Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak at the Korber Foundation before such a representative audience. We greatly value our constructive cooperation with your foundation. Foreign Ministry representatives, scholars and political experts actively participate in its events.
In the situation that has evolved in the international arena and in Europe today, it is of course vital to intensify dialogue. We are always open to discussion, including on the most acute, controversial issues.
Unfortunately, we still have to hear claims at both the political and expert level that Moscow is to blame for the present tension in Europe and the entire world. I’d like to remind you that ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall we have shown our cards, trying to do our best to assert the values of equal partnership in international affairs, based on respect for each other’s interests and the willingness to find well thought-out, balanced compromise solutions.
There is probably no need in this audience to say that our country played, without any exaggeration, a decisive role in the reunification of Germany, which, by the way, certain members of the anti-Hitler coalition tried to obstruct until the very last moment. Back in the early 1990s, we withdrew our troops from Eastern and Central Europe and the Baltic states and dramatically downsized our military capacity near our western borders – to reiterate, on our own territory.
We were always open to rapprochement with the European Union on a wide range of issues – from eliminating visa barriers and creating an energy alliance to working our joint solutions in the security and anti-crisis regulation area. We actively worked on implementing the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and the roadmaps on creating four common spaces that were approved at the Russia-EU summit in Moscow in 2005. We put forward concrete proposals designed to make our partnership genuinely strategic.
When the cold war era came to an end, Russia was hoping that this would become our common victory – the victory of both the former Communist bloc countries and the West. The dreams of ushering in shared peace and cooperation seemed near to fruition. However, the Unites States and its allies decided to declare themselves the sole winners, refusing to work together to create the architecture of equal and indivisible security. They made their choice in favour of shifting the dividing lines to our borders – through expanding NATO and then through the implementation of the EU's Eastern Partnership programme. Moreover, they blatantly presented their “eastern partners” with the dilemma of choosing either Russia or the West. There are many examples of that. The Ukrainian crisis, which was to a large extent provoked externally, became a direct consequence of this short-sighted policy of Washington and Brussels.
As the Western countries' elites were implementing a policy of political and economic containment of Russia, old threats were growing and new ones were emerging in the world, and the efforts to do away with them have failed. I think that the main reason for that is that the model of “West-centric” globalisation, which developed following the dismantling of the bipolar architecture and was aimed at ensuring the prosperity of one-seventh of the world's population at the expense of the rest, proved ineffective. It is becoming more and more obvious that a narrow group of “chosen ones” is unable to ensure the sustainable growth of the global economy on their own and solve such major challenges as poverty, climate change, shortage of food and other vital resources. The inequality in the development of certain regions and countries has only intensified in the past few decades. The most developed countries continue reaping most of the benefits of scientific and technological progress, and they do not accrue to all groups of the population within these countries, far from it.
The increase in the number of discontented and disadvantaged people both on the national and global scale, given the lack of solutions to many security problems, is fuelling extremist moods and depreciating human life.
The gross interference in the affairs of the Middle East and North Africa has plunged Iraq, Libya, Syria and many other countries into a profound crisis and provoked an unprecedented growth of the terrorist threat, illegal flows of militants and weapons, and a major migration crisis.
The dramatic surge of unfair competition in world politics and economy has played an extremely destructive role. The use of such an open form of protectionism as unilateral restrictions is not just unlawful or contradicts the norms of international law and the WTO principles, it erodes trust in international affairs, impedes the effort to organise collective work to address common vital problems, and often hits the initiators of these unilateral restrictions. Let me remind you once again, although this is self-evident, that the imposition of sanctions is the prerogative of the UN Security Council, which is used solely in the interests of maintaining international peace and security.
I would like to reaffirm that we will not negotiate conditions for lifting the sanctions. As you may know, we had to respond in kind and address Russia’s development agendas based on the need to shrug off the dependence on those who had proved to be unreliable partners prepared (as it transpired) to sacrifice their national interests to bloc discipline and geopolitical games.
Sadly, the Europeans have to pay for this largely by destroying the quality of ties with our country, which the continent’s more far-seeing and responsible leaders were carefully strengthening for decades.
Those who know Russians will understand that it not in our nature to take offense or hold a grudge against anyone. If and when the EU sees the need to return to normal relations with Russia, we will return the favour and will promote cooperation at such a rate and to such an extent as our partners will be ready to match. But I think we will keep a “safety net” against possible new relapses in confrontation.
Today it is important to see clearly the key trends in global development and to be guided by this understanding in foreign policy decision-making. The latest events are clear evidence that the persistent attempts to form a unipolar world order have failed. The objective nature of the processes shaping the multipolar global governance architecture can hardly be called into question. The new centres of economic growth and concomitant political influence are assuming responsibility for the state of affairs in their regions. Let me reiterate that the emergence of multipolar world order is a fact and a reality. Seeking to hold back this process and keep the unfairly gained privileged positions is going to lead nowhere. We see increasing examples of nations raising their voice in defence of their right to decide their own destiny.
We believe that to ensure true polyphony in international relations under these circumstances, everyone must comply with the common rules of the game as codified in international law and strengthen the UN’s prestige, considering that the United Nations has a unique mandate, universal legitimacy and effective mechanisms for dealing with key international problems. We need to return to the fundamental principles of interstate relations set out in the UN Charter, including the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in their internal affairs and a peaceful settlement of disputes.
However, statements that contradict common sense allege that Russia is trying to weaken, if not split, the EU. This is absurd. To reiterate (we have said this repeatedly): We want the EU to be a united and strong player capable of choosing its foreign policy priorities based on a real balance of its members’ interests, independently and without external prompting. I hope that Europeans will manage to stop using the lowest common denominator in their Russia policy, when the obvious benefits of cooperation are sacrificed to the interests of a small but aggressive anti-Russia group that are being used to hinder positive cooperation in Europe and the integration of the natural competitive advantages of Russia and the EU and Europe and Eurasia, including in strategic areas such as energy, under the slogan of trans-Atlantic solidarity. Is the revival of the myth about “the threat from the East” in Europe’s interests? This is for the Europeans to decide. However, I want to stress that an irresponsible attitude towards security is unacceptable. The situation where not just tabloids but politicians holding important positions in their countries start discussing in public scenarios of a military conflict between NATO and Russia is not only alarming but also dangerous.
For our part, we still believe that the potential for peaceful and constructive cooperation between Europe and Russia in most different areas, from trade and energy to humanitarian exchanges and the joint fight against terrorism, is huge. The most important thing is to apply it correctly. I would like to remind you that political grandees like Helmut Kohl and Charles de Gaulle spoke about the importance of a broad partnership with Russia. Helmut Kohl wrote in his book titled Out of Concern for Europe (Aus Sorge um Europa) that engaging Russia productively is of vital importance for the stability of a European security system.
The settlement of the internal Ukrainian conflict through the full, consistent and honest implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures could ease tensions in Europe. So far, Kiev’s ability to cover its part of the road is highly questionable. We hope that Germany and France, as our partners in the Normandy format, as well as the United States with its special power to influence the Kiev establishment will use their leverage to change the situation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
For the past several years, tensions between Russia and Western countries have been running high, and this spells dire consequences for peace and international stability. This was not Russia’s choice. We continue to advocate the creation of a common security and development space in Eurasia and the Euro-Atlantic region, as agreed seven years ago by participants in the OSCE’s Astana summit. We will continue to promote a predictable, friendly and forward-looking agenda with our foreign partners. This is how we maintain our cooperation with members of the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, within BRICS, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the Commonwealth of Independent States and with many Asia-Pacific, Latin American and African states. I hope that political wisdom will make it possible to restore our relations with the European Union and its members on the basis of genuine neighbourliness, predictability and openness.
Thank you for your attention. I am ready to answer your questions.
Question: Our credo is to talk with each other, rather than about each other. That is what we are going to do. You have said that Russians don’t hold a grudge, and that this is not in their nature. What, in your opinion, is the most preferable scenario for Russia-EU relations over the next three years?
Sergey Lavrov: I think I have already said how we see the prospects for our relations in the context of our nations’ interests. We will continue to think about the principles I mentioned over the next three years. These principles have repeatedly been proclaimed at the OSCE, the Russia-NATO Council, as well as in Russia-EU documents. These principles are timeless, and we should be guided by the ideals they reflect and their essence: equality, respect for each other’s interests, a balance of interests as a way of reaching agreement, non-interference in domestic affairs and a refusal to incite our neighbours to choose between the West and the East. One can mention numerous examples in this context.
Therefore, I am not suggesting anything revolutionary. We have arrived at these principles through great suffering throughout the history of humankind. The human race has experienced many wars and is trying, although not always successfully, to learn lessons from events that had brought suffering to millions of people. I will only reiterate that these well-known principles are enshrined in the UN Charter and in other fundamental international and pan-European instruments.
Question: Do we really have a common understanding of these principles? You said security in Europe should be indivisible, and this is why we need a common security architecture. Europe is saying it has its own principles, Helsinki and Paris, and doesn’t need anything new. How can a common position be arrived at?
Sergey Lavrov: To be honest, I don’t quite know what to say because it is not me who is talking about these principles. The principle of indivisible security has been proclaimed at summits of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Leaders of all Euro-Atlantic countries pledged not to enhance their national security at the expense of the security of other states. As for the implementation, there was an interesting moment related to exactly this principle. When it became clear that the political declaration, even at the top level, on the need to ensure indivisible security was not working, when problems emerged (when the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty, we expressed our concern and explained how this would violate the principle of indivisible security), at some stage – in part, after NATO’s expansion failed to reassure some of our neighbours but, on the contrary, provoked them into escalating Russophobic attitudes in NATO and the EU – we, as far as I remember it happened in 2009, spoke honestly with our NATO partners and our OSCE colleagues and suggested taking one more step to codify the principle of indivisible security. We drafted a treaty to this effect and gave it to the members of the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council. We received a very simple response that we should forget about this and that there can be no legal commitment on ensuring security beyond NATO. The Western alliance can grant binding security guarantees only to those who will join NATO. I think this is an absolutely obvious position that shows that the West has never had any intention whatsoever of discussing indivisible security. They made a beautiful slogan and a declaration but when it came to making this commitment legally binding, they said instantly that only those who joined NATO would be covered by its umbrella. What can be done in this situation? Apparently, it is necessary to check a country’s commitment to a proclaimed principle against its willingness to take practical steps in that direction.
Question: Ahead of the Bundestag elections, many in Germany believe that Russia is somehow or other trying to meddle in the election process. President Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, said Russia had not interfered in the US election and would not do so in Germany. However, he also said he could not rule out that this was done by so-called patriotically minded hackers. Could such hackers also be active in Germany?
Sergey Lavrov: Apparently, times have changed a lot in political expert circles if not only the German press but also such a respectable analytical foundation is concerned about this. I have nothing to add to what President Putin said. It’s flattering, of course, that we are portrayed as a country that can decide the fate of the world in both the US and Germany. If that were the case, all our former Soviet republics would not look upon Moscow the way they do, nor would there have been the Ukraine crisis or other problems, including the Transnistria settlement. Russia would have placed its own people everywhere. If we are so strong and if we can deal with America, couldn’t we also deal with something smaller and closer to home?
I believe that playing up leaks, fake stories and situations is a destructive approach. Regarding the US, during the eight months of investigations there, not a shred of evidence has been presented only that somebody from the new president’s team once had a meeting with somebody – a journalist, a businessman or a lawyer. Honestly, I cannot imagine how serious adults can indulge in this with such abandon.
I had to respond to this a bit longer than just say “no” so don’t worry.
Question: Regarding the erosion of trust between Russia and the EU, perhaps this talk about interference is just a symptom, not a cause of the distrust? What do you think Russia and the EU can do to restore trust?
Sergey Lavrov: As I said, we aren’t the problem. We take no offence at the absolutely unlawful decisions made by the EU. We have some idea of who was behind these decisions in the EU and beyond. To reiterate, we are doing all we can now to ensure that our country’s development in the future does not depend on our partners’ confrontational and unlawful decisions.
At the same time our trade ties are developing. The EU is our largest collective trading partner. There is still considerable investment in Russia. Not a single Western European company has left the Russian market. I regularly meet with business people. They are definitely not happy about what is going on. You might remember that in the early days, when the coup took place in Ukraine (by the way, we can talk about this because public opinion about its origin is a little out of sync with reality) and when the sanctions were introduced in response to Russia’s absolutely legitimate actions to protect the people who refused to obey the putschists and saw their future and the future of their children closely linked to Russian culture and the Russian language, the German business community cautioned against sacrificing the economy to politics. Nevertheless, the German authorities at that time stated in no uncertain terms that that was precisely the case, that Russia had to be taught an object lesson, so politics would prevail over the economy. This approach will not lead us where we would all like to be. I’m talking about the steady development of cooperation.
Question: Mr Minister, I am glad you brought up the Ukraine issue. Let’s start with the basics. How would you describe Russia’s three main strategic interests in Ukraine?
Sergey Lavrov: We may have more or less interests like this, depending on how they are defined. We want very much for Ukraine to be a normal democratic state with the ruling establishment - now largely in the hands of radicals, who take no orders from anybody, including their supreme commander in chief - removed and the state to have a monopoly on the use of force. Volunteer battalions, comprised of ultra-radicals, which by the way, set up the blockade of Donbass, are now active there. Ukrainian President Poroshenko solemnly promised to lift the blockade but failed. Then he simply legalised it with an executive order.
We would like to see Ukraine be a stable country where all minorities – linguistic, religious and ethnic – live freely and enjoy all the rights stipulated in international conventions, including Council of Europe conventions; a country where Russophobic policy is not artificially fostered. We do not want to see Ukraine as a country that wants to forget its history and write a new one, putting those who saved Europe from fascism in the same league with those who served the Nazis.
We can talk a lot about this issue. For our part, we very much want neighbourly relations with Ukraine; we want our Western colleagues, who are implementing a number of programmes, including the Eastern Partnership, not to force our neighbours, including Ukraine or any country, into the choice: you are either with the West or with Russia.
This began long ago. In 2004, the first Maidan event took place. At that time, when Maidan was coming to a head, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht said in public that Ukraine had to decide who it was with: the European Union or Russia.
Here is a more recent example. In 2013, when the current crisis was in the making (as you might remember, President Putin often spoke about it), the EU refused to harmonise Ukraine’s course toward integration with both Europe and the CIS, stating that the EU had no intention of changing the Association Agreement, and that the EU could not care less about the questions that Russia had. It was not that Russia had questions – it was simply that the obligations that Ukraine assumed in signing the Association Agreement with the EU conflicted with its own obligations and rights in the CIS free trade zone. We only asked one thing: to sit down and see to it that Ukraine would not be put in a position where it would have conflicting obligations on trade and investment issues. We were told in no uncertain terms that it was none of our business, that they did not meddle in our relations with China and so we should not mess with their relations with Ukraine.
Then there was the coup and our colleagues and friends in Germany, France and Poland shamefacedly failed to stand firm on Viktor Yanukovich’s agreement with the opposition, which they had endorsed and guaranteed themselves and which was trampled upon the following morning. Nobody tried to tell the opposition that it had betrayed everything, including Europe. After all, Europe had acted as a guarantor of that agreement. Later we were told that Yanukovich had left Kiev so they washed their hands of it. If you read the agreement, you will remember that it was not about Yanukovich. In that agreement, Yanukovich pledged not to use the armed forces or security forces for any purpose other than the protection of government buildings. The agreement began with an interesting paragraph to the effect that the president and the opposition undertook to form a government of national unity. When the agreement was trampled on, Arseny Yatsenyuk went to Maidan and said: “Congratulate us, and we congratulate you: we have formed a government of winners.” Is there a difference between a government of national unity and a government of winners?
Europe and the US, which backed the agreement, simply swallowed everything that happened. I will finish now. Simply, this is an interesting fact about the double standards we constantly talk about.
Approximately at the same time when the coup took place in Ukraine, there was a coup in Yemen. President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi fled for Saudi Arabia, where he is to date. However, unlike the Ukraine case, despite the fact that both presidents left their capitals, the international community demands that the former Yemeni president return to his country and resume his presidential duties. Why is there such a difference? How is Yemen better than Ukraine and how is Ukraine worse than Yemen? This is just something to think about. We did not meddle in Yemeni elections.
Question: Is it possible to create a positive precedent of Russia-EU cooperation in a neighbouring country that perceives itself as part of the Russian world and without confrontation that could tear this country apart? Is it possible to implement this scenario with regard to Belarus at a time when it has failed in Ukraine?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, of course, this is possible. But so far I have not seen the European Union’s readiness to stop its one-way traffic or try to force a choice on other countries.
The Republic of Belarus is Russia’s closest ally. Both countries are part of a Union State, and we have signed treaties stipulating equal rights for Russian and Belarusian citizens. For many years, we have repeatedly explained to our Western colleagues, including the EU and NATO, that the policy aiming to isolate Belarus is misguided. We have also advocated its accession to the main European organisations. Belarus has so far failed to join the Council of Europe. Our Western colleagues responded in a rather cool manner to this, and they continued to extend sanctions against the Belarusian leaders.
We can see that the latest positive gestures with regard to Minsk were made only when the Ukrainian crisis flared up. I will not comment on the motives of these positive gestures. I believe we are all old enough to understand what is going on.
As I have said, the Ukrainian crisis was caused by a gross violation of international law. After the Ukrainian coup took place, officials in Kiev made vociferous statements that Russians must be ousted from Crimea because they would never adapt to the Ukrainian mentality. Members of the post-coup Ukrainian Parliament even passed a bill severely curtailing the rights of Russian speakers, but this bill never entered into force. However, parliament members declared their intentions by passing their first discriminatory bill against the Russian population.
Please don’t forget that the people Kiev has branded as terrorists never attacked anyone. They merely said that they rejected the coup d’état and asked to be left alone, so that they could decide how to live their lives in the future and understand the likely consequences of Kiev’s actions. After that, they were branded as terrorists, and the so-called anti-terrorist operation was launched. These people who harassed no one and asked to be allowed to live in peace in line with the constitution were attacked as part of this anti-terrorist operation. Incidentally, the members of the Crimean Supreme Soviet who held the referendum in full compliance with their mandate were elected in 2010.
Speaking of mutual attitudes, when the Euromaidan crisis erupted and after first blood was spilled, our Western colleagues, including the then NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, repeatedly and openly urged Viktor Yanukovych not to use force against his own people. NATO urged the new authorities to use proportionate force after the coup took place, and after the so-called anti-terrorist operation was launched. This difference may seem small but it is critical: Not to use force or to use proportionate force. And we have also seen how this force is being used there.
The settlement process started making headway in Normandy in June 2014, and we certainly welcomed these efforts. We saw this as a desire to play it fair with regard to Ukraine, especially because this was initiated by Germany and France. I repeat, Germany, France and Poland guaranteed an agreement on resolving the crisis in this country.
The Normandy format has played and continues to play a highly important role. It is an example of how to search mutually acceptable compromises. Everyone recognises the Minsk Agreements as the only way towards resolving the crisis. They have been approved by the UN Security Council, and they must be implemented. The Normandy format operates on a par with a highly important mechanism called the Contact Group, the only organisation where members of the Ukrainian Government are conducting direct dialogue with Donbass representatives. They can see a solution paving the way towards a political settlement. The Minsk Agreements must be fulfilled. We highly appreciate the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reaffirmed her intention to demand that these documents are fulfilled. President of France Emmanuel Macron also displayed a keen interest immediately after his election and vowed not to slacken efforts in this area. We welcome this, and we will cooperate with them.
Question: Russia-NATO relations are complicated. Both sides are accusing each other of provocations. There is talk of Europe’s remilitarisation. Russia is planning to hold large-scale military manoeuvres with Belarus, West 2017, in September. Maybe it should cancel or postpone these exercises so as to restore mutual trust?
Sergey Lavrov: Discussions of the scale of military exercises, confidence-building measures and efforts to reduce mutual suspicion are only possible on the basis of cooperation. On August 8, 2008, during the Beijing Olympics, Mikheil Saakashvili’s Georgia attacked South Ossetia. Russia, which had a peacekeeping contingent in South Ossetia under an OSCE mandate, called for holding an extraordinary meeting of the Russia-NATO Council. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the call and said that the council would be suspended, that its doors were closed to Russia, and that they will not talk with us. Everyone admitted in late 2008 that it was the wrong decision to make. It was decided that the Russia-NATO Council must work under any conditions and that it was especially important during a time of crisis.
The same mistake was made again after the developments in Kiev’s Maidan. The West suspended cooperation and contacts within the Russia-NATO Council. We had several joint programmes, including on the joint fight against terrorism. Russia, Germany and France were working on the STANDEX programme to create the technology for stand-off detection of explosives at the entrance to public places. It was a unique project, but it has been suspended. Our cooperation in Afghanistan was put on ice as well. Attempts have been made to revitalise the council. I believe that ambassadorial-level talks are scheduled to take place today.
We know how preparations for meetings with Russia are discussed at NATO. The predominant feature is not a desire to hold business-like discussions or to search for ways to reduce tension and normalise relations, but as a desire of the Russia-hating minority who call for punishing Russia for what is happening in Ukraine, which they describe as unacceptable aggression, annexation and occupation. If this is what they want to use the Russia-NATO Council for, then we need not attend its meetings. We will see whether common sense will prevail over the anti-Russia choir at the meeting that will be held today.
We definitely do not want to increase tension in Europe. But we know that the bloc’s military infrastructure is being deployed on our border. Canada, Germany and the UK are doing this in the Baltics and the United States in Poland, and this involves the delivery of a huge number of heavy weapons. What matters is not that they are only sending one battalion each or that they say we should not worry. This situation involves certain symbols and makes us think about historical analogies.
A year ago, President of Finland Sauli Niinisto proposed that Russian and NATO planes fly with their transponders operating. Finland, although it is not a NATO member, wants to see a tranquil situation in the Baltic Sea area. We put the idea on paper, added a few more details and presented this initiative at the Russia-NATO Council a year ago. But things are not moving. NATO, which keeps talking about reducing tension and coming to agreements, are not enthusiastic about this idea. Russia has been accused of violating agreements, while we say that NATO is building up its strength and has advanced far beyond the limits that are set out in the Russia-NATO Founding Act. We have called for our military personnel to meet within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council to show on the map where each country concerned has its forces in Europe. This will allow us to compare our potentials and to deal with this issue professionally rather than engage in doubletalk.
It is very important to resume the analysis and comparison of our military doctrines, which NATO has suspended as well. It has been shelved. We are open for cooperation and ready to resume this work. But are our partners ready as well? We will not cajole them into resuming negotiations. Everyone must decide for themselves.
Question: I have read that you write poetry in your spare time. If you wrote a poem about relations between Russia and the EU, what would be its title?
Sergey Lavrov: It may turn out rather unprintable, so I had better refrain from answering.
Question: Where do you see the roots of Russophobia? And how do you understand this term?
Sergey Lavrov: I understand it as completely unsubstantiated and aggressive attempts to isolate Russia. There will never be a time when major players on the international arena will agree on every single issue. We have said this repeatedly. President Putin set out his understanding of this situation. After the Soviet Union ceased to exist, the West decided that Russia was under its thumb. You remember the state in which Russia was at the time. After a while, they started to lose this feeling because in the early 2000s Russia began to build its independent policy and was now seen as a competitor. Of course, the fertile economic years helped. The economy grew fast and we completely re-equipped and modernised the army. Perhaps it is the feeling of strong competition that fuels this ambition to isolate us and to keep us on the edge by constantly creating provocative stimuli. We understand this. I am stating this without any emotion. But I think there must be some rules of the game, decent foreign policy methods that are not employed behind the scenes. Overall, it is a good policy to sit down and enunciate to your partner clearly if there is an issue, to talk over options in order to maintain the balance of interests and find a mutually satisfactory solution. I already gave examples of how we proposed working with NATO on the treaty on indivisible and stronger security in the Baltics. As far back as a year ago, in St Petersburg, President Putin gave a paper to Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, with our vision of how we could review the current state of relations between Russia and the EU. Also over a year ago, the Eurasian Economic Union submitted proposals to the European Commission on establishing contacts between these two organisations. There has been no reply. When there is a normal process and we can both listen to and hear each other then we can enter the right trajectory.
As concerns Russophobia, all you need to do is read the newspapers, including here in Germany. I keep track of how Ukraine, Russia and Syria are presented, on a regular basis. There is not a single conflict where Russia is not seen as the biggest evil. It is sad. Because conflicts can only be resolved by consolidating forces as we are doing this, or at least trying to do this, in the Normandy format and with regards to Syria. It is better to approach your relationship with partners without this feeling, this superiority complex.
Question: As a member of the Bundestag it was my ambition for a long time to fight for compensation to those who was captured by the Nazis, that is, to Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian veterans. I believe it is an important factor in the friendship between Germany and the former Soviet countries.
Sergey Lavrov: Let me remind you that not only Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians but all Soviet peoples fought against Nazi Germany and endured great suffering. Representatives of those ethnicities were also prisoners of war and prisoners in concentration camps. We appreciate the fact that there is strong memorial cooperation with Germany now. This includes efforts to maintain the monuments to Europe’s liberators in good condition. We sincerely appreciate this attitude of German officials – even more so because there are absolutely outrageous examples of the opposite right next door. I hope the European Union will not overlook the decisions being taken in Poland regarding the demolition of memorials. I think the European Commission took some steps recently when Poland did something and was reprimanded. However, the EU remains passive towards Poland’s perspective on the outcome of WWII.
There is an entire range of programmes and our German counterparts did make one-time payments. Speaking about war veterans and compensation, let me tell you a story. I hope the German Foreign Ministry’s official representatives will not be offended. Some time ago, Germany decided to make one-time payments to Leningrad Siege survivors. For reasons I do not quite understand the programme was part of the Holocaust victims’ compensation programme; therefore, the money was only paid to Jewish Leningrad Siege survivors. I think it was unfair. I discussed this with Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Sigmar Gabriel and they both understand the unfairness of the situation. However, there are some legal issues that prevent them from acknowledging and paying tribute to the people who were in Leningrad at that time and deserve it whether they are Jewish or not.
Question: Do NATO and Russia have any joint principles for maintaining security in Europe? What are these principles? Do they include the territorial integrity of states? The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances guaranteed the integrity of the Ukrainian borders? But unfortunately Russia has failed to honour these principles in the past few years.
Sergey Lavrov: You have mentioned the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed by Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom; France also inked this document later on. The signatories pledged not to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, just like they had pledged not to use them against other Soviet republics that had renounced their nuclear arsenals. Indeed, the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances confirmed OSCE principles, including the inviolability of borders, except by mutual agreement. But the document also contains other principles, including democracy and the rule of law that should also be respected. I hope, everyone understands that, while signing the Budapest Memorandum, Russia did not provide to Ukraine or anyone else carte blanche for staging coup d’états.
The African Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) stipulate a legal norm demanding that governments that have gained power as a result of unconstitutional coups, not to mention coup d’états, must not be recognised. Therefore, I do not see any reasons here for accusing Russia of violating its obligations. We did not sign agreements between Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition. I have already said how this agreement was coordinated, and how it was terminated with the West’s absolute silence and connivance.
Question: What is Chechnya’s current human rights record? We have heard that 27 young inmates have been killed there. We constantly receive information about homosexuals in Chechnya who were turned over to their relatives and later killed. What is the Russian Federation doing to uphold human rights in one of its regions? Judging by incoming reports, these actions are not yielding any tangible results.
Sergey Lavrov: We are open to any dialogue. After learning of reports about the harassment of sexual minorities in the Chechen Republic, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova to address this matter. And this is exactly what she is doing. I would only like to note that the inquest is complicated by the fact that, despite events mentioned by you and despite numerous reports that 27 people have disappeared or have been killed, LGBT representatives have fled Russia to live with their relatives. To date, neither the public at large, nor the investigation, due to be conducted by Ms Moskalkova, has produced any name or fact pegging these events to any specific city, location or date. Many people ask me about this when I chat with the press or my colleagues. I explain all this, and I ask why don’t they share this information with anyone else. They say that they do not want to risk the lives of these people. And what if a person has already left or fled Russia to live with his relatives in the West? You see, we will certainly respond if there are any facts. Unlike some countries treating homosexuality as a criminal offence carrying the death penalty, Russia has no legislation banning homosexuality. The only thing is that the Russian law bans propaganda of homosexuality among minors because, in the long run, apart from the right to freedom of opinion, parents also have the right to bring up their children in line with a religious and philosophical concept shared by these parents. You should read the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I can assure you that the Russian law contains sufficiently severe sanctions for those violating human rights of LGBT representatives.
Question: Why does Russia support Bashar al-Assad? Do you think that peace will return to Syria under his government? You say that the Syrian people must decide for themselves. But free elections are impossible under Bashar al-Assad, as I see it. Why do you support him?
Can Russia influence North Korea to stop missile tests?
Sergey Lavrov: Are you going to blame us for what is happening in North Korea as well? There are UN Security Council resolutions regarding North Korea that were drafted jointly by all council members. We are fully committed to these resolutions. We strongly condemn the provocations staged by North Korea. We have no special communication channels to Pyongyang, even though it is a close neighbour. Considering the traditions that have taken shape under the country’s new leader, I do not think anyone could have stable channels for influencing North Korea. This is why it is so important to find ways to defuse tensions and to step back from the danger line. China has proposed suspending both the nuclear and missile tests in North Korea, and large US-Japanese military exercises to give everyone time to cool off and resume negotiations. We support this initiative, because the alternative is horrifying. It is not surprising that US Secretary of Defence James Mattis said openly, awhile back, that a conflict with North Korea would be catastrophic. This is true.
As for Bashar al-Assad, we are not supporting him. We support UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, which puts in black and white that the Syrian people themselves must determine their future, and everyone voted for this. By the way, this resolution was drafted by the International Syria Support Group, where Germany is a full member, and was subsequently approved by the UN Security Council. As for moving towards this goal, the resolution also stipulates a number of principles for reforms. The ceasefire and humanitarian solutions must be accompanied by the drafting of a new constitution jointly by the Syrian government and the opposition. The adoption of the constitution must be followed by UN-controlled elections that include all refugee camps. If you are not sure about the UN licence and fear that these elections would be unfair… Well, but this is what the resolution says.
Once again, Russia does not support Bashar al-Assad. But we categorically don’t want to see Syria repeat the Iraqi scenario, which was brought about by the bloodthirsty desire of all our Western partners, including Germany and France, to get rid of the Iraqi dictator. I fear that Syria could be destroyed together with its president, because of the extremely complicated processes ongoing there. Libya was broken by the desire to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi.
I see Mr Wolfgang Ischinger in the audience. I recently read his interview with a Russian newspaper in which he said that Russia’s foreign policy was a disaster. I wonder how he would describe the policy of those who have implemented the greater Middle East scenario in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Would he describe it as a triumph?
We do not need a pat on the back for what we are doing, but we can at least explain the goal of our foreign policy initiatives. We could not leave the Ukrainians who want to preserve their Russian culture at the mercy of ultra-radicals. We could not disregard the Crimeans’ will to reunite with Russia, which was expressed in keeping with the decisions of the legitimate parliament – by the way, the Crimean Parliament was the only legitimate body throughout Ukraine at that time. Likewise, we could not allow the aggression in Iraq and Libya to spread throughout that vital region, turning it into a powder keg, which the economic and other migrants are fleeing and which is being used by criminals of every stripe, to smuggle weapons and drugs into Sub-Saharan Africa and gain a foothold there.
As a character in a famous film said, “Nobody’s perfect.” But at least we are willing to honestly explain why we are taking this or that foreign policy action. We have nothing to hide. I would be grateful if your analysts explained the noble objectives of the invasion of Iraq or Libya. Personally, I do not see any noble objective in those.
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I would like to thank the audience and the leaders of the Kerber Memorial Foundation for inviting me. I believe that asking direct questions and expecting direct answers is absolutely normal between the people who are concerned about the future of Europe.
I am glad that I will attend the closing ceremony of the Russian-German Year of Youth Exchanges. Several hundred events have been held as part of this project, including the Russian-German Youth Parliament, research and training conferences, as well as educational, cultural and sports events. I welcome this investment in the future of our countries.
I hope that the Cross Year of Regional and Municipal Partnerships, which was launched two weeks ago when I met with German Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel in Krasnodar, will include many youth events. In my opinion, the key task now is to prevent any attempt to undermine the post-war historical rapprochement between our nations.
Thank you very much.