Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a meeting with the students and faculty of MGIMO University and the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow, September 1, 2017
I am happy to welcome all of you to our meeting, traditionally held at the beginning of the academic year, including the students, faculty and management of MGIMO University and the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but primarily the first-year students. A new stage has begun in their adult lives. They have joined those who will devote their lives to international relations as diplomats, journalists, business people or other international affairs professionals. There are many professions that depend on the international factor.
I have come here from the opening ceremony at the Primakov School, which has opened today in the Moscow Region. At the first day of the new academic year at the Primakov School, we talked about the importance of the rising generation in Russia. This subject is also of concern to you, because in a relatively short while you will assume responsibility for the further development of our Fatherland and for the protection of its interests on the international stage. Russia can only develop effectively under favourable external conditions, which can be created through the pursuit of a responsible and independent foreign policy aimed at upholding national interests. This has been our consistent policy.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin has said more than once that ongoing confrontation and attempts at isolating oneself or others are not Russia’s choice. We are open to cooperation with everyone who is ready for it but only on the basis of mutual respect, equality and consideration for the interests of each other, as well as compliance with international law in its entirety rather than in the parts that satisfy the short-term aspirations of any of our partners today.
Russia has a unique geostrategic position, substantial military-political and economic potential and the status of permanent member of the UN Security Council. Owing to these factors Russia is a key centre of human civilisation. We have repeatedly proved throughout history that we can successfully resolve the tasks of our domestic development, uphold our sovereignty and, if need be, to protect the rights of our compatriots abroad and support our allies. History has shown that nobody can subordinate us to foreign influence and try to resolve their problems at our expense. I am sure this will not happen in the future, either. Let me repeat that probably not all learn these lessons.
It is no secret that part of what is called the political elite of the West does not like our independent policy. They would like to deal with an obedient Russia that is ready to make concessions to its own detriment. And so they seek to punish us for upholding our lawful place in international affairs and the world. You certainly are familiar with these attempts to punish us. They are using various tools of deterrence, sanctions, and information warfare to distort our principled approach to various international issues and smear our foreign policy.
It is well-known who violated the basic principles of international law in the past few years – sovereign equality of states and commitments not to interfere in their internal affairs and to resolve all disputes by peaceful means. These principles are sealed in the UN Charter. We know who trampled on their obligations in the OSCE, resolutions of the UN Security Council, who bombed Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya and wreaked havoc in the Middle East and North Africa, and who allowed the emergence of the terrorist international that spawned al-Qaeda, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, which are now the main enemies of all humankind.
Russia has always opposed and will oppose lawlessness in the world arena. Quite recently, Russia and China signed a declaration on upgrading the role of international law in interstate relations and disseminated it as an official UN document. We invited other nations to discuss it but our Western partners are not enthusiastic. Be that as it may, we will continue actively working to stabilise the world order.
Importantly, in doing so we are not striving to restore empire or achieve geopolitical or some other form of expansion. All we want is to build our own lives ourselves, without foreign prompting and unwelcome advice, without attempts to incite against us friendly and kindred nations with whom we are bound by many centuries of shared history, culture, traditions and family ties. We are not imposing our views or advice on anyone, but as I have already said, we do not accept anyone’s claims of exceptionalism, or the logic of “Gods may do what cattle may not.”
We see that many Western politicians find it difficult to accept the obvious – the post-bipolar era is over. The hopes of replacing it with hegemony were not realised. Today we are witnessing the development of a new, more just and democratic polycentric arrangement based on the emergence and consolidation of new centres of economic power and related political influence. Guided by their own national interests, countries and emerging power centres are striving to play an active role in the formation of the international agenda to make it reflect their interests and are confidently assuming their share of responsibility for maintaining security and stability at different levels. In effect, a multi-polar system reflects the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world, the desire of nations to decide their destinies themselves and a natural striving for justice as envisioned by those who wrote the UN Charter. Having re-read it, we will understand that those who seek more justice in world affairs are not asking for anything extraordinary.
A small group of Western states, which strive to thwart the aspirations of peoples and stoop to diktat and the use of force in circumvention of the UN Security Council, is certainly standing in the way of forming a multipolar world order, but no one can stop this objective and relentless process.
We are convinced that there’s no alternative to reviving the culture of dialogue, searching for compromise solutions, and returning to creative diplomacy as a tool for coordinating generally acceptable solutions in politics, economy, finance, and environment. The countries of the world must join their efforts and maintain a balance of interests if they want to come up with effective solutions, and this must be done without delay.
Recent tensions have come at a cost for international stability. Of particular concern are persistent efforts by NATO to reshape the military-political situation in the Euro-Atlantic area, including the build-up of military presence and infrastructure in the regions bordering on Russia, and, of course, the creation of a European segment of US global missile defence. Probably, those who initiate such unconstructive actions realise that we can reliably ensure our sovereignty and security under any scenario that may come our way. However, being a responsible country, we are firmly committed to the declarations made by the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council over the past 20 years. We all want to form a security space in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia that is equal for all. None of us will try to improve one’s own security at the expense of the security of others. Unfortunately, these declarations remained on paper as political promises. Our attempts to make them legally binding were rejected by Western countries. I’m convinced that if it turned out the other way, and if equal and indivisible security was actually legally binding, then many current conflicts in Europe would have been settled a long time ago. I think this is true of the Transnistrian, Karabakh, and Kosovo conflicts. With legally binding equal security regulations, we could have agreed on the non-use of force in Transcaucasia, which we have long been trying to achieve. The most recent Ukraine crisis probably would not have taken place, if we all respected our OSCE commitments of equal and indivisible security.
Nonetheless, we will continue to seek to unite the efforts of all the countries in the Euro-Atlantic area and throughout the world to repel common terrible threats, primarily, the threat of international terrorism. We are helping the legitimate Syrian government to neutralise terrorists and are contributing to the general political process. We are working with all the parties involved and are not encouraging outside interference, based on the premise that the Syrians themselves should determine the future of their country. We are using the same principles in our dealings with all the parties to the crises in Libya, Iraq, and Yemen as we seek to overcome the challenges faced by these countries. We offer our assistance in resuming the Palestinian-Israeli talks, promote national reconciliation initiatives in Afghanistan and peaceful settlement of the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula.
The implementation of President Putin’s initiative to form the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which provides for establishing an open multilateral trade and economic cooperation between the countries participating in the EAEU, the SCO, ASEAN, and, possibly, other Asian and European countries, in the interest of forming a single economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, will take time to get implemented. This is a long-standing idea, but, given the lively interest in it on behalf of regional integration groups, it may well become a reality.
We hope that common sense and political wisdom will make it possible to restore our relations with the EU and its members based on genuine neighbourliness, predictability and openness.
With regard to our other neighbour, the United States, as President Putin put it, we are not looking for trouble with that country and have always been friendly with the American people. We are now open to constructive interaction inasmuch as it meets Russian interests. We sincerely want the bilateral political atmosphere to become normal. However, as you know, it takes two to tango. So far it seems like our American partners are more interested in solo break dancing.
We will continue to promote a positive agenda, mutually respectful approaches, and seek and find compromises. This is how we build our cooperation within the EAEU, the CSTO, the CIS, the SCO, BRICS, and, on a bilateral basis, without exaggeration, with the countries of all continents.
Thank you. I’m now ready to take your questions.
Question: In July Russia, the United States and Jordan agreed to create a de-escalation zone in southwest Syria, but their initiative has met with harsh criticism from Israel. Can you explain the reason for that country’s reaction?
Sergey Lavrov: I would not say that this decision disregarded Israel’s security interests. When we considered this decision, we not only held discussions within the Russia-Jordan-USA group but we also informed our Israeli partners on the direction which our work was taking. When we completed the main part of our discussions (we are to coordinate yet the operation modalities of the given de-escalation zone, monitoring of developments within the zone and ceasefire violations, as well as humanitarian deliveries, although the zone has become operational), we were told, including during the Sochi meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin, that Israel was nevertheless bothered about its security. We can understand its concern. Our talks on the Middle Eastern questions, including Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian-Israeli questions, are held so as the agreements we reach – regrettably, they have been few so far – do not infringe on the security interests of Israel and any other country. We have assured our Israel colleagues that their worries, if any, about possible infringements on their security were unsubstantiated, because we are firmly committed to preventing such infringements. Evidence of this is the comment issued by Prime Minister Netanyahu after an Israeli newspaper alleged that his meeting with Vladimir Putin was not successful. Mr Netanyahu said that it was not true. I believe this fully answers your question.
Question: Russian Emperor Nicholas I told the French Ambassador that he inherited extremely important tasks from his brother [Emperor Alexander I], and the most important of these was the [Middle] East. Henry Kissinger also pointed out that events in the East, primarily Syria, demonstrated a horrifying trend towards the disintegration of sovereignty, never-ending disputes and wars. The key role in this region is played by Middle Eastern powers, in particular, Qatar. How can the Syrian problem influence Russian-Qatari relations?
Sergey Lavrov: It is not surprising that such fire-breathing regions like the Middle East or the Balkans, which attract a variety of external actors (both neighbouring and distant ones), have been in the focus of global politics for centuries. You have connected this precept with Russian-Qatari relations. We have very good relations with all countries in this region, including the Gulf countries and also Arab countries, such as Iran, with which we are developing trust-based relations while trying to understand our partner’s practical interests in any situation. We do not agree with those who say that some countries in this region must be boxed in and kept within their national borders so that they would be unable to influence anyone or anything. This is impractical. Any country, be it big or small, has its own interests in the modern world, and these interests cannot be restricted to the national territory. There will always be a desire to work with compatriots or co-religionists.
We have recently visited Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. In a few days, we will go to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. We have good relations with all of these countries.
Regarding the Syrian crisis and its influence on our relations with Qatar, when the Obama administration proved unable to honour the agreements that we reached with [US Secretary of State] John Kerry in September 2016 (in other words, the US administration failed to implement its promise to separate the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists from the real opposition), we saw that we should look for other partners, who would be able to honour agreements. These partners are Turkey and Iran. We worked together to launch the Astana process, which Jordan and the United States (under the Trump administration) joined as observers. This process is underway, as evidenced by the concept of de-escalation zones, which has been approved and is being implemented within its framework. We have mentioned one of them, in southwest Syria. Other such zones have been created in Eastern Ghouta and near Homs. They are developing quite well and are dealing with the questions of patrols, monitoring and humanitarian aid. The Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry of Russia have urged international humanitarian organisations not to delay the delivery of humanitarian aid under the pretext of the alleged problems with the government of President al-Assad. There are no problems: humanitarian deliveries reach their destination safely if they are sent by the most effective routes. However, our partners have tried to use the cross-border routes from Turkey and Jordan, which are not monitored by the UN. It is physically impossible to do this there, yet we need to know what these humanitarian convoys are delivering. I am sure that the majority of commodities are of a humanitarian nature, but violations are possible because various groups that are operating in these countries are not controlled by anyone. We want to preclude such violations.
When we started working with Iran and Turkey in the Astana format, we asked our Arab colleagues in the region if they are satisfied with this format. Qatar and Saudi Arabia said that Turkey represented their approaches to a Syrian settlement, but we also maintained bilateral dialogues with Riyadh and Doha nevertheless. My recent visit to Qatar has shown that there are some minor differences in our approaches: we have closer relations with the pro-government forces, while they have close relations with the opposition. However, Qatar and Russia share the desire to stop the war and agree on the importance of using de-escalation zones for this purpose and developing direct dialogue between all non-terrorist armed groups and the Syrian government. Our Qatari colleagues have reaffirmed their focus on the secular nature of Syria where all ethnic and religious groups have equal rights and protection.
As I have said, easy partners are an almost impossible thing, but if you listen to and try to hear your interlocutor, and if he reciprocates, you will find solutions that will allow you to move forward. This is much more difficult but a million times more productive than demanding that everyone do as you say and slapping sanctions without any diplomatic discussions on everyone who disobeys your orders.
The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world