I am sincerely glad to have an opportunity to revisit Baltic Federal University whose history is marked by many outstanding events and glorious names. Based on its rich traditions, the university, which, as I understand, is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, keeps abreast of the times and has by right gained a reputation as one of the leading higher educational centres in Russia that trains highly skilled specialists. We appreciate your efforts to expand international cooperation by facilitating humanitarian ties with your foreign partners whose number exceeds one hundred, today. In the final analysis, you are working to maintain friendship and trust in the international arena. We will continue to provide any support we can to your initiatives in this regard.
I am recalling with warmth the hospitable reception that was given to me and the foreign ministers of Germany and Poland six years ago in May 2011 during our tripartite meeting. Back then we said that our three countries were not indifferent to the future of our continent and its harmonious, stable, safe and progressive development. We stressed the need to use the powerful potential of cooperation more effectively.
Regrettably, the situation in Europe and the world as a whole has seriously deteriorated since then. Unfortunately, we see this as a logical result of our partners' unwillingness to maintain an equitable dialogue, their persistent wish to impose their will, values, and ways of development on everyone everywhere, and an attempt to slow the objective process of the emergence of a more just and stable polycentric world order.
One often hears allegations that Moscow violates its international commitments and therefore is to blame for the current tense situation in the Euro-Atlantic area. In this connection, I would like to remind them that it was primarily thanks to Russia's major contribution that it became possible to remove the vestiges of bipolar confrontation and the Cold War. We played, without exaggeration, the decisive role in German unification. Our country implemented the agreements on the withdrawal of forces and armaments from Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, and later, Georgia.
The principle of good-neighbourliness is an axiom for Russia with regard to the European Union and the EU member countries, with whom we share not just common historical, cultural and civilisational roots, but also rich trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian exchanges. We work consistently to promote a positive, unifying, and future-focused common European agenda aimed at keeping life on a peaceful track. We have proposed numerous initiatives for building up broad mutually advantageous cooperation, from the basic step of abolishing such relic as visas to joint work with the European Union on crisis regulation and on uniting our countries' energy markets. We have done everything we can to ensure that dialogue between countries in the Euro-Atlantic region develop on the basis of international law. Back in 2008, we proposed concluding a treaty on European security, which would have legalised the political obligations taken earlier at the highest level through the OSCE on indivisible security, which means that no country has the right to strengthen its security at the expense of others' security.
Sadly, our partners did not support this initiative. They preferred a policy of military-political containment of Russia, which is manifested in the greedy and hasty action to occupy any geopolitical space that opens up, NATO expansion to the east, despite assurances once made to Soviet leadership that this would not happen, and the European Union's Eastern Partnership. This programme, and the other Western actions mentioned, took the logic of a false choice: 'you are either with the West or with Russia,' and not the logic of the grand promises and assurances of commitment to the philosophy of a 'common European home.'
NATO said directly in its time that only NATO member countries can have legal guarantees of security. We got a clear illustration of the harm this zero-sum game can cause in the armed coup d'etat in Ukraine, which was supported by Washington and Brussels and carried out by ultra-radical forces, who continue to run the show in Ukraine today and block all efforts to implement the Minsk Agreements and settle the internal crisis in Ukraine. Their Western patrons are powerless and cannot call the radicals to order.
In May of this year, we marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Russia-NATO Founding Act and the 15th anniversary of the Rome Declaration on a new quality of relations between Russia and NATO. But we have not achieved these documents' goal of overcoming the remnants of confrontation and rivalry and strengthening mutual trust and cooperation, primarily because NATO has remained a Cold War institution that has proven itself unable to respond adequately to the new millennium's challenges. Today, NATO is taking decisions that grossly violate the NATO-Russia Founding Act's provisions. The scale of military activity has increased dramatically and there is a build-up of military presence and infrastructure in regions bordering Russia, including along the borders of the Kaliningrad Region. These actions clearly exacerbate the situation and fuel a new spiral in the arms race. What NATO calls shamefacedly the 'eastern flank' is threatening to become the 'eastern front,' with all the ensuing destructive consequences for Europe.
Our relations with the EU are facing a very difficult period as well. Seeking to divert public attention from their failure in Ukraine, where the organisers of the coup d'etat threw to the winds the agreement approved by Germany, France and Poland, the EU tried to shift the blame to others and launched the war of sanctions.
Political undercurrents have complicated practical cooperation, including in the energy sphere, which has cemented our relations for decades. The current Polish authorities are working especially hard on this. It is difficult to find logic in their decision to curtail small border traffic with the Kaliningrad Region. The attempts to provide legal substantiation for the demolition of monuments to Soviet soldiers cannot be described as being anything other than blasphemous, considering that the Polish state and people owe their very existence to our soldiers' heroism.
Russia has been recently accused of trying to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States and European countries, and to undermine European unity. In this connection I have to quote from Immanuel Kant after whom your university has been named. He repeatedly pointed to the importance of independent thinking, saying that "the power of judgment is a special talent that cannot be taught but only practised." The ongoing hysteria is clearly aimed at shifting the blame for one's problems and failures to others, instead of taking a critical look at the developments in the EU which is experiencing a system-wide crisis. Russia does want the EU to be strong, united and capable of independently determining their foreign policy priorities without any external prompting.
The latest statements by the heads of some leading EU countries give us reason to believe that the process has started. We'll see what it comes to. Anyway, we would like our partners to stop using the lowest-common-denominator approach in relations with Russia, when the EU's position is based on the opinions of a small but very aggressive Russia-hating minority.
Overall, we believe that there are no insolublee problems in our relations with the West. All parties must accept the need to promote a dialogue without lecturing and arrogance, but exclusively on the principles of equality and respect for each other and each other's interests, as well as seek to balance these interests. International law must be complied with strictly and in full rather than selectively, and there must be no further interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. In other words, everyone must go back to the principles of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. As President Putin said at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum four days ago, "We need wisdom and a sense of responsibility, a joint search for unconventional solutions."
We know that there are many people in Europe, which is sustaining multibillion losses from sanctions, who are protesting against the dismantling of the rich cooperation traditions that have taken decades to create. We support their resolve. Of course, actions speak louder than words, and this fully concerns the United States, where anti-Russia mayhem is being raised, without a single hard fact, in an attempt to revise the results of last year's presidential election. This is regrettable. These actions are creating an artificial surreal agenda in the media space and are drawing public attention away from the pending task of coordinating our approaches to the existing rather than imaginary threats. Russians are a patient people, as we know. I am confident that this ballyhoo will eventually run out of steam, and the Western leaders will become aware of their nations' fundamental interests and resume normal relations with Russia.
At the same time, we continue pursuing our national development goals and increasing productive cooperation with our foreign partners that are willing to work with us in a spirit of equality and pragmatism, without hidden agendas and without looking to short-term political considerations. Partners like this are the vast majority in the world, as could be seen at the recent SPIEF 2017 forum, in which 8,000 people from 62 countries took part.
President Vladimir Putin put forward the initiative to establish the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which would see us develop multilateral cooperation between member countries of the EAEU, the SCO, ASEAN and eventually other countries in Asia and Europe. We would welcome the EU countries' involvement in this work to establish a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which was a goal that great and far-sighted European leaders have advocated in their time. Building stronger ties between the EAEU and the European Commission in Brussels would help bolster cooperation. We sent proposals in this area to the European Commission at the end of 2015, but are still waiting for a response.
Russia is open to broad international partnership with the aim of effectively overcoming the numerous threats we face today, above all terrorism and extremism. We will ensure our citizens' security no matter what the circumstances. As President Vladimir Putin said in his remarks at the military parade on Red Square on May 9, Russia's armed forces are capable of countering any potential aggression. We continue to follow closely and respond swiftly to action that affects our interests, including deployment of increased NATO military capability along our borders and the development of the US global missile defence system with its European component. At the same time, we invite NATO to take part in an honest discussion on threat assessment and military doctrines, relative real military capability deployed in the Euro-Atlantic area, using this as a foundation for developing de-escalation and confidence building measures, and ensuring security in the Baltic. But so far, NATO has not entered this dialogue and is not responding constructively to our proposals.
The regional government's efforts have gained deserved recognition. At the SPIEF 2017 forum plenary session, President Vladimir Putin said that the Kaliningrad Region was one of three Russian regions that have achieved particularly rapid improvement in their business climates. For our part, we will continue to focus particular attention on security, ensuring the region has the material support and conditions it needs for improved living conditions, and making it more attractive for investment and tourism. We will continue to support the expansion of international and foreign economic ties, including with our European partners, in keeping with our country's common foreign policy line. I discussed all of these matters this morning at my meeting with Governor Anton Alikhanov.
Soon, you will take on the responsibility for the situation in our country and ensure Russia's rapid growth. I hope that many of you will work for our country's interests in the civil service. This has always been a respected career path that offers good opportunities for self-realisation. As the romantic writer Ernst Hoffman, who was born and studied here, said, it was in the civil service that he "gained a broader view of life and was much more able to avoid selfishness." I hope that today's meeting will be of use to you.
I am ready to answer your questions. Question
: My question is about wars. Wars have swept the entire world. I am referring to information wars. Look at Syria or Crimea. The Kaliningrad Region is under the strong information pressure from the EU. Could you please explain how such information provocations can be withstood? How can they be resisted? Sergey Lavrov
: This takes an entire profession. Information wars are conducted by professionals. They should also expose all kinds of myths and fakes. They should conduct a daily honest analysis of facts and continuously monitor statements by those who want to demonise the Russian Federation and discredit our policy. Examples abound. If I did not occupy my current position, I would ignore this slander and craziness. That's from the perspective of a normal person. But professionally, considering that information is becoming a field of fierce confrontation, it is necessary to fight for the hearts and minds of people and not only our citizens, because as you said correctly they are also caught up in this aggressive propaganda, as are citizens of other countries, who are forming their impression of our country.
The main point is not to strike back or simply take revenge by rubbing their nose into lies. There is much more to it. We want cooperation and mutual understanding with other countries. We want friendship with other nations no matter how trite this word may sound. It will be difficult to promote this approach without trust and the exposure of lies.
The best and simplest way of seeking the truth is to invite all those who start believing various falsehoods to the Russian Federation, to show them how people live in Crimea, how we are resolving social issues, the investment climate we have, and how we are carrying out projects with our partners, for instance, in the Kaliningrad Region. Recently we have been particularly active in implementing trans-border cooperation projects with Poland and Lithuania. Our European partners and the Russian Federation are allocating tens of millions of euros to implement projects that are vital for the activities of these areas and the everyday lives of their citizens. As Kaliningrad Region Acting Governor Anton Alikhanov mentioned, this is explained by the enthusiasm of trans-border areas and the position of people who do not want to play political games, unlike their governments, and see the immediate advantages of practical daily interaction because they have to live together. This is the important purpose behind the efforts that we must make to be perceived without bias by the outside world.
Some people say it is necessary to spread a positive image of Russia in the world community. I do not want us to spread a positive image. I want us to show what kind of people we are in reality. I think this will be a strength for us. Question:
Today international youth cooperation is primarily taking place in the form of public diplomacy. The youth parliament at the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation has suggested organising a venue for international internships. The Kaliningrad Region has been proposed as a pilot region. Is the Foreign Ministry prepared to support this initiative? Sergey Lavrov:
If I understand you correctly, you are referring to the parliamentary youth movement. Question:
Yes, the youth parliamentary initiative. Sergey Lavrov:
Of course, we are ready to support this. Special structures are promoting youth contacts with many of our colleagues in the CIS, BRICS and SCO. Our Foreign Ministry is doing everything to encourage contacts between councils of young diplomats (yes, they exist). We will certainly welcome parliamentary youth cooperation. Frankly speaking, I have not heard about this initiative but if you write us a detailed letter explaining what forms if support we could render, we will do this by all means. Question:
Where should Russia's foreign policy be oriented: to the East or the West? Sergey Lavrov:
We have no choice. We must work everywhere because God, Nature, our great grandfathers, our forebears left us an enormous country that occupies the lion's share of Eurasia. This term reflects the European and Asian roots of our foreign policy. We have no doubt that our approach must be multi-faceted as the foreign policy concept of the Russian Federation is. We must be active across the board.
I will add the North and the South to the East and the West. A very interesting panorama of international contacts and practical projects is unfolding in the North, in the Arctic. They are linked with more efficient high-tech methods of producing hydrocarbons because of the melting ice and the need to take tough measures on environmental protection. This is the Year of Ecology in Russia. The departments concerned and President Vladimir Putin personally are paying special attention to the need to clean up the Arctic.
Naturally, we have interests in the South as well, especially now that our Chinese neighbours from the East are moving forward with Silk Road Economic Belt initiatives. Recently Beijing hosted the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which envisages active preparations of transport and energy routes along Russia's southern perimeter.
To sum up, we should not just turn left or right. We must be active everywhere. We must protect our borders and security everywhere but keep them open for cooperation with all those who are ready for it on the basis of equality, mutual respect and reciprocal interests.
I understand why you asked this question. There are many analytical materials and conversations about how, considering its current relations with the West and the EU, Russia has decided to turn to the East. We have no right to turn away from anyone – either Europe or Asia because this will hurt our interests and we will worsen our position. The EU is artificially restricting our economic and political cooperation and this is a "medical fact" that we cannot ignore. However, when European countries recover from this sanctions disease, we will be ready to restore ties on a scale and at a speed suitable to our European partners.
Regardless of any sanctions or squabbles with the EU, the Asia-Pacific Region (APR) is our strategic goal, the engine of the global economy where new technological alliances are taking shape. We have been involved in the region's structures for many years, such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the East Asia Summit (EAS) mechanism. We are cooperating with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). They have many formats in which we have long been actively working. The task of making up for the recent lack of attention on the APR remains relevant no matter what. President Vladimir Putin set this task long before the cooling in our relations with the EU. We must work everywhere. This is our country and it has enormous geopolitical advantages that we should use to the utmost. Question:
Recently, The Washington Post described US President Donald Trump's European tour as a failure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe, in its foreign policy, should rely only on itself. Do you think European leaders will be able in the future to build their foreign policy without looking over their shoulders at the US administration? Sergey Lavrov:
Regarding whether the US president's European tour was successful or not, this is up to the American people to decide. He is their president, he upholds his people's interests and they are the ones who should give him marks. I doubt that anybody else, including the Europeans, should pass judgment from their vantage point, making decisions for American voters.
Yes, I heard Angela Merkel said that after Brexit and Donald Trump's European trip, Europe should rely on its own resources. We have always believed that there should be as many independent players in the world as possible. If – in keeping with Sigmund Freud's theory – this is recognition of the fact that until now Europe has not been independent, then I welcome this eye opener and hope that this revelation acquires its own voice in international affairs. Question
: Will you be able to watch any matches during the Confederations Cup? What is your favourite football team? Sergey Lavrov
: Are you seriously asking who I will root for at the Confederations Cup? Question
: I mean, which of the Russian teams do you root for? Sergey Lavrov:
If you can see from over there… (shows FC Spartak's logo on his mobile phone). Question:
It is well known, Mr Lavrov, that you are a Spartak fan. Sergey Lavrov:
And I try to play there, too. Anton Andreyevich is also an athlete, and I have often been in such situations, getting injured. It's a hobby. Question:
What role does creativity play in your life? Is the Russian foreign minister primarily an efficient functionary pursuing a policy that has already been formulated, or are you free in certain respects and can you shape your own policy on certain issues? Sergey Lavrov
: Under our Constitution, foreign policy is formulated by the President of Russia. Naturally, the President does not work in a vacuum but receives an enormous amount of information from the Foreign Ministry, intelligence agencies, security services, the economic section of the cabinet, the academic community and his aides, and there are several of them each working for him in different areas. As a general rule, this information contains certain proposals. It is important not simply to report what is going on but also to suggest ways of responding to it. Sometimes it is essential even not so much to report what is going on and suggest a response as to analyse the situation in a particular region, in a particular foreign policy area as a forecast, in terms of what may happen, and propose some preemptive steps. All of these informational and analytical materials and proposals (and there can also be multi-option proposals) are put on the President's desk, and after analysing the entire array of information, he makes a decision. Needless to say, these decisions do not spell out in minute detail each phrase that diplomats should say at talks with their partners. A general course is set, a goal is formulated, and then comes the time for creativity and inventiveness. Therefore, diplomats should be very well educated and have good erudition and knowledge of the history of their own country and other states.
This is more or less the way it works. Question:
Will Europe's geopolitical image change in the context of Montenegro's recent NATO entry? If so, what will happen to our relations with Montenegro? Sergey Lavrov:
We have talked about this, before the formal decision on Montenegro's joining NATO was adopted. This issue was predetermined.
NATO's expansion towards the East or elsewhere does not have a positive effect on pan-European security. In the late 1990s the leaders of the European countries, and the United States and Canada vowed and declared indivisible security in principle. They said security can only be common, equal and indivisible and that nobody should take steps that will impinge on the security of others. This is written on paper, in the documents of the OSCE and top-level meetings of the Russia-NATO Council. This isn't about keeping military-political blocs but building a common legal foundation that will put all Euro-Atlantic countries on equal footing.
Montenegro's accession to NATO and the waves of NATO expansion in the past 15 years show that they do not want common and equal security. Indeed, when we proposed signing a treaty that would legally seal the guarantees of indivisible security they refused, saying they were ready to offer legal guarantees only to those that join NATO. This is how countries, including several in central and Eastern Europe, were tempted by NATO membership. Later, sights began to be set on the post-Soviet space. They declared at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine would join the alliance and in the same year Mikheil Saakashvili was apparently encouraged by this statement and took action and tried to get away with it. He began to attack his own people. South Ossetia was part of Georgia and they had a conflict but it was regulated by OSCE agreements and there were peacekeepers. Saakashvili lost his mind when he heard he could join NATO. Three years ago Ukrainian radicals also decided they could do everything they wanted and staged a coup. We have seen the consequences of such crazy promises.
NATO has long been looking at the Balkans and wants to incorporate the entire region in its structure. As for pan-European security and NATO expansion, including Montenegro, they are preserving the dividing lines rather than eliminating them as they promised. Montenegro's accession does not enhance the security of the North Atlantic Alliance in any way. The only difference is that now Montenegro will also have to be defended while in reality they will simply deploy additional elements of military infrastructure there. There are nice bays there – something to get a good haul. I doubt that Montenegro's security will increase. Nobody has ever planned to attack it.
When the former Yugoslavia was falling to pieces the Union of Serbia and Montenegro was its only surviving part. This union was "knocked together" by Brussels that engineered the signing of a document between Belgrade and Podgorica, according to which they were supposed to remain a single union state for three years and upon the expiration of this term each of them was supposed to hold a referendum on how they would live – together or separately. After three years, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Xavier Solana suddenly became alarmed and began asking us to persuade the Montenegrins not to hold a referendum on independence. We asked him what Russia had to do with this. We were told that they would listen to us, because we had a common history, that they remembered how we helped them in many wars, rid them from the Turkish yoke and liberated them during World War II. At that point I asked him why after signing this document and persuading them to take a pause for three years. There was no answer. I asked him why they did not do anything during these three years.
During this time they hoped to open the road to EU membership for Serbia and Montenegro but nothing was done. And they started to ask us to persuade the Montenegrins not to follow the path of independence. We refused, saying this was their right. Montenegrins thanked us a lot at that time. As for their current leaders, it is not that they appeared to be ungrateful but they got into a serious predicament. At one time, a long time ago they had problems with law and a number of European states had claims against them, including criminal claims. I think this played a definite rather than decisive role in that the Montenegrins succumbed to persuasion to join NATO.
Their desire to distance themselves from the Russian Federation also played a role. I do not know why. This is indeed a step that does not enhance the security of either the entire Euro-Atlantic community, or NATO or Montenegro. Joining NATO can't be justified by Moscow's alleged intrigues, interference in their elections, by sending spies or infiltrators, or the recruitment of political figures. The Russophobic campaign launched against the backdrop of NATO entry shows that Montenegro does not care about any European principles but merely wants to sell its anti-Russian statements for more. Let God be their judge but we cannot ignore this.
I hear the number of Russian visitors to Montenegro has dropped by about 20 percent. We are simply warning them that their Russophobic attitudes have gone over the top. It happens in many European countries that our compatriots are captured and taken overseas. This is also a fact that must be considered.
Let me repeat that today Montenegro is not safe in this sense although I love it very much. Its nature is great and its people are wonderful but their current leaders are trying to change our relations. Question:
These days, there are a lot of youth organisations in the world that essentially perform the same tasks and have overlapping responsibilities. What is the [Foreign Ministry's] position with regard to these organisations and how do their decisions influence the decisions that are made by "mature" agencies? Sergey Lavrov:
The [ministry's] position is very positive. I've already responded to a similar question. It is very important that young people communicate and get to know each other. Through the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Cultural Cooperation, the Foreign Ministry organises regular youth tours to Russia. We always look to increase the number of places on these tours. The same goes for parliaments.
We believe that young people should be given particular attention because they are our future. Frankly, I don't know to what extent the recommendations made by parliamentary agencies are put into practice because if these are parliamentary agencies, then they give advice to "mature" parliaments. The Foreign Ministry has the Young Diplomats Council. They regularly come up with proposals, put ideas on the table, and we study them. We use quite a lot of those. I regularly communicate with them. In addition, we organise a series of competitions for young diplomats for the best work on foreign policy issues, which also stimulates the thinking process and helps young diplomats learn the ropes and become real professionals more quickly. Question
: Today, you are the most well-known Moscow State Institute of International Relations alumnus, the author of the university's anthem. Students have been on your radar for many years. What are your impressions of the evolution of youth in the history of new Russia? Sergey Lavrov
: I like young people. I'm now looking at attractive, interested faces, and I find this conversation stimulating.
Every year, on September 1, I go to the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. I used to deliver long lectures, but now I confine myself to some welcoming remarks – about a page and a half – and then respond to questions. They are very interesting people, with their own ideas, independent, and already reflecting the realities of the new, modern technological order that should also be mastered by adults, as President Vladimir Putin said at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. I like young people and would like to support them the best way I can so that they are comfortable and happy as they enter their post-college future with good results and great prospects. Question
: I consider you the best political figure in the international arena. Therefore, I'd like to hear your opinion on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. What options do you see here? Sergey Lavrov
: Agreement is the only viable option. During the long period of talks, with their ups and downs, some agreements have been reached. We were close to a resolution many times (it seemed to be just within reach), but then some instinct of distrust would come up on one side or the other. Nevertheless, this work needs to go on. Naturally, there is a general array of principles that have been approved by all parties, but the devil is in the details. If the parties agree on what the solution should be, it is important, at different stages, to coordinate a number of very complex details affecting issues that are highly sensitive for each party, including domestic political issues. We keep trying. As you know, Russia, the US and France are co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. This troika and the OSCE special representative regularly meet with the parties to the conflict. Troika experts regularly go to Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert.
Now there will be a "shift change" because the new US and French presidents have yet to appoint their new representatives. Within the framework of this troika we will think about how to deal with the apparently minor but in fact very serious details that have not been harmonised yet. Question:
The Kaliningrad Region occupies a unique geographic position and borders on wonderful countries. I think that every Kaliningrad resident has friends in Poland, Lithuania or Germany. We keep in touch with each other and so contribute to international relations. Next year, we will host FIFA World Cup matches. What policy do you plan to pursue to improve relations with the neighbouring countries whose citizens will come to Russia for the Cup matches? How do you plan to attract more tourists?
The city is trying to improve the environment now. The horrible advertising and banners that blocked the view have been removed from buildings and fences. New paving tiles are being laid on the central square in Zelenogradsk, but they are doing the job so badly that it's difficult to walk on them because there are so many holes and cracks. There is little time left before the World Cup. I hope they will do something more than removing advertising in Kaliningrad and paving the footpaths in central Zelenogradsk, and do it better. Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Anton Alikhanov):
I have no doubt that Acting Governor Alikhanov, who is a very energetic man, will do his utmost so that we see the results in the near future and will resolve the problems with the image of the city and the region to make them more attractive for tourists, in addition to the natural beauty of your region, which is enough to attract many foreign visitors.
Regarding your question about what can be done to attract more tourists, we are doing our best. Mr Alikhanov said they have prepared a solution within the framework of the special economic zone to facilitate the issuance of online visas. At this point, everything depends on the list of countries that will be approved for this. As I promised publicly, we will try to expand this list as far as we can to make travel to Russia as comfortable as possible for people from the neighbouring and other countries who wish to visit Russia and make friends with us.
You said that you have friends in Lithuania, Poland and Germany. When speaking about keeping communication channels open, we must remember that it is a two-way street. When Lithuania builds a fence on the border and Poland cancels small border traffic provisions for no obvious reason, this is creating real problems for your friends. Remind your friends about this. Let them do something to prevent physical barriers and visa regulations from standing in the way of your friendships. Question:
Social networks are an extremely important element of the modern media space. For many Russians, especially young people, social media are the main source of information. Do you monitor online news about yourself? What do you think about it? Sergey Lavrov:
I have little time and, frankly, I am not interested in looking for such information. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, who was unable to attend our meeting, regularly updates me on what they write about the ministry and me. Some of it is quite funny. Question:
In which countries will interest in the Russian language grow in the near term? Which of them merit attention in this respect? Sergey Lavrov:
I don't have the statistics on hand, but I know that it does exist. Interest in the Russian language is growing around the world. Today we held talks with Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, and the Russian language was one of the issues on our agenda. Interest in the Russian language is on the rise in Slovakia. I can say the same about many other countries based on my meetings with my colleagues from Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. If we have statistics on this issue, I will certainly forward it to you. As it is, place your stakes on internationalism. Question:
How can Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University help foster cross-border cooperation between Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Germany? Sergey Lavrov:
I'm sure you have acquaintances in university communities in other countries. If you're asking me about my attitude toward young people, I trust them. But you can organise sport competitions and festivals on a reciprocal basis, for example, a German-language competition in Kaliningrad and a Russian-language contest in Germany. Use your imagination. Question
: Foreign policy has a significant impact on foreign labour migration. We all remember conflicts and difficulties in our relations with Turkey and Russia's retaliatory measures to limit labour migration from that country. Would an improvement in relations and an alignment of positions with Moldova, Serbia and China increase labour migration from these countries?
Is there much interest among our European partners in creating a common economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok and are they taking any steps to that end? Sergey Lavrov
: Regarding external migration, just how comfortable labour migrants feel in a particular country depends on many factors. Perhaps the most important thing is the general state of relations between countries. If these relations are good and friendly and the authorities in both countries foster friendly ties between the two nations in question, then migrants, as a general rule, feel very much at home in the host country. If, however, the authorities in some country – in an effort to suit the political situation of the moment or to please certain third parties – choose to follow an anti-Russia policy, then I don't think migrants from that country will be able to live and work in Russia problem-free. Because when a confrontational approach is used against a particular country, then naturally the citizens of that country – if they are normal people – will be wary of those behind the confrontation. I understand that the average person is not to blame for what politicians, who they have brought to power in one way or another, sometimes have to do. However, this is an objective factor – human nature. Anyway, the psychological environment for labour migration will not be exactly favourable.
We are against labour migration being used as leverage in achieving some geopolitical goals, just as we are against any areas being used for such purposes. The principle is this: For example, we have many Ukrainian migrants, an estimated 2−3 million people. I believe that's about right or maybe even higher. When they accuse us of every sin imaginable; when they exonerate the putschists who overthrew a legitimate albeit unpopular president contrary to the agreement that had just been signed with support from France, Germany and Poland, who then simply clammed up and began to justify what happened; when they are throwing mud while our performers, cultural and artistic figures are declared persona non grata; when businesses are taken away from Russian investors; finally, when they seriously talk about introducing visa requirements – do you think we should just swallow that and not respond in any way? We do not have any anti-Ukrainian blacklists except just a few cases. However, if a visa regime is introduced, then of course we will respond in kind. These people should not be silent but should tell their government that they are also Ukrainian citizens and have legitimate interests. This is a huge segment of the population – several million people. Let them demand a cogent policy.
Now the Moldovan government has suddenly expelled five Russian embassy officers – mainly from the attaché's office. These are people who ensure the operation of the Joint Control Commission, which includes Moldovan, Transnistrian and Russian representatives. They regularly discuss and deal with issues related to ensuring security on the line of contact between Transnistria and the rest of Moldova. They just went and expelled them. Now this commission will be unable to work. They constantly close Transnistrian airspace and require some conditions or other. We responded by asking five Moldovan diplomats to leave Russia. There's no hiding it: many of our colleagues were tempted to introduce punitive measures, including restrictions on labour migrants from Moldova, which would be regrettable. At this point, President Vladimir Putin decided against that. He talked to Moldova's President Dodon in St Petersburg and they reached some agreement. However, it is important to understand that some people find it hard to put up with continuous attempts to humiliate us. As I said, our people are patient and compassionate but they are also proud and ready to stand up for themselves when deliberately provoked. We know for certain that it was not Chisinau's doing, that it has no room to maneuver. We understand very well who wants to set us against our neighbors. In some cases, like Ukraine, it has worked. A considerable segment of the country succumbed to anti-Russia propaganda.
Labour migrants are a cementing factor. These people live here and they see how Russia is developing and what Russian citizens are like. For the most part, Russians are on very good terms with them. Those who seek to provoke decisions that make migrants' life difficult are provocateurs. They do so with the aim of driving a wedge between us and the people we regard as our brothers.
As for you second question, Charles de Gaulle was the first to talk about a single Europe "from the Atlantic to the Urals." Granted, Russia does not end at the Urals, so today they say "from the Atlantic to Vladivostok." As a matter of fact, I would see no problem if we began to discuss a common economic space in the Northern Hemisphere: After all, the US and Canada participate in the OSCE. So there are already some formats that make it possible to discuss common interests, especially considering that the OSCE also has a common "basket" where specific economic cooperation issues are addressed. As for the "from the Atlantic to Vladivostok" project, in better days, it had been part of our dialogue with the European Union for many years. We even proposed opening consultations that would enable us to consider ways of aligning the level of integration achieved in the EU with what had been achieved at that point in the Eurasian Economic Union. One and a half years ago, the EAEU commission proposed to the European Commission opening technical consultations but there was no response. Recently, we have been receiving signals indicating that Germany is apparently considering the possibility of establishing technical, non-binding contacts. We are open to that.
I mentioned the Chinese initiative One Belt, One Road. This project is not limited to Asia. The initiative envisions far-reaching transport economically based routes to Europe. No matter what, the idea is essentially the same: It is important to combine our countries' capabilities and relative advantages. I believe the Eurasian project is very promising. Question:
How would you describe Russia's relations with Uzbekistan after the election of the new president? Sergey Lavrov:
We have traditionally cordial relations with Uzbekistan which have been an alliance for many years. We have a respective treaty on allied cooperation that covers all areas, including politics, the economy, military and technical issues. After the election of the new president of Uzbekistan, our relations have continued to develop. Shavkat Mirziyoyev paid an official visit to Russia last April during which our parties agreed on an entire range of new directions. We could also see Uzbekistan's growing interest in participating in multi-lateral projects within the CIS in addition to very kind, strategic, allied bilateral relations. We can and we will largely use our joint involvement in multilateral bodies across our common space. Question:
What is the biggest lesson you have learned over the thirteen years as Foreign Minister? Sergey Lavrov:
I couldn't answer this question in a ten-volume memoir. Generally, diplomacy is a very interesting job. By the way, I am ready to defend the opinion that a certain profession is not the oldest. The oldest profession is diplomacy because first you need to come to an agreement. Diplomacy is the art of meeting someone halfway, which does not always happen, just like in life. But when hours, weeks, months of talks bring results – as happened in February 2015 in Minsk when, although foreign ministers were involved, the presidents were trying to resolve all the issues, and after 17 hours they produced the Minsk Agreements, you cannot even imagine what a feeling of accomplishment it was. The agreements received the approval of the UNSC, also a very important step. Of course, it has deteriorated into disappointment now that we are facing a roadblock and our Ukrainian neighbours are not, cannot and refuse to fulfill those agreements. We hope that the new leaders of the countries that are helping fulfilling the Minsk Agreements in full are now developing a new approach and will have a larger influence on Kiev than before.
As a matter of fact, we have been informed that the Europeans, in their private contacts with Ukraine, are speaking frankly and bluntly and putting forward demands for Ukraine to get started with the Minsk Agreements as well as the obligations undertaken by the Ukrainian government to fight corruption and carry out economic reforms, and so forth. Tough private conversations with this straightforward tone and these kinds of demands are never made publicly because Ukraine's leaders were taken under protection, and the way they came to power was justified. It is sad when the outcome of diplomatic talks hits up against the inability or unwillingness of a party to perform them.
It was also the case when throughout the previous year we negotiated with US Secretary of State John Kerry and our military personnel on the most efficient methods to fight the terrorists in Syria. Eventually we came up with an action plan that was generally approved by President Putin and President Obama in September when they met in China on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Three days later, we finally formalised all the statements with John Kerry. The United States were to map out areas with armed opposition groups that were not part of terrorist organisations and with which the US cooperated. That was supposed to be done simultaneously so that the marks on the map would indicate the areas we must not touch while we work together on the rest of the territory. In other words, they were supposed to isolate the terrorists from the regular opposition, something we had discussed over and over. There was a written agreement; the US took up an obligation under that document although they could not go through with it. The whole plan collapsed. Had the Americans fulfilled their promise, the situation in Syria would be completely different. The agreement had quite significant implications which essentially ensured coordinated strikes by the Russian Aerospace Forces and the US-led coalition. On the other hand, when an agreement is reached and fulfilled, it adds to a positive feeling. That happens too. Question:
When we responded to the sanctions with a ban on some products, we deprived our producers of competition with foreign goods. There is therefore no hope that their quality will improve and their prices come down. Don't you think that these measures harm us more than the sanctions themselves? Sergey Lavrov:
I don't think this is the case. If we look at the financial losses involved, the Austrians have calculated that the European Union's losses are colossal, close to $100 billion. Some estimates calculate that hundreds of jobs have been lost. I agree that competition is the engine of progress, as is private enterprise, as a well-known literary character said. But let's not forget what prompted us to take this countermeasure. After all, when the USA, EU and countries that joined them introduced a ban on various financial operations with Russian participation, this included restrictions on our banks' possibilities for borrowing money (the restriction was 90 days at first and has now been lowered to 30 days). This restriction affected Rosselkhozbank too, the bank that lends to our agricultural producers, and which carried out these lending programmes in large part through borrowing abroad in the countries that have now blocked our access to long money. The result was increased competition because the agricultural producers in the countries that imposed sanctions continued to borrow from banks and thereby ensured that their products were competitive, including through unfair competition. We therefore decided to give our producers an equal chance to compete. If our partners undermine competition, we get what we get. Let's look at the results. What products are you lacking? Question:
Poland will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council over the next two years. What changes for the worse do you expect in the foreign policy environment for Russia given the foreign policy statements that some Polish figures make? Sergey Lavrov:
I do not expect any changes. Russophobia will continue to flow as before. Poland, like Russia and Ukraine, is part of the UN's Eastern European group. The UN has Eastern and Western European, Asian, African, and Latin American groups. These groups exist with the sole purpose of agreeing on who will be elected to this or that UN body, including the UN Security Council. Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and the other members have one non-permanent seat. Very often it has been the case that there were more candidates in the Eastern European group than seats available, but over recent years, there has always been a single candidate. Last time, it was Ukraine that was elected to the two-year term and currently holds the seat. Now, Poland's candidacy has been approved without contest. In both of these cases, we have no objections. We do not want to see the abnormal situation that was created in Kiev and Warsaw in relations with Russia spread to the international organisations and their work. When Ukraine was approved as the Eastern European group's candidate, they said that they would not abuse their membership on the UN Security Council to further their own anti-Russian agenda. They promised not just us but the other Security Council members too. They broke their promise. If the Poles also intend to push their anti-Russian ideas through the UN Security Council, diverting time and attention from the genuinely important issues facing us, we will take a philosophical view of this. Time will tell. Question:
I want to ask about our national security. You spoke of the United States' ambition to control the Balkans. What significance will this US desire to control not just the Balkans but other neighbouring countries have for our country and its future? Will this lead to yet another world war? Sergey Lavrov:
I see no grounds for a world war in the classic sense, because the propaganda and information war is long since underway. This is something that requires action. Together with our partners from BRICS and the SCO, we have been proposing for many years now in the UN to draft universally accepted rules of behaviour in cyberspace. Every year, we present resolutions in this spirit on international information security. A group of government experts was established and drafted a first report, and now another expert group with a more concrete mandate has been established. The proposals that we have long been presenting to the UN also advocated agreeing on how to fight hacking and how to ensure that hackers do not damage national security, national interests, public health and so on. But these proposals did not draw much interest from Western countries, which cited freedom of speech as their concern. I heard a few days ago that British Prime Minister Theresa May said that it was time to take measures to ensure that terrorists do not use the internet. But circumstances forced her to take this step.
I think that though this will not be easy, we will settle on agreed rules that will make it possible to break the monopoly on internet governance and make it more transparent, fairer and more secure against those who want to use it illegally to pursue military and political goals, terrorist aims and other forms of organised crime such as pornography, paedophilia and so on.
As for the ambitions of the US or other countries to influence our neighbours and strengthen their positions in neighbouring countries, especially in regions where international trade routes cross and which have active trade and natural resources that could be developed as part of mutually advantageous projects, there is nothing condemnable or out of the ordinary here. Many countries that have possibilities for developing relations with regions lagging far behind make use of these opportunities, and this is perfectly normal in terms of international law. But when they start to build up their influence with an aim, even the primary aim, to act against Russia, this is unlawful and unjustified. Let me give you the example of Afghanistan. The US headed a NATO contingent that went in there after September 11, 2001 to fight terrorism, and they were supposed to fight drug production there too, but this did not happen. We have still not got to the bottom of information that looks very plausible, and which people have tried to silence, to the effect that American military aircraft were used to smuggle drugs to Europe and from there to other parts of the world. The UN estimates that since the NATO troops have been there, the drug business has increased more than 10-fold. A huge part of this plague comes to Russia. The terrorist threat has not decreased. What's more, along with the Taliban, who are a product of Afghan society, and who should be part of the national reconciliation effort, ISIS has bolstered its position there dramatically, including on Afghanistan's northern borders, right on the border with Central Asian countries, with which we have open borders. You can draw your own conclusions. This is not to mention the cases, in which we are practically certain, of incidents where steps have been taken from the territory of countries in which such influence is exercised, including terrorists being sent over into the North Caucasus of our country. It is in our interests to take into account the interests of the United States and all other countries in resolving the problems that arise in neighbouring countries. Afghanistan is a very good example. This country has gone through decades of conflict that now makes it very hard to reach an accepted national reconciliation. They have a tribal-based system there, and the central government was never strong. Much was achieved through understandings reached with provincial governors. Remember when the Soviet Union was in Afghanistan, the Americans actively trained the mujahedeen, gave them weapons and support? Al-Qaeda was the result. In 2003, Iraq was invaded on a trumped-up pretext, and ISIS was the result. Attempts such as this to use bad guys in the short term to make things difficult for your geopolitical rival, hoping to later put these bad guys under your control once the aims have been achieved, is an unfair tactic, given that the September 11 attacks against US skyscrapers were carried out by Al-Qaeda, which was established by the mujahedeen who were nurtured by the Americans in Afghanistan.
We support taking into account all countries' interests, including those bordering on the United States. As regards Afghanistan, we have never tried to impose anything on anyone, or exclude anyone. On the contrary, a month ago, we held in Moscow a meeting in which India, Pakistan, China, Iran, and all five Central Asian countries took part. All of Afghanistan's neighbours were there. We invited the Americans to attend, but for some reason they declined. If they really have pure interests and plans there, then it would have been the only thing to do ‒ to come and sit down with others, listen to them, and work out some common approaches.
We respect the fact that many countries might have interests in various parts of the world. The main thing is for these interests to be transparent, legitimate, and not contradict international law or damage the Russian Federation's lawful interests. Question (Anton Alikhanov):
You have mentioned integration, including within the Eurasian Commission, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EAEC) and the European Commission. I had some experience working for the EAEC, and it would be interesting to know your opinion regarding the limits of integration. It is no secret that member countries of these associations themselves are slowing down these processes because, as they say, further integration might restrict their sovereignty. Also, I would like to ask you about a pilot region's opportunities for accelerated integration. If we say that we are creating a common space with, for example, the European Union, can, for example, Kaliningrad become a region of accelerated or pilot integration with the EU? Sergey Lavrov:
It's a very interesting and strategic question. Where the EAEU is concerned, we are so far unable to define the limits, and not because this is still difficult but because they are not yet in view. You are absolutely right to say that this contradiction between integration and sovereignty does exist: it makes itself felt indirectly as additional steps to introduce unified norms and rules in our common space are coordinated. In the EU, this contradiction between integration and sovereignty will become worse. Right now, they are discussing how the EU can implement the very same principle that we applied in the CIS. I mean multi-speed and multi-level integration. This is about a situation where there is a nucleus of countries willing to go far, while the rest will participate in some form but not necessarily to the full extent or in everything at once.
In the Eurasian Economic Union, by the way, we are yet to regulate the consequences of all our countries' accession to the WTO. We joined not so long ago, preceded by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan (not an EAEU member yet), and Armenia (an EAEU member). Kazakhstan has joined recently, and Belarus is finalising the talks. This may take some time. In each of these cases, there is a distinction regarding the allowable exemptions. We will have to incorporate all this into the EAEU Customs Code. This is vast, painstaking expert work with a pencil, calculator and computer in hand.
The idea about terms of integrating foreign partners is new. I think it will not be easy to isolate a certain region – the Kaliningrad Region or some other border region – and devise integration schemes involving a neighbouring state for it. Perhaps it will not be that easy to integrate a regional economy or to link it with the economy of a big state. Region-to-region ties are a much more promising proposition. This is what is taking place, for example, between Russia and China: the Russian Far East and East Siberia with Northwestern regions of China. There is a whole relevant programme, dozens of projects that make it possible to link their business activities. Moreover, regions should not necessarily lie close to the border. There is the Volga-Yangtze project. They have also found some working mutually beneficial projects. Maybe this also contains a prototype of what we are talking about. There are Russia-Lithuania and Russia-Poland border cooperation projects involving the Kaliningrad Region and your neighbours. I think we will be able to discuss these things when normal dialogue with the EU resumes.