Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, December 29, 2020
Question: What were the most important foreign policy events in the outgoing year? What was the main breakthrough, the main success and the main failure? Do you believe the international community has learned from the coronavirus pandemic? Has the world become more fragmented or, on the contrary, have countries become more focused on cooperation?
Sergey Lavrov: The outgoing year was complicated for international relations. It is hard to use phrases like “main success” or “main failure” when summing up the events of the outgoing year. Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic was bad for international politics and diplomacy and caused a deep crisis in the global economy which is now in for a long and painstaking recovery. Mind you, the challenges and threats that were there before the pandemic, such as terrorism, drug trafficking and other transnational crimes, did not go away. Long-standing crises remained ablaze, and new hotbeds of tension arose.
Unfortunately, common problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have so far failed to move the international community to join forces in order to effectively overcome them. The main reason, and we have said this many times, is the unwillingness of a number of the US-led states in the historical West to establish constructive and equal cooperation with other international players. Our Western colleagues continued to use a wide range of illegitimate tools ranging from military pressure to information wars. They ignored calls by the UN Secretary-General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to suspend – in light of the worldwide humanitarian emergency – unilateral sanctions on supplying medications, equipment and food that are needed to fight the virus, including related financial transactions. President Putin’s initiative on opening green corridors in international trade that would be free from trade wars and sanctions was not heard, either. Washington's course to continue discarding the global strategic stability architecture and arms control did nothing to boost optimism.
Under these circumstances, we did our best to reliably uphold our national interests and continued to promote a constructive and unifying international agenda, and work in favour of ensuring the indivisibility of security across all its dimensions. As you may recall, the hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh were stopped largely thanks to Vladimir Putin’s personal efforts. We contributed to the political and diplomatic settlement of the Syrian crisis. We participated in international efforts to take the intra-Libyan confrontation out of the deadlock.
In order to improve the situation around the world, we maximised the potential of our chairmanships in BRICS, the SCO and the CSTO. We supported the implementation of various EAEU integration projects and the formation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership.
Sure enough, we continued to work energetically at the UN. In particular, the president of Russia put forward an initiative to hold a summit of the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council.
Despite the pandemic-related restrictions, we productively interacted with the vast majority of our foreign partners in Eurasia, Africa and Latin America, both bilaterally and within various multilateral platforms.
As a leader of the international healthcare industry, Russia has contributed to common efforts to combat COVID-19 and provided substantial assistance to the affected countries.
In 2021, we will continue to pursue a pragmatic and responsible foreign policy and contribute to forming a more just and democratic multipolar international order. As before, we will be open to mutually beneficial cooperation to the extent that our partners are willing to, and of course, with unconditional respect for Russia’s national interests.
Question: You said that Russia should stop looking to the West. Does this mean that there will be the long-discussed turn to the East?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, I would like to point out that we do not look to anyone. Even though a larger part of Russians live in Europe, Russia is a great Eurasian and Euro-Pacific nation and one of the main guarantors of the UN-centric world order that took shape as a result of World War II. Our foreign policy is multidirectional and independent. We are interested in good relations with our foreign partners in all parts of the world without exception based on international law, mutual respect and consideration for each other’s interests.
At the same time, we also take into account the tectonic shifts taking place in the global geopolitical landscape. The global political and economic focus is shifting from the Euro-Atlantic region to Eurasia, where new global centres are developing dynamically. Relying on their centuries-old traditions, they have acquired and are strengthening their economic and technological sovereignty. They are pursuing an independent foreign policy. It is on this basis that they have attained impressive results in many spheres. In this context, it appears logical that our policy of building up mutually enriching cooperation with Eastern countries, including Asia Pacific nations is long-term, strategic and does not depend on changes in the international environment.
Eurasia is not just a geographical region with huge resource potential, which can and must be used to the benefit of its peoples. It is also the most dynamically developing part of the world when it comes to the creation of new transport and logistics corridors, the improvement of infrastructure connectivity and many other forms of multilateral cooperation. Russia stands for harmonising the integration processes that are gaining momentum there. This is the objective of President Putin’s initiative of the establishment of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. Energetic efforts are being taken towards implementing it, including through the alignment of the development plans of the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Question: What do you think about the prospects of Russian-US relations during the Biden administration? Will they change? Will they turn around or continue to deteriorate?
Sergey Lavrov: Regrettably, we do not expect the slumping Russian-US relationship to improve in the near future. The anti-Russia hysterics in the United States does not leave any chance for a rapid return to normality. Our dialogue has fallen victim to domestic political strife in the United States, which is not solid ground for constructive cooperation.
Nevertheless, we are sure that there is untapped potential in Russian-US relations. It will not be easy to remove the obstacles, which have accumulated through no fault of ours, but we must keep working towards this. However, this will be impossible without America’s political will.
There are many issues on the bilateral agenda, including topics of priority importance, which the new US administration will be facing, from the normal operation of foreign offices and humanitarian issues, to international security and strategic stability. We don’t have to try to settle all of these problems at once; our cooperation can be based on small-step logic. We are ready for this, provided the sides act on the principles of good faith and respect for each other’s interests, rather than on the US-centric international order imposed by Washington in the “might is right” spirit. We hope the new US administration will make a choice in the interests of the American people and will demonstrate reciprocal readiness for developing dialogue with Moscow.
Only in this case will the Russian-US relationship gradually return to a path of stable development. Of course, this will have a positive impact on international affairs, considering the special responsibility of Russia and the United States as the world’s largest nuclear powers and permanent UN Security Council members for global stability and security, especially in this complicated period.
Question: Is there any hope that, under the new US administration, Moscow and Washington will manage to extend the New START Treaty in time? Is Russia ready to make any further concessions, such as suspending the development of advanced weapons systems? And why does Russia consider the US proposal on the verification regime to be unacceptable? Is there anything wrong with mutual verification of agreements?
Sergey Lavrov: One would like to hope that, just like Russia, the new US administration will consider it an obvious fact that the extension of the New START Treaty without any additional conditions, and preferably for the maximum five-year period stipulated by it, would meet the security interests of our two countries and the entire international community.
Judging by media statements, unlike our current dialogue partners, the team of President-elect Joe Biden is not interested in turning the New START Treaty into a hostage to its ambitions and trying to push for a priori unrealistic demands.
If that is indeed the case, and they still have to convince us that it is, there is still a chance that we will achieve an agreement to extend the Treaty before it expires in February 2021.
Regarding possible future cooperation with the United States in the area of arms control, and we urge the United States to engage in such cooperation, then any talks, if and when they begin, will yield tangible results only if the US party is ready to respect Russian’s interests and concerns. This should be what our US colleagues call a two-way street.
Naturally, Russia is ready to contribute to attaining mutually acceptable agreements, drafted on a strictly equitable basis. At the same time, it would be so far premature to talk about their specific parameters. At this stage, it is important to note that we have informed the Americans about our vision of the framework of potential agreements presupposing the elaboration of a new “security equation” and comprising all significant strategic security factors as variables. This vision remains relevant.
I would also like to stress that no aspect of Russia’s position presupposes a refusal to monitor compliance with possible future agreements. On the contrary, we have advocated and continue to advocate the mandatory presence of a monitoring component in any arms control agreements.
On the other hand, the verification regime should completely meet their subject and remit. We have failed to reach agreement on these matters with the outgoing US administration. Its verification demands far exceeded the boundaries of a hypothetical political agreement, advanced by the US party in conjunction with the New START Treaty’s short-term extension. The US proposals stipulated verification procedures with regard to highly sensitive aspects of the nuclear weapons sector, which was seen as unacceptable by Russia.
Notably, they wanted to screen the potential of our non-strategic nuclear weapons, without moving to alleviate Russian concerns in this and adjacent areas.
We hope that the new US administration will act in line with more rational and realistic positions.
Question: Has Russia received any confirmation from the remaining parties to the Open Skies Treaty that they agree not to transfer data to the United States or open all their territory for inspection? What legal confirmation is Russia expecting? Does the Treaty itself serve as such confirmation? Or is it going to be de facto re-signed?
Sergey Lavrov: The Treaty on Open Skies does not contain direct stipulations that information received by observation equipment during flights is classified, or any restrictions on access to such information.
About 20 years ago, due to the growing terrorist threat, the signatories noted this inconsistency and in 2002, they adopted a corresponding decision of the Open Skies Consultative Commission. But that also has generalised phrasing.
Today, in connection with the US withdrawal from the Treaty, this is obviously not enough – especially now that we became aware that the US has required its allies to transfer the results of observation flights over Russia to the American side.
Taking into account this new situation, we demanded that the states parties to the Treaty provide some clear legal guarantees of the good-faith fulfillment of their obligations.
No, a re-signing is not on the agenda. It is enough to add more clarity to the legally binding 2002 decision. We have made such a proposal and are waiting for a response from our partners.
To be honest, the first reaction was kind of unclear. The Western countries did not seem to object, in principle, to the idea that the information I mentioned should not fall into the wrong hands. But at the same time, they hid behind legal casuistry and tried to convince us that the existing provisions are quite enough.
Equally vague was the response to our second demand to guarantee the possibility of performing observation flights over the entire territory of the participating states, also covering non-signatories’ facilities located on it. And we have evidence that the United States would not like this very much and is trying to get its allies to hinder us.
Therefore, we warned our OST partners that halftones would be unacceptable here. If the remaining participating states follow the US lead, then a tough response from us will not be long in coming. We are ready to continue cooperation under the Treaty only on the understanding that in the very near future, all the remaining signatories will give us direct and firm legal guarantees of their readiness to comply with its requirements.
So far, we have not received any such guarantees, so the future of this Treaty is a big question.
Question: This year, the UN Security Council’s arms embargo against Iran has expired. Are Moscow and Tehran making any specific plans to enhance military-technical cooperation? Are they talking about a possible purchase of Su-30 aircraft or T-90 tanks by Iran? Wouldn’t this affect Russia's relations with some countries such as Israel or the United States?
Sergey Lavrov: At present, there are no restrictions on military-technical cooperation with Iran as far as the UN Security Council is concerned. Russia and Iran have every right to interact in this area. Russia's military-technical cooperation policy fully complies with international law and is pursued in full compliance with Russian export control legislation, which is one of the most stringent in the world.
I repeat: while implementing military-technical cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which undoubtedly has every right to ensure its own defence capability, Russia strictly adheres to its international obligations and is guided by the priority of maintaining stability and security in the region.