Question: On 3 December 2020 EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell used the term “Astanisation” in his blog to describe the division of spheres of influence, such as between Russia and Turkey. He said this scenario was used in Syria, in the South Caucasus, and in Libya. Do you agree with this interpretation and more generally, with this term?
Sergey Lavrov: I have not read the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell’s blog entry where he mentioned “Astanisation.” I hope this is what he actually meant, not another consonant expression. In the former case, I do not see any negative connotation there. I hope he did not mean to give a negative overtone to this new word that he invented, because, by and large, the “Astana process” indeed took shape in the context of the Syrian crisis.
In fact, until the Astana format emerged, the political process showed no sign of progress at all. No one did anything for an entire year citing problems with various aspects: first the Government was ready but the opposition was not; then the opposition was represented exclusively by emigrants who had no influence on the battlefield situation; and more of that. So Russia, Turkey and Iran, which joined them later, as directly interested countries and neighbours (Russia also as a country that understood the terrible risk of a repetition in Syria of what had previously been carried out in Libya and Iraq), decided to use their influence on the Syrian sides to find a way to seat them at the negotiating table.
This is how the Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue initiative came into being. We finally roused the UN, which was reluctant to participate in the Astana process before the Astana initiative, although it involved the Government and the armed opposition along with Russia, Turkey and Iran as guarantors of the Astana process. Observers from three Arab countries (Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon) are also present there now, as well as UN representatives. We must admit without false modesty that the Astana process initiatives, its specific agreements still determine the track for the Syrian conflict resolution, and the UN is moving along it with the support of the entire world community.
Whether or not this format is being projected onto other regions, is a matter for political scientists. As far as the South Caucasus is concerned, Russia, Turkey and Iran are the closest neighbours of the countries of this region and we are not indifferent to how things stand there. We express our attitude to what is happening there through specific actions. This also applies to the November 9 Statement coordinated at the initiative of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin with his colleagues from Azerbaijan and Armenia, and the solid assistance that we provide in relief efforts after the acute phase of this conflict including our peacekeepers, humanitarian supplies, and many other things.
As for the ‘mood’ EU High Representative Borrell conveyed in his blog, as I understand it, he is a little concerned that someone other than the European Union might be taking proactive steps in the modern world. As a reminder, some time ago, the previous High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Ms Federica Mogherini, said that when the EU came to the Balkans or any other region, others had no business being there. Later, after a few raised eyebrows and questions, they pretended it was a misunderstanding. But everyone understood it perfectly. If this Astanisation has been added into diplomatic discourse to reflect their nostalgia for colonisation, well, the European Union will probably have to deal with these years of nostalgia for a time that is long gone and is never coming back. I really do hope that the European Union will act in accord with the present time, and will not try to see the modern world as subject to division into spheres of influence. There will be enough room for everyone if they just participate in conflict resolution in good faith rather than try to gain some geopolitical benefits or unilateral advantages.