Ladies and gentlemen, friends,
I’m very happy to greet all of you here at our traditional meeting, held at the beginning of the academic year. In 2014, MGIMO celebrated its 70th anniversary and entered a new phase of development as a recognised world-class research and education centre in international relations combining maturity and continuity with invariable vigour and a drive for self-improvement. This, of course, equally characterises the institute’s activities and each and every one of you.
Addressing an official event marking the 70th anniversary of MGIMO last year, President Vladimir Putin praised the university for training Russian diplomats and experts in related areas. He called it a flagship of the Russian higher education system and an active participant, together with the Diplomatic Academy, in the state-level decision-making process on foreign policy matters.
The President noted that MGIMO comprised numerous Russian academic schools, including those in the area of regional studies and linguistics. Let me remind you, if any of you are unaware, that MGIMO inherited the academic traditions, faculty and unique library of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies. In turn, the latter is a legal successor of the Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages. Therefore, if we look at the history of MGIMO from this angle, we can say that the university’s existing traditions of training top professionals in foreign affairs far transcend the 70-year period and go back to those of the Lazarev Institute, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary this year. Mr Torkunov, it would therefore be appropriate to think about a new date that should be celebrated and remembered.
Currently, we are witnessing an unprecedented demand for the knowledge and potential accumulated by MGIMO. I have already said that, despite all “digital revolutions”, there is an enormous need for personal negotiating skills and the culture of professional negotiations in working out compromises face to face, rather than by e-mail. Interpersonal communication is important as never before. Co-existing with others is a skill we learn at home. The institute trains students to reach agreement, to understand one’s partner, to use these skills in one’s work, including diplomacy, journalism or business, including international. If we recall the history of European diplomacy, despite all the diplomatic entanglements of the 19th century and the major part of the first half of the 20th century, foreign policy efforts inevitably led to coalitions, confronting each other, and new military alliances. Today, it is vital to harness the skills for shaping a new international system in all its aspects, including political, economic and cultural. This should be accomplished through persistent diplomatic efforts on the basis of genuine partnership, rather than as a result of disastrous military conflicts. At the same time, we must not succumb to the illusion that the world has made an unequivocal choice between the logic of cooperation and mutual consideration for each other’s interests, on the one hand, and seeking supremacy by any means possible, including the use of force, on the other. That is most certainly not so.
We are worried that though the Berlin Wall collapsed more than 25 years ago, the philosophy of dividing lines designed to create unilateral advantages that give some countries an opportunity to control developments in other countries while protecting themselves from negative external influence, still persists. If we allow these trends to develop, the growing global interdependence, which appeared to be an irreversible trend, could be turned back. I believe that globalisation, which will get a boost from rapid technological progress, is well under way, and so erecting all kinds of walls and fences, be they physical or virtual/ideological, which prevent the establishment of a common system of equal and indivisible security for all in Europe, is unlikely to serve as protection against global problems. Attempts to force arbitrary views and values on other nations, cultures and civilisations have always been made and will likely continue to be made for some time. This is increasing global concerns. The UK newspaper The Guardian recently published a statistical survey, according to which about 100 countries have taken measures to protect their internal affairs from excessive interference by foreign or foreign-controlled structures or organisations.
In our opinion, there is a simple way to overcome negative trends that are fuelled by differences of opinion and misunderstandings between people from different civilisations. We must stop talking and start acting in order to improve international relations based on the principles of the UN Charter – equality and equal rights, mutual respect, non-interference in the internal affairs of others and a peaceful settlement of disputes. If all countries respect these principles, we won’t need to hold debates on whether a new Cold War has begun or not.
By the way, a politician who did a great deal to end the Cold War, former Foreign Minister of Germany Hans-Dietrich Genscher, said the other day in an interview that we should ask ourselves what Europeans wanted when the bipolar rivalry ended: Did they want to end the division of Europe, or to move the border that divided Europe in their favour?
Those of you interested in Russia’s foreign policy know that we have been consistently supporting the consolidation of various processes, including integration processes, rather than their isolation. These principles underlie the development of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and our support for the initiative to coordinate the development of the Eurasian Economic Union with that of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt project. We are also guided by these principles when we develop the SCO and BRICS and advocate our long-term initiative on the harmonisation of integration processes in Europe and Eurasia. We advanced that initiative a long time ago. Our Western partners, who used to be lukewarm to that initiative, have recently shown a degree of interest in it, but their interest has so far been only verbal.
Overall, we call for discarding narrow egoistical calculations and joining hands to find answers to the biggest challenges currently facing us.
Today’s lack of unity among major powers could come at a cost. More and more serious politicians and researchers acknowledge that the growing terrorist threat is becoming the number one problem for countries in various regions. You are aware of what the Islamic State fighters are doing, the barbarous crimes they are committing, seeking to drive into exile everyone who refuses to adopt their radical extremist ideology. The destruction of cultural and historical monuments in Iraq, and recently in Syria’s Palmyra, shows that these people are trying to establish their rule across a vast territory and are consciously undermining the very foundation of universal human culture. I think that the objective of protecting cultural landmarks in accordance with the relevant UN convention of 1954 is quite relevant. I also believe that we must devise within UNESCO specific steps to make sure that the international community shares this view.
We greatly appreciate the contribution by MGIMO and the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry to promoting international academic contacts and cooperation with universities across the world. In October, MGIMO will host the BRICS Global University Summit, which will include several dozen events, breakout and plenary sessions.
It is gratifying to see that the new tradition of holding international forums of MGIMO alumni has taken hold. The first event of this kind was held in Baku, and the second one took place last year here in Moscow. The third forum is expected to be held this year in Yerevan. I strongly believe that countries beyond Russia’s neighbouring states will be also interested in hosting MGIMO alumni forums.
In conclusion, I would like to note that the MGIMO University’s Rector, Anatoly Torkunov, celebrated his 65th birthday a couple of days ago. I would like to take this opportunity to convey my sincere congratulations on this occasion. Mr Torkunov has made an invaluable contribution to developing our alma mater, and continues to steer the university towards new success with a lot of commitment and professionalism. My congratulations to all of you on having such an experienced leader who is on the same page as today’s youth.
Question: The SCO and BRICS summits took place in Ufa this year. Russia’s interest in this cooperation format is clearly on the rise. Which priorities, do you think, are BRICS and the SCO facing, and what are Russia’s goals as part of these organisations?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already briefly touched upon this issue. In these formats, as well as in any other configurations, our goal is to promote international cooperation across all spheres where we have shared interests and good prospects for deriving mutual benefits for our respective nations in terms of socioeconomic development, better access to innovative technology, transport solutions and infrastructure projects that facilitate and make economic, cultural and other forms of communication more effective.
The SCO originated as an organisation primarily designed to secure the borders of its founding states, including most of the Central Asian countries, China and Russia. The goal of ensuring stability and security in the region remains one of the key areas of its activity. The SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure was created, which we now propose be transformed into a more comprehensive facility to combat not only terrorism but drug trafficking and organised crime as well.
We conduct joint anti-terrorist exercises, focusing particularly on countering threats emanating from Afghanistan. These threats intensified after the bulk of the western peacekeeping coalition had withdrawn from Afghanistan without overcoming the challenges that they planned to address. Thus, the Islamic State group has already made itself at home in Afghanistan, including in its northern regions near the borders with our allies, such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which is a cause of particular concern for us. The SCO is involved in addressing these issues as well, including with the participation of Afghanistan, which is part of the SCO as an observer nation and strives to become a full member.
The SCO has taken a major step toward promoting economic cooperation. We’ve created financial instruments and are working on promising projects that build on the geographical unity of this organisation. I have already mentioned the initiative of combining the work under the EAEC Eurasian economic integration process with the activities that are being carried out under China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative.
We believe that the SCO is the best available platform to make such a combination happen and to expand the number of its participants. These initiatives are not off-limits to anyone. Rather, they are transparent and open to participation by other countries. In the context of transparency and openness, I’d like to mention a critical decision adopted at the SCO summit in Ufa: the beginning of the accession of India and Pakistan to the SCO as official full members. Of course, this will add substantial political weight to the SCO, but, most importantly, it will make all the SCO projects within its geopolitical space more effective in terms of infrastructure, economy and above all, energy.
Besides Russia and China, no other BRICS nations share a common border. BRICS is a one-of-a-kind association, which includes countries from all five continents: Eurasia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. We hope that this association will continue to perform its primary function. It was formed to uphold the interests of these “new countries” in the framework of international financial relations, including the IMF and the World Bank. It’s not some whim but a reflection of objective reality.
Since 1990, the share of the United States, the EU, and Japan in the global GDP has decreased sharply, whereas the share of the BRICS economies, if I’m not mistaken, has grown from 7.7 percent to 22 percent – that is, it has tripled. The share of BRICS in the global GDP has grown at the expense of a comparable reduction in the share of the United States, the EU and Japan. Of course, this trend must be reflected in the mechanisms created after World War II in order to regulate global economy and finance.
This trend also calls for reforming the IMF, and the BRICS countries are actively pushing for the implementation of the decisions taken by the Group of Twenty back in 2010. These decisions are now being blocked exclusively by the United States, which cites the position of the US Congress, which is allegedly reluctant to ratify the reform.
We must look for alternative solutions. This is just one example, but the goal of consolidating our mutual positions and improving solidarity with an eye towards reforming the international monetary and financial system to make it more equitable remains high on our list of priorities within BRICS. In parallel, BRICS is promoting cooperation in specific industries. There are over 10 sectoral dialogues on transport and agriculture; mechanisms, such as the Youth Summit, the Humanities Summit, which brings together civil communities, and the Business Summit, are up and running. The Virtual University of the SCO and BRICS is being formed, and more. BRICS has created the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement.
These mechanisms will be backed by one hundred billion dollars each, which will allow BRICS to act more independently and effectively in implementing the projects that are deemed mutually beneficial by its association members.
Over the past three to four years, documents have been adopted at ministerial meetings of the BRICS nations (the next one will be held in New York in September as part of the UN General Assembly) and BRICS summits. These documents reinforce our common approaches to key international policy issues, including with regard to the Middle East, and certainly, our negative attitude toward unilateral sanctions.
They also emphasise the need for comprehensive strengthening of international law in general, and respecting the UN Charter principles of non-interference in internal affairs. These approaches are enshrined in the documents adopted by recent BRICS summits both fundamentally and as they apply to ongoing crises and conflicts. The foreign policy dimension of the activities of this unique association is also important.
We're satisfied with the outcomes of the past summits. Our presidency has led to tangible results, and we are continuing to work on the agenda under the leadership of our partners.
Question: Over the past year, ISIS has significantly consolidated its foothold in Syria and Iraq, and international efforts have failed to produce tangible, clear-cut results. Are effective coalition actions against ISIS possible under the present circumstances? When do you think the organisation’s activity can be terminated?
Sergey Lavrov: The answer to the second question directly depends on whether effective action can be taken like you mentioned, that is, the effective pooling of the efforts of all those who reject the ideology and practice of the so-called Islamic State. As you know, the terrorists have proclaimed as their goal the creation of a caliphate from Portugal to Pakistan, including seizing Islamic holy places in Saudi Arabia – Mecca and Medina, and their destruction, as they symbolise the “wrong” kind of Islam, just as Christian and other shrines are being destroyed in Iraq, Syria and other countries in this vast region.
This evil should be fought, but it should be fought with consistency, avoiding double standards. We have warned from day one that courting extremists for the sake of achieving narrow, selfish geopolitical objectives will lead to no good. As you know, this story began in the last quarter of the 20th century in Afghanistan, when the so-called Mujahideen were supported in the confrontation with the Soviet Union, leading to the creation of Al Qaeda, which boomeranged on September 11, 2001 in Manhattan where terrorist groups seized two airplanes and hit the twin towers. Then a decision to eliminate Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was made, since he was perceived as a dictator and a tyrant, who did not listen to his Western colleagues. So they came up with a pretext – the purported presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The suspicions were serious enough, well substantiated; a UN commission had worked for years, and just when the commission said they needed another two months for final conclusions to be made, our impatient Western colleagues said it was impossible to wait any longer and called a UN Security Council meeting. My very good friend, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, showed everyone a test tube with some white powder, saying that it contained anthrax, that arguing was inappropriate and that a war should be started against Saddam Hussein. At that time, Russia, Germany and France wouldn’t allow it; the UN Security Council measured up to its responsibility and did not sanction a war under this far-fetched pretext. By the way, in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, US Ambassador to Russia John Tefft said recently that they made a mistake in Iraq and acknowledged it. It was not a mistake. Yes, Colin Powell was misled when he was given a tube with a white powder and told that it was anthrax. However, those who gave him the tube knew very well that it contained a harmless powder, maybe tooth powder. It was not a mistake; it was a deliberate act. This is history now.
Anyway, Saddam Hussein was toppled. Today, Iraq is just barely able to remain within its borders, as centrifugal trends are very strong. Following Hussein’s overthrow, the Americans drove away all Baath party members, mainly Sunnis, who had constituted the army, the security service and law enforcement agencies. All defense, security and law enforcement agencies, which were the buttress of state order, collapsed. The majority of officers who served in Hussein’s army are now fighting in the ranks of ISIS simply because they are paid well, and they are very well trained military officers. So, this is yet another source of Islamic State’s strength.
Then our NATO colleagues, much to our regret, grossly abused the UN Security Council mandate on the Libya settlement. Instead of patrolling Libyan airspace (and this is precisely what the UN Security Council resolution authorised), they started bombing Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces and providing air support to the extremists who constituted the core of Libyan army opponents. As you know, the former Libyan leader was eliminated as a result and subsequently, the extremists, who had been armed by our Western and some other partners, went to another dozen countries, including Mali, where the situation is still unsettled. ISIS seized not only significant parts of Iraq and Syria, but is also active in Libya.
Now, as then, in the interest of liquidating Hussein and Qaddafi, massive indiscriminate support has been provided to all forces, including the most rabid extremists, who are ready to help oust the dictator, and attempts are being made to ensure that the international community give top priority to toppling, eliminating or removing Syrian President Bashar Assad from power on the grounds that he is purportedly illegitimate. First of all, he is legitimate because he is an elected president of a UN member state. If you need confirmation, I would like to recall that two years ago, our initiative, proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to US President Barack Obama on the chemical demilitarisation of Syria, was put into practice; decisions were made within the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which welcomed Syria’s accession to this Convention under President Bashar Assad’s leadership, as well as of a UN Security Council resolution that also welcomed Bashar Assad’s cooperation with the international community in eliminating chemical agents. It cannot be that Assad’s regime is legitimate for the purpose of eliminating chemical weapons but not legitimate for the purpose of fighting terrorism. This is illogical.
This approach, adopted by our Western colleagues, harms the general cause. The fact is that the coalition that the US has created to fight the Islamic State aims to deliver airstrikes on the positions of this terrorist group, as was stated, in Iraq and Syria. They reached an agreement with Iraq, although a formal agreement was not published, but at least there is conclusive evidence that Baghdad is cooperating with this operation. As for the Syrians, they did not even attempt to agree with them. “Assad is illegitimate so we will simply bomb the territories where the Islamic State is based, and will caution the Syrians against preventing us from doing so.” We don’t understand why this initiative to fight ISIS could not have been formulated through the UN Security Council in contact with and with the consent not only of the Iraqi government, but also the Syrian government, which is now – considering the Syrian Army – the most viable force that is standing up to ISIS on the ground. It is clear to everyone that this evil cannot be defeated with airstrikes, so Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the course of his meetings with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Syrian Foreign Minister Wallid Muallem in the last couple of months, put forth proposals to the effect that all those who understand the extremely serious danger posed by the Islamic State and other terrorist groups should pool their efforts, coordinate their actions, not stand in each other’s way and, most importantly, avoid clashes. This refers, above all, to the Syrian and Iraqi armies, Kurdish militias in Syria and Iraq, and Syrian opposition units, which consist of Syrian citizens, not mercenaries. Of course, it would be important to coordinate all of this with coalition activity, including airstrikes on ISIS positions and the participation of countries in the region that provide financial and other support to various Syrian opposition groups. If we remove the counterproductive demand for President Assad’s resignation from this equation as a precondition for fighting terrorism, which is now present in the position of some of our partners, we will be able to work effectively. This is precisely the objective of President Putin’s initiative, which we are actively promoting in our contacts with Persian Gulf states, the United States and the Europeans.
Question: Recently, Europe has been swept by the largest post-WWII wave of refugees from the Middle East. Germany didn’t even rule out the possibility of leaving the Schengen area to minimise the number of illegal migrants. What mechanisms should the international community develop to curb the influx of refugees?
Sergey Lavrov: I would point out two things: measures that need to be taken right away, because this problem is growing every day, and the systemic nature of the problem. These migration patterns didn’t come out of the blue, but are the outcome of specific actions taken, primarily, by the countries where the refugees are now headed. I’m referring to what happened and continues to happen in Iraq, Libya, and, of course, Syria. This region, particularly Libya, has been turned into a grey area. This is a vast territory without a single government. There’s an internationally recognised government in the city of Tobruk, but there’s also an unrecognised one in Tripoli. Some regions of that country have been taken over by the Islamic State groups, while other parts of the country are controlled by the rebels who aren’t accountable to anyone and aren’t controlled by anyone. This grey, perhaps, already black hole is very convenient for channeling illegal immigrants to Europe, in fact, from all African countries, not just North Africa. This is what’s happening if we are talking about the reasons. The crisis in Syria and the willfulness of those who believe that Bashar al-Assad’s stepping down as a prerequisite for a political settlement is more important than fighting the Islamic State −this is what’s exacerbating the situation in Europe.
In this regard, and as part of our presidency in the UN Security Council, we proposed holding a special ministerial meeting of the UN Security Council on the subject, "International peace and security: Aspects of various conflicts and the terrorist threat in the Middle East and North Africa" on September 30. We must discuss these things and agree that cooperation with extremist and radical forces is unacceptable.
All of that applies not only to the above-mentioned region. I’m talking about yesterday's developments in Kiev. The Freedom Party extremists who, according to Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, killed a National Guard member and wounded dozens of civilians. Its statute enshrines the commitment to the documents of the Ukrainian nationalists, who, in 1941, backed the Nazi order in Europe. When, during the parliamentary elections in Ukraine in 2012, the Freedom Party won a few votes and was represented in the Verkhovna Rada, the EU made a special statement calling on Ukrainian politicians not to cooperate with this extremist, in fact, glaringly nationalist party. No one paid attention to it in Ukraine at that time. Following the coup, when the Freedom Party became part of the coalition, we reminded our European colleagues what they said about this extremist group a few years ago. No one denied that this was the case. But everyone was trying to convince us that with Ukraine everything would be just fine. As my French colleague publicly stated, "there’s no drama in the Freedom Party becoming part of the coalition, because, according to its current beliefs, it’s moving closer to the political mainstream." The Freedom Party showed what the "political mainstream" is all about, perhaps, in the minds of the Ukrainians.
Flirting with extremists is always a bad idea no matter where. This applies to the Freedom Party and the Right Sector. We see that any attempts to bring these radicals to reason ends in lax policies towards them, rather than them abandoning their unacceptable and anti-European, in terms of values, ways.
Returning to the Middle East, the talks must be comprehensive. Ignoring the roots that are behind the growth of political groups such as, primarily, ISIS, is not an option. By the same token, you can’t try to bend the truth. Some American pundits claim that if it were not for dictators, there would be no Islamic State. However, the story behind its creation is not that complicated. There are quite a few American analysts and experts who say that many of the current leaders of this terrorist group (they are known by their names, including Mr Baghdadi) were in US custody in Afghanistan, and were later released after serving a sentence for the crimes that the American administration charged them with. Since then, they have been actively recruiting supporters in the region and doing some actual work. We are not saying this to point to someone who we think is guilty, and say that we told you so in advance. This is not part of our interest. We don’t want to gloat and constantly blame someone. We want one thing: everyone who realises the serious threat posed by ISIS should choose their priorities. As a matter of fact, there’s one priority, which is to combine efforts now and postpone everything else for later. I hope that we will be heard. At least, the reaction of our American and European colleagues, as well as the growing number of the Gulf countries, and other countries in the region, tells us that they are beginning to understand what’s more important: far-fetched ultimatums regarding a Syrian settlement, or working together to fight this common scourge.
At the same time, no one is saying that complying with the agreements to resolve the Syrian crisis is not necessary. We are actively engaged in this work. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Syrian opposition members. Our goal is to bring various opposition groups together on a constructive platform for a dialogue with the government led by Bashar al-Assad in order to develop mutually acceptable arrangements regarding Syria’s political future. This concept is not being rejected by anyone. The words I just cited were written in the 2012 Geneva communique on the Syrian settlement. More and more countries are beginning to realise that it’s important to have all the opposition members sit at the negotiating table. We held two such meetings in Moscow in February and in April. In April, the Moscow Platform was adopted, which was welcomed by many, even those who didn’t participate in these negotiations. Similar efforts were made by our Egyptian friends. We are closely coordinating our activities with them. Recently, a meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States was held in Doha, where we also agreed that at this stage our common task is to unite the opposition groups on a constructive platform where they must be willing to start a dialogue with the government of Bashar al-Assad in order to reach an agreement on Syria’s future, including any possible reforms, common laws, etc. based on mutual consent. So, working in parallel on fighting terrorism and reaching a political settlement in Syria should be seen as a natural combination, which should satisfy everyone’s interests and provide a common foundation for cooperation.
Question: Speaking at the Territory of Meanings youth forum last week, you said that Russia is receiving signals from the United States on resuming the dialogue. On what terms are we prepared to respond?
Sergey Lavrov: Very simple. On the terms that can exist between two self-respecting countries. Mutual respect for equitable positions, and giving attention to and taking into account each other’s interests. No other terms are necessary. Most of the mechanisms created over the past four or five years have been frozen by our American partners, who decided to punish us. I mean, above all, the Presidential Commission that comprised 20 working groups. Channels for cooperation and the implementation of joint projects were functioning in nearly all spheres of interstate relations, from space research and nuclear security to humanitarian and youth exchanges, and so on. But you can’t win love by force. Even so, if they return to a mutually respectful dialogue, we won’t be found wanting.
Question: The MGIMO and the Diplomatic Academy are under the auspices of the Russian Foreign Ministry. President Vladimir Putin rightfully called them the smithy of Russian diplomacy. Are the Government, and the Foreign Ministry in particular, considering new projects to train future top-class diplomats?
Sergey Lavrov: I have never thought about that, as it has always seemed to us that the Diplomatic Academy and the MGIMO raised the bar very high. And I even hesitated, as I can’t think of any contemporary form of education or staff training that hasn’t already been used at the MGIMO and the Diplomatic Academy. If you have ideas that escaped the attention of their rectors and academic boards and of the Foreign Ministry, we would be glad to hear them.
Question: Could differences emerge between Russia and its allies after their common goals within BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) have been achieved?
Sergey Lavrov: As regards national interests, never in any alliance, whether economic or military, do theycoincide 100 percent. Every country has its own economic structure (if we speak of integration processes in the EAEU), degree of development, historical peculiarities and economic specialisation. Every country builds ties with external markets in its own way. But that’s precisely what integration projects are intended for – to provide a package of compromises from which everyone will gain. I am sure that the existing agreements – more than a hundred documents forming the basis of the EAEU, and earlier, of the Customs Union – have been verified to such an extent and are so understandable to specialists that it’s hard to doubt that all this meets the interests of the countries that founded this alliance or joined it later. I am convinced that this is a promising project. True, the situation on the world markets, above all, the raw materials markets, and currency fluctuations do not make it possible to use the advantages of this integration in full measure and slow down these processes at the foreseeable stage. Yet, I have no doubt that the foundations that have been laid and the additional agreements that have been drawn up and adopted are very promising and meet the long-term interests of our countries.
As I already said, our Chinese friends have shown interest. Special contacts are under way between the EAEU commission and China. On a broader scale, as I already mentioned, there is the Chinese Silk Road Economic Belt project in the context of tangency with integration processes in the EAEU and across this space as a whole. There is a role for the SCO here, too. If we look at the situation from a broader perspective, we’ll see that the Eurasian economic integration processes align with Asia-Pacific integration initiatives, and there are lots of them. in the East, and with the EU integration project in the West. Who knows, if countries put aside some of their political ambitions and preliminary political terms, stop taking advice from those who are far from this region and are guided by their own vitally important national interests, then I do not rule out that in the future (not the immediate one), a discussion on creating such harmonising circles united by a common goal is quite possible. Conceptually, we have long been backing this approach. In the past, Charles de Gaulle used to talk of a single Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals, and we, in the past few decades, have been talking of a single Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. This is no longer rejected as a utopia by our European partners. So far, things haven’t moved as far as substantive talks, but, as you see, there is no lack of ideas here. What’s important is to begin discussing them professionally, without political bias, on the basis of the balance of interests of all countries included in these structures.
Question: What are the chances that the Minsk Agreements will be implemented, considering the recent talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande and the overall situation?
Sergey Lavrov: This is, of course, of course, the most sensitive issue in European policy, something we didn’t initiate. The course of that crisis is well known; it has been traced more than once in the minutest detail. Simply put, here it is: an internal political crisis in late 2013, Maidan, demonstrations, clashes, calls for ending these clashes made by all sides, and finally an agreement signed between the [Ukrainian] president and the opposition, as well as by the foreign ministers of three foreign states. The next morning that agreement was trampled on, instead of the national unity government it provided for, there was a “government of winners,” which included Oleg Tyagnibok, the leader of the Svoboda (Freedom) party that Europeans had considered to be politically undesirable but reconciled themselves to the fact that it became part of the new Ukrainian authorities, even though one of the active members of that party had killed a person and wounded many more the day before. That’s it. It was a state coup that started with the parliament’s refusal to honour laws on the language rights of minorities. A bill to this effect was not signed, but it was voted on. One of the minority languages is Russian, which cannot be described as a minority language because the majority of people in Ukraine think in Russia or speak Russian. Then there was Crimea, where the Right Sector leader, Dmitry Yarosh, sent “friendship trains,” as he described them, with armed people. Next came an attempt to seize the Supreme Council of Crimea. These are cold facts. When people in Crimea and southeastern Ukraine said that they didn’t recognise the results of the coup and wanted their traditions to be respected, Kiev appointed its emissaries as governors or heads of so-called “military administrations.” In response, the people in these territories elected their own governors. They didn’t attack anyone: Donetsk and Lugansk didn’t declare war on anyone; they simply elected people’s governors and said they wanted to live differently, without discrimination against the Russian language or other languages, without forgetting their culture and May 9, Victory Day. This day is no longer marked in Western Ukraine, and the new government has reaffirmed that they will celebrate the birthdays of Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevich, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) Day, the army that massacred Poles [during WWII]. The people in Donbass said they wanted to decide how they will live. It was not they who started the war.
I remember that when Maidan was seething before an agreement was signed between Vladimir Yanukovich and the opposition, Western countries and NATO defence ministers made many statements urging President Yanukovich not to use the army against the people, and he didn’t. He didn’t order the use of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against the protesters. There were only police and the Berkut and other special police, and they weren’t even armed. There were provocations and sharpshooters who shot both at Berkut and at protesters. They were shooting from a building where the Maidan headquarters was located, the building where [Euromaidan Commandant] Andrei Paruby was seen. That story, which a commission of the Council of Europe was allowed to help investigate, has yet to be unravelled. Frankly, I doubt the truth will be established in this case, the same as in the case of the Odessa massacre on May 2, 2014. I doubt this very much. So far, only members of the so-called Anti-Maidan group have been arrested, while those who were taped shooting at the people who tried to escape from the burning building have disappeared.
Immediately after the coup, when the new government learned that Donbass and Crimea did not recognise it, it launched the so-called anti-terrorist operation. We asked our Western colleagues if they could urge the new authorities not to use the army against the people, just as they did in the case of Yanukovich. They didn’t reply, and later they made public statements urging the new Ukrainian government to continue to use military force in the anti-terrorist operation, which they accepted as such, “proportionately.” How do you like this? This is absolute hypocrisy. When I talk about this with my Western colleagues, they look away. In other words, they urged Yanukovich not to use the army against the people and he didn’t, but they didn’t use the same influence with the new Kiev government, which came to power through a coup. Instead, the Kiev government was allowed to use the army against the people and was only urged to do so “proportionately.” Who will determine the proportion? Well, you know.
It took a lot of effort to switch the situation onto a more or less political track, although President Pyotr Poroshenko after his election confirmed the order to continue the anti-terrorist operation instead of bringing peace as he had promised. (As he always says, “I am a president of peace.”) There was fierce fighting last August, and it was only after the Ukrainian army met with stiff resistance and sustained heavy losses that it agreed to sit down to the negotiating table. The first Minsk Agreements were signed at that time (September 5, 2014). But on September 15, the European Union, though admitting Russia’s contribution to the signing of the September 2014 Minsk Agreements, introduced additional sanctions. Asked whether this constituted their attitude towards the political process, they couldn’t say anything of substance in reply. Later it transpired that the procedure for imposing the sanctions had been a backroom affair. Many EU presidents and prime ministers were simply unaware of what Brussels was doing on their behalf. Today the authorities in Kiev publicly declare that the sanctions approved in September of last year will be extended because Russia is not implementing the Minsk Agreements. Possibly this is what Ukrainian President Poroshenko tried to arrange with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande. We focus on the theme of sanctions only from the point of view of Russia being prepared, internally, for these sorts of “kinks” on the part of our Western partners, so that we don’t depend on them in areas of vital importance for our country and our citizens.
For a while, the first Minsk Agreements helped to take the edge off the confrontation. But in January, the Ukrainian army, regrettably, was given another order to try to modify the front line, or line of contact, whatever you want to call it, by force. It met with a severe rebuff and Kiev again expressed its willingness to sit down at the negotiating table. It was then that the main Minsk Agreements, the so-called Minsk-2 Agreement, came into effect. This document was negotiated for almost 17 hours with the personal involvement of the presidents of Russia, France, and Ukraine, and the German chancellor. This document is not just yet another political whim; it has been approved by a UN Security Council resolution. This is not a situation where a political declaration can be somehow “dragged out.”
We have examples where political declarations adopted at top levels were later not worth anything. I mean, specifically, understandings to the effect that no one will strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others, which were reached within the framework of the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council. These were political declarations. When the US missile defence system came to be developed and it became clear that the European segment of this US antimissile defence system would affect our security, we produced these facts and suggested that the political declaration on the indivisibility and equal nature of security for all be translated into the language of legally binding obligations. But they turned us down flat. Then we suggested signing a special treaty. Although a political declaration was in place, our partner – NATO – refused even to discuss this treaty.
Yet another political declaration came into being when the Russia-NATO Council was established in 1997. We came to terms on the permanent non-deployment of substantial combat forces in the territory of new NATO members. The case in point was again a political declaration. We have come to realise in recent years, long before the Ukraine crisis, that our NATO neighbours have held exercises that became permanent and moved their combat units up to our borders by rotating them in the territory of new NATO members. We voiced our concerns and suggested devising a solution. They replied: “These are not substantial combat forces.” We asked: “What forces are substantial?” And we heard in reply: “OK, let’s not go into detail for the time being.” Then we proposed a legally binding agreement between Russia and NATO, which would formulate the parameters of what could be regarded as substantial combat forces in terms of personnel strength and types of weapons. They didn’t even want to talk to us. Therefore, we have a political declaration, but no legal obligations.
I cited these examples to show that the Minsk Agreements are somewhat different. Yes, there was a political declaration adopted in Minsk, but there’s also a UN Security Council resolution, which unanimously approved, without any amendments, the Minsk Agreements of February 12. The Minsk Agreements spell out everything clearly, and it’s hard to distort the content, as is the case now with the constitutional reform. All you have to do is sit down and read what’s written in the Minsk document. It says that amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine with regard to Donbass must be agreed upon with the leaders of these territories and must include specific decentralisation provisions. These provisions were formulated personally by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande in Minsk. They include the Russian language and special economic arrangements for these regions, as well as their involvement in appointing public prosecutors for their territories and the right to create a people's militia, and more. The Minsk document says that all this should be enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine upon agreement with Donetsk and Lugansk. Instead, there’s a phrase, which is included in the Transitional Provisions section, to the effect that some Ukrainian regions may have special local government procedures, and that the remaining provisions will become invalid several years later. Perhaps, this obscure hint on what’s promised to these territories will follow the same path. Instead of blurry and vague promises, the Kiev government must include detailed provisions on self-government and special status for these Donbass regions. I reiterate, this is not a political declaration that can be ignored or circumvented. This is the UN Security Council resolution, a binding international obligation. This is something to take seriously.
We advocate full compliance with the Minsk Agreements without any exceptions or tricks. We are ready to provide our assistance in these matters. We are doing our best to, despite the absolutely arrogant position adopted by Kiev, make sure that Donetsk and Lugansk remain at the negotiating table and stick with the Minsk Agreements, which are designed to preserve the integrity of Ukraine and uphold the rights of the people of Donbass.
We understand the internal political difficulties and the opinions that are made public in the Verkhovna Rada, including the allegations that other regions of Ukraine deserve more authority. However, this is subject to political negotiation. We are willing to help in these matters and make our resources available, if need be. We have good relations with certain regions of Ukraine. Other countries have excellent relations with Kiev and various political forces in the Verkhovna Rada.
I’m confident that if the Western countries, which have a decisive influence on official Kiev, gathered all these political forces (so that the United States and the European Union do so in unison), and strongly advised them to behave as agreed, then I’m convinced nothing like yesterday's outrageous developments, would have ever happened, and that the Minsk Agreements will be complied with. But the chances are still there.
Another telephone conversation and a Skype conference with the subgroups on security and political issues of the Contact Group will be held today. The subgroup on political issues will meet next week as well. We suggested holding a Normandy format meeting of foreign ministers (Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany) within the next 10 to 12 days as a follow-up to the telephone conversation between President Putin and President Poroshenko, and President Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel to focus on the negotiability of all parties to the Minsk agreements and to seek ways to overcome the existing obstacles. We look forward to a positive response from our partners. At least in a conversation with President Putin, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Hollande have strongly supported this idea.