Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum
Issue 52.2019
2019.12.23 — 2019.12.29
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
At least five Putin-Modi meetings may be organized in 2020 (По крайней мере, пять встреч Путина и Моди могут быть организованы в 2020 году) / Russia, December, 2019
Keywords: top_level_meeting vladimir_putin, narendra_modi

Accordinng to the Russian ambassador to India, these meetings would promote the establishment of a new model of interstate relations within promising formats

NEW DELHI, December 23. /TASS/. At least five meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be organized in 2020, Russian Ambassador to India Nikolai Kudashev said on Monday.

"We see the perspective for further invigoration of the bilateral top-level dialogue. As of today, at least five such meetings can be organized. First, during Indian Prime Minister Modi's visit to Russia in May for the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory in the Great Patriotic War (the Eastern Front during WWII where Russia fought against Nazi Germany - TASS). Then, there will be meetings on the sidelines of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization - TASS) and BRICS (an association of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa - TASS) event. And, eventually, a traditional bilateral summit - next year we expect the Russian president here, in India. And there could be meetings on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty events," he told a news conference in the Russian embassy dedicated to Russia's presidency in BRICS and the SCO.

"Apart from that, top-level meetings can be organized within the RIC (Russia, India, China - TASS), East Asia Summit or other formats," he added.

According to the Russian diplomat, these meetings would promote the establishment of a new model of interstate relations within promising formats, such as BRICS, SCO, and RIC.

"This model will be a viable alternative to the world of sanctions, pressure and dictation, the world of unilateral moves and blackmailing. No doubt, it will help our countries to gain more weight on the global arena, make their positions more audible, win over the sympathies of other states and promote bilateral relations," Kudashev stressed.

In 2019, Putin and Modi met four times: during a bilateral summit in Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok, and on the sidelines of the SCO (Bishkek), Group of Twenty (Osaka), and BRICS (Brasilia) summits.

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, December 26, 2019 (Брифинг официального представителя МИД России М.В.Захаровой, Москва, 26 декабря 2019 года) / Russia, December, 2019
Keywords: mofa, speech, chairmanship

Russia's BRICS Presidency in 2020

Russia will assume presidency of the BRICS international association on January 1, 2020.

President Vladimir Putin set out our presidency priorities at the 11th BRICS summit held in Brasilia on November 14, 2019. The main priority of our presidency, just as of the multifaceted cooperation within BRICS, is to enhance the quality of life in the group's countries.

We will continue to promote the main three spheres of the group countries' cooperation, that is, political, economic and humanitarian cooperation. We will need to give more effort to enhancing our coordination at the basic international platforms. We are set to deepen our dialogue on counterterrorism.

We plan to update the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership so as to build mutual trade and investments. Russia will also be working to reinforce the potential of the BRICS New Development Bank.

We will encourage our partners to continue to promote out parliamentary, sport and educational contacts as well as youth exchanges.

Russia's motto for its BRICS presidency will be BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth. We have chosen this motto because it fully conforms to the group's goals.

We plan to hold around 150 events at different levels, including two summit meetings (the official summit will be held in St Petersburg in July, and an informal summit will take place on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Saudi Arabia) as well as over 20 ministerial meetings held in over 10 Russian cities.

Investment and Finance
Investment and finance in BRICS
Indian equities more expensive than emerging market peers: RBI's FSR report (Индийские акции дороже, чем аналоги на развивающихся рынках: отчет RBI FSR) / India, December, 2019
Keywords: economic_challenges

Emerging markets' (EMs') equities look attractive from a valuation perspective relative to those of developed markets despite the wedge in earnings per share between the two groups, according to the FSR.

That said, the valuation of Indian equities vis-à-vis its EM peers seems to be somewhat expensive. The high valuations of the benchmark indices will be sustainable only if there is a steady rise in corporate earnings, the report observes.

The quarterly earnings per share growth of the S&P BSE 500 Index went up in the quarter ended September 2019 on a y-o-y basis, although the same for the Nifty 50 scrips declined. Further, future earnings expectations also witnessed a decreasing trend over the six-month period," said the report.

According to experts, the gap between underlying corporate earnings and share prices has widened to a multi-year high.

The Sensex, for instance, may end the year at a price-earnings (P/E) multiple of 29x, the highest in 25 years.

Also, this is the third time in the past five years when index stocks together reported a y-o-y decline in earnings. Index companies had reported earnings contraction in CY15 and CY16, followed by a recovery in CY17 and CY18.

Unlike the trend observed in 2018-19, foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) invested $7.8 billion in the Indian securities market during April-October 2019, the FSR report noted. The first two quarters of FY20 saw inflows in the debt and hybrid segments as well. FPI investments in hybrid instruments saw a sharp increase during the current year with inflows of $744 million up to end-October 2019. However, FPIs offloaded equities worth $3.2 billion in the second quarter of FY20.

"As US monetary easing takes a breather, the exchange rate outlook for EM currencies will be a large determinant of EM local currency bond flows notwithstanding a generally favourable local currency interest rate environment," the FSR observes.

Among BRICS nations (except China), India was the only country to see FPI inflows in both the equity and debt segments during the January-September period while Russia saw the highest liquidation by FPIs in the debt segment during the same period, the report observed.
India-Russia relations in 2020: New year to witness renewed military and trade ties (Индийско-российские отношения в 2020 году: новый год станет годом возобновления военных и торговых связей) / India, December, 2019
Keywords: cooperation, trade_relations

Within the framework of BRICS, SCO, RIC and other relevant formats, the two sides will also work on developing military dialogue and deepen counter-terrorism cooperation bilaterally.

In an effort to further strengthen military relations with India, Russia plans to implement contracts exceeding $ 14.5 billion as well as the Inter-Governmental Agreement aimed at joint development and production of military equipment and spare parts.

And as has been discussed between the two leaders Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Russian President Vladimir Putin at the recently concluded annual summit, Russia is planning to localise up to 80 per cent of various platforms and is also looking at the possibility for the joint entering the third countries.

Addressing media persons in a year-end press meet in New Delhi, Russian Ambassador to India Nikolay Rishatovich Kudashev said, "After recently completing the largest tri-services exercise INDRA-2019, the two sides are looking forward to next rounds of joint military exercises."

Within the framework of BRICS, SCO, RIC and other relevant formats, the two sides will also work on developing military dialogue and deepen counter-terrorism cooperation bilaterally. Both countries have already agreed to extend the agreement for mutual military and technical cooperation for ten years which will expire in 2030.

In a joint statement which was released at the end of the annual meet in September, it was decided that there will be no delay in spare parts as well as improving the after-sales service system for the military platforms being used by the Indian Armed Forces.

Today's Indian armed forces are using almost 60 per cent of military platforms from Russia which is a has been recognised as one of the most trusted partners in the military field.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), since 2014, Russia has been listed as one of the largest supplier of military hardware to India, surpassing the People's Republic of China.

What is India getting from Russia?

India and Russia had signed a contract for the acquisition of the S-400 Triumf 'SA-21 Growler' long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems which are worth approximately $5.43 billion. India, under the contract signed, will get five Triumf regimental kits.

Besides fielding the upgraded Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29UPG 'Fulcrum-E' fighter aircraft for various programmes, there is an India-Russia Joint Venture (JV) to manufacture Kamov Ka-226T 'Hoodlum' light utility helicopters which are expected to locally produce 140 rotorcraft. These helicopters will be the main light utility helicopter of the Indian armed forces.

As was announced earlier, the Indian Navy will be receiving four Project 11356 Grigorovich-class frigates, out of which two will be built in Russia by the Yantar Shipyard (a subsidiary of the United Shipbuilding Corporation) and two at the Goa Shipyard Limited.

Under the India-Russia Joint Venture, BrahMos Aerospace is already delivering ground- and sea-launched BrahMos cruise missiles to both the Indian Army and the Navy and has developed and successfully tested the air-launched variant of the weapon.

India is currently operating around 1,000 of T-90S Bhishma Main Battle Tanks, which have largely been made in India and production under the license of the 3VBM42 Mango 125 mm armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds for those vehicles is going on.

Talks are going on with Russia for the anti-tank capabilities of the ground troops.

State-owned Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) is already producing under license the Konkurs-M 'AT-5b Spandrel' anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs).

A plant in Korwa (Uttar Pradesh) has been inaugurated, where the Kalashnikov AK-203 7.62 mm assault rifles, under a joint venture of Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited will be manufactured.
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India Can Turn Economic Crisis Into Chance for Development (Индия может превратить экономический кризис в шанс для развития) / India, December, 2019
Keywords: economic_challenges, expert_opinion

Chinese Indologist Yu Lunyuy believes that cooperation with China, Russia and other BRICS states can become a strong growth driver for the Indian economy. Earlier, the IMF urged India to take "urgent" measures amid an economic recession.

The IMF's annual review called declining consumption and investment activity, as well as tax revenues and a number of other factors impediments to one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia and the Pacific.

According to the government, from July to September, India's economic growth was the slowest in six years, falling to 4.5 percent. The central bank cut its forecast for 2019 from 6.1 to 5 percent. The Reserve Bank of India has lowered its key lending rate five times this year to a nine-year low, but the economic recession doesn't stop. In early December, the bank left the discount rate unchanged, causing disappointment and misunderstanding on the part of the IMF.

According to observers, the signs of a US trade war against India this year could have exerted strong psychological pressure on Indian export-oriented companies. The US revocation of India's preferential trade status has closed the doors for annual exports of up to $5.6 billion worth of commodities to the United States. At the same time, before India's status was revoked, it had been one of the largest beneficiaries of the US generalized system of preferences.

India is currently trying to regain trade privileges from the United States, apparently counting on export growth, and hence state revenue.

Apparently, India's economic troubles have made the Indian negotiators on the preparation of the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership agreement (RCEP) nervous.

"India-China cooperation under this mechanism could become a potential growth factor for India," MGIMO expert Ekaterina Arapova said, adding that "India is also benefiting from enhanced collaboration with Asian partners that take part in the RCEP negotiations." At the same time, because of the psychological barrier – the fear of an influx of Chinese goods after trade liberalization under the RCEP agreement – Indian partners haven't yet managed to objectively assess the benefits of participating in this multilateral mechanism for economic development.

According to Yu Lunyuy, Head of the Centre for Indian Studies of Shenzhen University, Chairman of the China Association for the Study of Indian Culture, China has the technology, capital and advanced engineering experience and is one of the few countries that can help India solve its problems.

"In recent years, India has faced many challenges in its economic development. However, the country can really count on the fact that its ties with the BRICS countries will revive its economy. India can solve the crisis through cooperation with China, which has technology, capital and advanced engineering experience. China is one of the world's few countries that can really help India solve its problems," Yu Lunyuy said. "At first glance, the economic recession is a purely economic problem, but in reality it is a complex problem, which also includes politics. A number of recent steps by the Indian government have negatively affected its economic development. If the Indian economy continues to decline, the situation in the country will worsen," the expert noted.

The Chinese Indologist believes that building trust between China and India will remove barriers in bilateral economic and investment cooperation:

"Indians, especially young people, really want to know more about China, learn from China, and cooperate with China. China and India need to address the lack of trust. That is, China should comprehensively and deeply understand India, and pay great attention to its opinion. At the same time, India should trust itself more and not listen to what the Western media say about China. If India is aware of this problem, it can turn the economic crisis into a chance for development. In the past, China faced various challenges throughout its development, including during the implementation of reform and opening up policies; but in the end, it managed to overcome them. China has vast experience in economic development and deserves India's attention." According to Yu Lunyuy, India's cooperation with its BRICS partners is a strong driver of growth for the country's economy:

"Within BRICS, in addition to China, India is developing relations with Russia, Brazil and South Africa. The share of each of these countries in India's development may not be the same. China and India are the world's two most densely populated countries, they are developing very quickly. It's reasonable that there should be more cooperation between them. India's economic development problems can also be resolved through Sino-Indian-Russian cooperation. In particular, India has advantages in the pharmaceutical industry and agriculture. This is a great opportunity for cooperation with Russia and China, as well as for improving the country's economy." 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and India. The parties plan to hold 70 celebrations, considering them a new chance for developing bilateral contacts.

As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted at a meeting with Venkaiah Naidu, the Vice President of India, Chairman of the Council of States, the successful second informal meeting of the two countries' leaders in Chennai has set the vector for cooperation development.

NDB Board of Directors Approves Project in Russia, Bringing Bank's Lending Approvals to USD 15.1 Billion (Совет директоров НБР одобрил проект в России, доведя кредитные одобрения банка до 15,1 млрд долларов США) / China, December, 2019
Keywords: ndb, investments

On December 24, 2019, the Board of Directors (BoD) of the New Development Bank (NDB) approved one project in Russia with a loan equivalent to USD 500 million, bringing the total approvals of the NDB's lending to approx. USD 15.1 billion.

Development of Educational Infrastructure for Highly Skilled Workforce Project

The NDB will provide a loan equivalent to USD 500 million to the Russian Federation to establish Advanced Engineering Schools (AES's) at about 30 higher education institutions in Russia to prepare graduates specializing in engineering. Establishment of the AES's involves development of new or redesign of existing education programs tailor-made for concrete industry partners. The Project will contribute to labor productivity increase in the real sector of the Russia's economy. The Project is aligned with NDB's General Strategy: 2017-2021, where supporting the development of social infrastructure and services is envisaged under one of the key areas of the Bank's operations.

Lending Portfolio of NDB Reaches USD 15.1 Billion

The year 2019 is the fourth full year of the NDB's operation and it was marked by the approval of 22 projects from all member countries of the Bank aggregating to approx. USD 7.1 billion, including the first equity investment by the NDB in Brazil of USD 100 million. With the approval of Development of Educational Infrastructure for Highly Skilled Workforce Project, the total approvals of the NDB's lending have reached approx. USD 15.1 billion.

The Bank's 2019 lending portfolio is well-balanced across the sectors of transportation, water, clean and renewable energy, environment, education and others. In 2019, the Bank expanded its non-sovereign operations, with 6 non-sovereign projects approved by the BoD. At the same time, the NDB embraced the concept of impact investment, bringing a range of positive and broad-based benefits to its member countries and their people. This is a clear demonstration of the NDB's strong commitment to its mandate of mobilizing resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries.

Background Information

The NDB was established by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries, complementing the existing efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development. To fulfill its purpose, the NDB will support public or private projects through loans, guarantees, equity participation and other financial instruments. According to the NDB's General Strategy, sustainable infrastructure development is at the core of the Bank's operational strategy for 2017-2021. The NDB received AA+ long-term issuer credit ratings from S&P and Fitch and AAA foreign currency long-term issuer rating from Japan Credit Rating Agency (JCR).

Political Events
Political events in the public life of BRICS
South Africa: A year of ups and downs (Южная Африка: год взлетов и падений) / South Africa, December, 2019
Keywords: expert_opinion
South Africa

For the democracy at the bottom of Africa, 2019 will be known as the year it held another successful election, made efforts to fight corruption in business and government, and won the Rugby World Cup – all of which united South Africans behind a single purpose. However, the year was also punctuated by more crippling blackouts, a weaker economy and a new wave of xenophobic attacks.

A year in the life of any country is filled with key moments – both good and bad.

That's no more true than in South Africa, where behind almost every success lurks another tragic failure.

Elections In May, South Africa successfully held its sixth election since democracy was established. It was free, fair and peaceful.

More than 26 million registered voters were able to choose from 48 political parties nationally, offering a wide array of political homes. Citizens voted en masse and despite their varied political leanings, most were hopeful that their ballot would make a difference.

Predictably, the African National Congress (ANC) won the poll but it was handed a severely reduced majority after securing less than 58% of the vote.

Many citizens voiced their frustration about a weak economy and rampant corruption. The ANC says it got the message.

"We have learnt our lesson. We have heard the people of South Africa. We have heard the very clear message of what they expect from us," said President Cyril Ramaphosa after hearing the election results.

Ahead of the 8 May poll, thousands of angry residents took to the streets to remind the ANC and other parties about their failed promises to the people. The country's economic hub, Gauteng Province, bore the brunt of service delivery protests.

Triple challenge Ramaphosa's re-election has delivered a great deal of hope to a country that continues to battle systemic challenges. However, critics also warn against succumbing to the political rhetoric.

Poverty, unemployment and inequality remain South Africa's most persistent problems.

"We must commit to a different path of a South Africa we aspire for ourselves and for future generations. A South Africa, where poverty and unemployment, will not be a defining feature of our nation," said deputy president David Mabuza during government's Christmas message.

While the economy continues to falter, economists are predicting a technical recession and a downgrade in South Africa's sovereign credit rating early next year.

The economy contracted 3.2% in the first quarter of 2019. It grew 3.1% in the second quarter, and in the third quarter, it shrunk by 0.6%. That is according to the official statistical agency – Stats SA.

Major losses in the mining and manufacturing industry have significantly weighed down the economy. The other sectors that have performed poorly include transport, storage and communication sectors.

Collapse of state companies The failure of state power utility Eskom to provide reliable power has damaged multiple sectors of the economy.

In December, Eskom escalated its power outages – what it calls 'load shedding' – to an unprecedented level (Stage 6), cutting 6,000MW nationally. The rolling blackouts were felt across several sectors, forcing operations to shut down at major mines and small businesses.

The government finally placed the national carrier, South African Airways (SAA), under business rescue after several years of losses.

SAA has racked up more than R28bn ($2bn) in losses in over a decade. Around 10,000 jobs are now on the line. Ramaphosa's government hopes to save the business by extending billions of rands in bailouts and government guarantees.

Accountability During Ramaphosa's election campaign, he promised to clamp down on corruption and clean up state institutions.

Police have made several high-profile arrests, including senior Eskom officials. Former president Jacob Zuma is also standing trial for corruption related to the multibillion-rand arms deal.

Workers are still waiting for the findings of a crucial report from a judicial commission of inquiry into the state asset manager, th ePublic Investment Corporation (PIC).

The commission probed corruption allegations against PIC that resulted in nearly R20bn in losses at the Government Employees Pension Fund – Africa's largest pension fund.

One of the major successes for workers this year comes from a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit.

Hundreds of thousands of former gold miners from across Southern Africa who contracted silicosis – a fatal lung illness – after working underground stand to benefit from a R5bn payout from their former employers.

Unity in diversity One of the more enduring moments of the year for South Africans comes from the Rugby World Cup victory in Japan.

When Siya Kolisi – the country's first black captain – raised the Webb Ellis Cup, it was another symbolic milestone in the last 25 years of democracy. Originally a sport of the minority white elite, rugby is now seen as a great unifier. It is played in well-manicured suburbs to brutally impoverished townships.

This legacy dates back to 1995 when the country's first black president, Nelson Mandela donned a rugby jersey. It was a grand gesture by a liberation icon to mend years of racial divisions under apartheid.

However, a wave of violent attacks on African migrants has damaged this spirit of reconciliation.

In September, at least five people died during the violence around Johannesburg. Local experts argue that SA's rampant inequality – among the worst in the world – is to blame for igniting conflict between locals and foreigners.

The bottom line: 2019 has been a year of highs and lows in South Africa. And despite the tragedies, there is an enduring feeling that thrives among those who live here: hope.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's interview with Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, December 27, 2019 (Интервью Министра иностранных дел Российской Федерации С.В.Лаврова международному информационному агентству «Россия сегодня», 27 декабря 2019 года) / Russia, December, 2019
Keywords: sergey_lavrov, quotation

Question: Is there any real prospect of Russia returning to the Group of Eight next year? Was this question on the agenda of your recent meeting with Donald Trump? Did he convey an invitation to Vladimir Putin to attend the summit in the United States? What are your expectations for 2020 in terms of foreign policy, including relations with the US?

Sergey Lavrov: I suggest we use appropriate terminology. Russia did not leave the G8. Let me remind you that after the state coup in Ukraine in early 2014 the other seven members of the Group refused to take part in events held as part of Russia's presidency. In other words, the seven countries withdrew from this format, rather than the other way around. As President of Russia Vladimir Putin said, "if our partners want to come, we will be glad." I can say that we could receive them in Moscow, St Petersburg, Sochi or for instance in Yalta.

Overall, Russia sees no incentives and has no desire to restore this format. We did not discuss this question during my visit to the United States, and it is not part of the Russia-US bilateral agenda. The G7 was created back in the days of the Cold War. It has become irrelevant in today's world, primarily due to the fact that it leaves out the new global centres. Without them, overcoming the multiple challenges and threats that we face in today's world is impossible.

It is not a coincidence that the Group of Twenty offered an effective platform for discussing many key questions related to global economics and even politics. Apart from the G20, Russia is proactive in associations of a new kind, such as BRICS and the SCO, where decisions are balanced and taken by consensus rather than imposed. These are multilateral structures that have already established themselves as reliable foundations for the emerging fair, democratic and multipolar world order.

Giving a forecast for next year is not easy. A lot will depend on whether our Western partners, primarily Washington, are ready to stop using corrupt practices such as blackmail, pressure, unilateral sanctions, and to honour international law, or more generally commit to mutually respectful dialogue for untying the many knots we have in today's world. Russia on its behalf will continue strengthening collective undertakings in global affairs, supporting global and regional security in all its dimensions, and facilitating sustainable solutions to multiple crises and conflicts by political and diplomatic means, be it in Syria or Ukraine, our neighbour. To this end, we will use the resources that we have as members of global governance institutions such as the United Nations and the G20, as well as the opportunities offered by Russia's BRICS and SCO presidencies.

We have no illusions regarding the future of Russia-US dialogue, particularly against the backdrop of the challenging environment in US domestic politics and the upcoming presidential election. This is clearly illustrated by Washington's recent unfriendly steps. On our behalf, we remain committed to taking all the required steps to ensure our security, the interests of Russian citizens and businesses, and to find adequate responses to any aggressive actions. At the same time, we do not seek confrontation. We are open to trying to find solutions to problems that matter for our countries and the entire world. Our proposals to work together on various matters remain in force. Quite a few of them could be carried out in the near future, including launching the Business Advisory Council and the Expert Council, as agreed by our presidents. Our other proposals include exchanging letters guaranteeing non-interference in each other's domestic affairs, launching dialogue on cybersecurity, a matter that causes so much concern to the United States, issuing a joint statement on the inadmissibility of nuclear war, extending the New START, imposing a moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, and taking other steps to enhance strategic stability. Of course, we will judge Washington's intentions by its deeds rather than words.

Question: What is the deadline for extending the New START Treaty? If it is not extended, will Russia immediately begin creating and deploying additional strategic arms or will there be a moratorium similar to the one that was introduced after the collapse of the INF Treaty?

Sergey Lavrov: Russia's attitude to the extension of the New START was clearly put forth by President Putin. We are ready to extend it without any preconditions. As for deadlines, President Putin said that "Russia is willing to immediately, as soon as possible, before the year is out, renew this treaty."

The deadline for extending the treaty has not been agreed upon, yet the process needs to be completed before the treaty expires on February 5, 2021. This means that we should not only reach an agreement with the Americans but also complete certain procedures at the Federal Assembly, because we will need to amend Federal Law No. 1 of January 28, 2011 on the ratification of the New START. There is not much time left for this.

Russia believes that it will be expedient to preserve the New START, which is the last remaining international legal instrument for restraining the nuclear missile arsenals of the world's two largest nuclear powers and making activities in this sphere predictable and verifiable. In addition, its extension will give us additional time, which we would be able to use to discuss possible forms and methods of controlling new weapons and military technology.

The United States has not clarified its position on the extension of the New START. However, I believe that it would be premature to discuss any other scenarios.

Question: The end of the year has witnessed a resumption of activities by the opponents of Nord Stream 2. Could this project be derailed? Considering the unbalanced position of our Western partners, should Russia plan a radical diversification of its hydrocarbon export routes? Is China considered as the most attractive alternative to Europe?

Sergey Lavrov: The construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is nearing completion, which is why its opponents have redoubled their efforts to derail it. The addition of sanctions to the US 2020 National Defence Authorisation Act is shameless interference in the affairs of European businesses. Some US senators have openly threatened the management of the companies involved in the project. The aim of this is not the protection of European energy security, which Nord Stream 2 will strengthen, but furthering the interests of US LNG on the European market. It is a shocking example of unfair competition and politicisation of energy relations.

We have no doubt, however, that the gas pipeline will be completed even despite this pressure. Europe is aware of the advantages of an alternative export route, although some countries are willing to work for their overseas curators even to the detriment of their own energy security and the prosperity of their citizens, which is regrettable.

Europe so far remains the biggest market for our gas; we deliver some 200 billion cubic metres of gas there annually. At the same time, we are expanding our energy cooperation with Asian-Pacific countries, where the demand for hydrocarbons continues to grow. In early December of this year, we launched the Power of Siberia pipeline, which will be used to deliver up to 38 billion cubic metres of gas to China every year. We are working with our Western partners to develop Arctic resources, including within the framework of the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 projects. We are developing the transport logistics of the Northern Sea Route so as to ensure the export of Russian energy to Asia Pacific countries.

Russia will continue to diversify its hydrocarbon export routes.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and answers to questions during Government Hour at the Federation Council, Moscow, December 23, 2019 (Выступление и ответы на вопросы Министра иностранных дел Российской Федерации С.В.Лаврова на «Правительственном часе» в Совете Федерации Федерального Собрания Российской Федерации, Москва, 23 декабря 2019 года) / Russia, December, 2019
Keywords: sergey_lavrov, speech

Ms Matviyenko, members of the Federation Council, colleagues,

I am grateful to you for the opportunity to speak before you as part of the Government Hour.

We at the Foreign Ministry value our relations with both chambers of the Federal Assembly. We appreciate the lawmakers' interest in our work which we find helpful. We welcome our parliamentarians' focus on consistent promotion of Russia's priorities in the international arena using parliamentary diplomacy methods. In turn, we do our best to support your endeavors in the interests of the effective implementation of our foreign policy as set out by President Putin.

Joining our efforts in this area is important today. I don't think I need to elaborate on the fact that the international situation remains tense. Our US colleagues and their allies are trying to slow, including by force, the objective process of creating a fairer and more democratic polycentric world order. They try to hold back new world centres that appear and to strengthen their own position not only in Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific Region (APR), but Africa and Latin America as well.

The architecture of strategic stability and arms control is being dismantled unilaterally. After the ABM Treaty, the United States scrapped the INF Treaty. Now they are dragging out the adoption of New START. Washington's withdrawal from the JCPOA, refusal to ratify the CTBT and plans for militarising outer space are part of the same plan.

The European security space continues to be fragmented. NATO's military activities near our borders are intensifying. The NATO countries' military budgets are growing. Widespread use of aggressive and unfair methods of competition, as well as gross abuse of the status of the dollar, exerts a negative impact on the global economy.

The idea of "rules-based order" was invented by a number of Western capitals based on their unwillingness to accept the realities of multipolarity. Its purpose is to replace generally recognised standards of international law with a set of their own foreign policy goals, which vary depending on the political situation. In fact, the West would like to replace the cooperative work at universal multilateral formats, primarily the UN, with "private get-togethers" and then impose their decisions on everyone else.

As a responsible state and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has been working to prevent these destructive plans from coming to fruition. Many people in the West clearly dislike that, as well as our foreign policy as a whole. This is why they are trying to shift the blame for others' mistakes and wrongdoings onto us. In fact, they want to punish us for independence and self-sufficiency in international affairs.

Have no doubt: no degree of pressure will force us to deviate from our policy of protecting the national interests of our foreign policy and the fundamental principles of international law, first of all those sealed in the UN Charter. We must be able under any circumstances to defend the security of our country and to uphold the people's confidence in the future.

At the same time, confrontation is not and will never be our choice, as President Putin has said more than once. In contrast with the destructive line pursued by Washington and its allies, we are advocating a positive international agenda aimed at creating a healthy and neighbourly international environment and at strengthening all aspects of international and regional security. Towards this end, we use the potential of membership in the key global governance organisations, primarily the UN and the G20, especially since the latter group has many current issues on its agenda. Other positive examples of multipolar diplomacy are BRICS and the SCO, the summits of which Russia will host next year.


The focus of global politics and economy is shifting from Euro-Atlantic to Eurasia. Close relations with Eurasian countries and integration associations are an undeniable priority for Russia as a major Eurasian power. We have recently scored many positive achievements in this field. We see a constructive development of interaction within the CIS, the Union State and the CSTO, which is really helping to build regional security. Our cooperation within the EAEU is especially important. The EAEU's dynamically growing external ties are evidence of the success of this integration initiative. It has signed free trade agreements with Vietnam, Singapore and Serbia and an interim agreement with Iran. The agreement on trade and economic cooperation between the EAEU and China has come into effect. Talks on free trade areas are underway with Israel and Egypt, and it has been decided to launch such talks with India as well.

Our strategic cooperation with China is growing stronger. It was announced during President Xi Jinping's state visit to Russia in June this year that our bilateral relations had entered a new age. The Russia-China foreign policy alliance plays a vital role in supporting stability in international affairs.

Our privileged strategic partnership with India is advancing. Our ties with the overwhelming majority of other Asia-Pacific partners are deepening.

There is also the RIC format of Russia, India and China, which remains effective and which had given rise to BRICS some time ago.

An increasingly important current goal is to harmonise Eurasian integration processes from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. This goal has been set in President Putin's initiative of a Greater Eurasian Partnership comprising the EAEU, SCO, ASEAN and all other countries of the continent. We are working towards this goal, including by aligning the development plans of the Eurasian Economic Union and China's Belt and Road Initiative. Of course, we would like to see the European Union and its member states among its participants. There are no obstacles to this.

We are promoting our political cooperation and practical interaction with African and Latin American countries. The first ever Russia-Africa Summit was a major diplomatic event this year. The implementation of the agreements reached at the summit will make our interaction really comprehensive and multifaceted.

As for the United States, we have said more than once that we are ready to maintain contacts on the principles of mutual respect and a balance of interests. A pragmatic interaction between our countries is vital for stability in international affairs. Our proposals in this respect are well known. The ball is now in the US court.


This country's peaceful development is closely related to how efficiently main external threats are neutralised. Russia is greatly contributing to the political and diplomatic efforts to deal with numerous crises and conflicts. It is largely thanks to the concerted work of the Russian military and diplomats that much damage has been inflicted, on "remote approaches," on international terrorism. Syria's statehood has been preserved. This year, the guarantor nations of the Astana format – Russia, Iran and Turkey – managed to launch the Constitutional Committee tasked with achieving a political settlement of the Syrian crisis.

Most certainly, we intend to help stabilise the situation in the entire Middle East even further, including in Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Lebanon. This is the aim of President Vladimir Putin's initiative to form a broad anti-terrorist front, as well as that of the Russia's Collective Security Concept for the Persian Gulf Region and the neighbouring areas.

The internal conflict in Ukraine remains a serious destabilising factor. It can be overcome only through the consistent implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures that was approved by the UN Security Council, something that, of course, requires a direct dialogue between the sides. It is what is said in the final document of the Normandy format summit, which was approved in Paris on December 9. We are ready to continue acting as mediators at the Contact Group. And, of course, we will do our best to stop discrimination against Ukraine's Russian speaking citizens.

We will continue promoting Russian initiatives in spheres such as preventing an arms race in space, creating mechanisms to counter chemical and biological terrorism, and coordinating an international "code of conduct" in the cyberspace.

As before, we will focus on rallying the multi-ethnic and multi-faith Russian World, promoting economic diplomacy and defending the rights of Russian journalists abroad. The importance of a civilisation-to-civilisation dialogue grows objectively against the background of multipolar consolidation. In 2022, Russia will host an IPU and UN-sponsored world conference on interreligious and interethnic dialogue. We are ready to collaborate closely with the Russian legislators to aid its effective organisation.


Next year will be marked by celebrations in honour of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. We are doing our best to oppose falsifications of history, preserve the reputation of soldiers who won the war, and generally prevent a revision of the international legal results of the defeat of Nazism, including the verdicts of the Nuremberg Trials. Our allies and partners stand with us in this regard, as has been confirmed by the CIS summit which was held in St Petersburg, where President Vladimir Putin made a relevant statement. The overwhelming majority of the world community solidarise with us as well. The Russian resolution against the glorification of Nazism that was approved by the UN General Assembly several days ago is dramatic confirmation of my point. We will continue to render the necessary support in upgrading foreign contacts and ties to the regions you represent. The Council of the Heads of Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has acquitted itself well. We will continue to provide venues at the Ministry and our foreign missions for the regions' presentations and to assist their business missions abroad.

Russia will continue to act in a responsible way and to work, jointly with like-minded people, to strengthen the legal, democratic foundations of international life based on the principles of the UN Charter. We will be guided by the primary objective of assisting in the creation of maximally favourable external conditions for this country's development and the growth of its citizens' wellbeing.

I would like to wind up my opening remarks at this point. Thank you very much. I am now ready to answer your questions.

Question: When you were talking about the international results of the year on the Great Game TV programme, you pointed out a number of important aspects in the world politics against the backdrop of rampant Russophobia. Can you speak in greater detail about the statement by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that NATO is the only organisation that is able to defend Germany? To what extent is it in line with the position of other NATO countries that believe in the need to build a new architecture of trust, as well as with the real state of affairs, specifically the recent sanctions against German and French companies involved in laying the Nord Stream 2 pipeline?

Sergey Lavrov: As for the statements from Berlin in the context of the discussion of Emmanuel Macron's opinion on NATO's future, I can hardly add anything else to that. I was astounded to hear from Germany that only NATO can defend it. The question is, defend from whom? Look at Germany's neighbours and draw your own conclusions.

As regards our common approaches to the situation in the Euro-Atlantic region: in the 1990s Russia and NATO concluded agreements and proclaimed the goals of indivisible security, when no country would provide for its own security at the expense of others. We were told at that time that no substantial forces would be deployed in the new NATO countries on a permanent basis and many other steps were taken to build up trust. Of course, it is regrettable that the West is simply retreating from all those understandings at the US initiative, and our Western colleagues made those declarations and admirable political statements in the 1990s solely because they regarded Russia as a subordinate partner, a weak geopolitical player. Now, when under new conditions we are attempting to stand for the same principles of equality, mutual benefit and assurance of common and indivisible security, the West is not comfortable with it any more. This is probably part of the common policy of deterring the Russian Federation that is currently pursued by the United States and its close allies. I think that most NATO members are not happy about it at all. I think President Macron's proposal to look at the general situation in the strategic context and discuss ways to develop relations with Russia reflects such opinions. Hopefully, they will be put into practice.

Concerning the sanctions – there is nothing to talk about here. I think that after the United States showed again that its diplomacy boils down, above all, to different methods of intimidation – sanctions, ultimatums, threats – when its closest allies are punished for working to address their economic problems and their energy security. I don't think any country in the world should be under the illusion that the United States will keep the promises it makes. The United States will desert it at any moment.

Question: I have a question in the context of the point you made about the promotion of our interests in Europe. Kamchiya is a beautiful health resort on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, owned by the Moscow Mayor's office. Its first-class amenities and furnishings are not inferior to those of Orlyonok and Artek. There is every reason to use this venue to work with our compatriots in the European Union. We have explored this matter, and figured out the conceptual basis for a project. No one objects to its implementation, and it has been supported by both the Moscow Government and the Federal Government. However, there has been no progress since 2015. Meanwhile, the threat of losing this property is more than real. Is it not time for the Government to address this issue and create a Russian humanitarian centre at the Kamchiya resort as the main foreign cultural and humanitarian platform for promoting our interests in Europe? What is your assessment of the prospects for the implementation of this project and also its relevance?

Sergey Lavrov: I agree that it is a unique project. If we talk about "soft power," it is an ideal model of soft power in the most positive sense – a place that enjoyed tremendous popularity with young people, athletes, among those who want to develop contacts between people, between citizens of Russia, Bulgaria and other countries. We are concerned though about the negative trends developing around this project. Some of the buildings have been shut down, while others have been leased out. There are ownership questions, tax debts, and other disturbing factors piling up. Following Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Bulgaria in March, the Foreign Ministry prepared a note on the implementation of all the agreements, in which the crisis involving this resort was a highlight. One of the proposals was for the Moscow City Government and the Russian Government in particular represented by the Ministry of Education to work out options for transferring this property to the federal government and providing federal financing. The deadline was set for June, and the relevant reports were submitted. But, unfortunately, the bureaucratic machine moves slowly, so I don't know if I am disclosing a big secret, but Valentina Matviyenko was also there, and we are now preparing to consider this issue at an operational meeting of the Russian Security Council permanent members. I hope that, with the involvement of the Prime Minister and all agencies that can facilitate the implementation of the project, we will be able to stimulate this decision under the leadership of the President. And I hope this will be done quickly, because, in our estimation, the situation is degrading very rapidly.

Question: Is the attitude of the international community, primarily the EU and the US, towards the reunification of Crimea with Russia changing? I mean are there some unofficial statements maybe, behind-the-scenes conversations, if you can share these things?

Sergey Lavrov: I can say that everyone understands everything, be it in public or behind-the-scenes. Their persistent reiteration of Crimea in all Russophobic statements on Ukraine, as well as in many other topics (we are now blamed for everything, including in Syria and in Libya, we are to blame again), makes one doubt the adequacy of the people involved in real foreign policy. If they cannot understand that Crimea is part of Russia, and had been removed from Russia for three decades by some quirk of fate and contrary to the wishes of its residents, an abnormal situation – it means they have no clue about history. I will not, for obvious reasons, share my discussions on this topic with my colleagues, but I can assure you that serious people have for a long time now understood everything. The continued use of the "Crimean trump card" in the rhetoric some of our Western colleagues like can only mean one thing – they are obsessed with containing Russia more than with anything else. They simply do not have more reasonable, more adequate arguments that could be used in a serious conversation.

Question: The Ad Hoc Commission of the Federation Council on Protecting State Sovereignty and Preventing Interference in the Domestic Affairs of the Russian Federation, guided by the Bangladesh resolution of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) on the role of parliament in respecting the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, uses methods of inter-parliamentary diplomacy to conduct an active dialogue with its partners on ways to limit interference in sovereign affairs.

However, it has been argued that the nature of new challenges and threats in the 21st century has not been clearly formulated. It's hard to argue with that, because one of the few global documents on this subject is UN General Assembly Resolution 36/103 adopted 49 years ago. A lot has changed since 1965. We held a videoconference with our partners on this topic, during which it was proposed that an international group should work out a framework document that would provide answers to all these questions. Meanwhile, decisions taken at the "private get-togethers" you have mentioned are not at all favourable for us.

Sergey Lavrov: We appreciate the active stand our MPs have taken on this sensitive issue. We see that the Ad Hoc Commission is playing a vital role in this. We will do everything we can to help you.

You have mentioned precedents in the field of international law, however, the UNGA resolutions are not binding documents but recommendations. Nevertheless, when decisions are adopted by consensus, this says a lot. The resolution adopted in 1965 approved the Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of their Independence and Sovereignty. It was the first UNGA legislative initiative that received consensus approval. The resolution condemned armed intervention and all other forms of interference in the domestic affairs of states, as well as the use of economic, political or any other type of measures to coerce states into taking any actions. Since then, the UNGA and the international community have not slackened their efforts in this field.

Five years later, in 1970, the UNGA adopted Resolution 2625 to approve The Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States. A considerable part of the declaration has to do with the inadmissibility of interference in the domestic affairs of states. I would like to add that the declaration also clearly states that there is no contradiction between the principles of territorial integrity and self-determination. But the governments that wish to ensure full support for their territorial integrity must respect the principle of self-determination on the domestic stage and also represent the interests of the entire population living on the territory of the said state. This observation clearly pertains to the situation in Donbass and Crimea.

In 1981, the UNGA adopted one more document, The Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States. It provided details of the obligations and responsibilities of each state. It set out, inter alia, the duty of states to refrain from any action or attempt to destabilise other states, to abstain from any defamatory campaign, vilification or hostile propaganda for the purpose of intervening or interfering in the internal affairs of other states, and to refrain from the exploitation and the distortion of human rights issues as a means of interference in the internal affairs of states. Our Western partners are doing this especially often. We regard this block of regulations as very important and comprehensive, covering all the existing forms of interference, possibly with the exception of cyberspace, which is being used as a medium for the above activities. It should be said that these documents were adopted by consensus in 1965 and 1970, but in 1981 our Western colleagues voted against, possibly because they planned to violate their commitments sealed in the resolutions that received consensus approval from the UN General Assembly.

Here is a recent example. When foreign-orchestrated state coups and unconstitutional changes of government became trendy, we proposed relevant provisions for a resolution on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, which was adopted for the past three years at the initiative of Latin American countries. It calls on states to refrain from the extraterritorial use of national legislation, from attempts to use force to overthrow legitimate governments or to interfere in the internal affairs of any state. Documents regarding this have been drafted and adopted not only at the UN but also at the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO. Of course, these are not binding documents but recommendations. There are no internationally binding documents regarding this; the only, but very significant, exception is the UN Charter. I believe that we can and should work out detailed provisions for a binding document now. On the other hand, we must be realistic: there are precious few chances for the adoption of such a document in a format that would guarantee non-interference in the internal affairs of states. Our Western colleagues have long outlined their position, and they will stick to it. Yet we must persevere in any case, because we have rock-solid arguments in support of our position.

Question: Most of us are not professional diplomats, but, I am sure, everyone in this room will agree that the foreign missions of the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Cultural Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) play a special role in implementing Russia's foreign policy. But we are becoming convinced, while contacting the heads of Russian cultural centres in foreign countries, that their budgets are quite modest. Occasionally, they suffice only for salaries and rent. This problem is particularly pressing in the CIS states. Do you think it is urgently needed to upgrade the funding of the Russian cultural centres and possibly make them functionally akin to recruiting organisations involved in the Education Exports project?

Sergey Lavrov: We certainly see that it is necessary to continue energising Rossotrudnichestvo and its chain of Russian science and cultural centres. I would not say that problems related to shortages of funding are particularly pronounced in the CIS countries. But on the whole this problem, which is nothing new, is quite pressing indeed for both Rossotrudnichestvo and our cultural centres abroad. When Mr Konstantin Kosachev headed Rossotrudnichestvo, there was a special meeting dedicated primarily to the need to substantially increase the funding of Rossotrudnichestvo's programme activities, rather than just to provide for employees of these centres abroad. As you said, the lion's share of money was and is spent on salaries. Therefore, we have President Vladimir Putin's support; it is yet to materialise as specific government decisions, but we are working on this issue, and a relevant policy has been approved.

As for Rossotrudnichestvo's involvement in the Education Exports project, I am unaware, to what extent this has been reflected in the Russian university quotas for foreigners, but Rossotrudnichestvo, via its centres, is really involved in selecting candidates for Russian education grants. I think that if this arrangement is not formally extended to the Education Exports programme in the direct manner, this can be easily done. In any case, this will be the right thing to do, because, along with the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, our foreign missions have a much clearer idea of the most effective way to share the government education grants.

Question: Mr Lavrov, first of all I would like to thank the Russian Foreign Ministry and you personally for solving an important problem concerning my region. At one of the meetings with you, we complained that there was no consular service of the Mongolian People's Republic in the Altai Territory. Today, an honorary consul is based in Barnaul and a visa-free regime has been introduced between our countries. All of this facilitates the development of inter-regional relations. Following on from the topic related to developing friendly and cultural ties between our two countries, my question is about popularising the Russian language in Mongolia, where people are increasingly keen to know it. This is particularly necessary in a situation, where Mongolia is witnessing intensified domestic political struggles ahead of its 2020 parliamentary elections and more active impacts on the country's public life, placed by US specialised centres. At what stage is the implementation of the Protocol of the 22nd meeting of the Russian-Mongolian Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, where readiness was expressed to support the Mongolian proposal on sending Russian language teachers from Russia, organising a general education system in Mongolia and sending Mongolian teachers to Russia for specialised training?

Sergey Lavrov: This depends on purely practical steps like selecting specialists, creating legal infrastructure, and providing funding. We are actively disseminating the experience of refresher training of local Russian language teachers that was pioneered by Tajikistan. The Federation Council heads are helping us with this. This is a highly effective arrangement implying refresher training at courses in Tajikistan and the organisation of special events for teachers from Tajikistan, who come for this purpose to the Russian Federation. Currently we are extending this arrangement to Mongolia. I cannot indicate the specific timeframes because there are purely technical things involved: We have to select people for long-term employment abroad, etc. But this is one of our priorities in promoting the Russian language.

Question: A month and a half from now, we will be marking the 75th anniversary of the Yalta Conference, where the leaders of the United States, Britain and the USSR discussed the postwar world. What is our Foreign Ministry's attitude to this anniversary? How much focused are the US and the UK on the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in connection with these events?

Sergey Lavrov: We will be marking the anniversary of the Yalta Conference as we celebrate the anniversaries of all without exception memorable events related to the Great Patriotic War and WWII. I cannot say now what the US attitude to this specific anniversary is like. We have discussed with our US colleagues the situation emerging in connection with the May 9 celebrations. As you may know, President Donald Trump, along with the other leaders of countries that formed the Anti-Hitler Coalition and leaders of other states, received President Vladimir Putin's invitation to take part in the celebrations dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Victory to be held on Moscow's Red Square on May 9. Donald Trump repeatedly, including during my visit to Washington, stressed the importance of this celebration and his interest in attending these events, if his schedule permits it.

We have just mentioned yet another date: Right ahead of May 9, yet another date, the 75th anniversary of the meeting at the Elbe, will be marked. The NGOs and veteran organisations in Russia and the United States, which maintain regular contacts, have plans to celebrate this event.

I think that our experts will also hold conferences and meetings dedicated to the anniversary of the Yalta Conference.

But the governments have not coordinated events of this kind, at least not at this stage.

Question: The release of five Russian citizens, arrested by law enforcement agencies in the Arab Republic of Egypt, remains unresolved for over 12 months. The students were detained in Cairo on August 14, 2018. Only five and a half months later, it became possible to find out that four of them were kept in a Cairo prison, and it is still unclear what happened to the fifth person. The parents of the detained students claim that their sons did not commit any heinous crime, and their only probable fault is that they may have inadvertently or through ignorance violated the country's immigration legislation by failing to extend their visas on time. It should be noted that these people had not committed any illegal actions in the past, nor were they prosecuted in Russia or elsewhere. I contacted the Foreign Ministry and the Consular Department of the Russian Embassy in Egypt, as well as the Egyptian Ambassador to Russia, but the matter remains unresolved so far. I would like to ask you what measures are being taken, and what needs to be done in order to secure the fastest possible release of our compatriots who are kept in maximum-security prisons in Cairo and to establish the whereabouts of Mr Khizir Dugiev.

Sergey Lavrov: We have been taking measures ever since we found out that these people were detained and arrested on suspicion of being involved in the activities of the so-called Islamic State and spreading extremist ideology. To our great regret, the authorities of Egypt, a friendly country towards Russia, are reluctant to fulfil their obligations under the bilateral Consular Convention, which was enacted in 1975. We sent over 20 official requests for information about the reasons for the arrest and specific facts. The Egyptian side did not reply to even one request. They have told us verbally that the investigation is classified; therefore, our officials are not allowed to attend secret interrogations and court hearings. We made 24 requests to allow Russian consular officers to visit our citizens. The Egyptian side recently complied with only two requests, made in July and November 2019. Our citizens voiced certain complaints, including the inability to get elementary medical assistance. We officially notified senior penitentiary officials about this. Naturally, we will demand an explanation as to why they found themselves in this situation. It has been a long time, and I hope that our Egyptian colleagues realise the need to fulfil their obligations under the Consular Convention.

Speaking of the fifth person, Mr Khizir Dugiev, we know that he arrived in Egypt on a tourist visa from Saudi Arabia, and communications with him have been lost since the summer of 2018. We are urging the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice to help establish the Russian citizen's whereabouts. We sent another note 45 days ago and have failed to get any response. Our colleagues say they know nothing about him.

We will continue to demand that the Egyptian side pay attention to this subject. We are raising it at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice. We raised this matter in the summer of 2019 at a meeting between Russian and Egyptian foreign ministers in the 2 + 2 format in Moscow. At my upcoming meeting with Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, I will present him with another detailed letter on this topic.

Question: Mr Lavrov, I think many of our colleagues would join me in saying that not all our ministers have credibility like you and even make us proud. In your report, you mentioned continuity as the basis for the stability of international legal acts adopted earlier, in particular, in 1981, and even before that. I hope this applies to domestic legal acts as well. In this regard, I have a history-related question.

In 1989, our parliamentarians adopted several legal acts based on a parliamentary investigation and gave an unequivocal assessment and description of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact at the Second Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union. Recently, there has been a trend to revise and re-evaluate this document in retrospect, and this pact is portrayed almost as the highest achievement of our country's foreign policy. What do you think about this?

Sergey Lavrov: In 1989, when the decisions that you mentioned was made, I think everyone expressed their opinion and gave their assessment based on the knowledge available to the delegates of the Congress of People's Deputies at that time (if memory serves, this document was adopted at that congress). Frankly, following those decisions made by our legislative branch and the resolutions dedicated to that date, as well as to the sad events that occurred in relations between the Soviet Union and a number of countries of Eastern Europe, when all the i's had been dotted in our relations with Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and other countries of the former Warsaw Pact, I thought we were we entering a new era. Perhaps, that's what everyone thought, including the deputies. Agreements were signed, which I mentioned, that NATO would not expand to the east and that we would have a single and indivisible security, and we will leave history to historians. By and large, that's what the atmosphere was like back then.

We have seen, in recent years, an actual history aggression against Russia which started long before the events of February and March 2014. Our country, the former Soviet Union, the constituent republics of which have done so much to defeat fascism, is blamed for sharing responsibility for the outbreak of World War II with Hitler. I believe the discussion that has been unfolding in recent years has been spearheaded by our Western colleagues. So, if they shamelessly distort history, if they want to see in history only what is good for them and keep silent about what their predecessors did in their high posts on the eve of World War II and shortly after World War I, then a deep study of the sources and documents is the only answer.

President Vladimir Putin focused on this subject in detail during the informal meeting of the CIS leaders in St Petersburg on December 20. I believe that a conversation about those times should be based solely on the facts. We presented the facts which in 1989 few paid attention to. Then everyone thought it was the end of history, and the West won the Cold War and everyone should recognise only the things that are beneficial to the West. It was like that, unfortunately. However, over the past 20 years of this century, we have been able to slightly change the attitude towards Russia as a country which will always be in leading strings and will never cease repenting and apologising (I mentioned this earlier). We do not deny the existence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. We are far from idealising this document. We are just showing a retrospective and, if you will, the epistemology behind it. President Putin said he was writing a large article on this subject. I think this is a useful work that will help us see history in all its aspects, not just a selected few.

Question: Mr Lavrov, I would like to hear your opinion about simplified border crossing regulations between Russia and South Ossetia. We are one people, and you are well aware of this. Family ties, transport crossings, and vehicle imports represent a major problem today on the border between South and North Ossetia. You are aware that everyone who lives there is a Russian citizen. I would like to hear what you think about this and, of course, your words of support.

Sergey Lavrov: Excuse me but are there any problems with crossing the border? We do not have visa regulations there.

Question: It's about importing vehicles and the border crossing.

Sergey Lavrov: You should ask this question to the border guards. We are only in charge of border crossing by people. Transport issues are addressed by law enforcement agencies, but there are no visa regulations.

Question: Could you briefly share with us the results of your visit to the United States, your meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump? Do you see any prospects for normalising relations with the United States and in what areas? In this regard, President Putin unequivocally stated that we are willing to renew START-3 without any conditions and to sign it any time. What is the position of the United States? Is there still hope for stability and security in this area?

Sergey Lavrov: During my visit to the United States, we discussed bilateral, regional and international items on our agenda with an emphasis on global security and strategic stability. We noted that normal interaction has resumed in some areas, albeit not a lot. Two rounds of consultations on counter-terrorism have already taken place. They started a long time ago, but were left hanging by the Obama administration. Contact between the special representatives for Afghanistan have taken place and continue − in a tripartite format − with China, and occasionally Pakistan. There are talks on Syria, both military and diplomatic. We have a channel of interaction on the Korean Peninsula. I can't say that we are making equally good progress in all these areas, but the fact that these channels are available helps us better understand each other and creates an opportunity for the United States to hear our point of view, including on the Korean Peninsula, which could take on a new dimension of crisis at any minute.

Yes, I drew attention to START-3, including in Washington during the talks with Secretary Pompeo and President Trump. What President Putin said is a direct answer to the attempts to cash in on the situation related to START-3 and to pass our questions regarding the actions taken by the United States when it takes certain carriers off the list, for our reluctance to renew START-3 and an attempt to "blame" everything on the United States. It's just the other way round. When Vladimir Putin said we were ready to renew the treaty without any preconditions and any time, in any case, before the end of the year, they lost their trump card. Now, the Americans will have to somehow state their position. They always try to drag China into the picture, but you are aware of our position. China has publicly stated that it is not interested, not willing and considers it unnecessary to participate in the talks to reduce its nuclear capacity, because it is incomparable to that of Russia or the United States. We respect this position. If the United States is convinced that there is absolutely no alternative to extending the negotiating process to other countries, then the United States should, probably, first talk directly with these countries and, second, put on paper its vision of the agenda for this kind of contact.

When Mr Pompeo and I discussed the unjust nature of the claims against us, and that we were not in the process of talking China into anything, he said that Washington was not focusing on cutting back capacity, but establishing some generally acceptable terms, transparency and rules. If so, let them put this on paper. We told them this. But we are not going to talk anyone into anything.

If the Americans accept our proposal for an unconditional renewal of the treaty, we believe the entire international community will benefit from it. We will not allow a situation where there will not be a single tool to regulate strategic stability. We can renew the treaty and continue discussions about specific steps to implement it. The United States can then, not being rushed in any way, advance its multilateral initiatives, which, to reiterate, I would like to see spelled out on paper. So far, we haven't seen any of that.

Question: We have seen international institutions, agreements and organisations deteriorate in recent years and we see that the US pullout of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has practically ruined the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which claimed that Iran had not committed any violations. We see that by declaring trade wars and the like they have played down the role of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

I could cite many other examples. Say, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) – it seems to be an international sports agency – has 14 or 15 members representing one continent, one group of countries, who can take a decision to ban an entire country from the Olympic Games, thereby reducing the authority of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). I could also mention the [US] pullout of the INF Treaty and the dismantling of the stability and security system. What do you think will happen in general to international institutions and international rules, which are trampled on and eroded every day? Good or bad, but it is a system of international rules, which all countries are supposed to observe.

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, the situation is alarming. Not only are our Western partners trying to introduce rules they have developed to replace the universal rules of international law but they are making obvious attempts to privatise the secretariats of international organisations. The most graphic illustration is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Their scandalous practices have come out now, because many conscientious experts who worked under contracts with this agency have flatly disagreed with the practice of manipulating the investigation results obtained at the site of the incident that occurred in Douma, Syria, in April 2018. The report based on the analysis made remotely, which contained plenty of remarks, like "most likely," or "we have every reason to believe," or "there is no other persuasive explanation," put all the blame on the Syrian government. If you remember, we undertook a number of measures at the time to show that the incident had been fabricated and staged. We took the "victims" of the alleged chemical attack that the White Helmets had shown on TV to The Hague. They gave a truthful account of events, which they had experienced first-hand, and their story completely refuted the White Helmets' speculation that underlie the report of the OPCW Technical Secretariat, thereby turning this secretariat into a disseminator of false information. This should not be left without a response.

Ms Matviyenko, you mentioned that WADA decisions are made by fifteen people, including eleven NATO members, as well as Australia, Japan, one African country and one Latin American country. Those behind what is happening in the OPCW represent more or less the same group of countries.

I am not saying that someone should not be held liable. Violations of doping rules do happen in Russia – we have recognised this much. That is the reason why we have radically reformed the relevant agencies – the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, and a laboratory was set up at Moscow's Lomonosov State University. But doping rules are violated in most countries too, including respected European sports powers. We all know about this. So, when all the anti-doping zeal is spent on joining the rhetoric of those who go out of their way to restrain Russia on all tracks, we have every reason to believe that this kind of action is politically-motivated. We are on the alert for the response to the Investigative Committee's report that Grigory Rodchenkov had submitted another document. That one was falsified in relation to the database, and distorted the database. Let's see how WADA will be able to openly, transparently and honestly discuss this topic. In the same way, we will look at how the OPCW, through its Technical Secretariat, will be able to openly and honestly discuss those facts that have emerged in the public space and simply debunk the myth of the Secretariat's independence and objectivity.

But the problem is much bigger. Madam Matviyenko, you were absolutely right that this trend is also observed on a number of other multilateral platforms. It is necessary to rally the international community – no matter how trite this phrase might sound – to counter such trends. It is crucial to uphold the universal norms enshrined in the UN Charter – it goes without saying – and in the various international conventions. With regard to chemical disarmament, there is the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In accordance with this Convention, any issues related to the activities of the Technical Secretariat can only be addressed by consensus. So our Western colleagues have violated this consensus, meaning the requirements of the Convention, by giving the Technical Secretariat atypical authority infringing on the prerogatives of the UN Security Council. This violated international law and established those rules that we are talking about. The decision was taken by less than 50 percent vote of the States parties to the Convention. The Convention can be changed by amending, discussing, accepting and unanimous ratifying. This is the legitimate way of doing this. Yes, it would be longer than the rigged trials that are trying to act faster by privatising the secretariats of international organisations, but in any case, only a consensus, an evolution of international law through consensus can ensure the sustainability of global development.

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