First of all, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to speak once again as part of Government Hour in the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.
We at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appreciate your attention to our work and our efforts to implement Russia’s foreign policy course that has been approved by President of Russia Vladimir Putin. I would like to emphasise that close interaction between the Foreign Ministry and parliament, the relevant committees of the State Duma and the Federation Council, offers an opportunity not just to coordinate our approaches to the key issues on the international agenda, but also to make the joint efforts of the executive and legislative branches of power maximally effective for strengthening Russia’s position in global affairs.
You are aware, of course, of our assessments of the international situation that have been recently voiced several times by President Putin, including during his recent visits to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Greece and also at the ASEAN-Russia summit in Sochi. President Putin spoke frankly, stressing the importance of curbing the growth of the global conflict potential and reaffirming Russia’s willingness to work together with all other countries on a modern non-bloc system of international security.
International relations have reached a turning point in their development, marked by the rise of a new polycentric architecture. It is an objective trend that reflects the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world, the rise and strengthening of new centres of power and influence and the natural desire of nations to freely determine their future. At the same time, global competition is growing stronger and its results will largely determine the contours of the future world order.
Against the backdrop of growing terrorist threats, regional conflicts and persisting economic instability, we see our Western partners, led by the United States, redoubling their efforts to achieve global domination.
The recent developments have shown the illusory nature of these plans. It is obvious that no state, not even the world’s most powerful state, and no group of countries, can hope to be able to deal with the numerous modern problems alone.
What we need in this situation is collective diplomatic efforts, based on true equality among the main international actors, in the interests of finding the best answers to common threats and challenges.
This foreign policy philosophy and practice is being implemented in Russia, which is protecting its national interests in a situation where the United States and its allies are trying to create a “deterrence front” against Russia based on Cold War precepts. But they can no longer refuse to admit the importance of working together with Russia and the relevance of Russia’s stance on current issues.
When speaking at the UN in September of last year, President Putin proposed creating a broad counterterrorism front under the UN auspices and based on the solid foundation of international law.
Putting this initiative into practice, our Aerospace Forces, which were deployed in Syria at the request of the Syrian Government, fought jointly with the Syrian army and militiamen to disrupt the extremists’ plans of creating a bridgehead in that strategic region of the Middle East.
It took our partners time to see the seriousness of the challenge from ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other similar organisations, as well as the importance of coordinating efforts in the fight against them. Eventually, practical cooperation was established. The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) has been created with Russia and the United States as co-chairs, and the UN Security Council has adopted decisions approving a comprehensive plan that provides for a ceasefire, humanitarian access to civilians in the besieged regions and a political process without any preconditions or foreign interference.
Russia will continue to pursue an ambitious, independent and responsible policy based on the priority of international law, collective solutions to international problems with the central role of the UN, and recognition of nations’ right to self-determination.
We have been working at the UN, BRICS, the SCO, the G20 and other multilateral platforms to advocate a unifying agenda and balanced global politics. We are always open for equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries and integration associations that desire this too.
But make no mistake: We will defend the security of our country and people in any conditions.
More attempts are being made to put pressure on us, to encourage anti-Russian campaigns in a bid to force us to abandon our views on the world order, views that are based on our principles and values. We see attempts to tighten discipline in the trans-Atlantic region at our expense and simultaneously to undermine the positions of Russia as a rival on the energy and arms markets.
We will not be involved in confrontation with the United States, NATO or the EU. It is obvious that confrontation and zero sum geopolitical games are hindering the world’s movement towards stability and development and are generating crises such as the one in Ukraine. We hope the West has seen the dangers of pandering to radical nationalists and will put pressure on Kiev to implement the Minsk Agreements of February 12, 2015 through direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk. We are ready to work together towards this goal and to help create favourable conditions for dealing with the challenges that are plaguing Ukraine.
Conflicts in the CIS, just as in any other region, may be settled solely by peaceful means, that is, political, diplomatic and other non-military methods. This applies to the crisis in Ukraine and the problems of Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh. The main point is to respect the agreements achieved by the sides involved and to prevent them from being revised.
We are convinced that it would be much easier to settle all these crises if systemic defects were overcome in pan-European cooperation, and if the persisting dividing lines were eliminated. We are urging all countries to work toward the creation of a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which will rest on equal and indivisible security. Harmonisation of European and Eurasian integration processes could be an important step in this direction.
Despite certain complications, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) has established itself as a modern international organisation. The decisions adopted at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in Astana on May 31 set specific development goals for its member states and are aimed at enhancing their competitiveness. We are also focusing our efforts on consolidating the Union State of Russia and Belarus, ensuring the efficient operation of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and improving the performance of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Integration processes within the CIS are not stewing in their own juice. Together with our partners, we are striving to expand opportunities for mutually beneficial projects with other countries. An agreement on trade and economic cooperation between the EAEU and China is being drafted, as is an agreement in principle on a search for ways of integrating the development plans of the EAEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt, and talks are underway on establishing free trade areas with many states from the most diverse parts of the world.
New horizons are opening up by the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the start of consultations between the member states of the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN on forming a comprehensive Eurasian economic partnership in the future. This idea raised much interest at the ASEAN-Russia summit in Sochi on May 19-20.
In our further efforts towards these goals we will rely on our strategic partnership with China, India and Vietnam, and we will expand our cooperation with other countries of the Asia-Pacific Region (APR), in part to resolve our ambitious plans to develop Siberia and the Russian Far East.
The SCO is becoming a major guarantor of regional stability and security. Its potential will become even stronger when India and Pakistan join it as full-fledged members.
The consolidation of BRICS is also gaining momentum. Its members are establishing permanent mechanisms of cooperation and are working out common approaches to the democratisation of international relations.
Before I conclude my remarks, I would like to thank the deputies for approving the draft federal law On the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation (in a foreign state) and the Permanent Representative (permanent observer) of the Russian Federation at an international organisation (in a foreign state). To my knowledge, the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly has already expressed its support for it. We appreciate your efforts to support our diplomatic service. No doubt, this facilitates efficient implementation of Russia’s foreign policy.
In the next couple of days, an election campaign will be launched for the September 18 elections to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the seventh convocation. The Russian Foreign Ministry is paying priority attention to ensuring smooth preparations and well-organised elections abroad and is doing everything it can to ensure their success. This is yet another area in which we have been very closely cooperating with the deputies of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly for more than a year.
Thank you for your attention. We received written questions from different parliamentary parties before the current meeting, and have responded to them in writing. But I am ready to answer any other questions you may have.
Question: The attention of the entire world is focused on the fight against international terrorism in Syria and Iraq. At the same time, ISIS is trying to expand its influence in North Africa, including in Libya, which was decimated in 2011 as a result of the NATO aggression and the killing of Muammar Gaddafi. Today, the United States is trying to keep pro-US leaders, including outright terrorists, in power there, with the help of a UN mission. Libya is not completely alien to Russia. The Soviet Union and Russia trained a lot of civilian and military experts for that country, and we engaged in wide-ranging economic and military-technical cooperation. Judging by incoming reports, healthy forces of Libyan society are repelling ISIS. Would it not be in the interests of Russia to actively support these forces that mostly comprise people harbouring traditionally friendly feelings towards Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: We have never severed contacts with these people. You are absolutely right in saying that Libya is an example of disastrous results of ill-conceived regime-changing power politics. This disaster was brought about by those who rudely violated a UN Security Council resolution on establishing a no-fly zone. The results are there for everyone to see. The consequences of the Libyan crisis are felt in neighbouring North African countries and also in the Sahara-Sahel region, including Chad, the Central African Republic and Mali. ISIS and allied terrorist groups are largely using those weapons, which were illegally delivered from Europe and some Middle East countries wishing to topple the Gaddafi regime, in violation of the UN embargo. Today, we feel that our Western colleagues, and especially regional colleagues, including Egypt, clearly realise the need to overcome the consequences of thoughtless Western behaviour and to do everything possible in order to restore the national unity of the people of Libya.
I know of attempts to ignore fairly large units of the Libyan population, which are quite effective in fighting ISIS that has already become entrenched in many parts of Libya. The UN Security Council approved a relevant resolution, and the Skhirat agreement was signed on December 17, 2015 in Morocco. A government of national unity was established in line with this agreement. The establishment of this government should be approved and ratified by the Parliament of Libya, which meets in Tobruk and which is recognised as legitimate by the international community. Our Western colleagues are tempted to “overlook” this part of the agreements and to focus on supporting those people who head the national unity government but who are so far unable even to enter Tripoli because they are staying at an air-force base not far from that city for security reasons.
We are confident that it is necessary to unite all Libyan forces. Only after this objective is accomplished, it will be possible to focus on requests to the international community that will be voiced by the united people of Libya. I would like to assure you that people who remember our ties have never severed contacts with us. We cooperate with them, and we support them in their striving for national dialogue and accord.
Question: I am confident that deep down you care about sport, and will certainly find time in your packed schedule to follow the current UEFA Euro 2016 in France. The riots at the stadium in Marseilles and in the city itself cannot be justified and they warrant punishment. Nevertheless, the French authorities are demonstrating a measure of bias towards the Russian fans. For example, the Cannes police detained a bus carrying Russian fans for more than 10 hours yesterday, without explaining the reason. The fans were not given water, nor were they allowed to leave the bus until the arrival of the Russian consul. How does the Foreign Ministry intend to support Russian fans in France?
Sergey Lavrov: I completely agree with you. There was an absolutely unacceptable incident involving the detention of a bus with more than 40 Russian fans on board. They were ordered to step down for a document and identification check. The French authorities were obliged to notify the Russian Embassy or the Consulate General in Marseilles at the moment of detention. They failed to do so. Russian diplomats immediately arrived at the scene after learning about the event on social media, where the fans had posted reports. It transpired that the French were about to call in a special ops unit to storm the bus. This would have been an absolutely unacceptable situation, but our diplomats managed to defuse it and start a dialogue. It is certain that the French behaved in contravention of their obligations under the Vienna conventions. I’ve sent a verbal message to the French Foreign Minister, urging him not to allow any such infringements in the future.
As for the general atmosphere at UEFA Euro 2016, I agree with you: I think it inadmissible to behave the way certain Russian citizens did. I am referring to those, who came with flares and petards. All of this is strictly forbidden. We know of the strong revulsion that these fans evoke in the public at domestic Russian championships as well, where they often seek to spoil the day. At the same time, we cannot turn a blind eye to the attempts to disregard completely provocative actions by fans from other countries. You must have seen on television outrageous footage of people trampling on a Russian flag and shouting abuse at Russian leaders and leading Russian athletes. It’s clear that flying off the handle and starting scuffles is out of the question in any case, but it is also inadmissible to ignore agent provocateurs trying to furtively create a crisis.
As I said, our diplomats will continue their ongoing work with the French authorities.
Question: Our Western partners, particularly countries in the EU, have said that the Minsk Agreements must be implemented for the sanctions against Russia to be lifted. At the same time, some European capitals have begun to realise that Kiev’s unconstructive stance is the main stumbling block for implementing the agreements. As you said, our European partners have begun to understand where the real root of the problem lies. Does this mean that they are ready now to react accordingly and stop insisting on making implementation of the Minsk Agreements, which Kiev is blocking, the condition for ending the sanctions against Russia? What can we expect from the EU countries? How do you assess the prospects for a mutual lifting of sanctions against members of our parliaments as a first step towards each other?
Sergey Lavrov: We are indeed taking a “creative” approach to the situation. We are not running around trying to persuade our European and American partners to lift the sanctions against us, the economic, sector-based and financial sanctions, I mean. We think that such behaviour would not be worthy of the Russian Federation. It is up to those who imposed these sanctions to decide themselves what to do about the deadlock in relations that they have created. Actually, this deadlock is gradually loosening now. We can see this in the list of participants who will take part in the St Petersburg International Economic Forum that opens tomorrow.
We hear constant assurances from our European colleagues that the sanctions will be lifted as soon as the Minsk Agreements are implemented, but as you noted correctly, they take the position that Russia alone must implement these agreements. Our European colleagues came up with this as a sort of compromise to reconcile those who opposed continuing the sanctions and those who insist that the sanctions should stay in place permanently, even once the Ukrainian crisis is resolved, because Russia “behaves badly on the international stage.” I am not joking; I am quoting from the discussion that is taking place within the EU. You understand, they are engaged in self-persuasion now.
We never bring up the issue of the sanctions on our own. They say themselves that as soon as the Ukrainian crisis is resolved, everything will return to normal immediately, and they persuade themselves that Russia should return to the G8. We are taking no initiatives on this issue and will not do so. We have already heard many times that there will be no “business as usual.” We have our own position on this matter. We are not going to wait anymore for others to invite us to join this or that. We will work on our foreign policy tasks in cooperation with those who are ready to work together with us based on full equality and mutual benefit.
This is as concerns the economic and financial sanctions. Regarding the sanctions on travel for members of parliament, they really go beyond the bounds. I think it is important to lift these restrictions, above all so as to enable our elected representatives, members of European and Eurasian parliaments, to have direct contacts with each other. Those who impose such sanctions fear this kind of direct contact between parliamentarians. This is shameful.
Question: Mr Lavrov, just yesterday, one British consulting PR company that is probably not overly friendly toward us included Russia, for the first time, on a list of 30 countries that are most effectively using “soft power” for promoting their values in the world. Much has gone toward receiving this result in the past month: from the invigoration of work with our compatriots abroad to the expansion of broadcasting by Russia Today. The conquered heights must be protected, and moreover, the higher in the rankings we climb, the more difficult this task will be. Here’s my question: If the information on the decision of the new Argentine authorities to remove Russia Today from the free broadcasting network is confirmed, can we expect that this unfriendly step will not go unnoticed by us?
Sergey Lavrov: I think the effectiveness of so-called soft power should be assessed not only or not so much by rankings as by specific results that are reached in different countries. The fact that Britain and the United States have made repeated attempts to put a spoke in Russia Today’s wheel are telling. They are showing that the Russian TV channel has proven its effectiveness. It brought home to the public of these countries an alternative view, and these countries' authorities became a bit worried. Needless to say, Ukraine’s ban on practically all Russian and Russian-language media shows that this form of work is productive.
As for Argentina, after the first reports that Russia Today might be removed from the package of free TV channels, its officials have informed us that no decision has been made on this score and that they are thinking about how to incorporate some regional Argentine TV channels into this free network. They anxiously asked us not to take this as anti-Russian, not to think that everything has been predetermined. We’ll see. I think that if this idea initiated by those who are in charge of television and radio broadcasting is confirmed or approved, we certainly will not perceive this as a friendly gesture that conforms to Russian-Argentine strategic partnership, as a gesture that would comply with the atmosphere in which our presidents recently spoke over the phone when they confirmed the continuity of our relations. We will have to see.
Question: Mr Lavrov, we are grateful to you for the cooperation, including on Syria, primarily with Russian Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov.
I know that you are taking part in the preparations for an important visit by the Russian President to China. Not long ago, Speaker of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly Sergey Naryshkin and Chairman of the Russian Communist Party Central Committee Gennady Zyuganov had meetings with China’s leaders. I’d like to ask a question in this connection. What do you think could be done to enhance cooperation between the parliament and the Foreign Ministry of Russia on reaching the major goals of our cooperation and strategic partnership with China, primarily as regards the anti-terrorist struggle and joint projects on building new generation aircraft and space exploration? Do you think parliament will play a bigger role in resolving these issues, especially after the President’s forthcoming visit?
Sergey Lavrov: I am confident that the synchronous, well-coordinated performance of all branches of power is a guarantee of our success in the world arena. Considering the special relations between the Russian State Duma, its respective parliamentary parties, on the one hand, and Chinese legislators on the other, I am confident that this is a very important component of our strategy towards China.
Our relations with the People’s Republic of China are experiencing a renaissance. Probably, they are the best ever in the history of our relations. These relations embrace all areas of activity. China is our only partner with which we have created such a ramified mechanism of cooperation and coordination of positions, which leaves out practically no area of our activities. A Deputy Prime Minister heads several committees that are preparing materials for annual summits of the heads of state, and in turn, prime ministers discuss the most important issues at annual summits.
A package of projects that we are now carrying out or discussing with China is impressive indeed and increasingly concerns high-tech areas, such as joint projects on aircraft building and continued cooperation on nuclear energy. I am convinced that the role of the State Duma and the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly is not limited to ratifying the signed agreements. We are interested in considering your assessments of our ideas and initiatives and preparations for a response to Chinese proposals, and I think this work is being done. We are ready to continue and intensify it.
Question: The media has reported on the problem of Russian citizens detained without cause in Ukraine, and we have received appeals from relatives of these people. All kinds of people are detained, including pensioners and women. What’s more, those responsible do not respect consular rules and seldom inform the Russian authorities accordingly. It’s a truly mediaeval situation. They pick up everyone with a Russian passport based on fabricated cases and set-ups. In this, of course, they are emulating their teachers abroad in fabricating a case, luring and abducting people, putting a sack over their heads and throwing them in prison, as was the case with Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko.
I have a question in this regard. Does the Russian Foreign Ministry have reliable figures on the number of Russian citizens detained in Ukraine? Are you undertaking work to find them, help them and get them freed? I am talking not about the public cases, but about people who have essentially disappeared without a trace recently.
Sergey Lavrov: The Foreign Ministry is not alone in pursing this work; we are working together with other government agencies as well on this. Our list is not exhaustive because often no one reports the disappearance of our citizens. It happens that their relatives are not aware of what has happened, and if they have no relatives, we have no way of getting this information. We are conducting this work and we constantly demand clarifications on these matters. As you know, within the Contact Group, procedures are underway for arranging exchanges of prisoners of war, and we are trying, within or outside the framework of the Minsk Agreements, to identify everyone who has been detained and remains in detention. We are ready to account for their fate and get them the support each of them needs. At this stage, I cannot go into more detail, but the question is very legitimate and it is one of our priority tasks with regard to our work with Ukraine, and with our American and European partners too, because without action from the West, we can hardly expect Kiev to agree to take reasonable steps in this area.
Question: The second Young Compatriot World Games ended six weeks ago in Sochi. The Games were part of a project initiated by United Russia. The event was a great success with the kids. More than 600 children from 46 countries came to this year’s competitions. The Games received a great response, not just from the children but from practically all observers too, including President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Do you think that the Games could become a regular thing as an event free of bureaucracy, one which has received a positive response from children in many countries? Can we count on your support for continuing the event next year?
Sergey Lavrov: Right from the start we supported this United Russia initiative. They organised the first such World Games. There was no previous experience of this, but working together, we ensured the Games were such a success that they have become not simply a one-off event but a real celebration for these boys and girls. This is the best assessment of United Russia’s initiative. I support the idea of making the Games an annual event. We will help in every way we can, including through the relations the Foreign Ministry has with the State Duma and United Russia, and within the Governmental Commission for the Affairs of Compatriots Abroad, of which you are also a permanent member. We wholeheartedly support making this kind of initiative a regular event and we would like to see more such initiatives.
Question: Many people are watching with great concern how refugees with a different culture and world outlook are filling up “good old Europe.” They not only exert pressure on the social and economic system of European states but also change the socio-demographic makeup of the population. The point is that for the survival and development of any nation, the minimal coefficient of its birth rate should not be below 2.1 percent. In Europe it stands at 1.35 per cent. This means that the makeup of the European population will drastically change in a historically short span of time. In theory, Russia is facing this threat as well. What measures do you think should be taken in foreign policy and in cooperation with other states to preserve the Russian nation?
Sergey Lavrov: This is primarily our concern. We can borrow positive experience from other countries, for instance, pursue a pronatalist policy, promote respect for family values, including relations between spouses and generally between a man and a woman, and advocate a normal, healthy lifestyle. Russia is taking measures to boost the birth rate. You know about maternity capital. You helped not only to prolong this project but also increase the number of options on which this capital can be spent.
As for the Russian Foreign Ministry, during international debates on the issues of maternity, childhood and family in general, we are continuously working to prevent them from being ignored or interpreted in the style of new anything-goes trends that are flourishing now in Europe.
I hope that people will also come to us. We have a programme for voluntary resettlement of compatriots living abroad, which has proved its efficiency. We have already amassed experience in this respect and hundreds of thousands of people have used this opportunity. I think this is also one of the ways of preserving the nation because these newcomers are mostly citizens of the former Soviet republics, those who lived in the same country with us and those who perceive our culture as their own, who speak the Russian language and know the history of our state. If you have specific ideas that could be used for reaching this lofty goal, we would be grateful to you for suggesting them.
Thank you, Mr Naryshkin.
To be honest, I didn’t plan to make any concluding remarks. I’d like to express gratitude to all deputies and parliamentary parties for their attention to the activities of the Foreign Ministry and for the prompts that we receive from time to time and that we try to use to the utmost. Usually they suggest interesting ideas. In any event, communication with the State Duma of the Federal Assembly is always stimulating. I’m sure that will be the case this time as well.
Thank you for your cooperation once again.