Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a meeting with the finalists of the Leaders of Russia contest Russian Diplomatic Leadership in Today’s World
Sochi, February 7, 2018
Dear friends, colleagues,
First of all, I would like to thank the organisers of this new project, the Leaders of Russia national contest for government and business executives, for the invitation. Honestly, it is a great honour for me because, without exaggeration, I see this project as one of national significance.
At a time when Russia faces formidable challenges in many areas, novel and creative ideas and innovations in management are of great importance. I am sure that a lot was said about this when my colleagues spoke here.
After learning a bit about what is discussed here and the kind of questions asked, I can say that I am convinced that this work is within your scope of abilities. As far as I understand, everyone in the audience has passed very serious tests. This testifies to the high level of your professional training.
I will be talking about the diplomatic profession, of course. I believe that it is one of the most interesting professions. It is perfect for displaying one’s leadership qualities already at the low and medium levels of your career. Negotiations are now held in a huge number of areas, and Foreign Ministry employees, starting with relatively low-ranking ones, are involved in them one way or another. As you know, negotiations offer an opportunity for self-assertion, for gathering experience and learning to straighten out very serious problems.
Trust me, no information or communication technology, however advanced and super-modern it may be, can replace personal interaction when diplomats get together with their partners to work out solutions concerning national security matters, protect national interests in all spheres, strengthen international security and find balanced solutions in widely different areas of the global agenda.
I don’t want to sound immodest, but Russian diplomacy is widely acclaimed in the world to be highly professional and among the best on the international arena. We have attained these high standards exclusively by relying on the glorious centuries-old traditions as well as the experience of our predecessors.
If you ask me how you can succeed in the sphere of diplomacy and become a real professional, I can give you one simple, though not the fullest possible, recommendation, which you must act on in earnest. Here it is: keep on learning and enhancing your greatest asset; do not rest on you oars, and stay up to date. As I said, international affairs are becoming increasingly multifaceted. Therefore, a diplomat must be a kind of person of great learning with a wide range of human knowledge, possibly, or rather, primarily in areas beyond the scope of so-called classical diplomacy.
When classical diplomacy originated centuries ago, it was dealing primarily with the questions of war and peace: how to begin and end wars, what to do with the conquered territories, and how to divide them. Modern diplomacy, although it also deals seriously with the questions of war and peace, is not so concerned with the context of who conquers whom and who will meet whom to discuss post-war peace. Rather, it concerns ensuring military and political stability, which is also referred to as strategic stability. In addition to this, there are many new questions that have become a fixture on the agenda of international talks on the economy, the environment, culture, high technology (from nuclear technology to ICT), as well as the matter of the destruction of chemical weapons under the relevant convention. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been pondering the question of internet governance for years. In short, the range of knowledge needed to protect Russia’s interest is extremely wide.
Another quality that is really important for a diplomat at the personal level is stress tolerance. You must be ready to work very hard and long hours. You must be ready for physical and psychological overload, as well as for long foreign missions, including in countries with an adverse climate and military-political situations. Our profession involves living in a foreign culture far away from your home, and sometimes even family, when the given country is at war or amid an internal conflict. For example, our colleagues who are working in Iraq and those who worked in Yemen some time ago did not have their families with them. Working abroad means separation from you social circle. Overall, diplomats work around the clock, because events that call for a prompt expert reaction, which must be based on an express analysis, can happen anywhere in the world at any moment.
But the most important element of our work is the feeling of patriotism. You can effectively uphold your country’s foreign policy interests only when you are concerned with its future and consider yourself an integral part of your country.
There is yet another reason for placing high standards on the diplomatic profession: As you know full well, the situation in the world is not growing any less complicated. A polycentric international architecture is being formed, a process accompanied by the emergence of new centres of economic growth and financial power as well as political influence centres consequential upon these advances in the financial and economic sphere. This is a natural process that reflects the modern world’s cultural and civilisational diversity and peoples’ natural right to decide their destiny for themselves. Regrettably, this process is running into stubborn resistance offered by many of our Western partners, primarily the United States, which is supersensitive to the fact that it is no longer able to deal with all problems on its own or dictate its will to everyone after many centuries of dominating, if with certain nuances, the global scene. The polycentric world’s emergence will not be rapid, although possibly also relatively brief by historical standards, since it has been on and progressing as a new reality for several decades. The resistance it is meeting with will also continue, of course, and involve some rather specific illegitimate methods like using force in circumvention of the UN Charter and bolstering up one’s own security at the expense of other countries. All of this is leading to the erosion of international law. We are trying to tone down these tendencies and to achieve a negotiated return to the firm ground of the rule of law.
Russia’s current relations with the West are a separate and highly specific theme. In the context of what I have been saying, the present-day world is witnessing the end of an epoch dominated by what we call the “historical West” and a transition to a multipolar era. Many of our overseas and European colleagues are allergic to the successes achieved by our country on the internal and external “fronts.” The coup d’etat that was staged in Ukraine in February 2014 was a consequence of and a new step in years-long policy of containing Russia and revealed the radical and profound differences between us and the Western community over the ways of establishing relations between states. You may know that after the end of the Cold War the West was quite outspoken, proclaiming the onset of a new epoch, where as a winner in the Cold War it should have all the advantages. At the very start of New Russia’s existence, after the USSR had ceased to exist, its leaders were nurturing the illusion that an era of sweetness and light was round the corner and that now Russia should accept all the liberal values of the Western society.
As you may know, Russia’s key economic and financial ministries were employing foreign specialists, mostly those from the West. Russia’s foreign policy was based on the assumption that it needed to “merge” with the West in all key aspects of international life, while its eastern and southern neighbours were clearly neglected. In 2000, with the coming of President Vladimir Putin, Russia started drifting away from the line of indisputable acceptance of Western advice (for all the exceptions that occurred in the 1990s, the main course was for a merger with the West). Problems began when Russia returned to its basic interests and traditions and, not content with the situation where the West believed that Russia was, in effect, “in the bag,” called for an equitable dialogue.
You remember the Russian President’s Munich speech back in 2007 when, without being confrontational, he simply identified the problems awaiting a solution on the basis of an equal dialogue, and not on the basis of ultimatums, diktat and violation of all the pledges given at the time the future of Germany was decided and after the demise of the USSR. At the time the principles of indivisible security were solemnly declared at the highest level. Assurances were given that no member of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would strengthen its security by infringing upon the security of others and NATO vowed not move an inch eastward. That these assurances were given is corroborated by the documents only recently published by the US national archives. At the time they had not been put on paper, perhaps not everything could have been foreseen at the time, though of course it would have been more effective to take up our Western colleagues on their word then rather than believing their words. You know our people, they tend to think that if they shake hands the deal is done and each party should do what has been agreed upon.
We should draw conclusions and learn lessons from past mistakes. Instead of fulfilling the whole gamut of obligations – indivisible security, equal approach to the security of every country − contrary to the promises that were given, NATO started advancing to the east deploying its military infrastructure literally on our borders. In its final declaration the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 put it down in black and white that Ukraine and Georgia would be NATO members. We warned them at the time that the decision was fraught with complications, that it would create illusions in the inflamed minds of these countries’ leaders. That is certainly what happened in Georgia when Mikhail Saakashvili decided that now he could get away with anything and proceeded to send his troops to South Ossetia against the peacekeepers who were there and against civilians. The rest is well known.
Incidentally, the European Union, although a far more helpful structure because it is dedicated to improving the well-being of its members in the economic and social spheres, also contributed to the attempts to drive a wedge between Russia and its neighbours. It invented a programme called Eastern Neighbourhood based on the principle that Eastern Europe should choose whether it was with Russia or with the EU. This was said in as many words. In 2004, at the height of the first Maidan in Ukraine when the EU tried to bring about a reconciliation between the then president of Ukraine and the opposition, when there were demonstrations in Kiev’s squares, the then Foreign Minister of Beligium, Karel de Gucht, declared publicly in his official capacity that Ukraine had to choose between Russia and the EU. It is well known what this led to.
Russia backed those who refused to accept the results of the Ukrainian government coup in 2014. The West said, without batting an eyelid, that what took place happened although the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France were guarantors of the agreement that the opposition tore up. It was announced that everyone should submit to the new government that had come to power in Kiev effectively on the bayonets of radicals and neo-Nazis who are still having a field day there and are increasingly calling the shots. We backed those who refused to recognise the results of the unconstitutional coup, those who asked to be left alone to see what the outcome would be (after all, they did not attack anyone, but they were proclaimed to be terrorists and were themselves attacked). We were fully behind their aspiration to secure their rights within the Ukrainian state, behind the aspirations of the Crimean people who, unlike Kosovo that declared independence unilaterally without any popular vote, held a referendum (you know the turnout and the figures reflecting the result) on their independence and subsequent accession to Russia in full accordance with the UN Charter and the ruling of the International Court on the Kosovo case. The West then set about punishing us and trying to make us admit to our mistakes.
These attempts continue up until this day, we’ll talk more about this today. Having said that, more and more people realise the futility of any attempts to punish Russia and impede its socio-economic development. The list of measures used for this purpose is huge including sanctions, deployment of a global anti-missile defence around our western and eastern borders, information wars, ungrounded accusations of “cyber aggression” against almost the entire West, plus of course the discrediting of our Olympic athletes without presenting any concrete facts. In general, the West today does not bother to present facts.
Let me cite just one example. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said early this year shortly after he assumed office that the US had irrefutable proof of Russian meddling in the US presidential elections. When we met I asked him to present these facts. He said these were facts obtained through confidential channels and that he was sure that our special services knew very well what it was all about. If this is a a serious dialogue then I don’t know anything about relations between states.
Now we are told, again without having been given any facts, that the sports arbitration court in Lausanne has cleared all our athletes on the list of 32 athletes and coaches, but the decision is not binding because the IOC is not convinced that the athletes had not taken dope. In short, there is no proof, but there are doubts and suspicions. This is reminiscent of 1937 when the Prosecutor General of the USSR, Vyshinvsky, said that “confession is the queen of evidence.” Now we see that there is even no need for a confession, that suspicion is the queen of evidence. This is not the correct or right way to do things. We try to engage our Western colleagues in a more constructive relationship.
I think there is a growing feeling in and outside our country that it makes no sense to try to isolate Russia, and any attempts to cobble together a broad anti-Russian coalition are also failing. No one has yet succeeded and no one will ever succeed in achieving narrow selfish aims of a certain group of countries at our expense. Today we have a constructive dialogue with the majority of foreign partners on all the continents, a partnership that is based on respect of each other’s interests and commitment to further democratisation of international life.
Incidentally, our Western colleagues are constantly interfering in the internal affairs of other states demanding that every country respect human rights, follow the principle of rule-of-law and democracy. We suggest that the same principles of the rule of law and democratisation be applied in international life. They avoid discussing these matters because to democratise international life means to stop dictating to all and sundry and to start working towards an agreement.
There are many matters on which our colleagues are not yet prepared to play ball. Even so, we constantly invite the West to engage in talks. We are ready for a dialogue on the basis of equality and respect of each other’s interests.
We feel our citizens’ support regarding Russian diplomacy operations. This helps us a lot in our work. Public trust is the most reliable asset guaranteeing that no amount of threats, blackmail, sanctions or pressure will make us renounce what we think is right and fair, the more so that for us state sovereignty is not luxury but the necessary condition of our existence as a state.
Russia’s centuries-old great history and its unique geostrategic position established by our ancestors, coupled with its military-political, economic and cultural potential preclude its playing the role of a peripheral state or a “regional power,” to quote former US President Barack Obama.
But, unlike certain colleagues, we have never used our natural advantages to the detriment of others. We stood at the origins of the postwar security architecture and are acting today in a responsible and predictable manner, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council should behave. Our moves are based on the central role of the United Nations and the values of truth and justice; they are aimed at promoting a unifying international agenda rather than master-slave relationship.
During our contacts, many, if not the majority, of countries today say that they see Russia as one of the key guarantors of stability and defender of international law and traditional moral ideals.
We continue to focus on rallying the international community in the face of the terrorist threat. This threat is unprecedented. Our country ran into it way back in the mid-1990s. Tragic developments took toll of thousands of lives in Russia. We will continue to act consistently and resolutely in the fight against this evil. As part of the crucial task of cutting short the ideology of terrorism, we have been sharing with partners the experience of our society that is historically based on peaceful coexistence of cultures, religions and ethnic groups.
We are in favour of forming a united antiterrorist front based on common interests and the coordinating role of the United Nations; it should be free from double standards and prioritise compliance with the fundamental principles of international law and respect for sovereignty of nations and originality of peoples. The appointment of a Russian diplomat, Vladimir Voronkov, to the post of 1st Under-Secretary for the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office has confirmed recognition for our contribution to the fight against terrorism.
The main ISIS stronghold in Syria has been destroyed, with the Russian Armed Forces playing a decisive role in this respect. A year ago, Russia, Turkey and Iran launched the Astana process, which made it possible to establish four de-escalation zones. The situation is not completely calm in all of them, and there are some relapses because surviving terrorist groups affiliated with the so-called Jabhat Al-Nusra, rather than ISIS, continue to operate there. On the whole, everyone admits that the level of violence has dropped sharply since the establishment of the de-escalation zones.
Today, we are addressing issues of delivering humanitarian aid and launching a political negotiating process under the auspices of the UN. We are trying to help and to induce the UN to work more actively. On January 30, Sochi hosted the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which was supported by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and his Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. Mr Guterres and Mr de Mistura recognised the Congress as a factor helping the UN to implement the UN Security Council’s decisions on Syria.
We continue our efforts to defuse the situation in the Korean Peninsula. Russia and China firmly believe that there is no alternative to political dialogue and have advanced their own joint initiative. We can see that the United States is trying to escalate sanctions time and again and to threaten the use of force. According to experts, this scenario could claim at least one million lives or more. We hope that it will never become reality, and that the United States will consult the countries affected by this situation, primarily the leaders of the Republic of Korea and Japan.
I have already mentioned the situation in Ukraine. We demand that all agreements that have been reached must be honoured, no matter what. The ability of our partners to honour agreements is among the most pressing issues and calls for work. It is necessary to fulfil the Minsk complex of measures to resolve the crisis in southeast Ukraine. The “war party,” which is being pressured by radicals, including neo-Nazi groups that are feeling quite comfortable in Ukraine, is doing its best to shy away from obligations to launch direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk and has not renounced the use of force for resolving this problem. This “war party” is the main obstacle along this road. Notably, an initial version of the draft law on the reintegration of Donbass that allows the use of the armed forces has been passed recently. In January 2017, Ukraine imposed a complete trade and economic blockade of these districts in Donbass. This was done in rude violation of the Minsk complex of measures, approved by the UN Security Council. We are urging our Western partners, primarily the United States which exercises tremendous influence over Kiev, as well as France and Germany, as co-authors of the Minsk Agreements, to persuade Kiev to fulfil its obligations as quickly as possible.
Our unconditional priorities include deepening Eurasian integration. Chaired by Russia this year, the Eurasian Economic Union is picking up momentum. It already has several dozen partners who are interested in creating free trade areas with the EAEU, or concluding cooperation agreements.
Cooperation is getting stronger within the Union State of Russia and Belarus, the CIS and the CSTO, which promotes stability in Eurasia and helps counter international terrorism, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration. Joint work has been established with the CSTO countries at international venues, including coordination of positions in the UN and the OSCE.
For us, the Asia-Pacific region is a strategic priority for the rest of the 21st century, as President Vladimir Putin said. As a Pacific power, Russia will make full use of the vast potential of this region’s rapid development, including for lifting the Russian Far East and Eastern Siberia.
Our current relations with China are at their all-time best. The Foreign Ministry is focusing on further strengthening and developing Russia-China foreign policy coordination. Our common policy is aimed at strict compliance with the fundamental norms of international law and the UN Charter, be it in Syria, on the Korean Peninsula, or elsewhere, and plays an important stabilising role in global and regional affairs.
We are expanding strategic partnership with India and Vietnam. We maintain various ties with the overwhelming majority of states in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
We are working to implement President Putin’s initiative to form a major Eurasian partnership, which involves the member states of the EAEU, the SCO, and ASEAN. In the long run, this project will also be open to the EU countries.
Notably, the talks on inter-party agreement in Germany ended today. The CDU, the CSU, and the SPD have agreed on coalition principles, such as a focus on promoting a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. This is Russia’s long-standing idea and initiative. I believe it is important and significant that such a statement came from Germany amid the attempts to punish us and to impose more sanctions on us.
In the context of Eurasian integration, we are taking vigorous steps to harmonise the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with China’s One Belt, One Road strategy. An agreement on trade and economic cooperation between the EAEU and China has been coordinated, and agreements on cooperation in trade, investment, and services between the EAEU and ASEAN member countries that were reached in Sochi in May 2016 are being implemented.
Russia, India and China represent a relatively new format, which was initiated by late Yevgeny Primakov, and has been yielding positive results to date. These meetings are held at the level of foreign ministers and industry-specific ministries and departments. This troika gave an impetus to the birth of BRICS.
The activities of the SCO, joined by India and Pakistan last year, are in full swing. The accession of new members has made it an even more effective body. On a separate note, I would like to mention our work at the Group of Twenty, which was formed in 2009-2010. Its formation as an entity that meets annually at the highest level showed that, notwithstanding its desire to retain the leading positions in international affairs, the West has to reckon with the realities of a polycentric world that is taking shape, as the G-20 includes Western G-7 countries and the key countries of the developing world and all BRICS members. The key issues that need to be addressed in the sphere of international finance and international economic relations are first tried out precisely in this format on the basis of the principle of consensus. This is unequivocal recognition of the realities of the emerging multipolar world order.
I have already said that we are ready to build our relations with the West, the United States and the EU, based on the principles of mutual balance of interests and mutual respect. There is no other way. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed that we are open to a constructive dialogue with Washington. Unfortunately, we do not see any significant attempts to meet us halfway. Last year, the United States undertook a number of blatantly anti-Russian measures under completely contrived pretexts, in addition to what had been done by the Obama administration. I will not go into detail as you all follow the events and these measures are quite well known. We are not interested in further confrontation, all the more so because Russia and the United States, as the biggest nuclear powers, have a special responsibility for maintaining strategic stability. Russia-US cooperation for the sake of eliminating acute regional crises and combating terrorism remains very important. We do have certain communication channels on strategic stability, the Korean issue, Syria and some other matters. Unfortunately, so far, in most cases our American colleagues have used these channels to prove that their view on any issue is absolutely right and, instead of looking for a compromise between our approaches, they expect us to take their stance. Nevertheless, we are keeping these channels open. They have been of some use, as is proved by the agreement between Russia, the United States and Jordan regarding the de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria. The zone is operating quite well although there is still a number of issues that we are trying to resolve with the help of the military.
We are ready to cooperate with the EU as intensively as our EU partners see fit and we are hearing more and more sensible voices from those in Europe who are in favour of improving our relations. I have already mentioned the agreements reached while establishing the coalition government in Germany. There are more and more people who understand that building a greater Europe without Russia – and especially bypassing it completely – in terms of security and the economy, will not succeed. It would certainly be to our advantage if the EU strengthened its international independence as this would ensure more transparency and predictability in our relations.
Despite the complicated security situation, as I have already said, we will continue the dialogue on strategic stability with the United States. Russia has fulfilled its obligations regarding the destruction of chemical weapons. The United States is still to do a great deal in order to reach the set goal. We are delivering on our obligations under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and continuing the dialogue with the United States on eliminating certain issues related to the United States’ implementation of the treaty. We want to maintain the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty fully viable. We are ready to reject any attempts by the United States to cast doubt on our honest approach to this treaty as well as to explain ourselves and agree on maintaining the validity of the treaty as long as our very serious and specific grievances against our American partners, which were presented clearly and publicly, will also be met by the United States as an invitation to resolve our concerns. Once again, this dialogue will continue.
Of course, we will insist that all the parties honestly carry out the joint comprehensive action plan to resolve the situation around Iran’s nuclear programme. Failure of this agreement may result in adverse and hardly predictable consequences for the entire non-proliferation system and the entire world order.
Among other relevant matters I would like to point out the importance of further action against glorifying Nazism, measures against nationalism, racism and xenophobia. Every year, we promote a draft resolution on this subject at the UN General Assembly and it is getting more support each time. It received around 140 votes at the latest UN General Assembly. Only two countries, the United States and Ukraine, voted against while, rather inexplicably, the EU abstained referring to freedom of speech. But freedom of speech cannot apply to the activity prohibited by the Nuremberg Trials.
Another strategic priority of ours is fighting cybercrime. We are advancing this issue at the UN. Resolutions have been adopted on international information security. A second group of experts has been established to deal with further research into the matter. A long time ago we suggested adopting a universal convention on cooperation in countering information crimes, including hacking. The United States, while blaming us for exactly the activity against which we propose fighting together, is avoiding any specific talks on the problem. But we are not losing hope. We are ready any time, not in words but in deed, to engage in practical discussions of the most important tasks – how to fight cybercrime and prevent the use of cyberspace for criminal purposes, including terrorism, child abuse, human trafficking and other things.
We are strengthening the international front in support of Christians and representatives of other religions that are suffering right now – mainly in the Middle East and North Africa. Pursuing these goals, we are promoting a mutually respectful dialogue between different faiths and civilisations. We are doing this together with the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional religions in Russia, in cooperation with the Vatican and such countries as Belarus, Armenia and Lebanon. Every year in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council holds a special conference on the protection of Christians and representatives of other faiths in the Middle East.
We are focusing on the protection of the rights and interests of our compatriots, expanding international humanitarian exchanges, supporting the interests of the Russian business community on the global markets – particularly, in conditions of tough competition that is very often dishonest.
Needless to say, we are working against corrupt and illegitimate practices of some countries that are persecuting Russian media and are forcing them out of the media environment. We have submitted initiatives regarding the matter to the UN’s relevant committee, the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
Of course, we are facilitating broader inter-regional cooperation, i.e. cooperation between neighbouring regions of two or several countries that engage in joint, pragmatic and non-politicised projects thus contributing to the general palette of Russia’s relations with other countries and helping build trust and mutual understanding.
We will further follow the course of action outlined by President Putin in the Russian Foreign Policy Concept approved in November 2016. I assure you that the difficulties that the country in general and the diplomacy are facing are merely driving us towards a more creative and productive approach to work. This was pointed out by the President and the Prime Minister. We are guided by this when solving the diplomatic tasks set to us. Russian citizens must have no doubt that, no matter what the circumstances are, we can protect our country’s interests, security and sovereignty.
Question: You have mentioned our relations with the United States. It appears that we have become an image of the enemy for the United States, which, in a certain sense, has become an image of the enemy for us due to efforts by mass media. What positive agenda, aside from common efforts against terrorism and attempts to settle the situation in Syria, could be offered for rapprochement? Are there any other ideas that could help this to happen?
Sergey Lavrov: I absolutely agree that many are thinking about this, and we need to think about this. Recently, I read an article in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper by journalist Mikhail Rostovsky, whom I respect. He shared his perspective on our relations with the United States, and said that it is absolutely clear that amidst such assaults on Russia we have to preserve our dignity and integrity and prove our point. Yet he noted that given the immense role that Russia-US relations play not only for the two countries but for the whole world, we should seek some constructive steps. We didn’t discuss everything in public, but we have made no secret of this. Since the very beginning of the new US administration’s term in office, we offered a number of steps that would allow for gradually restoring mutual trust, with no illusions that this could be done in one fell swoop. Back in April, I handed a list of questions to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and offered to take stock of them and start exchanging opinions on the issues on our bilateral agenda. There are many complicated matters there, including the actual kidnapping of our citizens on suspicion of cybercrimes, ignoring the Russian-US agreement on legal assistance in criminal matters, which has to be applied in case of suspicions of our nationals‘ criminal activities (under the agreement we must obtain information and conduct consultations), adoption of children, when Russian children die in US foster families and courts acquit parents who were obviously involved in immoral and criminal actions, and our diplomatic property that was, in fact, expropriated, as well as many other things. We passed over the list of questions without any politicisation and ideology involved. We just suggested we should sit down and begin discussing them. There were a couple of formal meetings that yielded no results. Our US partners cannot, and refuse to assume any commitments and come to any essential agreements. So the list of questions remains intact so far.
A couple of months later, when Russian President Vladimir Putin had a meeting with US President Donald Trump in July, we suggested that if they had any suspicions of Russia’s illegal activities, including our alleged interference in the US presidential elections, we could revive a [joint] working group on cybersecurity, which was formally set up back during Barack Obama’s term in office but never convened as that administration did not have any interest in talking to us on this subject despite the agreement. We believed that in Hamburg the US side supported this idea. Later, however, when this was publicly announced, the US Congress came down on the White House, claiming that the United States cannot cooperate with Russia on cybersecurity after our alleged hacking and interference in US matters. The Congress insisted that there was no point in talking to us about this.
We also recalled that back in 1933, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union Maxim Litvinov, while establishing diplomatic relations, exchanged letters. This was done at the insistence of the American side. In the letters, each party, in identical phrasing, undertook not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs and not to encourage any movements on the territory of the country that could sympathise with the other party thus serving as proxy for its interests, and many other things. In fact, things we are being incriminated for, were included [in that document] as unacceptable in Russia-US relations. We offered that, if they had such suspicions, we should revise what was done in 1933 and exchange similar obligations in some form. They said it was not suitable for them as we were interfering in their matters.
So, probably, we could be reprimanded for not putting enough creative effort, but our attempts at starting a depoliticised dialogue have not yielded any result so far. That said, as I have already mentioned, a dialogue on strategic stability is underway although there are issues that require professional assessment without any politicisation. This is not always easy to achieve but we are ready for this.
There is a dialogue regarding the Korean Peninsula and Syria, although I should say again that the US side believes this dialogue should come down to us agreeing to all their approaches. But we will not close the door; hope is the last thing to die, all the more so since we have things to show in support of our approaches.
Question: The public in European countries believes that the United States’ attempts to divide Europe and Russia are harmful for European countries as well. European politicians’ official stance is well known. I would like to hear about their off-the-record opinions. Do they realise that it is the United States and in no way Europe that gains most from this? Perhaps they are not afraid to tell you this off camera?
Sergey Lavrov: The cameras are always there. I said in my opening remarks that we really want to see an independent Europe on the international stage. It is a fact that Europe does not agree with everything the United States undertakes against Russia and this is stated publicly. This includes the sanctions, when the Europeans insist that the United States’ steps were discussed and agreed with them and did not harm European companies. This also includes more acute issues that could escalate into a crisis, such as Iran’s nuclear programme. Europe is anything but thrilled by the US demands to make drastic changes to this programme and by its promise to withdraw otherwise, as it will undo all the compromises reached during the negotiations of this approach. Once again, this may have unpredictable consequences.
The Europeans who were involved in the P5+1 talks with Tehran – that is, the UK, France and Germany – agreed to participate in a working group with the United States to which neither Russia nor China were invited although we were also involved in that work. Washington says that the working group is reviewing the agreement in line with the United States’ requests. Iran will not accept this. Russia and China believe that it will also be extremely counterproductive because the balance reached under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is very fragile. The action plan was secured by a unanimous UNSC resolution and basically has the force of an international law. Trying to dissect its components is extremely dangerous. The Europeans feel that they need to defend their interests because the United States does not always take them into consideration. But at the same time, the ‘transatlantic bond’ as it is often called is still working to the effect that Europe wants to find a compromise with the United States. We do not mind, as long as these compromises are not at the expense of others or at the expense of such vital agreements as the one on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Question: Diplomacy, as I see it, is a chess game, where each player defends his or her own interests. What makes people in our public age, when information technology makes it possible to disseminate information in an instant, make ungrounded claims without providing any evidence? What is the United States hoping for and how does this fail to spoil its reputation at home?
Sergey Lavrov: I find it difficult to answer this question. I have mentioned how they respond to our requests to “provide irrefutable facts of our interference in the United States’ internal affairs,” to quote US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. I have also mentioned that in situations of this sort we always ask to be given some facts, some concrete things, be it the anti-doping agenda or something else. For example, there was a series of episodes just the other day, which involved, according to NGO reports, alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. Short of any investigation, the United States immediately claimed that the blame should be put on President Bashar al-Assad and Russia, because we are responsible for the Syrian Government (or the Syrian regime as they call it). US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley immediately started hurling invectives at us in her peremptory manner. We suggested to the Americans that the related organisations should hold an investigation and visit the site in question. They replied that they had reliable data but could not disclose their source because it would be targeted by the illegal regime in Damascus. And it ended at that.
It is very difficult, of course, to maintain a sensible dialogue under these circumstances, but the majority of countries do understand our position and are not taken in by the United States’ ungrounded accusations, be it Syria, Iran or whatever. Iran is being accused of terrorism. Out of 15 terrorist groups listed as such under US laws only one can be somehow associated with Iran. The rest have declared Iran their enemy. Our attempt to talk to the Americans on this topic and understand their logic is also meeting with a lack of enthusiasm. In any event, these things should be discussed, including in the context of what is going on in Syria, where the Americans seem to have set on the course of partitioning the country. They have simply thrown overboard the assurances they had given us that the only aim of their presence in Syria (without an invitation from its legitimate Government) was to defeat ISIS and terrorism. Now they are saying that this presence will endure until the moment they make sure that Syria is stably on course for a political settlement that should culminate in a regime change. You know what they are talking about. That they are making overtures to various segments of Syrian society that oppose the Government, including with arms in hand, is leading to very dangerous results. There are plans for an actual partition of Syria; we know about this and will be asking our US colleagues how they visualise all this.
Question: Our country is always deceived by everyone – the Americans, the United Nations, the IOC… What should be done to put an end to this and when will it end?
Sergey Lavrov: It’s a cinch that we should not go to war. After this event, I will have a meeting with three finalists, who asked me to be their tutor. We have selected three persons from a group that has signaled similar desires. They have provided very interesting and creative answers to our assignments. One young woman, a member of the three, with whom I will be meeting, has suggested a brand describing Russia’s position in world affairs. It sounds quite simple: “Russia’s strength is in truth.” Remember “Brother-2?” “God is not in strength but in truth.”
Thank you very much.
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