As coordinator of the Russia-Islamic World strategic vision group, what are your plans on building further relations with the Islamic world?
I’m very optimistic. The prospects are very good because we are united by a joint stance on key issues of international policy. Cultural cooperation between us is also very solid in many fields. There are two fields specifically that I want to stress on – one is on the issue of food, which is most important. We are exporting around 30 million tons of wheat, and to many countries including India, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and more. We have been blessed with a lot of land in Russia and we are also ready to cooperate on a very large scale and rent thousands of hectares of land (we have already proposed this to Egypt and Saudi Arabia) where they can cultivate whatever crop they want. The second field – and this can also concern Bangladesh – is water. Today’s most urgent problem is oil and gas, but tomorrow it will be water. We have two million rivers and a lot of lakes in Russia. I was actually born in Siberia next to the Lake Baikal, which is 23 percent of the world’s fresh surface water. We should also pay greater attention to two things – cultural ties and the cooperation between young people, especially in the field of education.
Any specific plans for Bangladesh?
I like Bangladesh very much – you are all such charming people! And I think there are many fields of collaboration, particularly in education. In fact, back in 1971, two Soviet vetoes in the UN Security Council played a really important role in the birth of Bangladesh – so our ties go back a long way, and I hope we will have more future cooperation. There are also more Bangladeshi students in Russia now, and we must make more effort to increase these numbers.
Will Russia get involved with the Rohingya refugee crisis?
We have 20 million Muslims in Russia, and amongst them, some of them have of course had acute reactions to the Rohingya crisis. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know to what extent it is a real crisis, but it is something that should be resolved through dialogue. For us, the main idea is to be the ones who facilitate negotiations, dialogues, talks and all that – war is not the means to solve the problem. Diplomacy is a must and we must pay more attention to peaceful means of achieving ends. For 25 years, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Soviet Union was Andrei Gromyko, and he used to say about the Iraq-Iran war – it is better to have ten years of negotiations than one day of war. He was and is still right – it is essential to understand that hostilities and war cannot solve anything. All the wars end with peace, so it is better that we start with peace.
Is this also your stance on Syria?
I was involved in many stages of this process and had many meetings with the Syrian opposition and so on, and I can tell you very frankly that we had the golden opportunity to solve this problem many years ago, when we began the Geneva Conference. But the American position was very – how to put it politely – very confusing! First they began to support the idea of the Conference, then they allocated half a billion for the opposition (the sort of people who chop enemy heads off) – and all in all, we missed the opportunity to solve the problem. Now, we have begun a new stage with a tripartite alliance between Turkey, Iran and Russia. It is difficult because every country has its own interests in Syria and the neighbouring countries, but we have managed and succeeded in getting the ceasefire, and we succeeded in getting a political settlement to the conflict. Of course, the West was very angry because it was without them – and their usual answer to such things is strikes, aggression and interference. It is a blow to the peace process. I served in Syria as a young diplomat, and I know many people from this wonderful country, and honestly they are tired of this war. They just want to live in peace, but there are powers that are blocking a political settlement. However, I think this is only for the time being – peace will overcome everything.
It is clear that the US and Russia are locked in disagreement regarding this – do you think the world is going back to a Cold War era state of international relations?
Unfortunately, it is difficult to understand our Western partners, particularly the Americans. Nobody can predict what will happen tomorrow. Apparently, tweeting is the main message of diplomacy now. It is difficult to build a peace on such a fragile base. Nevertheless, there are no other alternatives but negotiations. In the long run, but sooner rather than later, we need to come together and talk. The spring of this year was tense – first because of this Korean crisis and the real threat of nuclear war. Then there were our quarrels with the Americans and the British. The thing is, the West was the master of the world for many years, but now we are moving towards a multipolar world. You can’t solve any problems without China, India, Bangladesh, the Islamic countries, Russia and all the others involved – the West can no longer impose its will on us. They must understand and take into consideration the views of others. It’s impossible to live on this small and very fragile planet with the nuclear threat hanging over our heads. I have been told we have enough rockets and bombs to destroy the planet three or four times, and the Americans are the same. Why so many times I don’t know – once is enough. But this is not our purpose, and we must do something about it. We have different points of views but it is not good to always have threats, conflicts and war. In the long run, the people of the region will take the lead.
Do you think there will come a time when the Middle East will not have either US or Russian influence?
For us, the Middle East is essential because it is close to our borders and we have many historic ties and other connections. We can’t leave Syria and our two bases, and we have very good relations with Egypt. All the Arab countries – with different degrees of certainty – want to have good relations with Russia.