Colleagues and friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am grateful for a new opportunity to speak at the international forum named after Academician Evgeny Primakov, an outstanding Russian statesman, academic and public figure. It is indeed a great honour for me. I consider Mr Primakov, with whom I worked at the Foreign Ministry in the latter half of the 1990s, my senior comrade and teacher, as probably do the majority of those who crossed paths with him at one point.
Holding this representative conference under the aegis of one of Russia’s leading academic institutes – National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) that also bears Primakov’s name – has become a good tradition. The Primakov Readings have earned a reputation as a venue for serious dialogue of authoritative specialists on the most pressing issues of international politics and the global economy.
Today, there is no lack of buzzwords used by politicians, experts and scientists to capture the current moment in international relations. They talk about the crisis of the “liberal world order” and the advent of the post-Western era, “hot peace” and the “new cold war”. The abundance of terms itself shows that there is probably no common understanding of what is happening. It also points to the fairly dynamic and contradictory state of the system of international relations that is hard to characterise, at least at the present stage, with one resounding phrase. The authors of the overarching theme of the current Primakov Readings probably handled the challenge better than others. In its title “Risks of an unstable world order’ they provocatively, and unacademically, combine the words “unstable” and “order”.
Apparently, the world system is being tested for strength. Opposing trends are clashing. First of all, there is globalisation about which we have already talked for a long time. It facilitated a new round of economic and technological development and enhanced mutual dependence and the need for joint approaches in order to cope together with the challenges of the time. The other objective feature of the modern world is the consolidation of polycentric origins and civilisational diversity that is based on national and cultural identity and sovereignty. Today, these two processes are developing into unsound competition, the rivalry between the old and new centres of economic development and related political influence. Importantly, the division lines pass not only between countries but also inside states that claim to be the most successful. The rights of citizens to their own historical identity are being suppressed for the sake of false political correctness. Democracies are falling hostage to minority groups that are rejecting the interests of the majority. The technological revolution is changing the traditional structures of societies. The previous capitalistic model of constantly expanding prosperity is failing to fulfill its promises.
The scale of constructive international cooperation is being reduced against the backdrop of these deepening divides. Unilateral actions that destroy universally recognised rules are becoming a habit and are devaluating collective agreements. As President Vladimir Putin said at the 2018 SPIEF, “playing without rules is becoming the rule.” Force is being instrumentalised in different ways, including the economic and information dimensions. We are witnessing not just the threat of using force (which incidentally is banned by the UN Charter) but the direct and totally unjustified use of force for the sake of momentary, opportunistic interests under blatantly far-fetched and ridiculous pretexts. There has been no end to the practice of outside interference in the affairs of independent states, calls to replace legitimate governments and attempts to influence domestic processes in other states. Traditions of interstate relations, the culture of diplomatic dialogue and the search for compromise are being replaced with the desire to crush one’s opponent and prove one’s supremacy by exerting brazen pressure on “friends and foes.”
When trust is undermined and established norms and rules are discarded, then the risks of uncontrolled escalation increase. And modern technologies reduce the psychological threshold for the use of weapons of mass destruction. War is portrayed as a computer game, as a video on a computer screen. There is a nascent illusion that the force scenario can be retained under local “kinetic action.” Strategies are being adopted to radically increase the role of nuclear weapons; nuclear weapons complexes are being improved, and plans are being made for space and cyberspace. All this can have fatal consequences for the whole planet. Recall the apocalyptic predictions of the 1980s about “nuclear winter.” Fortunately, it did not come. However, the “Arab spring” came, which also exacerbated the problem of WMDs through a series of tragic events. I mean the US withdrawal from the JCPOA on the Iran nuclear programme with a view to pursuing total confrontation with Tehran, as well as many staged incidents involving the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Government of Syria in keeping with the West’s line of regime change in Damascus.
It is regrettable that the unconcealed exploitation of the UN for the sake of achieving narrow geopolitical goals just artificially exacerbates the already critical situation in the field of WMD proliferation and strategic stability.
In this day and age we should be well past comparing the size of red buttons, again testing the limits of each other’s determination, bringing the world closer to a dangerous point.
It is obvious that major powers possessing arsenals of nuclear weapons and means of their delivery bear a special responsibility for maintaining global strategic stability. That is why President of Russia Vladimir Putin in his Address to the Federal Assembly once again urged our partners to sit down at the negotiating table and to reflect together on an updated and forward-looking system of international security and sustainable development of civilization.
We are ready for honest and mutually respectful work with all those who sincerely believe not only in the balance of power, but in coordinated multilateral policy based on common interests and international law, a common peaceful future, and development and prosperity for all mankind. It is these approaches that will allow for the fullest realisation of the sovereign priorities of all countries and peoples participating in such cooperation, without departing from their essence.
Attempts to artificially exclude, brazenly circumvent or push someone to the periphery of the process, and resolve all issues in a narrow group of states, are obviously unproductive, and in the long run, they are self-defeating. The history of world politics has a lot of such examples. One of the most instructive is connected with the war of 1853-1856, which, as we know, marked the final collapse of the so-called Vienna system in Europe. The Russian Empire then lost in the Crimean campaign and was pushed back to the margins of European politics, as it seemed to the winners. These negative outcomes for our country were overcome quite quickly, mainly thanks to Chancellor Alexander Gorchakov. But the European balance was seriously disrupted without Russia, which in many ways marked the beginning of destructive trends on the continent that led to the First World War.
Looking at the past, we must not lose sight of the future. Experts in strategic forecasting who are present in this room today will agree with me that for all the technological advances, for all the improvement of analytical methods, we have not yet found a crystal ball that would allow us to see exactly what awaits us in the future. And honestly, it is a good thing. The future is being built now. We form it with our expectations, our plans, ideas, and, most importantly, our daily efforts to make them a reality.
We do not have other prescriptions for how to achieve long-term, sustainable solutions to the most acute contemporary international crises, apart from painstaking work based on multilateral approaches and international law, and involving all interested parties, especially parties to a conflict. Whether it is the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula or the JCPOA, the internal conflict in Ukraine or the war on terrorism in Syria, we are again and again convinced that ultimatums and the pressure of force imposed from outside, including through coercion, are unacceptable and doomed to failure. Attempts to wildly raise the stakes, like westerns and television series about star wars, are also doomed to failure. Perhaps conducting your affairs like this works in business, but in modern international relations, escalation for the sake of de-escalation generates very serious risks.
It is extremely difficult to search for compromises and mutually acceptable solutions, to form a common understanding, and to cultivate green shoots of trust, especially where the land is smashed with shells and drenched in human blood. Success is by no means guaranteed. But there is no other way if we really want to achieve lasting settlement of conflicts and a just democratic world order.
To be confident and independent in today’s complicated, contradictory and rapidly changing world, one must be not only firm and strong but also open to cooperation with others, to anything new that can help to cope successfully with modern challenges. Even the most advanced countries cannot do that acting on their own. Russian foreign policy priorities, alongside ensuring national sovereignty, security and development, include facilitating the steady, sustainable progress of the country for the benefit of raising the living standards of the population. We are addressing this task by establishing pragmatic and mutually beneficial cooperation, economic integration with our allies and partners by aligning large-scale innovative projects, creating broad cooperation spaces, modern infrastructure, digital communications and transport corridors.
Such joint work is based on a shared vision of international processes, principles of interstate communication and world community organisation – on a firm legal foundation, in the interests of all its members, with respect for their sovereignty and key national concerns. These approaches are shared by our Eurasian allies, members of the CSTO, EAEU, CIS, members of such new formats as the SCO and BRICS.
A special example of that is the comprehensive strategic partnership of Russia and China, as well as the Russian-Indian strategic partnership, and cooperation with ASEAN nations. Russia’s relations with Japan and South Korea have also intensified considerably lately. This fits in well with the concept of “Russia’s pivot to the east” cherished by political scientists, even though it is natural for our country, with its vast expanses and unique geopolitical position, to be involved in the development of one the world’s most dynamic regions.
It was Yevgeny Primakov who first suggested the concept of multipolarity. He saw the first seed of it in building up the RIC triangle, which would allow to create an objective, not confrontational, counterbalance to western domination. And today, after RIC gave birth to BRICS, and when “BRICS plus” counterbalances the G7 countries in the G20 and encourages the adoption of generally acceptable approaches to the global economy, finances, and, potentially, to global politics, this monumental legacy of Primakov’s thought is now fully revealing itself.
Russia remains open to mutually beneficial cooperation with everyone, including our European and American partners. This was discussed at the recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Experience shows that we have many common interests both in the economy and in global politics. The main thing is to come to agreement in an honest way, based on mutual respect and equity.
Thank you for your time. I am ready to answer your questions.
Question: One of the panel sessions at the Primakov Readings was called “New Bipolarity: Myth or Reality.” Three years ago, in our forecast of the future world order made jointly with the Atlantic Council, bipolarity was one of the possible scenarios, which we assessed as not being a good prospect. Time has elapsed and recent events, especially the inclusion of Russia, China and Iran on sanctions lists, in my view, lay stones in the foundation of a new bipolarity with, say, Russia, China and Iran on one side, and the United States and its NATO allies on the other. What do you think of this scenario?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think it is best for the whole of humankind, and for the members of such a set-up. I finished my introductory remarks with a reference to the G20 experience, which was established a long time ago but only began to gather for summit meetings in 2010. Until that time, it was operating on the ministry and expert level. All the participants of that process agreed that core issues should be addressed and compromises should be sought, primarily on global economic and financial problems, within the G20 framework. There was an understanding that those compromises will further be translated into international legal language within the World Bank and IMF. Of course, they do not always manage to come to agreement, however, it is still much better than having no mechanism of this kind, since it has all those protagonists you mentioned. True, Iran is not represented there, but it is clear that BRICS members, in particular Russia, China and India, reflect the interests of those nations whose potential is not well represented in global structures.
As time went on, foreign policy issues began to appear on the G20 agenda. This year, when the G20 gathered in Argentina, it happened again. I think, the “politicisation” of the G20 agenda will be gaining momentum, whereas, of course, the priority attention will be given to the economy and finances. Such politicisation of the G20 (in a good sense of the word) will largely compensate the expectations of those who would like to directly take part in the UNSC decision-making but does not have a chance. It is a complicated problem, but to put it briefly, I see a way out of many problems through an agreement that the G20 can look for compromises without excessive noise typical of discussions at the UN Security Council and General Assembly, while other members of the world community could subsequently join the worked-out agreements without much loss of face. This should not be taken as disrespect towards non-G20 nations. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of those nations will give a sigh of relief when they learn that certain agreements have been reached at the G20.
Question: A European foreign policy observer has compared US President Donald Trump to a monkey riding a bicycle. And he elaborated. There is no point asking the monkey which way it is going. It simply wears human clothes, pushes the pedals and rides anywhere. For all the political incorrectness of this metaphor, don’t you think the demeanour of the current US President, his non-linearity and unpredictability (you have already cited his personal decision to walk away from the Iranian deal) have made the world more volatile and less stable, thus creating further problems, including for our country?
Sergey Lavrov: We have also been compared to a bear, and bears can also ride bicycles and even motorcycles. Apart from these images, addressing the substance of the issue, I would like to refer to what President Putin said that the new rule is increasingly the absence of rules. This is not, of course, very encouraging, but then we are dealing with a leader elected by the people of the world’s biggest power. For all the unpredictability and twists and turns of the policies that Washington pursues, we have to work with it, and we are open to this. Contact is still maintained in a number of areas, though not very many areas. We want to see that expanded.
We should of course bear in mind that Washington’s foreign policy is influenced by a multitude of factors and actors (for some reason they are referred to as “actors”) and by no means always in the same direction, and indeed very often in opposite directions. A lot of Washington’s foreign policy decisions are prompted by internal politics, and as the midterm elections draw nearer, this will become more evident. It would perhaps be better to deal with a more predictable American foreign policy, but this is the reality.
Question: Against the background of the differences between the European Union and the US on three key problems – the Iran nuclear deal, the Gaza Strip and the trade war between the world poles, do you see a trend towards possible rapprochement between Russia and the EU, especially in light of the recent visits to Russia by EU leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel?
Sergey Lavrov: I would rather speak not about rapprochement, but about normalisation of relations. Everyone has probably seen on many occasions in day-to-day life and in international affairs that when you decide to stake your efforts on a single party while turning your back on or neglecting the others or punishing them for something you do not like, you limit the space for promoting your own interests, your space to manoeuvre. Like many observers (I’ve read the opinions of our foreign guests in our media) I sensed at the Petersburg Forum the need to avoid nursing grudges against each other, but to understand the motives of every member of the world community. Issues should be resolved through direct dialogue and not through declarations that they are in favour of cooperation with Russia as long as Russia meets all their demands: comply with the Minsk Agreements, leave Crimea, make Syrian President Bashar Assad accept a political settlement, etc. At a certain point another demand was added that DPRK President Kim Jong-un behave “properly.” Many other issues were publicly and openly used to demand that we overcome all these problems.
This is not productive of course. I think smart people understand this. They know that if there are issues, one has to sit down and talk and not declare us the bad guys because it is “highly likely.” The wonder is that Great Britain, which is in the process of leaving the European Union, has managed to persuade almost the entire EU to expel Russian diplomats based on “high likelihood,” when actually there is a complete lack of facts (the investigation of course has not yet been completed). Our Dutch colleagues adopted the same behaviour when at a press conference they said it was “highly likely” that it has been done by Russia and demanded that we admit that it was our military unit, the Buk system, and nothing else. Meanwhile all our contributions to this investigation, which is far from over, have been rejected. They declared what they were saying back in 2014, but they have decided to do it publicly, I think, with an eye on upcoming major international events in Russia – an attempt, a vain attempt, to spoil the mood.
While admitting that this is only an interim conclusion, Australia and the Netherlands immediately sent a request demanding negotiations on the size of compensation for the families of the victims. What is one to make of this? Is this a normal way of communicating? I think manners have to be learned. I mentioned the loss of diplomatic culture by many, and this is a very sad and very contagious trend: unsubstantiated accusations over the Skripal case (an investigation can wait), the Malaysian plane crash (we know Russia did it, but we will investigate and then release some information), the use of a toxic agent near Damascus in Duma (allegedly the work of Bashar Assad, an investigation is necessary, but before that a little bombing would not be out of line), the latest tragedy in Kiev yesterday where journalist Arkady Babchenko was gunned down at the entrance to his home. The Ukrainian Prime Minister has already said this was done by the Russian special services, although an investigation has not yet started.
This trend, set by the advocates of this manner of conducting international affairs, is very sad, but as you see, many are using it, especially those who, like our Ukrainian neighbours, enjoy impunity on the part of their Western sponsors while totally ignoring their advice on how to put their own house in order because they know that the West needs Ukraine to promote anti-Russian views and engineer situations that can embarrass our country. Those familiar with history know that all this is useless and meaningless.
Question (translated from English): You said with good reason that the Crimean war was the moment Russia was pushed out of Europe. This had serious consequences for reorganising the continent and was one of the factors that led first to the Franco-Prussian war and then to the First World War. Many people in France do not want Russia to be alienated from Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron was saying the opposite recently in St Petersburg, that Russia is inevitably part of Europe. We have a problem, Ukraine. We should give up this formulaic thinking and stop automatically extending the sanctions every six months. This calls for a pullout of troops and for political moves to stabilise the situation in Donbass, restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty and the start of normal relations with Russia. This is what I and many people in France want. What steps is Russia prepared to take in this direction?
Sergey Lavrov: If I am not mistaken you formed your question from a perspective that our European colleagues have presented more than once. They very much want to normalise relations with Russia, but first the Ukrainian crisis needs to be settled because the sanctions were imposed only against Russia in connection with the Ukrainian crisis and, as you said, they are extended every six months. Our EU partners say that there is nothing to be gained by extending the sanctions, but they cite the need for consensus. I never initiate conversations about the sanctions, but regarding consensus, this implies that if somebody disagrees, there is no consensus. So, automatically extending the sanctions while realising the dead-end nature of this approach, is a separate issue.
Even so, the sanctions were imposed against Russia. They have never been imposed against other participants in the Normandy process, let alone Ukraine. We are looking at the document that is unanimously recognised as the roadmap to the settlement of the Donbass crisis, and I am referring to the Minsk Agreements signed in February 2015 after a 17-hour marathon talks by the heads of Russia, Ukraine, France and the German Chancellor. This says it all. Since then we have repeatedly announced ceasefires that were violated, repeatedly started the separation of troops and equipment which were then brought back. If you read the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reports, both sides to the conflict are implicated, i.e., the Ukrainian Government with its troops and special forces and the volunteers of the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR. If you read OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reports (and we do read them), you find many important things in them, which have not been there before. As a reminder, the OSCE should be working throughout Ukrainian territory, a point we stress from time to time, and it has begun to include in its reports information on how Ukraine conspires with Neo-Nazis, radicals and on other unseemly facts, including attempts to seize church property, etc.
For several years now we have been drawing the OSCE’s attention to the fact that we would like to see its reports include not only statements on how many civilians were killed or wounded as a result of the shootings, how many schools, hospitals and kindergartens were destroyed. We would also like to see the geography, that is, on which side more civilian facilities have been hit. We recently talked with our French colleagues, when French President Emmanuel Macron was part of the negotiations, and we put a memorandum on the table that the OSCE mails to its members. It says that between January and the middle of May, Ukrainian government forces opened fire on civilian facilities in Donbass five or six times more often (based on the number of civilian facilities hit). Five civilians were killed during this period in Donbass by the Ukrainian armed forces. On the Ukrainian side not a single civilian died from shootings and only one was wounded; there were several times more casualties on the side of the self-defence forces. We “forced” the OSCE mission, beginning last September, to include these facts in their reports. It took a lot of effort. We have to credit OSCE leadership who came under much pressure from the Ukrainians and their Western friends not to provide this kind of geographical breakdown. But now they do provide it.
This is a topic that can be discussed endlessly. Here are two more examples of how the Minsk Agreements, and the compromise agreements negotiated by the leaders of the four Normandy format countries to start moving towards implementing the agreements, are being fulfilled. In October 2016 in Berlin the heads of state agreed to start the disengagement of forces and hardware, including heavy weaponry and armed units. The leaders looked at the map and identified three villages as pilot areas where the disengagement of heavy weapons and forces as a whole would have to take place within two weeks. I remember the three areas: the villages of Pokrovskoye, Zolotoye and Luganskaya. The disengagement at Pokrovskoye and Zolotoye took place very quickly. In Luganskaya, Kiev representatives for some reason argued that the disengagement could only take place after seven days of “silence” (not a single ceasefire violation). Since then the OSCE mission officially stated more than 20 times, including at the Contact Group meetings and during the course of Normandy Four experts’ telephone conferences, that they had recorded periods of one week and longer without a single ceasefire violation. Each time, the Ukrainian representatives said these are “your statistics” while they had recorded several shots. I am not exaggerating. This is why there has been no disengagement of forces in Luganskaya.
Under the recently passed law On the Reintegration of Donbass, which Ukraine’s officials interpret as a direct military instrument for solving the Donbass problem, the Minsk Agreements have simply been canceled out and over the past few months they have reoccupied the two points where separation was promptly accomplished over a year ago.
When we talk with our German and French colleagues they understand and see all this perfectly well. But having once said that what happened in Ukraine was not a government coup but a victory for democracy and that Ukraine is now run by paragons of democracy it is hard “to eat one’s hat.”
That is why de-escalation is necessary. They tell us that they want to normalise the situation, but they ask for help in “getting off the fence” which they themselves climbed and from which they do not know how to get down. Even so, we are open to compromise in spite of everything.
Here is another example. In October 2015 in Paris, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko were discussing how to synchronise actions of military de-escalation in terms of security in Donbass and how to go about implementing the political reforms that President Poroshenko committed to carry out by signing the Minsk Agreement, including an amnesty, a special status for Donbass, the sealing of this status in the constitution and the holding of elections.
On that occasion when asked why the law on the status of Donbass, which was already on the table, could not be passed, Poroshenko said that he would sign it after the elections were held. When asked why, he replied that he could not grant special privilege status to Donbass without knowing who would be elected. Is this normal from the point of view of democracy? Every voter wants to know what scope of authority the candidate for office he is voting for will have.
German Foreign Minister Steinmeier proposed a compromise: a law on special status would come into force on a temporary basis on election day when the polling stations closed and then permanently when the OSCE published the final report on the election results (it usually takes a couple of months). Everybody agreed. At a meeting in Berlin in 2016 President Putin asked why the Ukrainian authorities had been blocking all the attempts to put the Steinmeier formula on paper within the framework of the Contact Group and the Normandy format. Ukrainian President Poroshenko replied that he did not know what would be in the OSCE report. What if it says that the elections were dishonest and unfair? To this Russian President Putin replied that we automatically assumed that for the law to come into force the report had to confirm that it was an honest and fair election. He proposed putting it in writing, an addendum to the Steinmeier formula. It was agreed that the law would come into force on a temporary basis on election day and on a permanent basis on the day the OSCE published its report, provided it affirmed that the elections were free and fair. A year and a half later, Kiev is simply brushing aside all of our efforts to put this approach on paper.
Our German and French colleagues are now proposing a ministerial meeting within the Normandy format. That meeting would only make sense if the two gaps I mentioned (failure to disengage forces and military hardware Luganskaya and commit to paper the Steinmeier formula) were closed and the Normandy Four issues a corresponding statement. Without a statement on these two items, which are a disgrace to our work in the Normandy format, a meeting would be meaningless.
We know that in their closed-door contacts with Kiev our Western colleagues, the French, Germans and other Europeans, have been drawing attention to all this and urging appropiate actions. However, publicly it is considered to be politically incorrect to criticise those who “are bringing freedom to the people of Ukraine.” No reaction has been forthcoming on the law On the Reintegration of Donbass which, let me say it again, is openly qualified by the Ukrainian leaders as an instrument of a military solution to the problem. Nor is there any reaction to the law On Education which discriminates against all the ethnic minority languages. There is no reaction to the fact that the law on the Basic Principles of State Language Policy, which gave the ethnic minorities in the Ukrainian regions the right to speak their language in everyday life and work, was abolished.
As long as this “ostrich-like” position remains it is very hard, even with all of our good will (and I have mentioned several instances of concessions to show our willingness to be flexible in implementing the Minsk Agreements), to achieve positive results.
Question: You have painted an alarming picture of confrontation in Russian-US relations and their approaches to some of the red lines. How would you describe the tendency of the past few months or even weeks, judging from your recent contacts with the Americans, as well as contacts between your colleagues from the other ministries and agencies that are involved in this dialogue? Is confrontation growing or decreasing, or are we just marking time?
Sergey Lavrov: Regrettably, confrontation has become the norm. This is probably the shortest answer I can give. It does not depend on us. We do not want to perpetuate the confrontation in relations with the United States or any other country. We routinely receive signals from Washington, including from US President Donald Trump, on the need to normalise our relations. We are ready for this, but we want to see concrete proposals. We are ready to resume contacts in all areas. However, when we agreed to resume professional discussions on cyber security several months ago and our delegation reached the meeting point, there were no Americans there.
Here is another example. During a recent meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, I asked him why they had cancelled at the last possible moment the planned meeting of Russian-German interdepartmental expert groups on cyber security. I received a shocking answer. Mr Maas told me we could not meet because three days before the planned meeting a hacker group known as Snake attacked the resources of the German Defence and Foreign ministries. It was the first time I heard about that group or that we were blamed for its attacks. This is all part of the “highly likely” logic. Since it is “highly likely” that we are guilty, we are urged to repent before they agree to cooperate with us in an area where they think we are misbehaving. Therefore, we will wait. We are patient people. Meanwhile, our civil societies, political analysts and experts will continue to meet, and US political analysts have indicated their interest in such meetings. I believe this would be useful.
Question: President Vladimir Putin said at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum this year that Russia can help Europe with security. The audience laughed. Was it a joke or was he serious?
In this context and in light of the statement you made today, which I thought was quite unsettling considering that you warned of a possible conflict, do you believe that a big war is possible in Europe? If so, who could launch it, when and against whom?
Sergey Lavrov: Please, stop right there. In reply to your second question, I can only say, God forbid. We do not joke when we speak about security, which must be ensured collectively. We did not invent that. We are talking about a political declaration that has been proposed many times at the top level, including within the OSCE, which includes the United States. Under this declaration, security is indivisible and no country should strengthen its security at the expense of others’ security. All heads of state and government of the OSCE member states signed this commitment in Paris back in 1990. They later reaffirmed this commitment several times. But when we proposed 10 years ago to formalise this political commitment and make it legally binding by signing an agreement, they responded with an emphatic No. Their argument was that legal security guarantees can be offered only to the NATO member states. It is the philosophy and mentality of dividing lines, the split of Europe and NATO’s eastward expansion contrary to the numerous promises, which they made also to the Soviet Union. This is the current situation. Therefore, we do not joke when we express a desire to work together to ensure security. If they still have the power of remembering anything, they should honour their commitments.
Question: Is war a possibility in Europe?
Sergey Lavrov: As I said, God forbid.
Question: And what about the statement that Russia will help the Europeans strengthen their security?
Sergey Lavrov: I just mentioned this. It is only possible to strengthen security through a collective effort. Today, the European Union would like to get rid of its security dependence on Washington and its caprices in this sphere. The EU is moving to formulate its own approach towards security issues, while relying on its own resources and even launching a discussion of various projects, such as a “military Schengen.” They would like to build a convenient logistics infrastructure for redeploying its forces and resources throughout the EU, just in case, God forbid, anything happens. NATO immediately became involved in this undertaking. I can assure you that they will never turn away from NATO. This will once again result in bloc-style thinking and a bloc-style approach to maintaining security. Poland and other countries will continue to put forth proposals. For example, they will offer to pay $2 billion for building a new base on their territory, and use it to deter the allegedly aggressive Russia. Of course, this is a sad psychology.
Question (translated from English): What do you think about the situation in Iran, including in the context of Russia’s special relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia? What is your position regarding the growing tensions between Israel and Iran in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, we maintain good relations with all the countries you mentioned. As with any country, our positions do not completely coincide on every issue. But it is our policy to hold talks with everyone without exception, especially when the sides disagree in their assessments. We disagree with the view that Iran is the cause of the region’s problems, in Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and other countries. We note the deleterious nature and the great danger of an intra-Islamic split because relations between most of the monarchies in the Persian Gulf and Iraq have acquired an interfaith dimension as Sunni and Shia Muslims become enemies, and this is very deplorable.
We have repeatedly urged the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League to pay attention to this issue and to start discussing initiatives, as suggested long ago by King of Jordan Abdullah II in the context of uniting all Muslims. This remains a topical issue. We also set forth our approach while holding talks with our Israeli partners and reviewing regional dynamics. Just like in any other conflict, our approach notes the need to involve all warring parties in the talks, instead of trying to isolate them.
Unfortunately, some countries, including the United States, are now moving to isolate Iran, in the hope that it will become possible to “choke” it and to force Iran to modify its policy somehow. One precondition is that Iran must change its behaviour in the region. This is like asking Russia to change its behavior everywhere, so that other countries can deal normally with it. It is necessary to sit down at the negotiating table. Many years ago, we suggested that they hold a conference along OSCE lines for the Persian Gulf region that would involve the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf plus Iran, the Arab League, the OIC, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the European Union. This idea remains current. Many countries are beginning to discuss this once again, but passions are still running high, and it is therefore hard to expect any changes in the near future.
Regarding the Israeli-Iranian confrontation in Syria, Russia, the United States and Jordan have reached agreements on the southwestern de-escalation zone. Israel was perfectly aware of these when they were still being negotiated. These agreements imply that this de-escalation zone must consolidate stability, and that all non-Syrian forces be withdrawn from the area. I believe that this must happen as soon as possible. We are currently addressing this issue with our Jordanian and US colleagues.
Question: You are now going to Pyongyang before the important historical summit in Singapore in two weeks. What is the purpose of your visit? What is Russia’s role in the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the visit – I was invited and I accepted the invitation. The purpose of this visit, like any other, is to consider bilateral relations with our partners and discuss the situation in the region.
Russia is a party to the six-party talks – a format that has not been suspended. Therefore, within the logic worked out in that format, we support the ongoing changes in the relations between the two Koreas, and between Pyongyang and Washington. We very much hope that these talks, first announced and now confirmed, will not boil down to an ultimatum, because the current goal of denuclearising the entire Korean Peninsula cannot be attained in one stroke. This will require a step-by-step approach, consistency and patience.
A little less than a year ago, Russia and China drew up their roadmap for peace and stability, and the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, which initially implied putting a stop to combative rhetoric and provocative actions on both sides, followed by contact between the direct protagonists that would help overcome their previous discrepancies and build a dialogue. But multilateral negotiations with all six states that have long been part of this process become inevitable at the final stage, as proposed in the Russian-Chinese roadmap, because denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula should be complemented by mechanisms for ensuring guaranteed peace and stability throughout Northeast Asia.
I was invited, and I accepted the invitation with pleasure. It will be very useful for me to understand the attitude of our North Korean neighbours to all these issues.