FM Sergey Lavrov: Government Hour
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions during the Government Hour in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, Moscow, February 15, 2023
Ed Note: The transcript is now complete. It is an important address, given the focus on and the updated foreign policy concept. It is also a preview and preparation for Mr. Putin’s major speeches for next week, after the Chinese FM’s visit.
Esteemed Mr Volodin,
I am grateful for yet another opportunity to speak to the deputies of the State Duma during these traditional government hours.
The interaction between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation is indeed of a friendly nature. Our regular meetings in different formats allow us to provide legislators with information on the work of the foreign policy service, as well as hear your plans, advice and thoughts. This is particularly important for us at this current historical stage when the efforts to create favourable external conditions for resolving our domestic socio-economic goals and improving the living standards of the Russian people, encounter fierce resistance of those who imagine themselves the masters of the destinies of people. They are trying to interfere with our efforts by pushing us back decades and even to ruin our national development under the slogans of “decolonisation” and “preparations for Russia’s collapse.” In the process, the Anglo-Saxons and the rest of the collective West that have obeyed them without a murmur, are doing all they can to impose their dictate in world affairs. They are doing this to continue controlling the external conditions for the development of all humanity for the sake of their own global domination. They resort to illegal methods including threats, blackmail and outright robbery to punish those that are pursuing independent national-oriented foreign policy.
Therefore, our updated Foreign Policy Concept will stress the need to end the Western monopoly on creating a framework of international life. From now on, this framework will be determined not by the self-centred interests of the West but by the fair universal balance of interests in line with the UN Charter that has fixed the principle of sovereign equality of all states.
Crudely violating this fundamental principle of civilised international communication, the United States and its allies are obsessed with a maniacal striving to restore a neocolonialist unipolar world order and impede the objective process of the formation and rise of new global centres. As President of Russia Vladimir Putin noted in his speech at the Kremlin on September 30, 2022, they are doing all this to continue “to collect an actual tribute from humanity, to extract rent to be paid to the hegemon.” Russia’s deterrence over many years has been a component part of this course, including through NATO’s expansion to our borders and the turning of fraternal Ukraine into an “anti-Russia,” a Russophobic military bridgehead. In the past few years, this policy of Washington and its European satellites has reached a point of no return.
We gave up illusions about the true goals of the Westerners long ago. We remembered how they failed to fulfil their specific political commitments, given to the Soviet leaders, not to expand the North Atlantic Alliance. We remembered how Germany, France and Poland renounced their signatures under the agreement between President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. By doing this, they actually sanctioned the bloody state coup in Kiev in February 2014 under openly Nazi, racist slogans.
During all these years, the Western curators were directly pushing the criminal Kiev regime to the power solution of the Donbass problem, shutting their eyes to inevitable ethnic cleansing and the physical destruction of Russians and Russian-speaking people. It is enough to mention the recent cynical confessions by former Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and ex-President of France Francois Hollande. They admitted that they needed the Minsk Package of Measures approved by the UN Security Council, merely to gain time to allow Kiev to build up its military potential. Petr Poroshenko and Vladimir Zelensky also admitted this. The public statements by these figures are basically a confession; they actually admitted that they disrupted the Minsk agreements that the Western leaders proclaimed a non-alternative foundation for settlement in Donbass. Simply put, all of them lied to us. They are also lying to us now, concealing the truth about the acts of terrorism at the Nord Stream pipelines.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg joined the chorus of self-incriminating statements. He said in Brussels that the war started in 2014. NATO was preparing for it from the moment of the state coup and the advent of Nazis to power in Kiev with promises to destroy everything Russian in Ukraine and to expel Russians from Crimea. In other words, the goal was to resolve the Russian issue, and the alliance supported it, no matter how hard the successors to those who made previous attempts to do this, tried to reject it.
Until the very last moment, we were doing all we could to reduce tensions and find an equitable and mutually respectful agreement. With this in view, in November 2021, President of Russia Vladimir Putin suggested drafting reciprocal legally binding security guarantees with the West. Washington and the North Atlantic bloc arrogantly rejected this initiative. They did not even feel like discussing our lawful concerns.
All this left us no other choice. A year ago, on the orders of Vladimir Zelensky’s regime, the armed forces of Ukraine, led by the nationalist battalions, began the forceful suppression of Donbass, stepping up the bombing of local towns exponentially. In response to an official appeal from the DPR and LPR, we recognised their independence and provided military assistance under Article 51 of the UN Charter, launching the special military operation.
Today, the United States and its satellites are waging a comprehensive hybrid war against us that they have been preparing for many years, using Ukrainian radical nationalists as a battering ram. They are not hiding their goals – not only to defeat our country on the battlefield and destroy the Russian economy, but also to surround us with a cordon sanitaire, making Russia a kind of a “rogue state.” For that, they are using their entire toolkit, from direct military support for the neo-Nazis (US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin directly called for this yesterday, citing the need to provide the Armed Forces of Ukraine with high-precision weapons and to train Ukrainian personnel to ensure the success of the regime’s new counteroffensives, which are allegedly being prepared) to unprecedented illegal sanctions and outright lies in an attempt to demonise Russia.
It came to the point where French Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre accused Russia on February 2 of pursuing a “neo-colonial policy in Africa.” That is, Paris, which, together with other major European powers, has committed numerous bloody crimes in African and continues to openly consider the continent its “backyard,” is making such accusations against Moscow, which has played a decisive role in freeing the African nations from colonial oppression, in promoting the formation of their statehood, and laying the foundation for their economies and defence capabilities. That’s a mental case, the pot calling the kettle black. No comment.
Their attempts to isolate Russia have failed. Our enemies had to admit this. The foreign policy adopted by President Vladimir Putin to firmly defend Russia’s national interests while at the same time being open to broad and equal international cooperation has proved effective. Our long-term planning consistently relies on the modern world being multipolar, where the countries of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, which constitute the world majority, do not want to live by a Western-centric “rules-based order” invented by the West. Washington, Brussels and London have written those “rules” to suit themselves, and they continue to re-write them as they please.
As was predictable in this context, three-quarters of the world’s states have not joined the anti-Russia sanctions. All of them have taken a balanced stance on the situation in Ukraine, rightly considering it in the context of the European security crisis that has long been brewing due to NATO’s aggressive policy, rather than as an isolated conflict. As President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping said, we need to ensure indivisible security on a global scale.
Amid this situation, Russian diplomacy has intensified its work in those areas where multipolarity and a fairer world order are gaining status, and where our partners are ready for honest and mutually beneficial cooperation. Among our unconditional priorities is the strengthening of association formats with our friends, allies and like-minded nations in Eurasia. Integration is expanding in the Eurasian Economic Union, where Russia is presiding in 2023, and the number of countries and international organisations (there are several dozens of them) interested in establishing ties and possibly signing free trade deals with the EAEU is growing, too.
Integration processes are getting stronger in the Union State, where most of the 28 integration programmes have been implemented; foreign policy coordination is being strengthened and cooperation within the CIS is being promoted. The CIS has declared 2023 the Year of the Russian Language as a Language of Interethnic Communication. Cooperation as part of the CSTO remains an integral factor of regional security and stability.
Together with our Chinese friends, we are working vigorously to strengthen our bilateral strategic partnership, which has reached a historical high and an unprecedented level of trust. The foreign policy link between Moscow and Beijing has cemented the foundation for the emerging polycentric architecture, serving as a balancing and stabilising factor in global affairs.
Russia and India are steadily deepening their special and privileged strategic partnership (that’s the official term). Russia’s ties with Brazil, Iran, the UAE, Egypt, Turkiye, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and many other friendly countries on all continents are growing stronger. The second Russia-Africa Summit to be held in St Petersburg in July 2023 is expected to raise our partnership with our African friends to a new level. We highly value our diverse cooperation with the countries of Latin America and with their integration associations. Russia’s relations with some of them have reached a truly strategic level.
We continue to be active on multilateral platforms, primarily the United Nations, where Russia and a number of like-minded nations (more than 20) have set up the Group of Friends in Defence of the UN Charter; we defend the basic norms of international law and the inclusion of the aforementioned principle of respect for the sovereign equality of all countries without exception and non-interference in their internal affairs. These principles are directly enshrined in the UN Charter.
The SCO and BRICS have a special place in our foreign policy priorities. We consider these associations as the consummate example of multipolar diplomacy in the 21st century, aimed at promoting jointly developed collective approaches to global affairs.
Today, an increasing number of states are striving to establish ties with the SCO and BRICS and become full members. This once again proves both format’s growing relevance in the context of the evolution of global governance mechanisms. Within the democratisation of these mechanisms being long overdue, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to establish the Greater Eurasian Partnership including the EAEU, the SCO, ASEAN and other Eurasian states and associations is growing all the more important. Interaction between the EAEU and the Chinese Belt and Road project is increasing in this context as well. Integration platforms from other developing regions – the African Union, the Arab League, the GCC, CELAC and many others – are increasingly declaring their independent roles in global affairs. We have established systematic interaction with each of them, as all of them are true pillars of the emerging global multipolarity. In the end, it is they, and not the West, who will determine the external conditions for the development of all countries on our planet.
Fighting the falsification of history, primarily the history of the Great Patriotic War, and the spread of Nazi ideology in all its forms and manifestations remain in our focus. The Global Majority, which regularly supports the resolution on the inadmissibility of glorifying Nazism that we introduce annually at UN General Assembly sessions, stands in solidarity with us. However, this year we became deeply concerned with the fact that Germany, Italy and Japan voted against this document for the first time ever. This casts doubt on the sincerity of their repentance for the mass crimes against humanity committed during World War II.
The Great Victory gave a powerful impetus to the liberation of the colonial countries and peoples. Our country provided decisive and, more often than not, free support to former colonies. Today we stand in solidarity with the calls to bring the decolonisation process to a fair conclusion. In particular, Paris, which I mentioned earlier, still retains its sovereignty and control over the island of Mayotte, which was annexed from the Union of the Comoros. This state of affairs continues unchanged despite multiple UN General Assembly resolutions calling on France to return this territory. The same applies to the Chagos Islands, which London took from Mauritius. About half a century ago, the British, in defiance of UN decisions, actually banished the locals in order to create a military base there, which has remained operational to this day.
We welcome the efforts of non-governmental and parliamentary diplomacy to assert the truth and to restore justice. The Ministry will provide every necessary support to the United Russia Party’s initiative to hold an International Forum of Supporters for the Fight against Modern Neo-Colonialist Practices. I know that all other State Duma parliamentary parties are part of this work as well.
In addition, we are working with the State Duma and the Federation Council to ensure transparency in the Pentagon’s military biological activities at its secret laboratories scattered around the world, far beyond the borders of the United States, in violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction.
Our top priorities include protection of the legitimate rights of Russian citizens residing abroad, consolidation of the multiethnic and multi-religious Russian world, and the strengthening of ties with our compatriots living abroad.
We continue to make the most of economic diplomacy levers. In the face of the mayhem perpetrated by the West, we help build up trade and investment ties with friendly states, convert transactions with them to national currencies, and form financial and logistical mechanisms that offer an alternative to Western mechanisms.
We focus in particular on strengthening the position of the Russian language and Russian culture. The Ministry’s freshly created Department for Multilateral Humanitarian Cooperation and Cultural Relations will work to address these issues and to promote an objective and unbiased image of our country. We spare no effort to help the implementation of President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s initiative on creating an international organisation to support and to promote the Russian language around the world. The organisation is created under the auspices of the CIS, but will be open to all countries and regions without exception. This work is under way in practical terms.
The foreign policy approved by President of Russia Vladimir Putin is a long-term strategic course. Unlike in Western “democracies,” it is not tethered to electoral cycles and even less so to anyone’s whims. Importantly, it enjoys nationwide support which imparts strength, predictability and stability to our steps in the international arena. All assignments issued by the head of state to the Foreign Ministry will be fulfilled.
We will continue to work, employing all modern forms of diplomatic activities, including parliamentary, governmental, scientific, as well as cultural and sports diplomacy. Amid the all-out hybrid war that is being waged against us in all these areas, the pooling of efforts and the daily coordination of our specific initiatives and practical actions is an absolute necessity.
I appreciate your focus on Foreign Ministry activities. Let us hear what you think about us. I am ready to participate in an interactive discussion.
Question: Don’t you think time has come, after Seymour Hersh’s publication and NATO leader’s confessions, to take more serious action? We had the Treaty of Nystad, under which Peter the Great paid for the entire Baltic region an amount that back then was equal to the Kingdom of Sweden’s budget. They are calling us human garbage today. Perhaps, time is ripe to denounce a number of treaties with Norway, the United States, and Finland?
Sergey Lavrov: We are now in the process of a major revision of our obligations to international organisations that have been openly discriminatory, grossly violated their statutory principles of equal rights for participants, and are violating the rules of procedure on a daily basis with the sole purpose of undermining the existing consensus with regard to adopting Russia’s resolutions.
The Council of Europe is among the organisations from which Russia has withdrawn. We also withdrew from the European Court of Human Rights. Speaking before judges yesterday, President Putin reiterated that we were taking every measure to make sure our citizens do not lose the human rights function of the state. Until recently, this function was performed by the ECHR, but not too effectively. We will do a better job in this regard.
We planned to stay in the Council of Europe’s conventions that are open to the countries that do not participate in this organisation. But they began to voice grievances against us in an attempt to, under these conventions, infringe on our rights that all countries participating in these documents enjoy. We have withdrawn from the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (the so-called GRECO Group of States against Corruption) precisely for this reason. A number of other agreements under which they are trying to infringe on our rights are part of the same category. They are being reviewed by the Government as part of the law on international treaties where the Foreign Ministry acts as a coordinator.
We are taking inventory. We are about to withdraw from conventions and agreements that are no longer relevant, and this move is not politically motivated. There was the 1992 Agreement on guarantees of the rights of citizens of the State Parties of the Commonwealth of Independent States in the field of provision of pensions. All these issues have long been addressed in other legislative instruments.
Work is underway to address the entire range of our international obligations. In this regard, we are reviewing the issue of paying fees to organisations where our interests are being infringed upon. We are withholding payments to the OPCW, which introduced an illegitimate mechanism that runs counter to the convention, and a number of other organisations. This work is in full swing. We have several hundred such treaties and conventions.
Question: There are allegations that our country is plotting a coup to topple the Moldovan government and that a sabotage group will seize the media, and so on. What’s your take on this? Is it Kiev’s attempt to draw Moldova into the conflict, also because the Transnistrian issue remains unsettled? Or, is it an attempt to refocus public opinion on other issues since their utility bills have skyrocketed, social tensions are running high and people are disgruntled and insolvent, so they just came up with an image of an external enemy?
Sergey Lavrov: It’s a combination of the factors you mentioned. There is, of course, Kiev and its EU puppeteers’ maniacal desire to undermine Russia’s positions in the 5+2 mechanism on the Transnistrian settlement, to degrade our ties with Gagauzia, to declare the Russian Federation guilty of all troubles in Moldova and to demand the withdrawal of our peacekeepers, which are a military group guarding the enormous Cobasna ammunition depot. The Moldovan government led by Maia Sandu (she and nearly everyone else in her government are Romanian nationals) is trying to fend off accusations of having brought that country’s socioeconomic policy to a failure which causes mounting public outrage. Her government is whipping up this rhetoric with Kiev’s assistance, which made some obscure confidential information about the provocations and a coup allegedly planned by us available to Moldovan government.
Although they continue to claim that they must resolve the Transnistrian issues and have the Russian troops withdraw exclusively by diplomatic means, they are being nudged to adopt a wholly different stance where legitimate public processes are suppressed as harshly as possible in order to provide reasons for the West’s intervention in that country in much more material ways than before.
The Foreign Ministry made a statement to the effect that this is not in our interests, and we want good relations with the friendly and multi-ethnic nation of Moldova. But this is a two-way street. We hope that the politicians at the helm of that country, who made known their desire to join the European Union, going as far as reuniting with Romania or even asking NATO to ensure their security, do not reflect the interests of their people. Calls for holding early elections can be heard in Moldova. This is Moldova’s internal affair. But we are not at all pleased about someone using that friendly country for achieving their anti-Russian goals.
Question: The Russian Federation is engaged in an extensive construction programme, building Russian schools abroad. There are five of these in Tajikistan and plans to build others in Kyrgyzstan. But it is a long, costly affair. Our rivals build private schools. This is a rapid and efficient option, but it requires involvement from businesses. For this, government incentives are needed, and it is the government that should come up with a vision. Can the Foreign Ministry put forward a vision and a method for establishing a network of Russian schools abroad with business participation?
My contacts with colleagues from CIS countries reveal a serious shortage of books in Russian. We supply books, of course, but in small amounts. To compare: foreigners supply as many as one million textbooks per country per year. But the most important problem is that we do not always inquire as to how much literature and what kind of textbooks are needed. It happens in practice that just a few textbooks and several books of fairy-tales arrive. As a result, we are not always able to meet the demand. Should we perhaps do the same as in the new territories?
Sergey Lavrov: I think we should apply this experience in all territories that belong to our allies, our CIS, CSTO and EAEU partners, and our bilateral partners such as Azerbaijan, where there is a great yearning to learn Russian.
We have established some 20 or so branches of Russian universities in CIS countries. Uzbekistan alone has 11 of them; they are numerous in Kazakhstan, and there are several in Azerbaijan. Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan have established Russian-local Slavonic universities. A lot of work is being done.
As for school education, there are special programmes for Tajikistan, in keeping with the initiative President Emomali Rahmon expressed during Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko’s visit some time ago. There is already a work schedule, and government funding will be forthcoming. Similar work is being done in Uzbekistan and other countries. The scale is not so large, but we do create one or two schools [per country]. There is the Alexander Pushkin School in Ashgabat. One of the most popular schools and a magnet for the local youth is on the Russian military base in Tajikistan. Of course, we would like to allocate more money.
You have mentioned the new Department for International Humanitarian and Cultural Cooperation. It will operate the new state comprehensive programme called Support for and Promotion of the Russian Language Abroad on behalf of the Ministry. The programme has been finally approved. Regrettably, there is no money for it this year, but in legal terms, it does exist. Funding starting in 2024 has been promised. If it proves possible to get at least some funding for educational priorities this year, given the difficult financial situation, we are ready to work on it jointly with the State Duma and the Federation Council.
This programme is mostly aimed at pooling together whatever is related to the Russian language. I am referring to Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russkiy Mir [Russian World] Foundation, the Alexander Pushkin State Institute of the Russian Language, and the Programme for the Support of the Russian Language Abroad, which was not in one piece until recently. The task for now is to coordinate all this.
Question: During your news conference in January, you spoke about the glaring examples of Russophobia in the West with regard to all things Russian, including Russian culture. You pointed out that the scale of Russophobia had increased since WWII. What countermeasures might our country and the Foreign Ministry take in this connection? Should we make broader use of soft power, that is, Russian culture and art? Or should we sit back and be content that Anton Chekhov remains one of the most widely staged dramatists, that Fyodor Dostoyevsky is one of the most widely read writers, and that Konstantin Stanislavsky is studied at all theatre and film schools?
Sergey Lavrov: No, we must not leave the current events to take their course. This would amount to betraying our culture and our contribution to global development. Russia is making one of the largest contributions to the cultural development of the world, considering our rich heritage in music and theatre, science, education and culture in the broad meaning of the word.
We have amazing, unsurpassed experience with inter-cultural and inter-civilisational cohesion and with teaching our young people to understand the civilisational specifics of other ethnic groups, including those that live in the Russian Federation. It is our altruistic position – which is not limited to cultural events that can be placed on the record of Russia’s achievements but promotes inter-civilisational harmony and recognition of the global civilisational diversity of the world – that is appreciated in many countries, especially Muslim states and countries with other religious beliefs. We can see in Africa, Latin America and Asia that this factor is more important than the allocation of relatively modest funds by their Western partners.
I don’t think that anyone can undermine or disparage our humanitarian influence. Of course, we must continue working in this sphere. We are holding an increasing number of such events within the frameworks of BRICS and the SCO. We organise and regularly hold the Children of Asia Games. A new project, which has been supported by the President of Russia, is the Games of the Future, which will combine technical sport and cybersport, with the same persons competing in both. This should make intellectuals physically stronger, and athletes better versed in natural sciences and humanities.
It would be wrong to downplay the serious efforts being taken to undermine our achievements. But in these circumstances we will only try harder to redouble our efforts and succeed in this area, just as we are doing in all other spheres.
Question: In your remarks, you said that the number of countries who are Russia’s friends and partners exceeds substantially the number of unfriendly countries, but we still need to promote good relations with people in the countries whose governments adopted an openly anti-Russian policy. Parliamentary diplomacy must play a bigger role now that interaction through official diplomatic channels has become an issue.
The State Duma leadership, as well as parties represented in parliament, have been proactive in working with their foreign partners, including at the party level and through the groups of friendship. What do you think about this activity and what more must MPs do to reinforce Russia’s international standing?
Sergey Lavrov: I fully agree with this approach. Of course, in many cases the ruling elites in unfriendly countries are not acting of their free will. This is not what they want. They act the way they do only because they must show solidarity within their block. NATO and the EU enforce heavy-handed discipline on their members at the initiative of an aggressive minority.
The majority has not been exactly enthusiastic about it, but they have to stick with this line and follow the mainstream as defined in Europe by those who have US support, and no one else. I am referring to the Baltic states, as well as Poland, the Czech Republic and of course the UK, which is always there as the main driving force behind efforts to subvert and stop any contacts with the Russian Federation and spread everyday Russophobia across continental Europe.
There have been fewer contacts with civil society in Western countries. This is the objective truth. People are being intimidated, and complex logistics stand in the way of people-to-people ties, since there are no direct flights. There are other factors too. It is for these reasons that we mostly focused on Asia, Africa and Latin America last year.
I fully agree that people in unfriendly nations willing to support us and step up their ties with us, and there are quite a few of them, should have an opportunity to do so. We should invite them, have meetings with them in other venues whenever we get an opportunity to travel, which has become quite complicated.
Apart from the parliamentarians and representatives of European parties, and MEPs we know for their principled positions, even if there are few of them, there is the silent majority who does not like what is going on either. When they hear this flamboyant Irish MEP speaking on the origins of the Ukrainian crisis yesterday, his message will get across to many of those who voted with their parties to condemn Russia, and hopefully, they will come to question this position.
Today, the path to the Western “big screen” is blocked. As we said during a conversation with State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, Deputy Speaker Petr Tolstoy, when we cover Ukraine and what is going on in NATO and the EU, we do not just have a presenter condemn them. But this is exactly what the West does. In Russia, before sharing an assessment from the screen or on social media, we present what our opponents think to show their side of the story. We always make sure to cover both sides, and only then do we comment. You will not see this in the West, or very little of it. There are just sporadic voices that get through: Former Pentagon advisor Doug Macgregor and Scott Ritter, whom I know well, since he is a military expert and worked in Iraq when I was Russian Permanent Representative to the UN. There is also Seymour Hersh with his courageous revelations and his daily efforts to produce more evidence. Their message does get across to some people. They are like lone warriors. There is also Tucker Carlson, who is quite good and committed to showing things how they are. It is not a question of whether these people are pro-Russian or anti-American. What they want is that their country stays true to the high standards set forth in its own Constitution. These principles include not lying to your own people. I think that the truth will out.
In the previous question, the explosions of the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 pipelines were mentioned, and I did not respond to this part of the question in my answer. We raised this issue with the United Nations, and preparations for a special meeting of the UN Security Council are underway. We will demand that they find a way to carry out an investigation, even though UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has already said through his spokesperson that the UN does not have the mandate or authority to carry out investigations of this kind.
With all due respect, we disagree. When something happened in Idlib, Syria, a territory that was outside of the government’s control at the time, and the government was allegedly to blame for the suffering inflicted on the population, the Secretary-General did not need to seek a mandate from anyone, and said that he would launch an investigation even before the journalists asked him about it. He said that he had set up an investigative team that travelled to the site, returned and produced ambiguous conclusions. Antonio Guterres is an experienced diplomat and must not shy away from examining the facts. Maybe we should not call this an investigation. To use this word, you have to dig deep. But you can examine the facts that are there for the whole world to see and that can hardly be refuted. I think that the UN Secretary-General will have a hard time trying to avoid this.
Question: You said in your remarks that you would like to know the State Duma’s attitude to your efforts. The short answer is that our attitude is positive.
However, our independent foreign policy has not been backed by resolute economic measures so far. Regrettably, our economic and financial policies are still based on the rules that were imposed on us to restrain our economic growth and to make us dependent on technology, debt and more. In this context, do you envision any negative diplomatic consequences of the potential termination or refusal to comply with Russia’s WTO accession agreement, or denunciation of numerous agreements on avoiding double taxation, including those signed with unfriendly countries and offshore territories?
Sergey Lavrov: It is a system-wide issue. It not only concerns our position at the WTO, although that organisation is the backbone of globalisation, which was invented by the West and, above all, the Americans and which they are now trying to undermine. Their abuses of the mechanisms created within the framework of the WTO and Bretton Woods institutions have reached the allowable maximum. The same is true of the other institutions that were launched in the West many years ago to make globalisation work. They invited everyone, declaring “the end of history.” It is their ideal of organising human lives on the international stage. Everyone must abide by the rules, and they will have everything, like comforts, McDonald’s, trips to foreign resorts, and the ability to travel around the world in the most convenient manner. But all of that will be possible only if you follow the rules. The Americans and their main satellites in Europe bristled at Russia’s refusal to follow Tolstoy’s doctrine of non-violent resistance to evil and its decision not to turn the other cheek in Ukraine. After the outrageous coup was staged and a Nazi government was subsequently supported in Ukraine, after the disgrace of the Minsk agreements, which were promoted as the only option but were later exposed as a “diplomatic imitation,” as the dishevelled Boris Johnson has said recently, we saw that the West had no regard for proprieties. It has violated property rights, the law of fair competition, the presumption of innocence and many other laws on the protection of investments. All of them have been buried. They have frozen our state reserves and private funds. They used to preach to us about the sanctity of private property rights. They still don’t know what to do with all that. A year has passed, and they are still puzzling over ways to steal legally. I regard this as shameful behaviour by those who claimed to be the paragons of civilised human relations.
The WTO is in the grips of a deep crisis. In that organisation and in several other international mechanisms, including in the field of international investment and finance, China was working in strict compliance with the rules according to which these globalisation instruments were created after WWII. When there were any doubts about its activities, China provided explanations at the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body, acting in compliance with and playing on the field marked by the United States, and it got the better of them while playing by their rules. It surged to first place in terms of purchasing power parity. According to the most conservative estimates, it will become the world’s leader by GDP per capita within this decade. But there is a loosely formulated WTO provision that allows countries to adopt sanctions in case of existential threats to the security of other states. It can be applied to any activity.
The WTO dispute resolution mechanism’s complete paralysis is problem number two. The Americans do not want to respond to fair calls addressed to them by many countries, primarily China, because Washington is bent on discriminating against Chinese-made goods on the US market in its push to degrade everyone, including Europe, which it has put on the brink of deindustrialisation, and China (according to their doctrinal documents, their main challenge is to prevent China from becoming the number one power). Compete fairly. Keep away from it. These are illegal moves (below the belt).
The dispute resolution mechanism is unable to function properly. The United States is blocking the appointment of the required number of members for a quorum. It’s as simple as that. Just like a [Communist] party meeting that has to be held according to the script. Therefore we have to fight it.
Meanwhile, our Foreign Policy Concept states that diplomacy’s main goal is to facilitate the country’s internal and socioeconomic development, to ensure its security, and to improve the well-being of its citizens. There is some criticism in the country, but mostly abroad, where unofficial opposition leaders can now be found, to the effect that they have set a goal to create favourable external conditions. They themselves destroyed these conditions and created the most unfavourable environment for our development. This is from their point of view of the comfort provided by Western civilisational perks in the form of Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc. From this point of view, their life has become less carefree.
However, the overwhelming majority of our people – I know that the State Duma and the Federation Council think alike in this regard – refuses to be happy about external conditions that strip us of our independence at any moment, as was the case with our special military operation in Ukraine, which was inevitable after seven years of the West plotting a hybrid war against Russia, which we are now trying to stop. Given these circumstances, how can we rely on the West to create proper external conditions for our development?
Until recently, we lived in the paradigm that you mentioned. In the first years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the globalisation rules were seen as something that had to be improved and internal problems had to be addressed. They wanted to put us in our place so that we would not stop the war that was unleashed against us, immediately cancelled all the rules that allowed us to import everything that we needed without thinking about import substitution or building our own technological sovereignty base. Now, we have come to understand this fully and deeply.
As before, we must push to create the most favourable external conditions for our development, but “favorable conditions” must be spelled out. It’s unlike it was before, when the external factors were controlled by the West and the system that it created, which it could manipulate for its own gain. New external conditions must be formed in conjunction with the Global Majority within BRICS, the SCO, and our integration associations in the post-Soviet space, ASEAN, and SELAC. It was for a reason that not long ago the presidents of Brazil and Argentina officially began considering the creation of a payment unit (not a full-fledged currency yet) that will make it possible for us to avoid payments in US dollars, which the Americans are abusing. BRICS is discussing this possibility. The New Development Bank has been created, and similar structures are being created in the SCO. The process is underway, as they used to say about somewhat different processes a while ago. In this case, though, the process is healthy and is headed in the right direction.
We will prioritise these processes, because they will help us create external conditions that we really need to move forward and to improve the well-being of the people.
Question: You said the CIS declared 2023 the Year of the Russian Language as the language of interethnic communication. When the State Duma was adopting the 2023 federal budget, its CIS Affairs Committee insisted on allocating enough spending for the programme to support the Russian language abroad. Unfortunately, this programme has a limited scope and does not include the purchase of school textbooks. The shortage of textbooks is a pressing problem in the CIS, not only for teaching Russian, but also other subjects in Russian. Armenia alone needs at least 200,000 pieces, and the overall shortage in the CIS runs in several million. You have already partially answered this question. What do you think needs to be done to solve the current problem?
Sergey Lavrov: This area of our humanitarian presence abroad and ways to expand it is one of the Foreign Ministry’s priorities.
A new department has been created at the ministry that will coordinate the activities of federal executive bodies, and there is a new state programme for Support and Promotion of the Russian Language Abroad. At this stage, we are trying to align the various projects launched in recent years, which are all quite numerous. There is the Pushkin Institute of the Russian Language and the old programme to support the Russian language abroad. There is Rossotrudnichestvo, which has an educational track; the Ministry of Education has its own external circuit, and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, and the Russian Academy of Sciences as well. Quite recently, as our new department was established, we had meetings at the ministry at the level of heads of federal executive bodies. The new president of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the director of the new department attended. It was an introduction. We drafted a roadmap to be able to quickly prepare proposals for coordinating all these areas. Some of the documents need to be finalised for greater efficiency, for example, the list of founders. The work is ongoing.
As for the textbooks, specifically, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, as well as Rossotrudnichestvo are addressing the problem. There is also a state programme for the Development of Education. The Ministry of Education is overseeing it together with Rossotrudnichestvo. But this is also a dissipation of our resources.
One agency is doing something, and another agency is doing something – often we do not see the full picture. So first of all we need to figure out who is doing what.
A previous question on a similar topic was also about the need to attract businesses. Businesses are interested in participating because they know that, if they have economic interests in a particular country, they should be interested also in educating local children who will later work for them.
Combining the government’s efforts with stimulating businesses’ interest will be at the centre of our efforts. The state comprehensive programme for the support and promotion of the Russian language abroad is new. I hope that at the end of the year, when we have funding for it, we will be able to report more specifically.
Question: Confrontation brings about global challenges. However, we must anticipate what happens with the key regions that will play a critical role in global development and geopolitics. Antarctica is one such region. We have an active presence there, and the continent is removed from any political or military conflicts. But there is every reason to expect this region to attract more attention considering its geography, significant reserves of oil, minerals, precious metals, and fresh water. The Antarctic Treaty and the Madrid Protocol could be subject to early revisions. What is Russia doing to stand up for its interests in this critical region and counter the illegal methods the unfriendly countries use to drive us from this continent?
Sergey Lavrov: We have not seen any attempts of this kind so far. There are always people trying to engineer problems, and it happens with the Arctic, too. A working process was set in motion many years ago to have five Arctic powers delineate the outer limits of the continental shelf, and there were attempts to derail this effort. However, the arguments we put forward are given due consideration and respect.
We have yet to launch a similar process for the Antarctic. It may well be that this never happens, unlike the Arctic, designated in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as a region subject to delineation and establishing territorial seas and the delimitation of the outer limits of the continental shelf. There is nothing of this kind for the Antarctic. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty – the USSR played a proactive role in drafting it – provides for using the continent for peaceful purposes only and ensuring the freedom to carry out research. So far, we have not had any issues with our Antarctic stations. Scientists there work with their foreign colleagues.
There is a special conference on this matter, and it will hold its fifth session soon. It has an urgent item on its agenda which deals with the concept of Marine Protected Areas. There is a push by NGOs to create them. They floated this radical concept of designating at least 30 percent of coastal waters surrounding the Antarctic as Marine Protected Areas. All this is part of the initiatives put forward by Greta Thunberg not that long ago. She moved on to other initiatives, but this idea of creating Marine Protected Areas consists of designating regions where all navigation, fishing and any mining or extraction activity are banned. This means that scientists will be able to go there, but everything that you need for studying or using Antarctic resources will be banned.
We believe that 30 percent of the water area is a radical step, just like many other would-be radical initiatives to implement the principles of the green economy, especially considering that all these concepts crumbled and the West discredited them when it imposed all these sanctions. Before that, they have ignored the risks related to the green economy for a long time. I am certain that countries around the world will pay attention to this. So far, we have not seen any aggressive steps against us.
Question: You have shared a very clear and straightforward overview of what is going on and the outrage and degradation our Western partners have caused in international affairs. You have also outlined the future. We see that international court institutions are degrading, and there are practically no arbiters left who follow the law. It all comes down to sheer force. In this connection, what is the prospect of creating a new architecture for replacing the old one?
Being dependent on allies can also be dangerous. There is currently much talk that we chose the wrong allies and placed our trust in the wrong people. Some believe that we must turn to the East. What do you think about this?
Sergey Lavrov: We have mentioned the global configuration many times during today’s conversation. It boils down to a multipolar world order. Some are trying to scare us by saying that the emergence of a multipolar world arrangement would lead to chaos, while in a US-led order the Americans will be there to put things right.
US President Barack Obama said that America was an exceptional nation destined to play a central role and resolve all matters. President Donald Trump, and before that George W. Bush, had the same talking points. The current president, Joe Biden, has said many times that the Americans are an exceptional people and have special rights. His National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan published a policy article in 2019, before taking on his current role, in which he wrote that no vision of American exceptionalism can succeed if the United States does not defeat the emerging vision that emphasises ethnic and cultural identity.
This is what the “end of history” means. They are exceptional, so everyone must follow the banner of liberal democracy and live the way they are told. This is their thinking. This is not the kind of a world order we need. The Americans are starting to play games seeking to revive a bipolar world order, this time with China. They say that they want to compete with China instead of seeking to counter each other, and avoid military escalation.
We plan to have a series of high-level political contacts with the People’s Republic of China soon, and will continue to discuss these topics taking into consideration documents signed over the past years, including the statement on international relations entering a new era signed following talks with Xi Jinping during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing one year ago.
I am not the kind of person who is afraid of a multipolar world order just because it would include multiple actors. Of course, when you can rule the world single handed, you can wake up and decide what to do, issue orders and the others will obey. Indeed, the more parties are involved in coordinating efforts, the harder it is to come to an agreement. This happens with any organisation when you need to reach a consensus. You can have a vote, get a couple of votes more than the opposing side, and move on. However, a decision adopted by consensus will be much more sustainable and lasting, unlike the decisions that are being imposed, leaving someone unhappy.
In this multipolar system, there are clear leaders in every region right now: China, India, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Mexico and Argentina – several countries for every region. I think that this is a rather stable system. These countries are starting to work together within BRICS, the SCO and other associations sticking to the consensus rule and refraining from imposing anything on one another.
As for your question on friends and allies, we never had any allies in the West, even though we were ready to forge these alliances when the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union, as well as the Warsaw Treaty Organisation faded away. We proposed coming together without any dividing lines and transforming the OSCE into an integrated collective security framework for the Euro-Atlantic. It did not work. Then, as President Vladimir Putin has said on multiple occasions, we suggested using NATO for this purpose so that we join it as equal members. US President Bill Clinton responded with a nod, but then his aides said that there was no reason for the US to do it and this is not what it needed. What this meant was that they would use NATO against Russia. If the Soviet Union vanished, why would Russia not vanish too?
Two days ago, there was a debate at the Hudson Institute that brought together American experts, as well as some kind of a professor from Ukraine, who discussed in all seriousness what can be done in the West to prepare for the collapse of the Russian Federation. The idea was that Russia would disintegrate on its own, and they must be there to pick up what remains of it. Some even argued that the dissolution of the USSR came as a surprise and the West did not manage to get everything it wanted and started pushing to recover what it could.
These are not friends or allies. Once again, all the glamour, friendliness and trust we saw from Western diplomats after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and which persisted, as if propelled by inertia, even after the 2007 Munich Conference, when they still hoped that we would play by their rules, all this came apart with the start of the special military operation. The Western elite showed its true face after hiding it for so long under various disguises. When we say this, we are not reverting to Soviet-era rhetoric. This is our firm belief backed by overwhelming evidence. Once again, they want to bring everyone under their banner to counter Russia. In fact, they already did.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that they had begun to prepare for war in 2014. This is the war he meant. He admitted that they had helped Russophobes and neo-Nazis come to power, prepared them and were now supporting them in the war against Russia.
I have repeated many times that the emergence of a multipolar world is a long process. It will take more than the United States admitting, after the elections, that they were wrong and agreeing to a multipolar world. No. We have to repeatedly prove that we can do without them (not that we preferred it, but we can manage), if they do not want us around. They have been imposing sanctions on Chinese chips/semiconductors to prevent China from getting ahead and trying to promote Taiwan (two or three manufacturers) in order to hinder China in this economic competition. This has been a whole era. What has been happening between China and the US, China and the EU cannot be shut down overnight. These are trillion-dollar investments. Cutting off this funding overnight would mean enormous difficulties for people. But the West is ready to go for it. They don’t care.
When German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was reproached for renouncing Russian energy resources, she said that her voters would suffer, but they still need to help Ukraine. This is their national policy. Or rather, it is an imperialist policy – to suppress and contain the Russian Federation, which is not a thorn in their side, but an alternative to Western civilisation with its dismal colonial history.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly pointed out that everyone has seen proof that the Westerners want to continue living by colonial rules to advance their interests at the expense of everyone else. It will be long and difficult. Perhaps it will take more than our generation’s lifetime. But, in a good sense, the process got rolling.
Question: The global foreign policy of the entire Western world is aimed at denigrating Russia. At the same time, as we saw during the 2018 World Cup, tourism is one of the industries that can show people the real Russia. Do you think simplified visa requirements could help attract more tourists from countries that are friendly to Russia? The flow of tourists has decreased of late. Is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taking steps to improve the situation where foreigners encounter problems with payments in the Russian Federation after many of our banks have been disconnected from popular payment systems?
Sergey Lavrov: As for the inbound tourism figures, it is not about visas. We are working on visa facilitation. We plan to sign completely visa-free travel deals with 11 countries, and simplified visa requirements with six (including India and Indonesia). It is very easy for them to obtain a visa now. Also do not forget that we are in the process of lifting restrictions on the issuance of electronic visas to a large number of countries – about 70, with the exception of unfriendly ones that have stopped issuing visas to Russians via a simplified procedure.
E-visas were approved in 2020, but then Covid-19 intervened. Last summer, we lifted Covid restrictions and, despite certain unfriendly actions by the West, including denying visas to Russians, the Russian Government was instructed to report, before June 1, on resuming the execution of earlier decisions on the issuance of electronic visas. I think that there will be no problem with friendly countries. But visas are not a crucial factor for inbound tourism. Our consular institutions hardly ever complain about being overwhelmed by visa applications. People are wary of traveling to Russia, and yet, may tourists want to visit, even from unfriendly countries. Only, logistics has become complicated with direct flights to Russia cancelled. No convenient options. It’s one thing to agree to layovers and taking the long way when you are travelling on business or on official government orders. But tourists have limited time and would not want to lose even one precious vacation day. Imagine them flying via Istanbul, the United Arab Emirates or Qatar to find that their connecting flight was cancelled somewhere down the road. This is life.
As for payment systems, the Foreign Ministry has nothing to do with this. We are not involved in this in any way. However, I am confident that it is possible to resolve these issues. They started accepting Mir cards rather rapidly. Then, the United States began to rebuke all independent countries making independent decisions and to threaten reprisals. You know how the Americans force others to obey.
Russia explained the motives for launching the special military operation. For many years, we had warned that they were playing with fire. We were forced to put an end to the hybrid war they launched against Russia as well as the hot war in Donbass. There are two viewpoints, specifically, our truth and their reaction to our truth. If you are democrats respecting the sovereign equality of states as a fundamental principle of the UN Charter, then you should let all others examine the facts, hear out the parties and make a choice. Indeed, we instruct our ambassadors to talk about Russian assessments. This is what they are doing. The West does not discuss its assessments. I have spoken with many colleagues from Asia, Africa and Latin America. The West merely sends its emissaries who visit the foreign ministry or trade ministry of a specific country and say that they must stop cooperating with Russia. They should not receive delegations, stop buying weapons even if there are specific contracts and cancel agreements in other spheres. Is this democracy? They are imposing the “end of history” concept when nothing else, except Western liberalism, was supposed to remain. Everyone had to listen to the West.
The most amusing thing is that when I speak with my colleagues, they tell me off the record that they would be punished if they do not stop cooperating with Russia on orders from the United States. What do they get in return? This is not like exchanging one benefit for another. They should consider it beneficial to use the dollar system, and the IMF-issued loans in exchange for numerous unpopular reforms. The Americans are looking after their domestic political affairs. This is the benefit they get from the Americans.
In reality, these are elements of a global system established by the United States and micromanaged by the Americans. Other countries would lose what they had used for decades if they did not heed various demands. That’s all there is to it. This is pure neo-colonialism, blackmail and threats.
They say that Russia has few real allies. We have Belarus and members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). The allied countries that are members of this organisation do not always agree with each other. That’s because we operate on the basis of respect for each other’s interests, there are no dictates and no heavy-handed discipline. When NATO or the EU make a decision, certain countries, for example, Hungary, say that they disagree. However, Hungary has nowhere to go, they force it to obey because it stands alone. In reality, consensus means that everyone agrees, and no one objects. This is why the European Union and NATO have a peculiar kind of “heavy-handed” consensus. This is a long process that may last an entire historical era. But the process is now underway and cannot be stopped.
Question: The importance and relevance of interaction with the countries from the Islamic world is on the rise. Russia has been building relations with these countries for many years now. There are interesting specific projects, but I would like to hear what the Ministry has to say about the ongoing work to strengthen our interaction with the Islamic world and what role the regions of the Russian Federation are playing this process.
Sergey Lavrov: This issue is among our current priorities. Our partnership began long before the current developments. For more than 10 years now, we have enjoyed observer status in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation which comprises 57 Islamic countries. In November 2022, OIC Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha paid us a visit. We had a detailed discussion of our joint work. We have overlapping positions on most of the pressing global issues in the energy sector, food security, healthcare, infectious disease control, regional conflicts, and we maintain intercultural and intercivilisational dialogue as well. At the beginning of our interaction with the OIC, Yevgeny Primakov spearheaded the creation of the Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group. From Russia, it is now headed by head of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov. The group met recently. They meet almost annually and bring in theologians and prominent politicians from both sides. It is a promising group with leading positions in what we refer to as a dialogue of civilisations under the auspices of the UN.
I mentioned earlier that Tatarstan is playing a coordinating role on our part. The Kazan-Forum economic summit has been held in Kazan for several years now. At the suggestion of Rustam Minnikhanov, it has been assigned the status of a federal project last year. There is the OIC Youth Forum, in which observer countries (including us) participate as well. Last year, within the ICYF, Kazan was declared the OIC youth capital. Prospects are good in this regard. They have adopted a principled position on everything related to the European global security crisis, where the West wants to make Ukraine the main strike force to be used against the Russian Federation. Admittedly, there is desecration of Christian holy places and relics in Kosovo, for example, where Kosovo Muslims violate the postulates of their religion. In Scandinavia, neo-Nazis burned the Quran. This is reminiscent of Nazis destroying books in Germany and conquered countries, and the recent events in Ukraine, when books in Russian by Russian authors were taken out of libraries and burned on the squares. These analogies are clear to ordinary people. This is also an area of our work with the Islamic world. All we need to do is move forward. We’ll be met halfway, no question.
I’m not going to repeat the assessments that we heard today. They overlapped. Representatives of all parliamentary parties spoke out. This will help us bring our existing and ongoing plans to a concrete format. This includes attracting tourists, despite the logistical difficulties, and building up efforts to protect the Russian language.
The Government adopted a resolution to harmonise our approaches to make sure our efforts pack a punch and the funds that are set aside for these purposes are spent transparently and we keep tabs on the way money is spent. I heard Vyacheslav Nikonov’s proposal concerning our new “terminology” era. I agree that developing countries are developing, while developed Western countries have developed to the point where they’ve gone all sorts of rogue.
Thank you for having me. As the catch phrase goes, the meeting was interactive. In Russian, though, we say we had a good and mutually enriching conversation. We will take this work beyond major meetings like this one to daily meetings at all levels. I will have meeting with the leaders of the State Duma and the Federation Council, and my deputies will meet with the heads of committees and parliamentary parties. Everyone will benefit from them. Thank you very much.