Honestly, once out of the helicopter and walking along the wooden pathways, it felt nice to be back here again, because this is a very good place, with its special feel, like an answered prayer, and excellent energy, which is certainly a credit to the organisers' good judgement. Thanks to Rosmolodezh and the Vladimir Region and everyone else who helps keep the camp in excellent condition, constantly improving it, and to those who attend sessions at Terra Scientia on Klyazma River.
Once again, I am pleased to talk with people who are interested in foreign policy. We very much appreciate the support shown in society, including by young people, for President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy that we are trying to implement as effectively as possible. This is indeed the root of all the objectives we are pursuing, trying to achieve the most favourable external conditions for the development of our country, for its citizens to live better and feel secure, equal to others when they leave their country and travel the world.
The situation in the world is complicated. I will not elaborate on it in detail here, but if you are interested in politics, you can certainly imagine what is happening.
To put it briefly, the emergence of what we call a polycentric world order is an objective process consisting of the emergence of new centres of economic and financial power, enhancing their political leverage along the way. This is an organic process, as exemplified by the BRICS phenomenon. A BRICS Summit took place in Johannesburg just a few days ago, during which participants adopted a number of documents reaffirming the commitment of all five countries to work on matters that Russia proactively promotes on the international stage, such as asserting the international law, norms, principles and purposes of the UN Charter, including respecting sovereignty, equality of states, resolving disputes and conflicts in an exclusively peaceful way, the unacceptable nature of the use or threat of force bypassing the UN Charter, and many other things too.
Of course, this objective transformation of the global system, as well as the economic and financial landscape, does not make everyone happy. This is quite understandable, since our Western colleagues ruled over the destinies of the world for many centuries. They were the ones who called the tunes, set trends and made rules. Today, they are forced to be more democratic in their actions. This has become an imperative, and they are no longer able to decide on everything single-handedly. This is a painful process. It is obvious that at the end of the day they will understand that they have to make deals, but we are not there yet. So far they hope to be able to work their way back to where they were by inertia, but there is no turning back. This will be a lengthy process. The emergence of polycentric trends gave birth to a new era with the ascendance of China and India, which are now economic powerhouses, and of course Russia, when it stopped being embarrassed by its uniqueness, roots and cultural and civilisational identity. All these processes were met with harsh resentment.
The culture of making deals is substituted by threats, ultimatums and sanctions. This is what we are currently witnessing when it comes to international trade with the de facto trade wars between the US and China, and between the US and the EU. Threats are followed by agreements to launch dialogue and seek compromise, although the situation remains extremely tense not only in terms of international trade, but also in global politics. The culture of dialogue has been somehow relegated to the back burner. When our US colleagues come up with an initiative, and we propose discussing it when it does not suit us, in most cases the US accuses us of standing in the way of progress and preventing complex problems from being resolved, followed by various sanctions against us. This happens all the time.
Let me repeat that the emergence of a polycentric, democratic and a more just world order is inevitable, just as the resistance by old powers to these new trends in global politics. This is life. One thing that brings some comfort in this situation is that the majority is with those who support collective approaches in international affairs. The majority shares our view about the need for mutual respect. No matter how big or small countries are, they must respect each other's interests when dealing with each other. When this vision serves as a foundation for dialogue, we succeed in many ways.
Let me mention Russia's commitment to further strengthening the United Nations and its Security Council as a foundation of a just world order. Essentially, the principles that remain relevant in today's world order were enshrined in the UN Charter back in 1945. During the Cold War these principles were in a dormant state. But today they are still relevant, among other things, for the reasons that I have already mentioned. These principles include the inviolability of sovereign equality among states, the need to avoid interference in domestic affairs, and many other things as well. The UN Charter has taken on a new lease of life and has become much more relevant in everyday undertakings with the emergence of multipolar trends in international affairs.
Russia also supports the OSCE which must return to the principles set out in the Helsinki Final Act and other high-level instruments. They must set the stage for interactions in the Euro-Atlantic region. There are also attempts to revise these principles without any prior arrangements. Ultimatums are used in the Euro-Atlantic, but this does nothing but undermine earlier agreements, as I have already said.
Frameworks such as the CIS, the CSTO and the Eurasian Economic Union make us closer to those who had lived within a single country with Russia for many centuries, who are our brothers and neighbours, and with whom we have so many ties, including in terms of the economy, infrastructure, people-to-people ties, and sometimes even family ties. The so-called post-Soviet space is brought together by so many families.
I have already mentioned the BRICS and the SCO. As President of Russia Vladimir Putin said at his news conference in Johannesburg, instead of having a single leader, these formats consist of devising mutually acceptable agreements and promoting consensus.
To conclude, I would like to mention the Group of Twenty created when the Group of Seven, a club of Western countries, understood that they are unable to resolve global economic and monetary challenges on their own. G20 has been holding summits since 2010, and currently includes the West's G7, as well as all BRICS countries and like-minded countries such as Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, who share the same views on international financial and economic relations.
G20 is a very interesting phenomenon designed to promote deals on key economic matters. Since political challenges go hand in hand with economic ones, G20 is likely to become increasingly inclined to deal with them as well. It is not a coincidence that foreign ministers' meetings have been held for three years now alongside top-level meetings and meetings of economy ministers. This is a healthy process. As I have already pointed out, G20 does not have any sophisticated rules or procedures, and adopts decisions by consensus. In order for a resolution to be adopted, everyone has to agree to it. Otherwise, no decision is made. This serves as an incentive for coming up with approaches that suit everyone.
I would like to spend the remaining time in an interactive discussion. I am at your disposal. Question:
Western media outlets, fans and heads of state praised the way Russia organised the 2018 FIFA World Cup. During the Helsinki summit, President of Russia Vladimir Putin gave the tournament's official ball to President of the United States Donald Trump. Did the latest World Cup influence Russia's reputation in the eyes of the West or is it only a temporary thaw with regard to this country? Sergey Lavrov:
You and everyone present here know the answer to that. Everyone who has watched at least one news report on how the fans spent their time also knows the answer. It would be no exaggeration to say that this was a real upsurge in public diplomacy. Hundreds of thousands of foreigners were able to visit Russia and see how the country and its people live. Or they could do the same by watching television. Judging by television programmes, online material and discussions with foreign fans, it was obvious that an overwhelming majority of foreign fans, with some minor exceptions, felt sincerely happy here, and they said they wanted to come back because they had comprehended the exact meaning of the famous hospitality of the people of Russia.
We would like to hold onto this atmosphere, because understandably, the single-month of the World Cup is something still very special. Now that such a major international event has come to a close, there will be no permanent dances, songs and barbecue parties on Moscow's Nikolskaya Street or in any other fan zones. For me, it is absolutely obvious that people who came here were convinced that various stories now being offered to Western audiences and readership are rather far-fetched.
Apart from the World Cup, this also concerns any other matter on Russian territory bugging Western leaders. For example, we hear too many discussions about Crimea. Once again, they should come and see everything with their own eyes. More and more public representatives, journalists and business managers visit Crimea, and they can see that people there live the way they have decided, rather than it happens when someone has annexed or occupied any specific territory. Crimea has been reunited with Russia, and April 19 will now always be celebrated as a day when Russia back in the year 1783 established control over Crimea, the Taman Peninsula and the Kuban (Krasnodar) Territory. This reflects the aspirations of Crimea residents and all Russian citizens. Question:
Russian-Japanese and Russian-Indian youth forums are held every year. Resolutions are drafted based on their results but there is no persistent work between the sessions. Can we, jointly with Rosmolodezh and with the Foreign Ministry's supervisory control, establish Russian committees that will maintain constant cooperation with Japan, India and China? Sergey Lavrov:
Here Rosmolodezh is represented by its head Alexander Bugayev, who works not only at this camp but also in other areas where the youth policy is implemented. The Foreign Ministry of Russia cooperates closely with Rosmolodezh. I will see what the problem is all about, and if there is some bureaucratic hitch that needs to be removed to open the floodgates for direct contacts, then we will do that, of course. But I see no problem as I hear the proposal to somehow energise the work of youth forums from session to session to enable contacts between meetings and the passing of resolutions. If the young people, who really participate in the forums with India, Japan and China, feel a lack of support, I want to understand what exactly the problem is. For example, there is always the problem of funding needed for travel. Here we should simply understand what the case in point is. If your initiative in this and other fields is fettered by some bureaucratic constraints, let us know which specifically these are and we, jointly with Rosmolodezh, will consider everything and cut through the red tape. Question:
How do you see the development of Russian-Ukrainian relations? Sergey Lavrov:
Do you mean relations as a whole? Question:
Yes, trends and prospects. Sergey Lavrov:
We are two fraternal peoples with a thousand-year-long joint history. What is happening now is an anomaly. This is what pertains to doing business in the modern world.
All international legal documents, primarily the UN Charter, call for sovereign equality of states and respect for the right of peoples to choose their future independently without interfering in each other's internal affairs; they stipulate that all problems should be solved solely by peaceful means without the use or threat of force. This is a conceptual approach that implies collectivity and mutually respectful joint work. It also rules out any attempts to achieve certain advantages for oneself at the expense of others.
A case in point is the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council. At summits, presidents and prime ministers of OSCE countries adopted high-sounding political declarations to the effect that security should be equal and indivisible and that no state should provide for its security at the expense of the security of others. This principle was approved and in effect approximately since 1991, when for the first time in the OSCE's history a group of its member-countries committed an aggression against another OSCE member (I mean former Yugoslavia). We began asking questions as to how all that corresponded to the incantations that our Western colleagues were uttering jointly with us. To overcome this ambiguity, we suggested making the political principle that no one should consolidate his security at the expense of the security of others legally binding and adopting a treaty on Euro-Atlantic security, which would codify the relevant provisions on equal and indivisible security. The NATO members replied that they were prepared to offer legally binding security guarantees only within NATO. Thereby, they have, in effect, stimulated not only the continued existence of divides in Europe but also their progress further East. They were encouraging those thinking how to steer their foreign policy affairs to join the line for NATO membership. This approach is undermining much of what mankind has originally striven for.
I am saying this in application to Ukraine because back in 2004, when the first Maidan occurred, our Western colleagues, at the height of the preparations for the elections and the rallies that accompanied the election period on the Maidan, did not hesitate to publicly shout into the microphone that the Ukrainian people should make a choice about whether it stands with Russia or with Europe. This dilemma in itself is provocative as well as absolutely unacceptable in the modern world.
These rule-of-law zealots had insisted that the outcome of that year's elections should be decided based on a violation of the Ukrainian constitution. You may remember that there were two rounds of voting with the same result, but they made the Constitutional Court of Ukraine rule on a third vote not provided for by the Ukrainian Constitution, which eventually changed the result of the earlier two rounds. This is an outrage upon international and national law.
The either-with-Russia-or-with-Europe logic has not disappeared anywhere and is still in the minds of our Western colleagues, although they have indeed given some thought to the causes of the current developments. Their charges are flatly refusing to implement the Minsk Agreements and even the West's demands that the now Ukrainian authorities put their economy in order, start fighting corruption in earnest and launch the needed reforms, if they want to receive IMF loans.
As President of Russia Vladimir Putin has said on so many occasions, this crisis stems from what happened in the summer of 2013 when the Ukrainian leadership was about to complete its association talks with the EU. Since Ukraine is our closest trade and economic partner, we asked whether Ukraine's Association Agreement with the EU would have any effect on our trade relations with Ukraine. It took some time before they showed us this document, but when they did, it turned out that there were serious problems not only and not so much in terms of Russia-Ukraine trade or economic relations in general, but for the CIS free trade area, which included Russia, Ukraine and a number of other CIS countries. The Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU provided for an introduction of de facto zero tariffs on almost everything, while we had negotiated a number of protective measures with the EU during the exacting WTO accession talks that lasted for 18 years.
We proposed preventing anarchy in this area by sitting down and discussing how to coordinate these zero tariffs so that our market would be protected. The EU undertook to abide by these principles. We agreed that Russia, Ukraine and the EU must sit down and think about ways to harmonise Ukraine's existing commitments within the CIS free trade area with what it was about to undertake with the EU. But the European Commission was categorical and arrogant in its refusal to discuss this.
Former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych understood that he needed more time to think, since had he signed up to these zero tariffs with the EU, we would have been forced to close down the border with Ukraine in order to work out a way of protecting Russian industries from EU goods as agreed with the EU during WTO accession talks. He did not even cancel the signing, but asked that it be postponed in order to calmly review all these matters. His initiative met with no understanding, causing the outburst of popular anger that we saw on Maidan Square, actively encouraged by the Europeans and of course the US. This is when it all started. When on February 20, former President Viktor Yanukovych signed a deal with opposition leaders, co-signed by Foreign Ministers of Germany, Poland and France, Russia was asked to support this agreement, and so we did.
Russia called for these arrangements to be respected, although under the agreement, former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych had to resign, de facto agreeing to a snap presidential election to be held no later than autumn 2014. In my opinion, all the prerequisites were put in place for this snap election to bring the opposition to power, in which case everything would have remained unchanged, including gas prices and many other things.
However, a government coup was staged the morning after the signing of this agreement, and our Western colleagues, who acted as guarantors by co-signing the document, remained silent as the grave. And when we shamed them slightly and asked why they had changed their position overnight, what we heard in response was that Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych had left Kiev. Let me say, first of all, that he left for Kharkov, and second, that this had nothing to do with the agreement. According to its first paragraph, the President of Ukraine and the opposition agreed to form a government of national unity as a first step towards overcoming the crisis. But when the armed coup happened, Arseny Yatsenyuk went to the Maidan and congratulated people there on the creation of a "government of victors." Do you see the difference between a "government of national unity" and a "government of victors"?
Moreover, the first law passed by these "victors" (although it was never signed, which did not prevent it from resonating in the country and throughout the whole world) was designed to impose harsh restrictions on the use of the Russian language. This was a signal to Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine. Just a few days after the government coup, Dmitry Yarosh, who at the time headed the Right Sector, the driving force of the Maidan, said that since Russians were unable to think as Ukrainians or honour Ukrainian heroes such as Roman Shukhevich or Stepan Bandera, they had to be ousted from Crimea. For some reason, no one ever mentions this.
At the time, Dmitry Yarosh was a quite influential nationalist radical leader. It was he who was behind the initiative to send "friendship trains," as they were referred to, to Crimea, carrying well-armed fighters. But people in Crimea did everything to stop these trains. Dmitry Yarosh was also behind the attempt to occupy the building of Ukraine's Supreme Council. That is to say that we know the underpinning of this story all too well.
I am sorry if my answer is taking too long. I could have just said that we want to be friends with Ukrainians, as used to be the case, but understanding how this conflict came about is essential.
Despite all the propaganda efforts in Kiev and Western capitals to persuade ordinary people through television screens, newspapers, the internet and social media that Russia is an aggressor and occupying force, and that Russia will face sanctions until it gives up Crimea, and many other things, I believe that most Ukrainians who are in their right mind understand the absurdity of the ongoing developments and that they run counter to our common historical past. These efforts to deceive the public in the West have been going on for years. I think that the very fact that several million Ukrainians spend their vacations in Crimea every year is one of the best signs that efforts to sow discord between our peoples are doomed to failure. The sooner the Ukrainian people unmask the temporary rulers who illegally seized power in Kiev and are trying to hold on to it and suck all the blood out of the Ukrainian people, the better it will be for Ukrainians and our relations. Question:
The Leninsky Komsomol, Lipetsk Region. We are talking about trust in international relations at the highest level, but today Russia is being surrounded by hostile military bases, missile defence systems are being deployed at our borders, and NATO is moving east. In this regard, how has the Russian President's decision to close our military bases in Cuba and Vietnam affected Russia's security? Do you think it was a correct decision? Sergey Lavrov:
I too was a Komsomol member. I was even the Secretary of the Komsomol Committee at the Foreign Ministry from 1976 to 1980. And this was not an off-duty position, rather an extra load of sorts. In our time, you could not be an off-duty Komsomol Secretary.
With regard to the decisions on military bases in Cuba and Vietnam, they were taken at certain historical periods, based on the analysis by the Russian leadership and the General Staff of the factors affecting the security of the Russian Federation at that time.
Since then, the situation in the world has changed, of course. However, I can assure you, and I know this for certain, that the functions that our bases in Cuba and Vietnam used to perform and that are still relevant today have not been affected. Our fleet can visit Cam Ranh and other locations in this area as well as in other oceans.
Our ability to obtain information on the plans of the US military and the armed forces of other Western countries with regard to Russia is guaranteed. You mentioned missile defence. I believe everyone is aware of President Vladimir Putin's assessment of the situation that has been developing around the ABM Treaty.
In 2002, the United States took a unilateral decision to withdraw from this "cornerstone" agreement, as it used to be called, regarding international stability. We were told that it was not directed against us, and that we could do whatever we thought appropriate in response, and they would not consider it as being directed against them.
At that time, missile defence was justified by the potential threat from Iran and later from North Korea. From the very outset, our military and diplomats tried to demonstrate to our US partners that it was not very convincing, and that in reality the global missile defence system was being created to encircle Russia and then China.
In response, we were told that this was not the case. All our proposals to sit down and develop a common missile defence system for Russia, the US, and Europe, aimed at shielding against missile threats from outside our geographic area, were rejected without any reasonable explanation.
The Iranian nuclear threat was dealt with by the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan, from which the US has recently withdrawn. The Korean nuclear threat has also become less acute in the context of the direct dialogue between US President Donald Trump and Chairman of the DPRK State Council Kim Jong-un, as well as between North Korea and South Korea.
Now, when we ask them whether the time has come to slow down the deployment of the global missile defence system, we are told that the threats might resume. Some of the more honest US politicians openly wonder why slow down if they need to contain China and Russia. In other words, "a guilty mind betrays itself." This is not the first such occasion.
However, I believe the response that has been given by our General Staff and the military-industrial complex, which was unveiled by President Putin during his address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, is more convincing.
It has once again demonstrated that no matter what happens in the world, the security of our state and our people, as well as our sovereignty, will always be protected. This has been repeatedly confirmed by President Vladimir Putin. I would like to assure you that this is based on real and tangible changes in our country and in our army. Question
: The main goal of this session is to identify and determine the trends in the current political landscape, and the decision-making mechanisms. What new effective policy tools are likely to emerge in the near future? Sergey Lavrov
: In my opening remarks, I tried to briefly repeat what we have already spelled out many times, I mean the global trends now occurring, leading to the formation of a multipolar world. In 1996, when Yevgeny Primakov became Minister of Foreign Affairs and for the first time mentioned the possibility of the world becoming multipolar, with several new rapidly developing centres playing an increasingly important role and counterbalancing each other, thereby ensuring the equilibrium of the international system, many smiled sceptically. Yet, that observation was a very far-sighted, like many other things Primakov did.
Now, no one is even questioning what is actually happening in the world economy and finance, or in world politics. Therefore, this trend is positive. It will bring more democracy and justice to international affairs.
By the way, about democracy and the rule of law – when we negotiate resolutions either in the UN, the OSCE or elsewhere, and when our Western colleagues include the 'support of democracy and rule of law in each country' phrase in and out of season, we invariably agree but ask them to add "and in the international arena," so that democracy and the rule of law are stipulated at the international level. They actually try in every way to dodge this – they say, we will do it in countries and then we'll see. It is for a reason that now, if you have noticed, they no longer use the term "international law," but prefer to say "rules-based order," which means an order based on rules. I do not think it is a slip; or rather, it is a Freudian slip, because everyone understands what international law is. It means the UN Charter and the existing treaties signed and ratified. As for an order based on rules, it is not clear who lays down these rules.
Russia is accused of being a "revisionist power" because it is revising an order that suited everyone. No examples are given. Here too, the fact that we defy the West just by pursuing our independent foreign policy, and also try to forcibly hold the countries of the former Soviet Union in the CIS, CSTO, and now the SCO, are being lumped together. They are to a large extent trying to demonise the SCO because it has grown with the addition of new members, India and Pakistan, and has become powerful enough to attract more and more countries. We were also accused, as you know, of killing all civilians in Syria.
The US-led coalition acts in an extremely non-transparent manner there. They try to remain modestly silent about what they did with Raqqa, which is almost razed off the ground and where the corpses of civilians have not yet been removed and huge areas have not been cleared. What about the Skripals case, with the poisoning of everyone and everything, and the interference in elections, etc.? All this, despite the fact that we repeatedly spoke about the need to return to the existing agreement the US decided to ignore – I mean regarding setting up a cybersecurity working group to consider any claims made against one another on matters such as interference in the elections. This is relevant because there is such a thing as international information security. Cyberspace today is used as a sphere for abuse by so many groups, from terrorists to scammers. Recently, Facebook failed to ensure the confidentiality of tens of millions of users. Cambridge Analytics, having access to their data, used them for corrupt purposes related to domestic affairs, including elections. We have long ago proposed the development of United Nations rules on responsible behaviour in cyberspace. As you know, there are still no rules. The country that is hindering that is the USA. This is not surprising, because they have a dominant position with regard to internet governance.
By the way, about the internet – there is a specialised UN agency, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), where a dialogue on the need for democratisation of internet governance has been going on for more than 10 years. I might not even need to say which country stands in the way of an agreement on this matter. In addition to annual resolutions promoting the idea of adopting rules in international information security, this year, the draft convention on the prevention of the use of cyberspace for criminal purposes was introduced. Our colleagues insist that everyone must observe certain rules on which the world is based, avoiding the term "international law." They seem so obsessed with this idea, but at the same time, the absence of rules in cyberspace is obvious, as is Russia's determination to somehow start discussing these rules (in a joint initiative with the SCO and the BRICS) and the blocking of these proposals by the US.
The same goes for a number of other issues discussed at the BRICS summit. One of the topics reflected in the final Declaration is the need to intensify efforts to prevent the deployment of weapons in space. At the end of 2000, Russia and China advanced an initiative at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament – a draft treaty on the non-deployment of weapons in outer space. Emerging countries and Europe are ready to discuss it, but the United States alone keeps objecting to the proposal. Now there are reports that they are planning to allocate funds to the Pentagon for preparations to deploy weapons in outer space. This is another area where there are no rules, and our Western colleagues, primarily Washington, would like to maintain this lack of rules, because it is easier for them to attain their goals this way.
There are many examples. I just mentioned the term revisionism: they are accusing us of revising everything and everyone, but over the past year the main revisionists were the United States. They withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Iranian Nuclear Program, UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council, which had been established on the basis of proposals from Washington. Previously, there was the UN Commission on Human Rights, and they reorganised it into the UN Human Rights Council. It was reformed on the basis of the proposals of our Western colleagues. The United States has actually revised all the international legal foundations approved by the UN concerning the settlement processes in the Middle East, primarily between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and also questioned the need for the WTO and much more.
I have tried not to repeat myself and have given you some examples that show that the process of a relative reduction in the influence of the West and an increase in the influence of the BRICS and SCO countries provokes resistance from those who are losing their share of leverage. This process will be associated with conflicts and crises, because the growing economies and centres of influence will not tolerate being artificially restricted in their development. They will not agree to the questioning of their right to determine their own paths of development; they will not want their choice of trade partners or goods for sale to be subject to ultimatums and threats, as is now happening to a number of states, Turkey, Indonesia, India, because Washington is openly demanding they terminate contracts under which Russia agreed to supply them with weapons.
The substitution of a culture of ultimatums and threats for the culture of diplomacy, dialogue and the ability to negotiate is sad. It creates unpredictability and additional potential for conflict. However, we are not only polite, but also patient and persevering, so we have many allies. We will advance along a path opened up by history, not invented by someone sitting in an office. Question:
I am delighted to greet you on behalf of the all-Russian public organisation Young Guard of United Russia. Our organisation works vigorously on the international arena, we establish contacts with youth wings of political parties, with public organisations, journalists and bloggers. And this activity is yielding results. For example, a delegation of young deputies from Syria's Baath Party is to attend our forum tomorrow. One can safely say that we and our country have very many friends all over the world. Our organisation is not the only organisation engaged in such activity. In this connection, we would like to suggest that the Foreign Ministry compile a register of public organisations engaged in such activity. The database would list their names and types of activity for conducting consolidated work in this field. Sergey Lavrov:
We are all for public diplomacy, for expanding our contacts with public diplomacy, especially with youth organisations because you are the future. The more closely you cooperate with your peers from other countries, the more stable is our long-term foreign policy. In this respect, I would, of course, like to note the unprecedented success of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students that took place in October 2017 in Sochi. Indeed, the festival helped bring together and unite young people from a whole range of countries. Regarding your question, I cannot fantasise on it right away. Please write this down, so that we can get a better understanding of the structural and organisational aspects of this project. Question:
What do you think about the role of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE? Should the Russian Federation take part in the work of such organisations? Sergey Lavrov:
A parliamentary change of government structures in any country is a positive thing. The parliament is a body directly created by the people, and members of parliament have the mandate from their electorate. It should be said – not in parentheses but with an exclamation mark – that it is unacceptable when sanctions are imposed on Russia, including its MPs, because the Crimeans expressed a desire to reunite with Russia and because Russia is protecting people in Donetsk, Lugansk and other Donbass territories from radical nationalists.
We recently had a delegation of American Senators one of whom was on our stop list, yet we showed goodwill and did not prevent him from entering Russia. By the way, he expressed reasonable views, as did the majority of the group, with the exception of one person who raised the issue again upon returning to Washington. I am referring to Senator John Kennedy. He is not related to the famous Kennedy family. He asked me, rather harshly, what we wanted from the United States regarding Syria and Ukraine. I replied that we wanted not only the United States but all the parties involved to comply with the agreements reached. A UN Security Council resolution on Syria says that only the Syrians themselves, which includes their leaders, must determine the future of their country, but this does not suit the West, which is trying to push through a narrow interpretation of this resolution. As for Ukraine, there is a resolution approving the Minsk Package of Measures under which Kiev must settle all its problems and talk directly with Donetsk and Lugansk. This is all we want regarding Syria and Ukraine. Do you know what he said to this? He asked what they would get in return. I replied that in return we would comply with these resolutions just as we are complying with them now.
So, I believe that parliamentary contacts must be encouraged in every possible way. However, we must also beware of attempts to manipulate and abuse parliamentary ties, including within the framework of the parliamentary assemblies you have mentioned. More such attempts will be made, because even though the majority of MPs at the Council of Europe and OCSE are acting reasonably and pragmatically, or at least understand that dealing with problems in our common space is very difficult without Russia, there is an aggressive and Russophobic minority. You probably know which countries such MPs represent. They demand that Russia be antagonised, marginalised and isolated.
There is a difference between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE (OSCE PA). The OSCE PA is an advisory body that prepares guidelines, like the UN General Assembly. PACE is a body that is based not on political agreements but on international law comprising over 200 conventions. Most of them are applied in Russia, which has signed and ratified them. PACE is part of this mechanism, which underlies the common legal space of all European countries.
When PACE curtailed the rights of the Russian delegation, contrary to the fundamental principle of the Statute of the Council of Europe, which stipulates that all the delegations should have equal rights in all Council bodies, we thought that they would soon come to their senses. We waited for a year, but all in vain. We then said that if they did not want us to take part in the decision-making process, we would suspend our payments. Do you remember the scandal this provoked? But we said, no representation, no payments. The idea was invented by the Americans when they suspended their payments to the UN, even if in a completely different situation because they were not banished from anywhere. While we did not vote and did not take part in PACE work (although an advisory body, it does elect Council of Europe officials), they have elected over half of the judges of the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Next year, they will elect a new Secretary General of the Council of Europe. If they do this without us, we will find it difficult to base our actions on the legitimacy of agencies created in the absence of the Russian delegates, who have been discriminated against and deprived of their voting rights.
While speaking about the Council of Europe, I must mention the far from positive trends in the operations of the European Court of Human Rights. It constantly tries to make accusations against Russia over developments in territories we do not control, such as Transnistria. Back in the early 2000s, they adopted the so-called "effective control" principle of jurisdiction over a specific territory and a resolution on Russia's alleged control of Transnistria, and now they blame Russia for any human rights violations reported there. It is a bad path that will not bring this body to any good.
The European Court of Human Rights is sometimes overwhelmed by neoliberalism and a fixation on the new liberal values, with which the West has replaced the traditional values that were sealed in universal documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I was shocked to learn about a lady in a Ukrainian city who fried eggs over the Eternal Flame in 2010. She was put on probation under an article on the desecration of graves and monuments. She appealed to a higher court, and gradually went higher and higher. When the highest courts in Ukraine upheld the verdict, she took her case to the European Court of Human Rights. Several months ago, the European Court ruled that her rights were violated and that Ukraine must pay several thousand euros to her "in respect of non-pecuniary damage." I consider the logic underlying this judicial system to be outrageous. This is undermining trust in court decisions in general. Question:
As you know, a civil war has been raging for four years nearby – only 200 kilometres from here. I have seen this war. I sometimes travel down there delivering humanitarian aid. I was at the frontline under shelling. I have a question about the Minsk Agreements. They are not being complied with. Shells fly every day. There has not been a single day when this hasn't happened. The OSCE records this, but nothing changes, and civilians and soldiers continue to die. When Ukraine strikes the Donetsk People's Republic, the DPR says it cannot strike in response, thus "turning the other cheek." How can this be resolved? Sergey Lavrov:
You are absolutely right. Kiev shrugs off its obligations. It all began with Ukraine pretending that the Minsk Agreements say nothing about the need to establish a direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. The sides started inventing some mediating mechanisms and it was in this way that the Contact Group emerged, which Kiev stubbornly refers to as "trilateral," alleging that it is composed of Kiev, Moscow and the OSCE, although the Contact Group includes a full-fledged fourth party, Donetsk and Lugansk. They are represented there. This is the illusion of an invented world to say, even for presentation purposes, that the Contact Group is "trilateral." This is not positive and shows that their mentality is tuned differently.
I have talked about the basic reasons for this crisis. I think that the European countries that guaranteed with their signatures the agreement between ex- President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine and the opposition bear direct responsibility for what is happening now. We have displayed utmost goodwill. Despite the fact that these authorities committed a lot of crimes, in May 2014 we recognised Mr Poroshenko's election as President of Ukraine, because he declared that he was a "president of peace" and expressed willingness to sit down at the negotiating table at once and resolve all the problems. He has deceived us, the West, and, most importantly, the people of his own country. I mentioned the first decisions they passed and how they attempted to seize Crimea after their illegal takeover. But we should also remember that the areas, which are now referred to as "the separate areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions," did not take any aggressive action. They saw a violation of the Constitution and asked to be left alone and given an opportunity to sort things out. This was their position. Yes, they reelected several governors because they had supported the coup. But the same people were branded terrorists, because they had asked to be left alone so they could have time to think and understand what the talking point was. But an antiterrorist operation was announced and they were attacked. It was not them who attacked the authorities and coup perpetrators.
This "life behind the looking-glass" is perceived by our Western colleagues as an argument for taking the position they are taking now. We have talked with them many times in a frank, trusting and open manner. I have the impression that the overwhelming majority of them are well aware of what is happening. And what is happening is that Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko has been declared a luminary of democracy and his regime – a model, because he is aspiring to modern values and leaning towards the West. The main underlying consideration was, of course, that he would become part of the effort to contain Russia. This is not said out loud but it is implied as one of the main factors in the current developments.
But as they realise that he could not be trusted to follow through on a single point of the Minsk Agreements, they also come to understand that he is unable to control the radical nationalists. Quite recently, five Western international NGO's – Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, and some others – published an open letter to President Poroshenko, which listed the crimes committed by the radical nationalists in 2018 alone. These include an attack on a women's procession on March 8, a fire they started at a Hungarian centre in Uzhgorod and similar actions in Ivano-Frankovsk, Lvov and other Ukrainian cities. There is no response.
The West has made sure that the so-called "volunteer battalions," including the notorious Azov, to which even the US Congress has banned weapons sales, have not disappeared but have been formally included in the Armed Forces and the National Guard, although in reality they do not obey the central military staff and maybe, on the contrary, set the tone for the military, security and law enforcers in Kiev. Over time, the West has, of course, come to realise that President Poroshenko cannot be trusted even with implementing the reforms urged by the International Monetary Fund. However, once the West has declared that this was a victory of democracy in Ukraine and that it was primarily Russia that must implement the Minsk Agreements, once the West invested so much political capital, let alone money, in the Ukrainian authorities, Western leaders can no longer say without losing face that they were wrong and that pressure must be brought to bear primarily on Kiev. I do not know to what extent this misguided vision of prestige and a fear of losing a reputation will predominate. In my opinion, and based on certain information, when our Western colleagues, or at least the Europeans, talk to Ukraine's current leaders without the media, they are strong enough to elicit a response, but, in a larger scheme of things, we do not see this reaction.
Coming back to the question as to what is to be done, we should demand, no matter how banal it may seem, the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, because they reflect the legitimate aspirations of the people of Donetsk and Lugansk. The Minsk Agreements were coordinated with their cooperation and with France and Germany, which represented the European Union. Moreover, a week after these agreements were signed, we ensured the unanimous approval of the UN Security Council resolution that sealed these Minsk Agreements in full conformity with the letter and spirit of the document they were written in. We should work to achieve this. I have said as much to our colleagues in Europe.
The other day, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and I visited Berlin and Paris, among other cities, where we were mostly discussing the Syrian refugees. This is an important topic for the Europeans and Middle East countries. We want to coordinate the principles of cooperation. Ukraine was also discussed. They suggested convening a new summit of the Normandy Four (Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine) that would set the tone in this work and would support the processes, which later would be legalised in the Contact Group that includes representatives from Donbass. We reminded them that a regular summit was held in Berlin in October 2016, and another one in Paris the year before. In Berlin, the leaders of the four countries were following, with pointer in hand, the developments on the map, and they agreed on the need to begin a pull-out of heavy weapons and to disengage forces and assets. They came to terms on starting from three pilot areas – Petrovskoye, Zolotoye, and Stanitsa Luganskaya – and doing it within a month. During this time, forces and assets were withdrawn at the agreed distance from the former two villages. As for Stanitsa Luganskaya, the Ukrainian delegation began demanding a week of complete silence before disengagement could take place. Asked why this was not identified as a demand in the two previous cases, they had no response, just saying that this case was specific and they needed a week.
Since then, the OSCE Mission has officially reported on 22 occasions that the ceasefire was observed for seven or more days at Stanitsa Luganskaya and the surrounding area. But the Ukrainian side said these were not their statistics and that they had counted a couple of shots. I am not exaggerating. The leaders' agreement has not been implemented to this day. Moreover, the forces, that were disengaged awhile back, are reentering these "gray zones" and starting to dig in. I don't think this will be good for the prospects of the Normandy format or its reputation to hold another summit before this simple, concrete, not abstract, agreement of the Normandy Four leaders is fulfilled. I am not even mentioning the fact that in the political area such a simple thing as the well-known "Steinmeier formula" has not even been committed to paper for two and a half years (soon it will be three years).
In October 2015, then German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, suggested reconciling the positions of the sides on what should come first – the approval of the law on the special status of Donbass and its coming into force or the holding of elections. He suggested a compromise: The law on the special status of Donbass would come into force temporarily on the election day and permanently on the day the OSCE publishes its report on these elections (usually it takes a couple of months to compile). The implication was that this law would come into force on a permanent basis, if the OSCE report confirmed that the elections had been free and fair. But the Ukrainians tried to drag out the implementation of the agreement on this pretext. As I said, soon it will be three years since this agreement, along with the one on Stanitsa Luganskaya, was being blocked by our Ukrainian colleagues both at the Normandy format expert meetings and in the Contact Group. They are categorically refusing to commit it to paper. I will say once again that under these circumstances, we need to just demand. In my view, our Western colleagues are aware of this, at least in their internal discussions and their private contacts with Kiev. Question:
Since 1991, Russia has forgiven debts worth $140 billion. Why does our country remit so much debt? This money could have been used to increase the pensions for our war veterans. We help Greece extinguish fires while they expel our diplomats. Isn't it time we switched to pragmatic and real politics? Sergey Lavrov:
First, regarding 140 billion. You need to remember what the situation was like at the time these debts were calculated: the USSR was not part of the international financial system, the rouble was not integrated into this system and the rouble's exchange rate was simply set by the USSR State Bank. Some may remember that according to that exchange rate the dollar cost 63 kopecks. If you use this exchange rate to calculate the amount of debt the USSR lavishly handed out, primarily, to the countries fighting colonialism to achieve independence – it was largely military aid – of course, the result will be a far cry from reality.
Second, the loans given to those fighting for independence were not, by definition, backed by any international agreements. This was largely money given to non-governmental entities.
Third, as I understand it, a considerable part of this amount constitutes debt owed by former Soviet republics. Russia did repay these debts in keeping with the agreement that was called "zero version." Under this agreement, Russia committed to repay the debts that the former Soviet republics that received independence owed at the time in exchange for all foreign property that the USSR had abroad.
I do not believe the amount inherited from the USSR that you are talking about could have resolved any domestic issues or could have been a significant factor in helping settle them because these debts were, to my understanding, over 90 per cent unrecoverable. There are still some outstanding debts that have remained since Soviet times. Several years ago we forgave some African countries' Soviet-era debts worth several billion dollars that we would never have been able to collect because it is very hard to legally prove what the exchange rate was at the time the loans were given.
As for real politics and the question if it is time we become pragmatic, yes, it is high time. We try to use this approach. That said, along with pragmatism, we have qualities that define our values, such as neighbourliness, striving for justice and commitment to supporting people who are close to us. All this is manifested at the CSTO, among others. Of course, our commitment must be reciprocal and should also oblige our allies at the CSTO to follow suit. I totally agree with you on this.
We have already commented on the situation in Greece. I can repeat that there are no grounds for doubting that these decisions were taken under strong pressure from those who want to make any country a member of the anti-Russian front.