Question: Mr Lavrov, what was the last year like for Russian diplomacy?
Sergey Lavrov: The outgoing year was a difficult one for international relations, what with the growing competition for influence on the transformation of the world order. There were two obvious trends.
On the one hand, we see efforts to launch a civilised competition focused on the need for serious collective work for dealing with the rising challenges and strengthen global governance mechanisms in the common interests of all countries and based on international law and with the UN playing a central role. On the other hand, we see again attempts to gain unilateral domination of global affairs in contradiction with objective realities in order to dictate one’s control over other countries with the sole purpose of securing unilateral advantages. There were also other factors of instability, including those we continue to see in the global economy. The Eurozone and other regional crises and persisting economic inequality were used to protect one’s interests at the expense of others’ and to split apart the global economic playing field. We witnessed the launching of highly emotionally charged media campaigns, some aimed at discrediting Russia.
This instability has been further aggravated by the unprecedented growth of the terrorist threat. ISIS and other terrorist and extremist groups now control large territories in Syria and Iraq and have staged many barbarous crimes, including terrorist attacks against the citizens of Russia, the EU, the Middle East, Africa and the United States, provoking a migration exodus that spills into EU countries. The terrorists’ ultimate goal was to create a caliphate from the Atlantic to Pakistan and this represents a major threat, not only to regional, but also to international security.
Russia acted dynamically and effectively in these conditions, assuming responsibility for these global developments as one of the world’s largest countries and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Russia’s diplomatic efforts were aimed at showing leadership in mobilising the international community in the fight against terrorist aggression and at creating a broad anti-terrorist front. The resolute actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces at the request of the Syrian government have helped stop the terrorist offensive in its tracks. This has brought clarity to the general picture of recent events and now paints a different picture, one in which we see who is really fighting the extremists and who is acting as their accomplices, manipulating them for selfish geopolitical purposes, and stabbing in the back those who are truly fighting against the terrorist threat, in the same manner Turkey struck a blow to Russia.
At the same time, we have always said that terrorism cannot be defeated solely militarily, that military operations must be complemented with a political settlement of conflicts, economic assistance to revive the affected countries and continued resistance to extremist ideology. Our efforts have helped launch the so-called Vienna process, which is aimed at the facilitation of a political settlement in Syria and welcomes the assistance of all countries willing to make palpable contributions to these efforts.
We believe that solutions can be found to the most difficult of today’s problems just by relying on international law, the principles of equality, and respect for each other’s interests, by appreciating the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world and recognising the right of nations to decide their future.
These views are shared by the overwhelming majority of countries. Russia has been working consistently with its neighbours to promote integration within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). These efforts offer new vistas for fruitful cooperation over the vast Eurasian territory, including with our Asian-Pacific partners. We have reached a framework agreement on combining the EAEU project with China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, and the EAEU has signed a free trade area agreement with Vietnam.
Russia held the rotating presidency of two promising multilateral platforms, the SCO and BRICS, and the summits that were held in Ufa last July confirmed the rising prestige of these two groups and outlined their development trends. India and Pakistan have applied for the SCO full membership.
The removal of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and the reaching of a solution to Iran’s nuclear deadlock, were only achieved following difficult negotiations. These victories of diplomacy serve as evidence that serious multilateral efforts can produce a positive result. It is generally agreed that Russia has greatly contributed to the formulation of a framework for resolving Iran’s nuclear issue and to developing practical mechanisms for its implementation.
We would like a similar responsible attitude to be applied to the Ukrainian crisis, which flared up directly on Russia’s border and as a result of irresponsible US and EU actions undertaken to expand the geopolitical space under their control. It has brought innumerable suffering to the Ukrainian people and continues to poison the atmosphere in Europe. This past year, Russia has been doing everything in its power to help Ukrainians overcome their internal conflict, restore national accord and return to the path of sustainable development. The Minsk Package of Measures, which was coordinated last February with the personal involvement of President Vladimir Putin, provides a balanced and, possibly the only reasonable basis for a political settlement. It has been used to attain a ceasefire, which is being observed, in general, but with minor breaches.
Question: What are Russia’s foreign policy expectations for 2016? Do you think 2016 could be a breakthrough year in terms of resolving the Syria crisis? Is there a chance that the Minsk agreements on Ukraine will finally be implemented?
Sergey Lavrov: Problems in international affairs will not disappear overnight with the advent of the New Year. Russian diplomacy will continue to work hard to improve international relations and push to maintain a unifying and productive agenda in world politics. We are open to deepening cooperation with everyone who shares this attitude.
We will actively work with our partners in bilateral and various multilateral formats. In particular, there is an agreement to hold the 2016 Russia-ASEAN summit in Russia.
With regard to the situation in Syria, much will depend on the effectiveness of everyone’s efforts to establish coordination in fighting terrorism. We believe that in the face of this challenge it is imperative to put aside all things secondary and focus on the main danger, as nations did when they fought Nazism. What we are seeing now, though, are efforts that lack focus, which is not good for what we are trying to achieve.
The UN Security Council resolution adopted on December 18, which approved the agreements developed by the International Syria Support Group, has set the direction for joint actions, including fighting terrorists in Syria, which calls for seeing eye-to-eye on who is a terrorist and who is not, and promoting the political process. It is assumed that, based on a mutual agreement between the government and all opposition groups, Syrians must agree on how they will run their country on a non-sectarian basis, draft a new constitution, and hold elections under the supervision of the UN. This process should take about 18 months.
Syria’s future should be determined by Syrians and based on its sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. This is the key prerequisite. Most importantly, the opposition, under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, must form a collective platform and identify members to be included in its delegation. So far, no consensus among the opposition has been reached, while the Syrian government has declared its willingness to sit down and talk. All of these are difficult tasks, and they are unlikely to be resolved at one go. However, we don’t want this process to last indefinitely either. We will contribute to promoting it, based on the agreed upon benchmarks.
With regard to implementing the Minsk agreements – the Normandy Four has reached an understanding that they will continue to remain valid – a lot will depend on the effectiveness of the dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. The parties to the conflict, primarily the Ukrainian authorities, must find the political will to implement – through negotiations – the compromise decisions that are enshrined in the Minsk Package of Measures. It is senseless to impose one’s position unilaterally, let alone try to shift the blame for Kiev’s delaying the Ukrainian settlement to Russia, or even use this situation to justify the continued preposterous sanctions policy against our country. Europe is becoming increasingly aware of what’s going on, including the fact that a new attempt by Kiev to use military force – and it does nurture such plans – would have severe, tragic consequences, primarily for the Ukrainian people.
Russia will continue to work consistently to persuade the parties to resolve the conflict as soon as possible based on a clear, straightforward implementation of all of the provisions of the Minsk agreements. We hope that other states, which can influence the situation, will act accordingly. In this case, there are real chances of success.