadership of Iraq and Kurdistan organise negotiations?
Sergey Lavrov: Our position on the clashes is negative. We believe that this contradicts the interests of all the people of Iraq, including the Kurds. We want an agreement to be reached as soon as possible on how all the people who currently live in Iraq will continue to live in a single state.
Question: The agenda of today’s meeting is “How to preserve peace.” But what is to be done today when it is difficult to save the dignity of people who already saved this world? I am referring to various torchlight processions in the Nazi style and the law on decommunisation that will enter in force in Poland in about a week. The law is about the destruction of monuments devoted to the fallen heroes of the Great Patriotic War and the heroes of our allies. A couple of days ago Poland hosted a conference organised by its residents at which Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department Maria Zakharova made an address. How can the attention of the world public be drawn to what is happening? How can they be prevented from closing their eyes to this? Are there mechanisms in the UN or international law to resolve this issue?
Sergey Lavrov: There are levers and they have been used for many years but, regrettably, without great results.
For many years we have adopted the annual UN General Assembly resolution on preventing glorification of Nazism, which condemns the desecration of monuments devoted to the history of World War II. This resolution is backed by the overwhelming majority of votes. The United States votes against it. In the past three years Ukraine and a number of micro-states depending on the US have also voted against it. Some EU countries vote against it whereas others abstain from voting. When asked to explain their position, our neighbours in Europe reply that they do not want us to offend the Baltic countries that are already suffering from certain complexes. However, this resolution does not mention a single country. It simply contains the universal principle that it is unacceptable to glorify criminals that were declared as such by the Nuremberg Tribunal, the rulings of which have not been rescinded and have no statute of limitations.
Second, as for the complexes of certain countries, this is nothing new. When the three Baltic states were literally drawn into NATO and the EU (because these states did not yet qualify under their standards) we asked “old” Europeans why they were doing this, why they were accomodating these states into their structures, ignoring the constant anti-Russian rhetoric from their capitals? We were told that the rhetoric was heard because they remembered their Soviet past (they were occupied and they were constantly on edge). They would calm down when NATO and the EU embraced them. But they did not calm down. Moreover, when the issue of relations with Russia is discussed, all EU countries form a single line and snap a salute to the aggressive minority, with three Baltic states and Poland running the show. It is very regrettable that the glorification of neo-Nazis is typical not only for the Baltic countries and Poland. Neo-Nazism has become rampant in Ukraine in the past few years. If I am not mistaken, the day before yesterday was celebrated as the new “day of the defender of the homeland”, announced during the anniversary of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which collaborated with the Nazis. It is stunning that people whose country was one of the hardest hit during the Great Patriotic War so easily swallow this filth (sorry, there is no other word for it).
This is a huge problem and we are drawing attention to it not only with the UN General Assembly resolution. We are working with the EU and coming up with relevant initiatives in the OSCE almost daily. In connection with the latest flare up of the war on monuments in Poland, which you mentioned, we drafted specific proposals in UNESCO and the UN General Assembly where this issue was one of the most important in my speech there last month.
As I have already said in the beginning, regrettably, these efforts have failed to produce the desired effect for the time being. As before, our Western partners, as you rightly noted, are half-hearted about their commitments to compel EU members to respect and implement European values. As you see, a desire to unite on an anti-Russian basis prevails in the EU. This may have a bad end. I am sure that this will adversely affect these states.
By and large, the process of decommunisation started a long time ago. Graduates of Soviet universities, primarily MGIMO, were removed from the Foreign Ministry of Poland (and I think in the Czech Republic as well) very soon after the disintegration of the Warsaw Treaty. Meanwhile, the experience of many other countries, including Eastern Europe, shows that MGIMO graduates can do much today for the development of their own, now independent states and take an active part in pan-European and global cooperation. The current President of the UN General Assembly and Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak is one of them.
Question: I'm from the Sahrawi refugee camp, a diplomat. I would like to know the position of Russia as a UN Security Council member on the activities of the blue helmets within the framework of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO).
Sergey Lavrov: I reaffirm our position in favour of resolving the matter concerning the Western Sahara based on the UN Security Council resolution. Such resolutions are regularly adopted, thereby reaffirming the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara. We will do our best to ensure that the Security Council maintains consensus on this issue. Consultations are being held with all the stakeholders in the run-up to the adoption of such resolutions including the diplomats representing the Western Sahara at the UN. I believe this is the only way to advance a settlement that will be acceptable for everyone.
Question: I represent the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I have two questions. No one can dispute the fact that you are the mainstay, the core of international diplomacy. However, I do not understand why you act with so much reserve with regard to the United States? If they did something, you must do something in response. My second question is about your policy towards Africa and specifically the Democratic Republic of the Congo which is a strategically important country with vast natural resources. Westerners are behind this country, and they are waiting for you to do something. This country’s behaviour is marked with restraint. Do you expect it to meet you halfway?
Sergey Lavrov: With regard to our relations with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are now being accused of many things, you are now accusing us of failing to settle the conflict, and being too passive. It is not true. We are directly participating in the talks about the future of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are part of the Group of Friends of the Great Lakes Region, which is actively involved in this matter helping the Congolese, first, to eliminate the terrorist threat, and second, to find a way to ensure sustainable development of their country.
Unfortunately, the agreements that were reached earlier on in the year and which everyone actively welcomed, are now under threat of being put on the back burner. I’m referring to the agreement on the preparations for the elections. From time to time, we hear about technical difficulties that make holding elections before the end of the year a problem. This gives the opposition a reason to accuse the government of failure to act as agreed upon.
I mention this only for one reason: we always try to stimulate a dialogue between the key opponents. Only the Congolese themselves can decide on their future. Neither Russia, nor France, or the United States, or Belgium will do this for you. Therefore, my advice to you is to implement in the DRC the things that were agreed upon some time ago.
I already mentioned negotiability today as an important aspect of diplomacy and a universal value. This is the most important thing. Then, perhaps, you won’t have to look outside the DRC for states that could just wave a magic wand and make all your internal problems go away.
We wish you luck. I recently had a meeting with the Foreign Minister of the DRC, and foreign ministers of neighbouring countries (just a few days ago, my colleague from Burundi was in Moscow), as well as many others who actively participate in the negotiation process, those who support the dialogue, without which your problem cannot be resolved.
With regard to our relations with the United States, I understand that you want our diplomacy to respond to US aggressive actions with the same level of aggression. What good will come out of it?
I often hear people in Russia also say that we cannot act based on the principle of “turning the other cheek,” but we have to act according to the principle of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” We respond based on our own interests.
Indeed, when the outgoing administration of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama spit on Russia-US relations in the worst possible way and illegally expropriated diplomatic property of the Russian state last December, when they drove 35 of our diplomats with families and young children out of the country, without even giving them enough time to pack, we decided not to respond, as it was a conscious act. Mr Obama and his team took it out on Russia, because the candidate from the Democratic Party had lost the race. Everyone was well aware of this. We didn’t want to respond to stupidity in kind, or rather, provide a stupid response to a dirty trick.
However, when the new Trump administration was unable to repeal this illegitimate decision (I will not go into the reasons, as the situation in the United States is complicated, just look at what Congress and the media are talking about), then we realised that we will have to answer, because the law of reciprocity in diplomacy is still there. We responded proportionately with the decision to have US diplomats stop using two properties in Russia. We are now filing a lawsuit. We want to be a law-based state (we are often accused of this not being the case), and much is being done in Russia to strengthen the judicial system. We will seek justice through legitimate and fair procedures in the international arena too.
By the way, whenever a dialogue about human rights begins, the United States, as well as all our Western European partners, keep telling you and us that we must ensure the rule of law in our respective countries. We tell them that we are willing to do so. However, when we discuss international matters and propose writing down that international relations should be based on the rule of law and democracy, they shun away from such proposals.
This is precisely the double standard and the desire to block the natural flow of the historical process, in accordance with which a multipolar rather than a unipolar international system is being formed.
We have adopted a pragmatic approach to interacting with the United States. We will interact with it whenever it can be beneficial to address regional or global topics, such as the strategic stability dialogue. Refusing to maintain such a dialogue, no matter what, would be irresponsible.
It’s good to know that the new Administration is not running away from such a conversation. This also applies to certain aspects of the situation in Syria. The United States, Jordan, together with Russia agreed to create a critically important de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria. It was an important achievement. However, again, I have to make a reservation regarding negotiability or lack thereof. In connection with the fact that recently, as you probably know from the media and our Defence Ministry’s reports, we observe a strange phenomenon where armed militants driving their pickup trucks outfitted with machine guns emerge unhindered from Iraq, on which the Americans seem to have a major influence, and from the areas of Syria controlled by Americans, and create problems for the Syrian army. We are trying to figure out what’s going on through corresponding channels of communications with our US colleagues. I hope that our concerns that this is being done on purpose will be unsubstantiated.
To reiterate (again, this is about negotiability), we are also prepared to work with the Americans on any other matter in order to normalise the situation around the globe, including in a sphere such as cybercrime.
We have prepared corresponding proposals. President Putin and President Trump discussed them during their meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit which was held in Hamburg. They spoke positively about creating a joint working group on cybersecurity and using this group to dispel all doubts regarding who interfered where, what was the goal, and whether such an intervention took place indeed, or this is just idle speculation. Unfortunately, as I understand for reasons of the domestic political situation, the White House could not confirm its readiness to create such a group in practical terms. This is sad, because such cooperation between Russia and the United States is impeded precisely by those who benefit from keeping Russia-US relations in such an ugly state using far-fetched accusations without presenting a single, I reiterate, one single fact.
When we ask to put the facts down on the table, we are told that they are confident that we interfered in their elections and continue to do so, but they cannot present facts to us, because this is “classified information.” That way, one can come up with anything so as to avoid any specific discussions.
When they are now trying, including in our relations with the Europeans and NATO, to impose on us a discussion seeking to accuse us of conducting all sorts of hybrid wars, our answer is simple: let's start with cybersecurity. Everyone is trying to shift the blame over to us. We were accused of interfering in the elections that took place in the United States, France, Germany, and Sweden. Not a single fact was presented. However, the fact that the German Chancellor (and this is an established fact) was wiretapped by the US National Security Agency is, for some reason, hushed up, including by those who accuse us of non-existent sins.
To reiterate, we approach this philosophically. We are accustomed to biased behaviour as well as double standards. To a large extent, this is the manifestation of the morbid perception in the West of the fact that the era of undivided domination of Western countries in the history of mankind is going away. This process will not be short, as the era of domination lasted several centuries. However, the formation of a polycentric system of the world order is an objective reality. I’m confident that Western countries will come to realise that, although this is a painful process for them, since they are already accustomed to a somewhat different state of global affairs when they were the ones who called the shots. Now, they will have to agree not only to solo performances, but also to a score that includes an entire orchestra, the entire concert of the international community.