Question: It is generally recognised that with Yevgeny Primakov’s appointment as foreign minister of the Russian Federation, the country’s foreign policy acquired a new identity and consistency, while diplomats regained their dignity. Do you agree with this? What can you say about your work at that time?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe that in the not so distant future, historians will formulate the concept of a Primakov Doctrine. His arrival at the Russian Foreign Ministry brought about a U-turn in the nation's foreign policy: it got out of the rut into which its Western partners had tried to push it after the disintegration of the USSR, and embarked on an independent course. This is the main thing, but certainly not the only thing that Yevgeny Primakov accomplished. He is also the author of our foreign policy principle, which had been followed in the Russian Empire and in the USSR, but disappeared in the post-Soviet era (in the first half of the 1990s), namely, the multi-vector principle, in particular, the striving to develop mutually beneficial relations with all countries that are interested in this, and abandoning the approach where the eastern and southern vectors of Russia’s foreign policy were undervalued.
Remember that Yevgeny Primakov first set forth the idea of strengthening cooperation in the Russia-India-China (RIC) troika format, which jump-started the evolution of geopolitical structures advocating multi-polarity and the formation of a polycentric world, where all positions and rights are distributed in line with a [country’s] actual economic and financial weight, as well as political clout. RIC became a pioneer in this respect. Eventually, BRIC was formed when Russia, India and China were joined by Brazil, and now it is BRICS, with the participation of the Republic of South Africa. There is a growing number of countries lining up to join this organisation as full-fledged members or as dialogue partners.
Question: How did you personally become aware of the new trends that came with Yevgeny Primakov’s arrival at the Foreign Ministry?
Sergey Lavrov: I had met Yevgeny Primakov before he joined the Foreign Ministry, so I personally had no doubts about the kind of policy he would pursue. It did not come as a surprise to me. Quite the contrary, I was sure that the policy course would acquire the features that Yevgeny Primakov had given it. Honestly, all the Russian ambassadors were enthusiastic about his appointment. We were very proud that dignity had returned to our foreign policy activity.
Question: We know that he changed a good deal in the Ministry, in particular, removing some extraneous organisations from the building. What can you say about this?
Sergey Lavrov: At that time, I worked in New York, and I'm not familiar with the details. I know that an “amicable divorce” agreement was reached with the then-Foreign Trade Ministry and its successor, the Economic Development Ministry, which now has its own premises, while the entire high-rise on Smolenskaya Square is used by the Foreign Ministry. We were scattered around [the city], and it was important to have all the employees in one building. As you know, now a new structure has been built next to the Ministry’s main building, so it is now very comfortable for our employees to work there.
Question: Is there anything in the Ministry building or in your office that was done on Yevgeny Primakov’s watch?
Sergey Lavrov: The corridors and lobbies in the Ministry building were renovated, and the old, unsafe elevators were replaced. He did not touch anything in the Minister’s office, nor did Igor Ivanov change anything after him, and I, too, do not allow anything to be touched, because this is history. It is extremely important to preserve the building’s original interior design, which, without a doubt, is of great architectural value.
Question: Are there any funny stories or tales related to Yevgeny Primakov’s work?
Sergey Lavrov: We never told any stories about him. Behind his back, we referred to him as Maksimych [using the informal form of his patronymic], but he knew this. The great respect [we felt] for this man showed through literally in everything, even in the discussions that we conducted in his absence, discussing his assignments, how we should carry them out, whether we would make it on time, and so on.
Question: Was he an exacting boss?
Sergey Lavrov: A fair one.
Question: What does Yevgeny Primakov mean to you personally?
Sergey Lavrov: It’s a phenomenon not only in our foreign policy but in the Russian state, because after Yevgeny Primakov was tapped for the Russian Government, he made a decisive contribution to overcoming the consequences of the 1998 default and crisis. This is recognised universally. His government closed a big hole, and made it possible to stabilise the country. His arrival at the Russian Foreign Ministry helped stabilise foreign policy, and make it stable and independent, while his Cabinet stint, albeit short, had a favourable impact on the country.