Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Interview to Reuters News Agency
Q: What are the current priorities of Russian foreign policy, and what may they be in the near future?
A: The priorities of Russian foreign policy at this stage are detailed in the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation approved by President Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.
The fundamental principles of our foreign policy activities are pragmatism, openness, multivectorness, and the advancement of understandable national interests in a consistent manner but without slipping into confrontation. Not only do they retain their relevance, but they now actually become universal in international relations.
Our approaches to the contemporary stage of world development, and to the place and role in it of Russia in concentrated form, boil down to recognizing the supremacy of the fundamental principles and norms of international law in relations between states and of the necessity for the creation of a new, more equitable and democratic world order. Today one no longer has to prove the obvious – a polycentric international system is emerging before our eyes, the functioning of which is bound to rest on cooperation among major states and integration associations of the modern world.
Our country pursues an independent and predictable policy, not glossing over the existing differences, but also not dramatizing them. We understand that not everyone likes a strong, confident Russia. But for us external independence is a key question. We are open to developing full-fledged and friendly cooperation with all states to the extent to which our partners are ready for that, of course, on the basis of equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit. We are well disposed toward joint work to strengthen global stability and sustainable development, to promote conflict resolution, and to build up productive international partnerships. Absolute priorities for us are the protection of the lives and dignity of Russian citizens and support of Russian business interests abroad.
We will continue to actively pursue the reinforcement of the collective element in international affairs by relying on the central role of the UN and its Security Council, and the enhancement of multilateral cooperation, particularly within the G20, BRICS and SCO. We intend to promote a positive, unifying agenda by acting on different fronts. Among them: the qualitative augmentation of integration with our neighbors in the Eurasian space. This, just as the integration processes in other regions, is intended to ensure the sustainability of the world order emerging before our eyes. We are convinced that the vital task today is to create a space of peace and stability based on universal principles of equal and indivisible security, mutual trust, transparency and predictability. This applies to the Euro-Atlantic area and to the Asia-Pacific region and to other parts of the world.
And the final note. Obviously, in today’s world the status of Russia as well as any state will depend on the ability to ensure the ongoing and dynamic internal development and to accomplish a comprehensive modernization covering all aspects of societal life. Therefore, the most important task of Russian foreign policy has been and remains the creation of the most favorable external conditions for the prosperity of the country, and the achievement of concrete results understandable to citizens.
Q: How does Russia envision the prospects for closer cooperation with the US and the EU in the coming years, given some recent progress on certain issues and the continuing differences?
A: Shaping a constructive relationship with the US that is based on mutual respect and regard for the interests of each other, has always been one of the key directions of Russian foreign policy.
In recent years much has been done to strengthen bilateral interaction. Russian-American dialogue has acquired a more trustful and pragmatic character. Considerable practical headway has been made, such as the entry into force of the New START treaty and the Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, the creation of the Bilateral Presidential Commission, and Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization.
The positive achievements offer the groundwork for continued effort to build up cooperation. Lying ahead is an intense agenda envisaging more profound cooperation on an innovative track and the creation of an enabling environment for humanitarian, educational, scientific and cultural exchanges. We presume that Russia’s WTO accession will help revitalize Russian-US business contacts and qualitatively change the entire range of our economic ties. Of course, to fully realize this task will only be possible after removal of the still existing artificial barriers on the American side, such as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.
To be sure, we also face a difficult search for acceptable outcomes on sensitive matters, above all on missile defense. We have not yet managed to have a constructive dialogue, and the creation of a NATO anti-missile system according to the US plan is going full-steam ahead without our legitimate concerns being heeded. Hence, all the more need for legal guarantees that the current deployable missile defense assets in Europe are not directed against Russian strategic nuclear forces. Russia is ready to constructively discuss even the most difficult questions, though naturally with the understanding that our national interests will be fully observed. We hope that our American partners will take the same reasonable and responsible approach.
As to Russia’s relations with the EU, we try to advance in them as far as possible, to cover a maximally broad range of issues and to bring the strategic partnership to a qualitatively new level.
A great deal has been achieved. In the trade and economic sphere the EU firmly occupies the position of the largest partner of Russia and has become the principal market for the export of Russian energy resources and an important source of technology and investment. We actively collaborate with the EU bilaterally and within the Group of Twenty in stabilizing the global financial and economic system.
Russia’s WTO accession will open additional opportunities for our business in Europe and at the same time facilitate access for EU economic operators not only to the Russian market, but also to the markets of Belarus and Kazakhstan as members of the Customs Union.
In the same context we view the joint Russia-EU initiative “Partnership for Modernization,” designed to reinforce the innovative component of our economies and strengthen their position in today’s highly competitive world. It is important to try to integrate scientific, technical and economic potentials of both sides.
Our foreign policy cooperation is developing apace. Already Russia and the EU interact in resolving regional conflicts and crises, fight together against piracy off the coast of the Horn of Africa, join forces to manage disasters and forge contacts in the military-technical sphere. And this is not the limit. We are interested in the formation of permanent mechanisms of rapid response to co-monitor and neutralize crises, make common decisions and implement them.
The most sensitive theme for our citizens is the abolition of visa requirements for short-term trips to the EU countries. Held on 14-15 December in Brussels, the Russia-EU summit gave the green light for the realization of the list of common steps, the implementation of which will enable moving on to the elaboration of an agreement on a visa-free regime. We have to jointly solve a considerable amount of technical problems, including those related to the impermeability of the boundaries for organized crime, human trafficking and drug trafficking. Russia is ready for freedom of movement for citizens of our countries. We hope that the EU will adopt the same constructive approach that meets the spirit of our strategic partnership.
As correctly noted by you, certain differences still persist in Russia-EU relations. We do not dramatize them – because no one can have a 100 percent coincidence of all interests with all partners. It’s another matter that the differences in a number of cases result fr om attempts to project EU legislation changes onto third countries, including Russia. Among the negative examples: the EU’s unilateral decision to include civil aviation in the EU greenhouse gas emissions trading system, as well as the notorious Third Energy Package, attempts at whose aggressive and retrospective implementation already affect the interests of Russian companies. Incidentally, we have perhaps the greatest interdependence with the EU in energy, and this is not a hindrance, but on the contrary it serves as a catalyst for our cooperation. I think all the problematic moments, if desired can be solved in a partner-like manner, taking into account the justified interests of the parties, without undue politicization.
The potential for rapprochement between Russia and the EU has not been exhausted. Our goal is to achieve a genuine strategic partnership based on the creation of the four full-fledged Common Spaces. We are convinced that it is necessary to do everything possible to take Russia-EU cooperation to a new level and to develop mutually beneficial and equal dialogue in the interests of future generations.
Q: How does Russia assess the changes now occurring in the Middle East and North Africa, and what role does Moscow assign to itself in these regions?
A: Throughout the outgoing year we have closely watched the dramatic processes sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa region. They are still far from being complete, and so it hardly makes sense to give them a final assessment. Rather, we can speak of a trend.
From the very beginning we supported the yearning of the peoples of the region for a better life, democratic reforms and prosperity. However, one can hardly argue that the political, socioeconomic and other reasons which led to the Arab revolution have been overcome. On the contrary, in the affected countries we see a decline in economic growth and the attendant growth of social contradictions. The political process is not developing smoothly. Against this background, Islamist parties are gaining ground, which the elections in several North African countries attest to.
There are serious fears about the possible emergence of new zones of instability in the region that could become potential sources of challenges to international stability and security – such as the spread of terrorism, arms smuggling, drug trafficking, and illegal migration.
Attempts to bring the religious factor into regional confrontations are especially troubling. Quite frequent are attacks on Christians and their churches. If there were an open rift between Sunnis and Shiites – and such a threat is fully realistic – then the consequences could be catastrophic.
Traditionally the aim of Russia’s efforts in the region was not to provoke confrontation, but rather to facilitate the stabilizing processes. We intend to continue to actively uphold our fundamental approaches to the regional situation. Time and again, we emphasized the need to adhere to the peaceful way of realizing the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa through a broad national dialogue, without outside interference. This approach is fully consistent with the norms of international law.
From the beginning of change in the region one of the main demands of the international community, including Russia, was the observance of human rights and an end to violence. In this matter there can be no double standards in relation to the different parties to the conflict. For example, we constantly urge the Syrian authorities to immediately stop violence against peaceful demonstrators. Moreover, we have submitted to the UN Security Council a draft resolution condemning the use of force in Syria, but at the same time – on both sides, so that extremist groups operating there should also cease to resort to the tactic of constant armed provocations, likewise resulting in civilian loss of life.
Otherwise, if you close your eyes to this part of the truth, the situation could disintegrate to what we saw in Libya. There, Western countries used the slogan of protecting civilians to overthrow the regime of Muammar Gaddafi by grossly distorting the mandate of resolution 1973 and backing one of the sides in the civil war in which thousands of Libyans were killed. We categorically cannot agree with the calls of some of our partners to use the “Libyan precedent” to resolve other conflicts. If you need a model to follow, it is without doubt the experience of the way the internal political crisis was resolved in Yemen, wh ere all the external players worked extremely patiently and persistently with all the sides, without ultimatums, encouraging them to compromise. So we must act in the case of Syria.
We are ready to strengthen our traditionally friendly relations with all countries of the Middle East and North Africa. We presume that their development is in our common interests.