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Reduced cooperation between Russia and the West will affect many realms, not just the economy. Im also referring to the damage caused to our joint efforts in the face of escalating common threats. In this regard, the short-sightedness of the US and EU decision to freeze mechanisms of cooperation with Russia, including those needed to consolidate our approaches to common challenges, such as terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime, is surprising.
We cannot understand what this is all about. Is it an attempt to prove oneself in some new way, the inertia of imperial thinking, or an inability to understand that modern realities do not allow the West to build a worldwide vertical structure to fit its approaches? Of course, we recognize that there are differences, many of which are objective in nature and reflect the actual incompatibility of legitimate interests, but we are willing to bridge the gap between our positions and seek compromises on the basis of equality, true consideration of each others interests, and a refusal to make any attempts at blackmailing or dictating.
We are convinced that gradual progress towards forming a common economic and humanitarian space based on the principle of equal and indivisible security should be a strategic benchmark for our efforts to create a new architecture on the European continent. This belief will guide us at the upcoming Basel meeting of OSCE foreign ministers scheduled for early December. After all, the original purpose of this organisation was to eliminate any and all dividing lines in the Euro-Atlantic zone.
January 21, 2015 | The Washington Post
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow on Jan. 21. Russia's foreign minister said Wednesday that talks with his counterparts from Ukraine, France and Germany will focus on the situation in the Eastern Ukraine. (Ivan Sekretarev/AP)
MOSCOW - President Obama briefly, but pointedly, addressed a year of tense relations with Russia over Ukraine during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, saying the United States was "upholding the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small."
Today Russia replied: Who are you calling a bully?
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov railed against Obama's address during his annual year-in-review news conference Wednesday, charging that Obama's speech "showed that the United States intends to dominate the world."
"The Americans have chosen a path toward confrontation, and do not evaluate their own steps critically at all," Lavrov said. "Yesterday's address by President Obama showed that the central principle of the United States' philosophy is based on only one thing: The we're No. 1 and everybody else has to recognize that."
Obama: 'Bigger nations can't bully the small'(1:13)
President Obama said during his State of the Union address that efforts like sanctions against Russia uphold "the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small." (AP)
Obama's comments on Russia weren't quite as gauche as that: He did voice the common refrain of declaring America's exceptionalism in State of the Union speeches toward the end of the speech, but quite a while after talking about Russia and defended the U.S. push to impose sanctions on Russia by pointing out that "it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters."
But it's not the first time in recent months that a Russian leader has accused the United States of bullying the world into submission.
In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of international experts at the Valdai Club that the United States was destabilizing the entire global order in its attempt to "reshape the world," based on what Putin diagnosed as an undeserved sense of post-Cold War victor's justice.
On Wednesday, Lavrov noted that Russia "does not want and do not support any new Cold War."
But he scoffed at the idea that the United States had built up a team of allies to counter Russia through anything but coercion and force, pointing to past comments of Obama and Vice President Biden to support the argument that the U.S. "forced Europe to do what they wanted with regard to our country."
Over the past year, the United States and Europe have enacted several rounds of sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine. While the United States often took the lead in pushing for many of those sanctions, European leaders have held the line against Russia, deciding just Monday that the situation on the ground in Ukraine didn't merit any discussion of rolling back sanctions.
There has been a spike in hostilities in the past week between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army in eastern Ukraine, marked with fierce battles reminiscent of the worst days of the conflict last summer. Ukrainian leaders have charged that Russia is once again sending troops over the border to support the rebels a charge Russia denies, but that U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt appeared to support Tuesday, according to Russian news wire Interfax.
The Kremlin maintains that it is Kiev that is intent on furthering hostilities and that the United States is using the Ukraine conflict to stick it to Russia and Putin.
"The matter here isn't Crimea and it's not Ukraine. If it weren't Crimea, they would come up with another excuse," Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian magazine Argumenty i Fakty in an interview posted online Tuesday.
Lavrov also opined that he considered the United States' approach to international relations "outdated" and "not a proper thing for a great power."
"I should like that all countries choose the path of cooperation, not the path of diktat disguised in some diplomatic form," he said, adding the charge that the U.S. was actually too weak to go it alone which is why it tries to form coalitions, as in Iraq.
Lavrov also expressed more doubts than hope that the United States' approach would change anytime soon.
"It's in their blood and flesh, they believe they are first, and this philosophy, this genetic code, is very hard to change,"
Lavrov said, before expressing faint confidence that "the logic of partnership" between the United States and Russia would ultimately prevail.
President Obama's full State of the Union address(60:05)
During his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama acknowledged the nation's struggles over the past 15 years, but said it is time "we turn the page." (AP)
Karoun Demirjian is a reporting fellow in The Post's Moscow bureau. She previously served as the Washington Correspondent for the Las Vegas Sun, and reported for the Associated Press in Jerusalem and the Chicago Tribune in Chicago.
VitalyT, 1/23/2015 6:58 AM EST
Hey, guys. Have you ever been in Russia? If not, how can you believe to all those garbage about Russia that media throws to you?
Nov 28, 2014 | eng.kremlin.ru
Ahead of the state visit to the Republic of Turkey, Vladimir Putin gave an interview to Anadolu Agency.
QUESTION: What specific objectives in political, economic and cultural spheres of Russian-Turkish relations will you set during the meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council? Why do the bilateral relations remain generally warm despite political differences in some regional issues?
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: The upcoming state visit to Turkey and participation in the fifth session of the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council are an important stage in advancing relations between our states. Due to the common efforts we took in recent years, our relations have been developing constructively on the basis of mutual confidence, good neighbourliness, equality and mutual respect of interests.
Together with President of Turkey Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan we are going to discuss the main issues of Russian-Turkish cooperation, including the implementation of strategic joint projects in the energy sector. We are going to review the results of our cooperation over the last year and outline future tasks. And of course, we will exchange views on key international and regional problems.
Turkey has been and remains an important foreign trade partner for Russia. In 2013, our bilateral trade turnover reached $32.7 billion. The accumulated Russian direct investments in Turkey exceed $1.7 billion, and similar Turkish investments in Russia are close to $1 billion. We are both interested in maintaining this positive trend.
Our agenda includes the improvement of trade turnover structure through increasing the share of high-tech products and developing industrial cooperation. In this regard, we are already implementing a number of important joint projects. For example, the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works has upgraded and expanded the capacity of the Iskenderun Iron and Steel Works Company, with investments amounting to $2 billion. The Russian GAZ Group and the Turkish company Mersa Otomotiv have launched a car assembly plant in the province of Sakarya.
One of the promising areas is cooperation between our countries in space exploration. On February 15, 2014, a Turkish telecommunication satellite Turksat‑4A was successfully launched using a Russian carrier rocket. Next year, we plan to launch a second satellite, Turksat‑4B.
I would also like to note that about 100 Turkish construction companies are now working in Russia. Some of them participated in building the infrastructure for the Olympic Games in Sochi. We expect that this experience will be successfully applied in the future when constructing the facilities for major international sporting events to be held in Russia in the coming years.
Bilateral ties in the humanitarian field are actively developing. In February 2014, the Russian Centre for Science and Culture opened in Ankara. In Moscow, it is planned to open the Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centre, named in honour of a prominent Turkish poet of the 13th‑14th centuries.
Over the recent decades, Turkey has been one of the countries most visited by Russian tourists. This is greatly facilitated by a visa-free regime for short‑term trips. Around 4.3 million Russians visited Turkey in 2013, while the number of visitors in January-September of this year already reached 4.1 million people. We expect that the announcement of reciprocal years of tourism in our countries will allow us to significantly increase the flow of tourists, and for our part, we will always be glad to welcome Turkish guests.
Due to such intensive multidimensional ties, TurkishRussian relations remain stable, not depending on the current situation and maintaining continuity. Naturally, our positions on some issues might not be exactly the same or may even differ. This is natural for states carrying out independent foreign policy. At the same time and above all, we understand the importance of partnership between our countries and our peoples and a common desire to continue the mutually beneficial dialogue, which is highly appreciated by Russia.
QUESTION: Turkey is preparing for the winter season, as far as natural gas consumption is concerned. What are your plans regarding the increase in gas supplies to Turkey and the revision of gas prices? What is the scope of Russia's plans to expand energy cooperation with Turkey in general and in the field of peaceful use of nuclear energy in particular?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Over the last decades, energy has been playing the role of a 'locomotive' in our trade and economic cooperation. In terms of volume, Turkey is the second largest buyer of Russian natural gas after Germany, which is delivered through the 'Western corridor' with transit through Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria, and through the Blue Stream gas pipeline. Last year, Russian gas supplies to Turkey reached 26.6 billion cubic meters, and this year, most likely, will probably exceed this amount.
We have a clear understanding of how important Russian energy resources are for Turkey's socioeconomic development. That is why we always respond positively to any appeals regarding Russian natural gas exports. In October, we reached an agreement in principle on increasing the annual supply through the Blue Stream pipeline from 16 to 19 billion cubic meters and on the engineering works that thus need to be done. Our experts keep a close check on this matter.
As regards the pricing for extra gas volumes, this issue needs to be thoroughly analysed by the companies concerned, including in view of the situation on the Turkish natural gas market.
As far as diversification of our economic partnership with Turkey is concerned, we intend to identify strategic areas for our cooperation, including high technologies, together. Nuclear energy is among such areas. In December 2010, an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in construction and operation of nuclear power plant at Akkuyu in Turkey was signed. This large-scale project, worth about $20 billion, is being implemented on schedule and will strengthen Turkey's energy security and create new jobs, including through the involvement of Turkish companies.
As a matter of fact, a whole new promising industry is being created in your country and we are helping you train highly skilled specialists for it. Since 2011, four groups totalling more than 250 students have been sent from Turkey to Russia for training.
QUESTION: What possibilities do you in Russia see for increasing trade between our two countries and what figures can be achieved?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We highly value independent decisions by Turkey, including on economic cooperation with Russia. Our Turkish partners refused to sacrifice their interests for somebody else's political ambitions. I consider that to be a really well-weighed and far‑sighted policy.
The position of your government opens up new opportunities for increasing bilateral trade. First of all, it allows the Turkish farmers to fill in the emerging niches on Russia's huge food market. We welcome their intentions to export more meat, dairy and fish products, vegetables, and fruits to Russia.
Hopefully, together we will be able to increase our mutual trade and enhance the quality of investment cooperation for the benefit of the peoples of Russia and Turkey. We have already agreed with Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan that we can bring our mutual trade up to $100 billion (in 2013, it amounted to $32.7 billion).
I would like to note that unilateral restrictive measures imposed on our country by the United States, EU, Japan, Australia, and a number of other states are not legitimate. Such pressure not only causes direct economic damage, but also threatens international stability.
Attempts to use the language of ultimatums and sanctions in talks with Russia are absolutely inadmissible and have no chance for success. In such case, our response has always been and will be balanced and consistent with Russia's rights and commitments under international treaties, including the WTO agreements.
By the way, heads of leading western companies operating in Russia express their concerns over the sanctions and reaffirm their willingness to continue cooperation with their Russian partners.
We hope that common sense will prevail. We call to abandon the distorted logic of restrictions and threats and to search for mutually acceptable solutions to outstanding issues.
QUESTION: How do you assess the current state of affairs in Syria? Does Russia have any suggestions on how to speed up the settlement process in that country?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The situation in Syria remains source of serious concern. And we are fully aware of the burden imposed on Turkey by the on-going violent conflict ravaging your neighbours. What is more, the main risk of further aggravation of the situation both in this country and in neighbouring states stems from the activities of the so-called Islamic State and other radical groups that were once actively employed by some Western countries, which flirted with them and encouraged them.
We consider the fight against terrorists and extremists in the Middle East and North Africa, including naturally Syria, a region struck by upheavals, a priority task for the international community. We are convinced that the efforts to deter this threat should be based on the UN Security Council resolutions, strict compliance with international law, the principles of state sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of states in the first place. And what is important this should be done transparently and without any hidden agenda.
We, for our part, will further support governments of Syria, Iraq and other regional states in countering extremists. On the whole, we believe it is important to address numerous regional problems comprehensively, based on an in‑depth analysis of threats existing in the Middle East and North African region in all their complexity. It is evident, for example, that the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict and the failure to settle the Palestinian problem are being employed by extremists in order to recruit new supporters, especially among young people.
From the very onset of the Syrian crisis Russian has consistently exerted efforts towards its peaceful political settlement by the Syrians themselves based on the Geneva Communiquι of June 30, 2012, meaning through internal dialogue without any preconditions or dictates from the outside.
We believe that the rise of terrorist groups in Syria and in the Middle East in general require consolidation of all robust forces of Syrian society consolidation for the future of Syria as a sovereign, united, secular and democratic state where equal rights for all ethnic and confessional groups are guaranteed and everyone can enjoy peace and security.
We will continue to do everything necessary to help the Syrian people to overcome the tragic events and find peace and harmony as soon as practicably possible. This is the purpose of our contacts with the Syrian government, various opposition groups, our international and regional partners, including, of course, our Turkish colleagues.
November 17, 2014 | kremlin.ruVladimir Putin answered questions from Hubert Seipel of the German TV channel ARD. The interview was recorded on November 13 in Vladivostok.
HUBERT SEIPEL (retranslated from Russian): Good afternoon, Mr President.
You are the only Russian President who has ever given a speech at the Bundestag. This happened in 2001. Your speech was a success. You spoke about relations between Russia and Germany, building Europe in cooperation with Russia, but you also gave a warning. You said that the Cold War ideas had to be eradicated. You also noted that we share the same values, yet we do not trust each other. Why were you being a little pessimistic back then?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: First of all, I gave no warnings or admonitions and I was not being pessimistic. I was just trying to analyse the preceding period in the development of the situation in the world and in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I also took the liberty of predicting the situation based on different development scenarios.
Naturally, it reflected the situation as we see it, through the prism, as diplomats would put it, from Russia's point of view, but still, I think it was a rather objective analysis.
I reiterate: there was no pessimism whatsoever. None. On the contrary, I was trying to make my speech sound optimistic. I assumed that having acknowledged all the problems of the past, we must move towards a much more comfortable and mutually advantageous relationship-building process in the future.
HUBERT SEIPEL: Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, which would not have been possible without the Soviet Union's consent. That was back then. In the meantime, NATO is conducting exercises in the Black Sea, near the Russian borders, while Russian bombers conduct exercises in Europe's international airspace. The Defence Minister said, if I'm not mistaken, that they fly as far as the Gulf of Mexico. All of this points to a new Cold War.
And, of course, partners exchange harsh statements. Some time ago, President Obama named Russia as a threat on a par with Ebola and the extremists, the Islamic extremists. You once called America a nouveau riche, who thinks of himself as a winner of the Cold war, and now America is trying to shape the world according to its own ideas about life. All of this is very reminiscent of a Cold War.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: See, you mentioned 2001 and I said that my perspective was rather optimistic.
We have witnessed two waves of NATO expansion since 2001. If I remember correctly, seven countries Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and three Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO in 2004. Two more countries joined in 2009. Those were significant geopolitical game changers.
Furthermore, the number of military bases is growing. Does Russia have military bases around the world? NATO and the United States have military bases scattered all over the globe, including in areas close to our borders, and their number is growing.
Moreover, just recently it was decided to deploy Special Operations Forces, again in close proximity to our borders.
You have mentioned various exercises, flights, ship movements, and so on. Is all of this going on? Yes, it is indeed.
However, first of all, you said or perhaps it was an inaccurate translation that they have been conducted in the international European airspace. Well, it is either international (neutral) or European airspace. So, please note that our exercises have been conducted exclusively in international waters and international airspace.
In 1992, we suspended the flights of our strategic aircraft and they remained at their air bases for many years. During this time, our US partners continued the flights of their nuclear aircraft to the same areas as before, including areas close to our borders. Therefore, several years ago, seeing no positive developments, no one is ready to meet us halfway, we resumed the flights of our strategic aviation to remote areas. That's all.
HUBERT SEIPEL: So, you believe that your security interests have not been accommodated.
Let me return to the current crisis and to its trigger. The current crisis was triggered by the agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. The title of this agreement is relatively harmless. It is called the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. The key point of this agreement is to open the Ukrainian market to the EU and vice versa. Why is it a threat for Russia? Why did you oppose this agreement?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: In reality the economy follows almost the same path as security. We preach the opposite of what we practice. We say that a single space should be built and build new dividing lines instead.
Let us look at what the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement stipulates. I have said this many times, but it appears I have to repeat it once again: it eliminates the import duties for the European goods entering Ukrainian territory, brings them down to zero. Yet as Ukraine is a member of a free trade zone within CIS, zero customs tariffs have been introduced between Russia and Ukraine. What does that mean? It means that all European goods will flow through Ukrainian territory directly to the customs territory of the Russian Federation.
There are many other things that may not be clear for people who are not informed regarding these matters, but they do exist. For example, there are technical regulations that are different in Russia and in the EU, we have different standards. Those are standards of technical control, phytosanitary standards and the principle of determining the origin of goods. By way of an example I would cite the component assembly of cars in Ukrainian territory. According to the Association Agreement, the goods manufactured in the territory of Ukraine are intended for our market within the framework of the Russian-Ukrainian free trade zone. Your companies that invested billions of euros in factories in Russia (Volkswagen, BMW, Peugeot, Citroen, the US Ford, and others) entered our market on completely different terms, on condition of deep localisation of production. How could we accept that? So we said from the outset, "We agree, but let us proceed step by step and take into consideration the real problems that can emerge between Russia and Ukraine." What were we told in response? "It is none of your business, so get your nose out of these affairs."
HUBERT SEIPEL: I would like to turn to the past. When the EU‑Ukraine Association Agreement was discussed, the negotiations took quite a while. This caused rallies on Maidan in Kiev. I refer to the protests during which people demanded a better life within the European Union. But they were also protesting against the Ukrainian system. In the end all that resulted in a wave of violence.
After the then president failed to sign the Agreement, it provoked an outbreak of violence, and people were killed on Maidan. Then the German Minister of Foreign Affairs arrived and tried to find a compromise between the protesters and the government, and managed to do that. An agreement was made providing for a government of national unity. It remained in force for about 24 hours and then it disappeared.
You followed closely the developments of September 21 and you remember how you talked with Mr Obama and Ms Merkel.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes. Indeed, on February 21, not only the German Minister of Foreign Affairs but also his counterparts from Poland and France arrived in Kiev to act as guarantors of the agreement achieved between the then President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. The agreement stipulated that the only path the process would take was the peaceful one. As guarantors, they signed that agreement between the official authorities and the opposition. And the former assumed that it would be observed. It is true that I spoke by telephone with the President of the United States that same day, and this was the context for our conversation. However, the following day, despite all the guarantees provided by our partners from the West, a coup happened and both the Presidential Administration and the Government headquarters were occupied.
I would like to say the following in this regard: either the Foreign Ministers of Germany, Poland and France should not have signed the agreement between the authorities and the opposition as its guarantors, or, since they did sign it after all, they should have insisted on its implementation instead of dissociating themselves from this agreement. What is more, they prefer now not to mention it at all, as though the agreement never existed. In my view, this is absolutely wrong and counterproductive.
HUBERT SEIPEL: You acted promptly. You, so to say, annexed Crimea and justified it at the time based on the fact that 60 percent of Crimea's population were Russians, that Crimea has a long history of being part of Russia and, lastly, that its fleet is stationed there. The West saw that as a violation of international law.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: What is your question exactly?
HUBERT SEIPEL: Did you underestimate the reaction of the West and the possible sanctions, which were later imposed on Russia?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: We believe that this sort of reaction was totally disproportionate to what had happened.
Whenever I hear complaints about Russia violating international law I am simply amazed. What is international law? It is first of all the United Nations Charter, international practice and its interpretation by relevant international institutions.
Moreover, we have a clear recent precedent Kosovo.
HUBERT SEIPEL: You mean the International Court of Justice ruling on Kosovo? The one in which it stated that Kosovo had the right to self‑determination and that the Kosovars could hold a vote to determine the future of their state?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: (In German.) Exactly. (Continues in Russian.) But not only that. Its main point was that when making a decision concerning their self-determination, the people living in a certain territory need not ask the opinion of the central authorities of the state where they presently live. They do not need the approval by the central authorities, by the government, to take the necessary measures for self-determination. That is the central point.
And what was done in Crimea was not in any way different from what had been done in Kosovo.
I am deeply convinced that Russia did not commit any violations of international law. Yes, I make no secret of it, it is a fact and we never concealed that our Armed Forces, let us be clear, blocked Ukrainian armed forces stationed in Crimea, not to force anybody to vote, which is impossible, but to avoid bloodshed, to give the people an opportunity to express their own opinion about how they want to shape their future and the future of their children.
Kosovo, which you mentioned, declared its independence by parliamentary decision alone. In Crimea, people did not just make a parliamentary decision, they held a referendum, and its results were simply stunning.
What is democracy? Both you and me know the answer well. What is demos? Demos is people, and democracy is people's right. In this particular case, it is the right to self-determination.
HUBERT SEIPEL: It shows immediately that you are a lawyer.
But you know the arguments of the West as well. The West says that the elections were held under the control of Russian military. This is the reasoning of the West.
Let me touch upon the next issue. Today, Ukraine is more or less divided. Four thousand people have died, hundreds of thousands have become refugees and fled, among other places, to Russia. In the east of the country, Russian-speaking separatists are demanding broad autonomy, some want to join Russia. In accordance with the Minsk agreement, ceasefire was declared, but people are dying every day. The country is bankrupt. Basically everybody lost in the conflict. Ukraine seems to have lost the most, but Europe and Russia did as well. How do you see Ukraine's future?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Ukraine is a complex country, and not only due to its ethnic composition, but also from the point of view of its formation as it stands today.
Is there a future and what will it be like? I think there certainly is. It is a large country, a large nation with the population of 4344 million people. It is a large European country with a European culture..
You know, there is only one thing that is missing. I believe, what is missing is the understanding that in order to be successful, stable and prosperous, the people who live on this territory, regardless of the language they speak (Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian or Polish), must feel that this territory is their homeland. To achieve that they must feel that they can realise their potential here as well as in any other territories and possibly even better to some extent. That is why I do not understand the unwillingness of some political forces in Ukraine to even hear about the possibility of federalisation.
We've been hearing lately that the question at issue should be not federalisation but decentralisation. It is all really a play on words. It is important to understand what these notions mean: decentralisation, federalisation, regionalisation. You can coin a dozen other terms. The people living in these territories must realise that they have rights to something, that they can decide something for themselves in their lives.
HUBERT SEIPEL: The central question in the West as follows: will Ukraine remain an independent state? It is the central question now on the agenda. The second question is whether Russia can do more? Maybe Russia has more opportunities to expedite this process in Ukraine, in particular with regard to the Minsk agreements?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, when someone tells us that we have some special opportunities to solve this or that crisis it always troubles and alarms me. We have heard many times that Russia has a key to the solution of the Syrian problem, that we have some special opportunities to solve some other problem or the Ukrainian crisis. I always begin to suspect that there is an intention to pass on the responsibility to us and to make us pay for something. We do not want that.
Ukraine is an independent, free and sovereign state. Frankly speaking, we are very concerned about any possible ethnic cleansings and Ukraine ending up as a neo-Nazi state. What are we supposed to think if people are bearing swastikas on their sleeves? Or what about the SS emblems that we see on the helmets of some military units now fighting in eastern Ukraine? If it is a civilised state, where are the authorities looking? At least they could get rid of this uniform, they could make the nationalists remove these emblems. That is why we have fears that it may all end up this way. If it happens it would be a catastrophe for Ukraine and Ukrainian people.
The Minsk agreements arose only because Russia became actively involved in this effort; we worked with the Donbass militias, that is the fighters from southeast Ukraine, and we convinced them that they should settle for certain agreements. If we had not done that, it would simply not have happened. There are some problems with the implementation of these agreements, it is true.
What are those problems? Indeed, self-defence fighters, for example, were supposed to leave some of the towns they had surrounded, are yet they haven't left. Do you know why not? I will tell you plainly, this is no secret: because the people fighting against the Ukrainian army say, "These are our villages, we come from there. Our families and our loved ones live there. If we leave, nationalist battalions will come and kill everyone. We will not leave, you can kill us yourselves." You know, it is a difficult problem. Of course, we try to convince them, we talk, but when they say things like that, you know, there is not much that can be said in response.
And the Ukrainian army also has not left some of the towns it was supposed to leave. The militias they are the people who are fighting for their rights, for their interests. But if the central Ukrainian authorities choose not just to determine the demarcation line, which is very important today in order to stop the shelling and killing, but if they want to preserve the territorial integrity of their country, each particular village or town are not significant; what is important is to immediately stop the bloodshed and shelling and to create conditions for starting a political dialogue. That is what is important. If it this is not done, there will be no political dialogue.
I apologise for such a long monologue, but you make me go back to the essence of the problem.
What is the essence? The coup took place in Kiev. A considerable part of the country supported it, and they were happy partly because they believed that after the signing of, say, the Association Agreement there will be open borders, job opportunities, the right to work in the European Union, including in Germany. They thought that it will be like that. In fact, they have nothing of the sort. The other part of the country, the southeast, did not support it and said, "We do not recognise you." And instead of starting a dialogue, instead of explaining to people that the central authorities in Kiev are not going to do anything bad, and on the contrary, they will propose various forms of coexistence and development of a common state, they are ready to grant them their rights, instead of that they begin making arrests at night. Once the night arrests began, people in the southeast took up arms. Once they took up arms, instead of stopping (the authorities should have the wisdom to do that) and starting this dialogue they sent the army, the air force, tanks and multiple rocket launchers. Is this a way to solve problems? And ultimately everything came to a deadlock. Is it possible to get out of it? I am sure that it is possible.
HUBERT SEIPEL: The question or, more properly, the claim made by Kiev today is that Russia supplies weapons to the separatists and sends its servicemen there.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Where did they get the armoured vehicles and the artillery systems? Nowadays people who wage a fight and consider it righteous will always get weapons. This is the first point.
But I would like to stress that this is not the issue. The issue itself is entirely different. The issue is that we can't have a one-sided view of the problem.
Today there is fighting in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian central authorities have sent the armed forces there and they even use ballistic missiles. Does anybody speak about it? Not a single word. And what does it mean? What does it tell us? This points to the fact, that you want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents. Is that what you want? We certainly don't. And we won't let it happen.
HUBERT SEIPEL: After the Crimea joined Russia, the West expelled Russia from the Group of Eight, this exclusive club of industrial states. At the same time the USA and Great Britain imposed sanctions against Russia. Now you are heading to a G20 summit of the most important industrial states on the planet. The focus there will be on economic growth and employment. They say, there is no more growth and unemployment is set to increase; the sanctions are starting to have an effect; both the ruble and the oil price have set anti‑records. The forecast of attaining 2 percent growth in Russia is unfeasible. Other countries are in the same situation. This crisis has a counter‑productive character, including for the upcoming summit, wouldn't you say?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You mean the Ukrainian crisis?
HUBERT SEIPEL: Yes.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Of course, who could benefit from it? You wanted to know how the situation is evolving and what our expectations are. Of course we expect the situation to change for the better. Of course we expect the Ukrainian crisis to end. Of course we want to have normal relations with our partners, including in the United States and Europe. Of course, the situation with the so-called sanctions is damaging for the global economy (it is damaging for us and it is damaging for global economy as well) and it is damaging for the Russian‑EU relations most of all.
However, there are some advantages as well: the restrictions imposed on some Russian companies on purchasing certain goods from Western countries, from Europe and the United States, have induced us to produce these goods ourselves. The comfortable life, when all we had to do was produce more oil and gas, and to buy everything else, is a thing of the past.
With regard to growth, we should note that this year growth was modest but it was present nevertheless at about 0.50.6 percent. Next year we are planning to achieve 1.2 percent growth, the year after that 2.3 percent and 3 percent in three years. Generally, these are not the figures we would like to have but nevertheless it is growth and we are confident that we will achieve these figures.
HUBERT SEIPEL: Another theme to be discussed in Brisbane will be financial stability. The situation in Russia may also be complicated because Russian banks can no longer obtain refinancing on world markets. Moreover, there are plans to close for Russia the international payments system.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Russian banks have currently extended a $25 billion loan to the Ukrainian economy. If our European and American partners want to help Ukraine, how can they undermine the financial base limiting our financial institutions' access to world capital markets? Do they want to bankrupt our banks? In that case they will bankrupt Ukraine. Have they thought about what they are doing at all or not? Or has politics blinded them? As we know eyes constitute a peripheral part of brain. Was something switched off in their brains?
The bank that I mentioned is Gazprombank, which only this year, this calendar year, has extended a loan of $1.4 plus $1.8 billion to the Ukrainian energy sector. How much is that in total? $3.2 billion. This is the sum it has allocated. In one case, it issued a loan to Ukrainian Naftogaz, which is a public company; in the other case, it allocated $1.4 billion to a private company in order to support Ukraine's chemical industry. In both cases, today this bank has the right to demand early repayment because the Ukrainian partners have violated their loan agreement.
HUBERT SEIPEL: The question is if they are paying or not?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: (In German.) They are paying at the moment. (Continues in Russian.) They are servicing the loan. Naftogaz is servicing one of the loans. However, there are some conditions that are being violated. Therefore, the bank has the formal right to demand early repayment.
But if we do it, the whole Ukrainian financial system will collapse. And if we don't do it, our bank may collapse. What should we do?
Moreover, when we extended a $3 billion loan a year ago, there was a condition that if Ukraine's total debt exceeded 60 percent of GDP, we, the Russian Ministry of Finance, would be entitled to demand an early repayment. Again, if we do it, the whole financial system will collapse. We have already decided that we will not do it. We do not want to aggravate the situation. We want Ukraine to get on its feet at last.
HUBERT SEIPEL: Do you intend to propose ways to resolve the crisis in Ukraine?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Madam Chancellor is very much aware of all the nuances of this conflict. As for the energy problem, she has done a great deal for its solution.
As for the security issues, I would say that in this area our viewpoints and approaches do not always coincide. What is clear is that Russia and the Federal Republic of Germany want the situation in this region to be settled. We are interested in this and we will work for the observation of the Minsk agreements. There is just one thing that I always pay attention to. We are told again and again: pro-Russian separatists must do this and this, you must influence them in this way, you must act in that way. I have always asked them: "What have you done to influence your clients in Kiev? What have you done? Or do you only support Russophobic sentiments?" This is very dangerous, by the way. A catastrophe will happen if somebody surreptitiously supports Russophobia in Ukraine. It will be a real catastrophe! Or shall we seek a joint solution? If so, let's bring the positions of the parties closer together. I am going to say something that some people in this country may not like. Let's try to achieve a single political space in those territories. We are ready to move in this direction, but only together.
HUBERT SEIPEL: It is very difficult to correct the mistakes made by others. Sometimes it is only possible to correct one's own mistakes.
I would like to ask you: have you made mistakes?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: People always make mistakes. Every person makes mistakes in business, in private life. Does it really matter? The question is that we should give a rapid, timely and effective response to the consequences of such mistakes. We should analyse them and realise that they are mistakes. We should understand, correct them and move on towards the solution of problems rather than an impasse.
It seemed to me that this is the way we acted in our relations with Europe as a whole and the Federal Republic of Germany in particular over the past decade. Look at the friendship that has been established between Russia and Germany in the past 1015 years. I don't know if we had ever enjoyed such relations before. I don't think so. I see it as a very good base, a good foundation for the development of relations not only between our two states, but also between Russia and Europe as a whole, for the harmonisation of relations in the world.
It will be a pity if we let it go to waste.
HUBERT SEIPEL: Mr President, thank you for the interview.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday accused the US and the EU of trying to use sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis to seek "regime change".
He told a meeting of government advisers in Moscow that "the West is making clear it does not want to force Russia to change policy but wants to secure regime change", according to the Tass news agency.
Mr Lavrov said that when international sanctions had been used against countries such as Iran and North Korea, they had been designed not to harm the national economy. "Now public figures in Western countries say there is a need to impose sanctions that will destroy [Russia's] economy and cause public protests," he added.
His comments followed remarks on Thursday in which President Vladimir Putin said Moscow must guard against a "colour revolution" in Russia, referring to protests that toppled leaders in former Soviet republics.
BBC presstitutes assessment of the situation...
Nov 22, 2014 | BBC News
Western sanctions against Russia over its role in Ukraine are aimed at forcing regime change in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says.
Speaking to foreign policy advisers in Moscow, Mr Lavrov referred to calls for sanctions "that will destroy the economy and cause public protests".
On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said Moscow must guard against a "colour revolution".
Russia denies arming Ukrainian rebels or sending Russian troops there.
Western sanctions were first imposed when Russia annexed Ukraine's region of Crimea in March following a controversial referendum.
Further measures have been added since, targeting senior Russian officials as well as defence firms, banks and the country's oil industry.
Analysis: Sarah Rainsford, BBC News, Moscow
Far from softening under sanctions, Russia has been toughening its stance over the crisis in Ukraine.
Mr Lavrov's statement fits Moscow's narrative, that what happened in Ukraine a year ago was not a popular uprising, but an illegal coup, plotted and co-ordinated from abroad.
Moscow argues the West's aim was to snatch Ukraine from Russia's sphere of influence.
It's another reminder of the huge gulf of understanding that now divides Russia and the West, whose relations are worse now than ever since the end of the Cold War.
Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the Government Hour in the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Moscow, 19 November 2014
19-11-2014Esteemed deputies of the State Duma,
I'm pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you again as part of the Government Hour. The Foreign Ministry appreciates the deputies' focus on cooperation between our ministry and the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the corresponding committees of the State Duma and the Federation Council. Teamwork is important for the effective implementation of Russia's foreign policy. Sincerely, without any flattery, we appreciate the active and constructive contribution that the State Duma makes in promoting Russia's interests in the international arena as it makes use of parliamentary diplomacy and the full range of tools available to members of parliaments across the world.
President Putin has made extensive remarks about how he views the current international situation, including at the meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club and in an interview during his recent Asian tour. The President has been candid in his offers to work with our partners to make a clear and honest appraisal of what's really going on in the world, why it is becoming less safe and predictable, and why risks are multiplying.
Clearly, international relations are going through a transition as a new multipolar international order continues to emerge for objective reasons. A fundamentally different picture of the world is taking shape right before our eyes. The end of one era and the start of the next is never a straightforward process, and it's usually marked by series of intense local conflicts, if not global clashes. Competition is on the rise everywhere, even between socioeconomic development models and value systems.
We face challenges of truly historic proportions whose complexity cannot be underestimated. At the same time, clearly, Russia has every opportunity to consolidate its position as one of the centres of the new multipolar system, have a positive influence on the international situation, strengthen security and stability, and create favourable external conditions for the internal development of our country and sustainable economic growth all to improve the quality of life of our citizens. Russia's traditionally independent policy is in synch with the times, and is becoming increasingly popular in the world and attracting a wide range of partners in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.
We are ready to join efforts with all those who are willing to cooperate with us based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit, building on the principles of international law and the UN's central role in international affairs. The activities of the UN Security Council, G20, BRICS, and SCO clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of coordinated action. Recent examples include eliminating Syria's chemical weapons, progress in the talks on the Iranian nuclear programme, and the joint response to the Ebola virus. Conversely, when the emphasis is made on unilateral action or protecting one's own interests at the expense of others, the results tend to be disappointing.
Russia has consistently advocated a positive, integration-based agenda to promote relations between countries rather than drive them apart. Unfortunately, this constructive course is running into continuing attempts by the US and its allies to divide and conquer, to push for unilateral approaches and to reshape the world to fit their tactical plans.
The Ukraine crisis was the result of the policy pursued by Western countries over the course of the last 25 years, whereby they sought to strengthen their own security at the expense of others and to expand the geopolitical space under their control. This revealed itself in successive waves of NATO enlargement despite assurances to the contrary given at the highest levels and in violation of solemn declarations to create a system of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic zone.
With the support of the United States and several European countries, an unconstitutional armed coup was staged in Ukraine. Nationalist radicals brought the country to the brink of a schism and pushed it into civil war. The chances of de-escalating the conflict have been repeatedly torpedoed by the West. I'm referring to the agreement to resolve the crisis signed on 21 February by the Ukrainian authorities and the foreign ministers of three European countries that was forgotten within a few hours of its signing. The key provisions of the Geneva Statement of 17 April, in which the Ukrainian authorities pledged to proceed rapidly with constitutional reform involving all regions and political forces in Ukraine, have so far not been acted upon.
Of course, Russia could not and cannot be a passive onlooker when such events are unfolding in a neighbouring, brotherly nation. As former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger put it in a recent interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel, "Ukraine has always had special significance for Russia, and the failure to understand that was a fatal mistake."
Throughout the Ukraine crisis, our country has consistently sought to help Ukraine get through this difficult period in its history, to achieve lasting peace and national accord regarding its future and its political system, so that all Ukrainians can lead a comfortable, safe and dignified life.
As a next step, we call for steady contacts between Kiev and Donbass in order to reach mutually acceptable agreements. The West should encourage this process rather than blindly support everything that the "war party" in Kiev does, turning a blind eye to flagrant human rights violations, lawlessness and war crimes.
Attempts to shift the blame for the Ukraine crisis on Russia won't work, and the truth about these events is making its way out, and is even penetrating the biased media in the West. Nor can one hide behind unlawful unilateral sanctions, which only undermine efforts to stabilise the global economy and don't bring us any closer to resolving the Ukraine crisis. Such views were expressed during President Putin's international visits, in particular, at the recent APEC and G20 summits, during which the Russian leader spoke in-depth with numerous Western representatives.
The current downturn in international affairs is not our choice. We will continue to work in these circumstances, and we are always open to dialogue. There's no real alternative to mutually advantageous and equitable cooperation between Russia and the EU; we are bound by too much in geographical, economic, historical, and human terms. The European Union is our natural trade and economic partner. We have a mutual interest in expanding our business cooperation, which representatives of leading German companies confirmed to me during their recent visit to Russia to meet with our leaders.
Reduced cooperation between Russia and the West will affect many realms, not just the economy. I'm also referring to the damage caused to our joint efforts in the face of escalating common threats. In this regard, the short-sightedness of the US and EU decision to freeze mechanisms of cooperation with Russia, including those needed to consolidate our approaches to common challenges, such as terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime, is surprising.
We cannot understand what this is all about. Is it an attempt to prove oneself in some new way, the inertia of imperial thinking, or an inability to understand that modern realities do not allow the West to build a worldwide vertical structure to fit its approaches? Of course, we recognise that there are differences, many of which are objective in nature and reflect the actual incompatibility of legitimate interests, but we are willing to bridge the gap between our positions and seek compromises on the basis of equality, true consideration of each other's interests, and a refusal to make any attempts at blackmailing or dictating.
We are convinced that gradual progress towards forming a common economic and humanitarian space based on the principle of equal and indivisible security should be a strategic benchmark for our efforts to create a new architecture on the European continent. This belief will guide us at the upcoming Basel meeting of OSCE foreign ministers scheduled for early December. After all, the original purpose of this organisation was to eliminate any and all dividing lines in the Euro-Atlantic zone.
The ongoing efforts to create a Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are a concrete contribution to promoting extensive cooperation in this region. We expect Armenia to become a full member in 2015. Work is underway to make Kyrgyzstan part of the EAEU as well.
The Collective Security Treaty Organisation plays an increasingly important role in maintaining security in the region. We are working to make it more effective and improve its rapid response and peace-making capabilities, as we seek to counter diverse threats and challenges like those originating in Afghanistan.
Our foreign policy priorities next year are associated with Russia's presidency of the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. We will host both summits in Ufa in the summer of 2015. We are interested in stepping up SCO activity in every area, building its counter-terrorism and drug enforcement capacity, and resolving issues related to the admission of new members.
BRICS is playing a growing role in international affairs. The New Development Bank with $100 billion in capital and the currency reserve pool with the same amount are designed to maintain the stability of the international currency and financial system. There has also been more meaningful coordination among the BRICS countries in the international arena. This was confirmed at the G20 summit in Australia, particularly during the discussion of reforming the international currency and financial system and issues related to the global political situation.
Quite recently, breakthrough decisions were made to expand Russia's cooperation and strategic partnership with China. On 9 November, Beijing hosted the fifth Russian-Chinese summit in 2014. Global developments convincingly show that the Moscow-Beijing tandem is a key factor in preserving international stability and security, building a stable multipolar world order, ensuring the primacy of law in international affairs and the democratisation of international relations.
Russia continues to expand its multifaceted ties with India, Vietnam and its other partners in the Asia Pacific region. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his Asian tour. The dynamic development of Russia's eastern territories will remain a national priority for the entire 21st century. This explains our interest in a more active and result-oriented role in Asia Pacific integration processes and in tapping into the region's potential to promote economic growth in Siberia and the Russian Far East. These goals formed the foundation of Russia's stance at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Beijing. That said, the eastern direction of our policy should be perceived as part of our multidirectional work on the international scene, rather than as an alternative to ties with the West. It reinforces the country's positions in the world.
We are in favour of creating reliable security mechanisms for the Asia Pacific region that aren't divided into blocs. A Russian-Chinese initiative to draft framework principles for a new regional system aims to achieve this goal. The details of this initiative are currently being discussed during consultations of experts from countries involved in East Asia summits.
Russia continues to actively promote the peaceful settlement of conflicts. One of our top priorities is counteracting the surge in extremism and terrorism in the turbulent Middle East and North Africa. We believe that the international efforts to deter threats from terrorist organisations, including the so-called Islamic State, should be firmly grounded in international law, without double standards or hidden agendas.
For our part, we continue providing support to the governments of Iraq, Syria and other countries in the region to increase their ability to fight extremists. We have proposed using the UN Security Council to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the threats in the Middle East and North Africa in their entirety, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, in order to coordinate a collective strategy for preventing the complete destabilisation of this key region.
There has been broad international recognition of Russia's initiatives to resolve the dispute over the Iranian nuclear programme on the basis of a phased, reciprocal process, and these principles have been at the centre of the approaches discussed at the talks between Iran and the group of six nations. It is obvious that progress on this issue would help improve the situation in the Middle East and facilitate efforts currently being made to create a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the region.
In conclusion, I offer my assurance that Russian diplomats will continue to work hard to implement the foreign policy course set by the President of Russia of consistently defending our national interests. We'll continue to coordinate closely with our parliamentarians.
Question: Mr Lavrov, first of all, I would like to thank you for your work. The events in Ukraine are still the focus of attention in Russian society. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is doing all it can to alleviate the suffering of Novorossiya's residents, who have fallen victim to the Russophobic forces that have seized power in Kiev. We have sent over 20 columns of vehicles with humanitarian assistance to the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics, a total of over 2,000 tonnes. As I accompanied humanitarian convoys, I have repeatedly been to Donetsk and Lugansk and seen with my own eyes the dire consequences of the war crimes committed by the Kiev authorities. Western human rights advocates turn a blind eye to these crimes. It is obvious to all that the Minsk Agreements are not working. What other action can the Russian Foreign Ministry take in terms of international law to put an end to the war against Novorossiya? And how can we, State Duma deputies, help you there?
Sergey Lavrov: Thank you very much. Indeed, the Minsk Agreements are not being observed, at least for the most part. Their implementation requires interaction between both sides. the lines of disengagement is in progress, and I hope is nearing completion, which will make it possible to start the withdrawal of heavy weaponry to the agreed-upon distances on both sides. After this, OSCE monitors are to be deployed between the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics, on the one side, and Kiev defence and security forces on the other. This will allow for a truly stable ceasefire regime to be established. To reiterate, this is the utmost priority today, as people are being killed every day on both sides.
We believe that the Minsk Agreements are still relevant. They provide for an entire set of essential short- and medium-term steps, including the provision of security guarantees to the territories in question, and the start of a comprehensive political dialogue. As I said earlier, Kiev has failed to deliver on the obligations it assumed in April this year in the Geneva Statement, regarding the immediate start of constitutional reform with the participation of all regions and political forces. We will work to ensure that the Minsk Agreements remain a basis for the efforts to bring about a peace settlement. It is very important that these arrangements were approved by Kiev and the self-defence forces, and supported by the principal outside players, including Russia, the EU, the OSCE, the United States and the Council of Europe. If we all agree that at present this is a common basis for our work, then it is vital to ensure their implementation and the continuation of direct negotiations between Kiev and DPR and LPR representatives, because they were the principal signatories to the Minsk Agreements.
The attempts to call into question the relevance of the Minsk documents the Protocol and the Memorandum are being made by those who would like to reverse the situation and bring the process back into some format where the DPR and the LPR are not represented. This is the purpose that I read into the persistent statements issued in particular by Arseniy Yatsenyuk and members of this team to the effect that the negotiations should return to the Geneva format. The Geneva format is a closed chapter, because it served its purpose when there was no direct dialogue between Kiev and the Southeast. Today, this dialogue has been established, and it would be a crime to disrupt it.
Regarding the last question, as to what the Federal Assembly and the State Duma can do to support the efforts to settle the situation in Ukraine, I believe that your dialogue with Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada, as soon as it overcomes internal political conflicts related to the formation of a [coalition] government, would be very useful. I am aware that the State Duma speaker and the relevant committees have already began such efforts. We would actively support that.
Question: Mr Lavrov, Kiev authorities continue to amaze. At the end of last week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed decrees on economic blockade of Donbass, which bears the hallmarks of social genocide and is definitely not conducive to resolving the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe there. Deputies from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and from all other parliamentary parties have been to Donbass and are sure that neither families with many children nor the elderly, nor disabled people are involved in the armed conflict between the forces participating in Kiev's punitive operation and the self-defence forces. Nevertheless, the Kiev authorities are trying to solve their problems at the expense of civilians, because there are no serious victories. The Kiev authorities are once again showing their true colours, their anti-human nature. However, this issue also has another aspect. Do you believe that Kiev's unilateral renunciation of its obligations is a small step towards the recognition of the LPR's and the DPR's special legal status?
Sergey Lavrov: This fact can be used to substantiate your thesis. The decision to deprive the elderly of their pensions, as well as all those who are entitled to social payments and benefits, is a disaster for the people, which further exacerbates their plight. However, what is even more deplorable there is this school of thought, too is that standing behind this decree is not only and not so much the wish to stifle this region economically and socially, but to lay the groundwork for a new armed invasion and another attempt to resolve this problem through the use of force. Herein lies a key contradiction today. We act on the premise that the Minsk process has opened the way for direct dialogue, and Kiev has undertaken to conduct a nationwide dialogue. But in reality, first, judging by the draft coalition agreement circulated by the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the constitutional reform is definitely not conceived as a nationwide dialogue. It will be limited to the Verkhovna Rada walls with the participation of the presidential staff, the government staff, and some experts on constitutional law. There is no reference to the involvement of all regions and political forces, which, to reiterate, is an obligation that Kiev assumed in April. Second, all of these efforts show that the "party of war' in Kiev is anxious to do all it can to exclude the self-defence forces, the DPR and the LPR from participation in the negotiation process, and force the West to get Russia to agree to act as a party to the conflict. These are utterly counterproductive and provocative lines, which have no chances for success. There most be only a direct conversation with those who have risen against the illegal, anti-constitutional coup d'etat and refused to live according to the rules that the coup organisers and perpetrators started to impose on the entire country, only direct dialogue and respect for their legitimate interests, the interests of those who have always lived in this land, whose ancestors lived in this land, and whose children want to live in this land.
Question: Mr Lavrov, it's no secret that we miscalculated in our relations with Ukraine in the past 20 years. We only maintained contacts with the elites with a focus on developing business ties, while people who were seeking closer ties with Russia and believed that they were part of the Russian world were not receiving support.
At the same time, forces that are alien to us didn't spare any expense in their bid to revive nationalism and manipulated Ukrainian youths. It will take a long time to change people's mindset now, but we must do this. What else in your view should be done to stand up to this unbridled deception and rampant distortion of what is really happening here by a media tamed by the West? How can we support those who do not accept antagonism towards Russia and are seeking to restore good relations?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe that Ukraine did not get enough attention after the breakup of the Soviet Union. We could have done more to defend the rights of Russians there. Frankly speaking, it could never occur to anybody that radicals and neo-Nazis could come to dominate Ukrainian politics and that responsible politicians would be forced to make statements maybe, even against their will that are influenced by radicals and neo-Nazis.
Nonetheless, relations with our compatriots were maintained. Our executive branch and the Federal Assembly launched important initiatives to support the Russian world in Crimea. A lot was also done at that time to consolidate our compatriots in the rest of Ukraine. However, regretfully, you were absolutely right when you said that non-governmental organisations backed by our Western colleagues were honestly much more numerous and better funded than was realised. In the end, following the coup, part of the public that spoke in favour of strengthening rather than severing historically close and brotherly relations with Russia, ended up feeling vulnerable. Political purges in Ukraine targeted precisely these politicians and civic organisations above all.
Still, the information sphere has not been completely monopolised by the West. We've secured a very strong position in Russian- and English-language media markets, for example with our TV channel Russia Today, and we are also broadcasting in other foreign languages. Russian reporters are practically the only ones who work regularly in southeastern Ukraine, and only their reports allow people in Russia and abroad to keep up with the events in this region.
Of course, your efforts at international forums for example, Sergei Naryshkin's speeches at various events promoting international parliamentary cooperation and speeches by the heads of committees and other members of delegations during international parliamentary events are very important for bringing the truth about what is happening in Ukraine to the global and European public.
Question: Mr Lavrov, it's been six years since the tragic events in Tskhinval. During this time, A Just Russia has done a great job strengthening relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia through parliamentary diplomacy so as to use the Socialist International to gain further recognition of their independence and sovereignty. Unfortunately, our strategic partners in the CIS failed to support us. What's your take on this situation? What are the prospects for developing bilateral relations between Russia and Georgia, as well as Russia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia, including as part of an agreement with Abkhazia in the works.
Sergey Lavrov: I have already spoken on this subject in terms of our allies and in terms of why NATO members see eye-to-eye on all things, while we, in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, for example, have certain nuances regarding our positions. Things in NATO and the EU are not that simple, either. Frankly, the discipline of the rod rules there. It's all nicely wrapped up in words like the "principle of consensus", and everyone is trying to make sure that their individual positions fit one policy. However, we do know how unanimity is reached in these structures, primarily NATO. We are also aware of the fact that US emissaries (I was forthright about this in my recent conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Beijing) travel around the world pushing every government with varying degrees of force to support sanctions on Russia. In most cases, these gimmicks don't work, but the fact that a great power is running around the globe forcing everyone to follow its course speaks volumes. I'd be ashamed if I had to do this.
In the organisations that Russia is forming in conjunction with its neighbours, including primarily the CSTO, we are guided by the need to unanimously protect, without any "flip-flopping", the core legitimate security interests of our states. In isolated instances, when it comes to, for example, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Crimea, we do not force our partners to adopt our stance 100 percent. We don't want to put them in an awkward situation if for some reason they are not comfortable with it. This is not a matter of life and death for Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Crimea. The security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as subjects of international law is provided by Russia fully and reliably. Crimea is an integral part of Russia, and we are fully responsible for it, just like for any other constituent entity of the Russian Federation. There's no need to force anyone to make any statements. We clearly see that, in practice, our allies are guided by existing realities. This is what matters most to us.
With regard to our relations with these republics, I will say that we are drafting a new agreement which will strengthen our relations with Abkhazia. We are expanding the legal framework with South Ossetia and we are willing to continue to normalise our relations with Georgia.
Question: Mr Lavrov, Russia's international isolation is a popular subject in the West. I believe it's arrogant nonsense, because our world is much bigger than the US and its thirty or so allies. In recent years, a policy of restoring Russia's ties with our old allies in Asia and Latin America seems to have taken shape.
However, it seems that our ties with Africa are not developing vigorously enough, even though Africa has vast natural and human resources. The world powers are competing fiercely for Africa. During Soviet times, we made using modern parlance major political, economic and military investments in Africa. Judging from my recent trips to Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa and Namibia, people still remember this.
What do you think about prospects of reviving our extensive relations with Africa?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe the prospects are very good. Indeed, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, our country had neither the means nor the time to engage in developing relations with the African continent. Our primary goal was to preserve and strengthen Russia and overcome the deep crisis. Over time, as we overcame our internal challenges and revived the economy, both the Russian government and Russian businesses regained their focus on Africa. Especially in view of the vast contribution that the Soviet Union made to the development of the African continent both politically, being a leading power that upheld the idea of decolonising Africa; economically, creating the foundations of industry and infrastructure in many African countries; and, of course, in humanitarian terms, providing education to thousands of African students. All of that constitutes an invaluable asset, which is now quite in demand and is beginning to bear fruit with Russian companies signing major lucrative deals. Most recently, we attended the launch of one of such projects, a mining plant in Zimbabwe.
This year, I visited the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa and had talks with its leaders. In a couple of days, we will have talks with the foreign ministers of Tanzania and then Burundi here in Moscow. We have a sustained political dialogue that allows us to establish direct economic ties through infrastructure and major mutually beneficial projects. I can assure you that the prospects are very good. Africa represents the future.
Question: Mr Lavrov, you mentioned today that developing Siberia and the Russian Far East is a priority. We are witnessing a rapprochement with China. But the people residing in the Russian Far East have different ideas about this. We remember the 1990s, when many enterprises in the Russian Far East shut down after working with Chinese businesses.
We also have a border with Mongolia, where, as we have seen recently, countries such as Japan and the United States are increasing their influence. What is the Foreign Ministry doing in order to strengthen our influence in that region?
Sergey Lavrov: Mongolia has two neighbours: Russia and China. Mongols refer to their relations with all other countries as "relations with the third neighbour". It's a collective term.
Quite recently, there was a trilateral meeting with the participation of the presidents of Russia, Mongolia and China on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Dushanbe where President of Mongolia Tsahiagiyn stressed that, just like any other country, Mongolia is developing relations with partners across the world, but fully realises that it can overcome the challenges it faces only in cooperation with Russia and China. We operate on the premise that we never tell anyone not to do certain things. The undeniable overlapping interests of Mongolia, Russia and China in implementing a number of important projects is recognised by the Mongolian leadership, and we will actively make use of this important economic and political resource.
Question: Mr Lavrov, in light of the sanctions on our country that restrict our involvement in various projects, we still need to find ways to engage with the world, and not just at the official level.
I am a member of PACE, and I was a co-speaker on combating neo-fascism and neo-Nazism in September. I felt that some PACE members held radical views on these issues. However, there were people who supported us or wanted to support us. Notably, the stands at PACE are filled with ordinary people, such as tourists, students, and regular citizens. I thought that they supported our position. Perhaps we should be proactive about reviving popular diplomacy to reach out to the wider public in other countries? What do you think?
Sergey Lavrov: I'm all for it. In addition to parliamentary diplomacy and the form of popular diplomacy that you mentioned, the Foreign Ministry initiated a few years ago the creation of the Gorchakov Foundation for Public Diplomacy Support. Its primary goal is to fund the participation of our non-governmental organisations in international events. Of course, we will provide our support primarily to organisations that represent the interests of Russia, uphold patriotic points of view, our vision and values. The foundation's activities have been appreciated by our NGOs with which I regularly meet. Of course, there's never enough money, but we were told that the funding will increase gradually. That said, there's already enough money to work effectively.
Question: Mr Lavrov, hundreds of tonnes of drugs from Afghanistan make their way to Russia (only 10% of this deadly poison is seized by our services). They come to Russia mainly through the southern borders of countries with which we have visa-free travel. Also, millions of illegal immigrants pose big problems for Russia.
The same applies to IS militants who could take advantage of visa-free travel to get into Russia.
Are there any plans for a diplomatic solution to these problems, such as greater involvement on the part of the governments of these countries?
Sergey Lavrov: This threat is not new. Terrorist acts emanating from Afghanistan have long been a concern for us. There's a no man's land on the border with Pakistan, where militants, including Al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, train, rest, regroup and then go elsewhere some leave for the south, other go to the Caucasus through Central Asia.
Recently, when this threat became clear (as well as the threat of the drug trade - the production of heroin has increased tens of times over while the US-led coalition forces have been in Afghanistan), the CSTO has taken concrete measures to curb drug trafficking (operation Kanal), illegal migration (operation Nelegal), and financial flows that fund these and other types of organised crime (operation Proxy).
Now that the threats that you mentioned are growing immeasurably, the CSTO has taken additional measures, including to improve the ability of Tajikistan and its CSTO allies to control the Tajik-Afghan border.
In December, Moscow will host another meeting of the Council of CSTO Heads of State, which will look into these issues. We focus on these issues on a daily basis.
Question: Mr Lavrov, our current relations with NATO and the United States have reached a low. Despite previous agreements and statements, the US missile defence system will be deployed in Europe by 2018, and NATO continues to gradually build up its forces in the former socialist countries and the post-Soviet republics. They are openly threatening to use military force against us if we misbehave. Ukraine is receiving lethal and nonlethal arms shipments. At the same time, Russia continues to observe international strategic and conventional arms control and limitation treaties.
Please tell us about the current status of, and prospects for honoring such agreements as START III, the Treaty on Open Skies and the Vienna Document.
Please explain why the parliament has not ratified the Vienna Document.
Sergei Lavrov: START III meets our fundamental strategic interests. We are interested in its complete implementation, provided that the US honors the agreement (so far, we have no information about Washington's failure to do so). This would strengthen global stability, without impairing our national security or our ability to ensure global strategic stability.
We consider the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe null and void. After the Warsaw Pact was disbanded, and after the old CFE Treaty was adapted to the post-Warsaw Pact situation, we ratified its adapted version, but NATO refused to do so. Therefore, as you know, we waited a few years and then said that we did not consider the old CFE Treaty compulsory, and we withdrew from it in line with the stipulated procedures (we suspended it). We consider it dead, and we will not abide by it.
The Treaty on Open Skies is useful. Sometimes, we also find it useful to see what is going on in some parts of NATO territory. We are not doing anything illegal on our own territory. Therefore when our partners want to see how things are going here, we don't object; we have nothing to hide.
Speaking of the Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, it stipulates voluntary confidence-building measures and does not have to be ratified. The document calls for providing information about planned military exercises involving a certain number of soldiers and weapons. Of course, there are many classified elements, including military bases and installations. I would like to stress once again that we are staying on our own territory, and we are not concealing information about the state of our armed forces. We don't plan to go any further with transparency and information exchange than our Western partners are ready to go. Unfortunately, they are now doing everything to stop this cooperation. There is nothing we can do about this. This is their choice.
Question: While Russia's relations with the European Union have grown tense for the moment, our contacts within the SCO framework have reached a much higher level. As Russia is taking over the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's presidency for the coming year, what are the issues the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have to work on during the next year to strengthen cooperation between the member countries, observer states and dialogue partners?
We can see that some of these countries are interested in joining the SCO, but wouldn't the organisation's expansion dilute Russia's influence?
Sergey Lavrov: We have a programme for Russia's SCO presidency. First of all, it includes a long-term strategy of the organisation's development, which is being finalised by experts and will be submitted for approval at the Ufa summit.
Second, there is a series of issues on our agenda that cover progress towards creating the Eurasian Development Bank, which comprises all the SCO members.
We will tap into the experience and potential of the existing Eurasian Development Bank created within the EurAsEC. This is our second major project.
The third project we will be working on is aimed at boosting the SCO's anti-terrorist capabilities and making it more effective in fighting this threat. The organisation includes a regional anti-terrorism structure. Russia has proposed to extend its competence to other threats such as drug trafficking, because drug revenues are often used to finance terrorist organisations.
Finally, we assume that now, since the final package of documents listing SCO membership criteria was finalised at the latest summit in Dushanbe in September, the applications submitted by India and Pakistan will be considered during the preparation for the Ufa summit. There are other applications, including from Iran. Its application may be considered as the settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue moves forward.
I do not think that these countries' accession to the SCO will actually dilute it or downgrade Russia's or China's roles. We should not be wary of new serious, responsible and fast-growing partners. On the contrary, I think that we need to consolidate the positions of those countries that are not representing the West, with its historical dominance of international politics, countries that, like Russia, rely mainly on their own national interests, not on the bloc discipline.
Question: We can all see the policy pursued by the United States. Moreover, the US President has recently made several public statements in regard to Russia, comparing it to the threat posed by the Ebola virus and naming its foreign policy one of the greatest threats in the modern world. His most recent remarks placed Russia even above the threat posed by the Islamic State group.
This is nothing more than political rhetoric, of course, but rhetoric reflects the essence of politics. Do you believe that a reset of US-Russian relations is still possible in this situation?
Sergey Lavrov: I noted President Barack Obama's statements about threats, starting with his speech at the UN General Assembly. Recently, when I met with US Secretary of State John Kerry, I asked him what that meant; he said "Ignore it." But, if this should be taken seriously, then it is sad. It means he said "Ignore it" because at that moment he wanted to discuss how we would coordinate our approaches to the Iranian nuclear issue and the situation on the Korean Peninsular. Do you see my point? It is kind of unseemly for a major, mighty, and great power to simply use its partners expect them to cooperate when the help is needed but cut them down to size and punish them when they try to protect their interests.
We are cooperating with them on the Iran and Korea issues not because we want to please someone. We are doing so because these two countries are close to us geographically: we have common borders with Iran, North Korea and South Korea. We have long-established, centuries-old contacts. We would certainly like to avoid any risks to the non-proliferation regime.
However, after the non-proliferation problems are resolved, we must ensure that these countries do not face any artificial barriers to fully fledged cooperation with us. Therefore, Russia's involvement in the Iran and Korea nuclear talks is among our most pragmatic interests. The same holds true for fighting terrorism. This is the essence of our foreign policy: we are ready to cooperate with our partners predictably where our interests coincide, and not by some random choice as we participate in anti-terrorist efforts, in fighting the Islamic State and other radical groups terrorising the region. This is our approach.
It is inappropriate for a major power to expect another to cooperate only where it expects to make some profit, while thinking, "I will still bully you in other areas as my public opinion, which I have shaped myself, demands."
Question: Amid the current exacerbation of the internal political crisis in Ukraine, the Ukrainian leadership is trying to reach an agreement with the president of Turkmenistan on Turkmen gas deliveries, bypassing Russia. Given the informal, warm, and even friendly relations between the presidents of Ukraine and Turkmenistan, as well as the position of the EU and the US, it is highly likely that the construction of the Transcaspian gas pipeline, bypassing Russia with a spur line to Ukraine, which was not previously envisioned, and Central Asian gas deliveries will be agreed upon.
What diplomatic steps is the Russian Foreign Ministry taking to improve relations with Turkmenistan and rectify this situation?
Sergey Lavrov: We have very good relations with Turkmenistan. There are regular top-level contacts, as well as contacts via our foreign policy agencies, economy ministries, companies and business operators.
We proceed from the premise that each country is sovereign in choosing its economic partners, with the understanding that in doing so, it does not hurt the legitimate interests of its neighbours. In the case of the Transcaspian gas pipeline, or rather the Transcaspian gas pipeline project, it falls into the category of projects that affect the interests of countries that are not party to it. This is about Turkmen and Azerbaijani gas, with the driving force behind this project initially being the European Union, even the European Commission, which started arranging meetings, discussing plans for the preparations of feasibility studies, and so on. We made a series of very tough demarches in Brussels, explaining to them that there are five Caspian states, which, in documents adopted at Caspian summits (this was also confirmed by the September summit in Astrakhan), stated in no uncertain terms that issues related to the development of the Caspian Sea, in all of its aspects, will be dealt with by the Caspian states, and that this "G5" has sovereign rights over everything that happens here. So far we have not clearly recorded in our declarations that this fully applies to the laying of pipelines across the Caspian seabed. However, our colleagues, including our Azerbaijani and Turkmen friends, understand our arguments both in terms of international law, regarding the finalisation of the Caspian Sea's legal status, and the ecological aspects of this very fragile environment, specifically, the threats that such economic activity can pose to it. We make no secret of our position and will uphold it. I am sure that we will find solutions that will be fully in accord with the interests of the Russian Federation.
Sergey Lavrov: Colleagues, I am grateful to you for your strong interest in our work, and your expertly formulated questions, which show that we have plenty of matters to work effectively on together. I hope that the present discussion will become an important stage in the further strengthening of our coordination and our concerted efforts in the interest of Russia and its standing in the world.
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