Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to meet members of the Association of European Businesses once again. It is an annual tradition. We met a year ago, on October 5, 2020. At that time, because of the pandemic, we had a hybrid meeting, with some of us attending in person and others via video linkup. These regular meetings reflect our mutual interest in seeing that members of the European business community feel comfortable in Russia and in helping to build our relations, which leave much to be desired. The degradation is becoming persistent. In the context of relations between Russia and the European Union, the previous seven years have proven to be years of missed opportunities.
The only constructive proposal in recent months was the initiative to hold an emergency Russia-EU summit; it was dictated by life and put forward by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. This initiative, though, was given up – it was lost in the maze of absurd reasoning, with some EU member countries alleging that a summit like this would be all but a gift for Russia. We do not need gifts, and we are not expecting them from anyone. This is not what motivates us in our lives or in our work.
We do not have exaggerated expectations as we believe that the current situation has gone too far, and no one can reverse it overnight. Trust has been seriously undermined as a result of numerous unilateral measures taken by Brussels. We believe it is important to not exacerbate this situation, as serious as it is, and to avoid introducing new irritants and destructive factors that are likely to only buoy and increase the negative inertia of the past few years. Ideally, we want to find points of contact in areas where we have common interests. Business cooperation, business projects, mutual investment and trade are the areas that obviously offer these opportunities.
Despite the sanctions that our colleagues in Brussels keep pushing, we are close neighbours. There is nothing to be done about geography. We remain important economic partners. There has been a recession caused by the pandemic but, according to the information I have, in the first seven months of this year, trade [between us] exceeded $150 billion, up about 40 percent from the same period last year. Clearly, this can largely be ascribed to the low figures last year because of the coronavirus restrictions; still, this is an upward trend that we all want to maintain. To achieve this, not only do we need to maintain contact and seek out relevant projects but we also need to avoid putting up more barriers, politicising commercial and investment links and resorting to methods of unfair competition.
We regret to see that this does not always work. On the contrary, the economic recession caused by the pandemic, which has required concerted efforts to overcome the crisis as soon as possible, is used by some people to toughen the EU’s approaches to relations with third countries in trade, the economy and in a variety of sectors. Restrictive measures have been applied more often. We hear (and no one is hiding it) that new protectionist tools are in the pipeline.
We are sure that this is not the proper approach. We think it is important to jointly look for new points of growth, which can help return our post-COVID economies to solid ground. We are for pragmatic cooperation with consideration for real needs based on the objectives of the socio-economic development of Russia and the European countries, whose businesses are represented in this hall.
We have common interests in key areas like climate change and general green approaches in the economy, healthcare, digitisation, and science and technology areas that will be critical for the further development of our civilisation. We have laid some groundwork in these areas. The common nature of our interests in these areas has been confirmed at the political level, including during the Moscow visit of Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, this past February. We need to move forward in these directions much more confidently and with mutual respect, without imposing one’s own viewpoint, but rather searching for a stable balance of interests. We do have the political will for this. We are interested in moving in all these directions toward restoring regular and systematic contacts.
In healthcare, we are cooperating with the European Medicines Agency to register the Sputnik V vaccine. We have achieved good progress here. Currently, we are at the so-called rolling review stage. It is important to resolve all the registration matters and obtain mutual recognition of vaccines based on a professional dialogue between healthcare, sanitary and epidemiology experts. Politicians should not interfere, but render all-round assistance to such a professional dialogue.
We are holding meetings on climate issues quite regularly, including in light of preparations for the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow.
We are worried about the so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism which was announced by the EU and which is currently being developed. The European Commission published draft regulations three months ago. According to experts (not just ours, but from other countries as well), the use of this tool in practice could lead to additional costs for businesses, not only for the EU’s partners, but also within the EU itself. This would limit economic operators’ financial capabilities, in part concerning faster implementation of green technology.
We believe that we need to evaluate everything as accurately as possible so this tool does not lead to climate protectionism. I read an extensive interview by EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation Markus Ederer. I hoped he would participate in today’s event, but apparently he couldn’t make it. He gave a big interview. There are many interesting questions and remarks that reveal Brussels’ way of thinking with regard to the current stage of our ties and ways to restore them. This is a separate and serious matter. Some things that I read surprised me. With regard to the carbon border adjustment mechanism, Mr Ederer clearly stated that when it is introduced, it would comply with the Paris Agreement requirements and the EU obligations to the WTO. This is a good thing to say, but we want these words to turn into actions. A dialogue is needed in order for the things that Mr Ederer promised to become a reality. If we are told that they know everything themselves, they will decide for themselves, and that everything will be fine, this is not the way to approach such fateful issues.
Energy is closely linked with the climate agenda. In 2014, Brussels froze all sector-specific dialogues, including energy. But our one-time contacts in this area have not stopped. In any case, the EU remains the largest consumer of Russian energy resources.
I will not dwell on Nord Stream 2. President Putin recently held a large meeting and expressed in detail our assessments of this gas pipeline’s importance, as well as the current situation with energy prices. Both Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream, which now connects with southeastern and central Europe, are the projects which were initially conceived, agreed upon, approved and implemented in the interests of diversifying energy sources and increasing energy security in Europe.
We are promoting interaction with individual EU member states in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Overall, at the political level, the European Commission, or Brussels, does not encourage or support, to put it mildly, energy cooperation with specific EU member states, which is regretful. Amid the current surge in prices for hydrocarbons, especially natural gas and electricity in the EU, it is obvious that we must cooperate much closer and more systematically in this area.
Some politicians and mass media in Europe are trying to blame Russia for everything that is happening, following our American colleagues. Once again I want to refer you to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech. It describes everything in detail. I would like to remind you once again that Gazprom continues to supply gas to Europe under a long-term contract. Gazprom not only fulfils all its obligations in full but even exceeds them. We are ready to help Europe overcome this crisis, but Europe should recognise the need to take steps on its part. When EU Ambassador to Russia Markus Ederer categorically says that Gazprom must think about its reputation in the current situation, I would say that it is important for those who have helped create this situation to think about their own reputation. They did not take into account weather conditions, the potential of renewable energy sources, or the feasibility of introducing them in a certain period of time. Let’s not forget that when Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 were being built, the European Commission did everything to retroactively apply the requirements of the EU’s Third Energy Package to these gas pipelines, contrary to EU lawyers’ official opinion that they should be excluded from the Package because all investments were made before it was approved. This was one of the reasons why Nord Stream 1 operates at only 50 percent capacity. And it will be the same with the capacity of Nord Stream 2, as I understand it, if everything with its registration and issuance of permits ends well.
Let’s not forget about the other reason for the current state of affairs which is the particularly strong pressure coming from the United States during recent years, especially under the Trump Administration, on the Federal Republic of Germany, among other countries, which it was trying to force to stop purchasing Russian pipeline gas and, instead, to build terminals for US-produced LNG. I know for sure that when the Germans told Washington that this would increase the cost of gas for the end consumer, the Americans agreed, because the production costs are higher, but said Germany is a prosperous country and can reimburse its household and industrial consumers for the additional costs from the federal budget. After they persuaded many countries in Europe to build these terminals, now, at the height of the crisis, the US liquefied gas for which the terminals had been built went to Asia and Latin America. Isn’t this a factor that influenced the current situation? Why can’t anyone talk about this openly and candidly?
We want collective energy security. But in order for us to be able to achieve it, we must lay out on the table all concerns and factors that are behind the aggravation of the situation and crisis tensions, and seek a balance of interests. We will not get anywhere otherwise.
The United States is not hiding it and is straightforward about the fact that cooperation with Russia runs counter to Europe’s energy security interests. They want to pit us against each other in this sphere and to reduce our interdependence. Europe depends on Russian gas to cover 35 percent of its needs, but we also depend to a large extent on those who are buying our gas. It’s all about pipelines. We cannot turn them around or turn them into something else.
In order to quickly scale up gas supplies (by the way, this is also a factor that needs to be taken into account when answering the question why the Russians do not immediately release additional volumes of gas on the market), you first need to contract it (this is a contractual, not a spot transaction), then produce it (it cannot be produced in the absence of buyers and a route), and book routes. We must avoid politicising issues and keep in mind the fact that our people can be affected by governments and relevant companies’ mistakes in energy supply and energy security overall.
We have a broad field going forward to establish cooperation in hydrogen fuel production. There are promising climate projects out there that Russian and foreign companies could join. Economic operators which plan to invest in climate projects and the green economy in general – areas that everyone, including our Western partners, considers a priority – should have unfettered access to international financial instruments and not be on the receiving end of illegal unilateral restrictive measures. Otherwise, we ourselves will be undermining the potential of those who are willing to invest in the future of the global economy.
Russia and the EU’s potential in energy and climate matters is tremendous. Importantly, it must be harnessed in the right way. If we are guided by the principles of equality and pragmatism and take into account the objective specifics of our countries and look for a balance of interests, we will be on the right path. I hope your association can help advance this matter.
Clearly, geography cannot be changed. The economic interconnectivity of Russia and the EU is obvious. Russia is part of greater Europe, and the European Union is not all of Europe. We have repeatedly said and would like to reiterate that we are open to a constructive dialogue on all issues without exception, but it must be held by and between equal partners, not along the lines of disciple – teacher, or leader – follower as, unfortunately, our colleagues from Brussels have been trying to talk with us so far. Any interaction can only be a two-way street. If common sense prevails among us (I mean Russia and the EU countries), we will be able to develop a new effective and balanced model of relations that meets the realities of our time. This will only strengthen our combined edge in a highly competitive world. And these advantages are very much sought after.
At a time when global multipolarity is taking shape, the centre of global growth is shifting from the Euro-Atlantic region to Eurasia (as a reminder, this is Europe and Asia, and geographically the EU is part of Eurasia), and we are interested in having all countries and organisations located on this vast continent become part of Eurasia in geoeconomic terms as well. This is the crux of President Putin’s proposal to encourage the formation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership by combining organic ongoing efforts rather than artificially imposed initiatives. These efforts include ongoing integration processes within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with the latter establishing ever closer ties with the EAEU and the SCO, taking into account projects such as the Belt and Road initiative. The latter is being promoted by China, and relevant special agreements between the EAEU and Beijing have already been concluded. Whenever we promote, announce or provide clarifications regarding this initiative, we make clear that we invite not just these organisations. Other countries, including the ones that are not part of any association, are welcome to participate in the efforts to harmonise integration processes as well so as to avail themselves of the opportunity to have competitive advantages on the world markets. We are confident that the EU would also benefit from joining these efforts without losing its identity, because neither the EAEU, nor the SCO, let alone ASEAN, want to lose their identity. Efforts can be combined in areas where the mandates and goals of these organisations overlap. These spheres abound. They can start small. Contacts have been established between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the European Commission on technical regulation and other current issues.
The goal is to start a dialogue on strategic issues of developing integration associations and the economy of our vast region of key importance for global development going forward.
The more specific our efforts are to create the most favourable conditions for doing business on a mutual basis, the more effectively we will use these potentially significant and mutually beneficial projects to boost our countries and to improve the well-being of our people, the more closely we will be interconnected, and the better chance we will have to achieve our long proclaimed goals of forming a common space of prosperity and security from Lisbon to Vladivostok, or even Jakarta. Historically, the prospects are breathtaking.
Make no mistake, we engage in localisation and import substitution because we have to, but it is ultimately a beneficial process.
We hoped that there were four common spaces between Russia and the EU, which were built based on four roadmaps. Political oversight and political directives were discussed at Russia-EU summits twice a year. A critically important project - a partnership for modernisation - was underway. With an extensive network of interaction, economic growth, investment planning and regular political oversight in place, and with the proclaimed strategic partnership which is embodied in everything I have just mentioned, our economy, industry and scientific research were, of course, operating on the premise that we must work together to ensure unification of labour rather than division of labour. All of that collapsed overnight. Let me remind you that it collapsed not because we made a mess like some schoolchildren that some people out there have us pegged as, but because the EU failed with its guarantees and the agreement to end the crisis in Ukraine in February 2014, when the opposition showed utter disrespect for the EU guarantees, trampled upon these guarantees and proceeded to make a power grab. President Vladimir Putin spoke about this.
Of course, this was done with the encouragement of the United States and the tacit consent and support of the EU. The EU punished us for standing up for the residents of Crimea, on whom open season was declared, and neo-Nazi militant groups were sent there who began to storm the Supreme Council of Crimea. You are aware of these facts. But that's exactly what the EU punished us for. At best, it punished us for its helplessness in the face of the coup in Ukraine; at worst, we were punished because the EU deemed it advantageous to become partners and friends with the new authorities. It has continued like that to this day.
We deeply regretted the fact that we had to part with the benefits that our strategic partnership with the EU offered us in all areas, including industry, agriculture, finance and people-to-people contacts, which were expanding, and we were close to an agreement on visa-free travel. By the way, the EU rejected a full visa-free regime or even a partial visa-free regime under pressure from our neighbours from the Baltic countries and Poland, who said that this would be another gift to the Russian Federation, which it did not deserve, and that a visa-free regime must first be introduced for Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. We remember that. This was before the events in Ukraine.
We came to realise that for a country like Russia to rely, especially in the strategic sectors of our economy and the defence complex and the security sector, on supplies of technology and parts from the countries that can impose sanctions on us overnight, is unacceptable. Prior to that, we had joint production, including of military equipment, with Ukraine and many EU countries. The production cooperation was in place. Now, it is history. We would be willing to go back, but we have no guarantees that at any point, when the Russophobes in the EU feel like punishing us, they would not call for new sanctions based on the EU principle of solidarity and consensus. Even now, when nothing is happening, they have begun to impose sanctions on us for the fact that we are not giving up Crimea. One has to be an absolutely “empty” politician to even proclaim things like “stop the annexation of Crimea.” I have already made it clear to our colleagues, and President Putin has addressed this matter many times. If it was an annexation, why did the EU punish the residents of Crimea? In the event of an “annexation,” no one is asking anyone about anything. Troops move in and take control of the territory. The EU punished the residents of Crimea: they are denied Schengen visas. In the case we were right (And we know we are. It was not an annexation, but the free will of the residents of Crimea), then things are even worse, because they are punished (denied Schengen visas) for their political beliefs which is illegal under all the conventions which the EU members and many other countries have signed in blood. No offense, but even if we have reliable ties with specific companies, there is no guarantee that their governments will always allow them to cooperate with Russia.
Last time I gave the example of cooperation between the GAZ Group and Sweden’s Quintus Technologies AB. They began cooperating in 2009. The GAZ Group purchased from this company spare parts for the automotive stamping press. They had no problems before 2020 when the Swedish regulator announced that the press is dual purpose. I told you about this. I hope you heard me and looked at this situation. I described it twice to Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde who visited us in February. Later on, we met in Iceland in May. No response at all. The GAZ Group suggested signing a new contract with Quintus Technologies, which would describe verification measures. Inspectors could come to automobile plants and see for themselves that the press is only used for stamping car bodies. They refused. The Swedish regulator did not issue an export license and I don’t think he will give one. This shows how even such a trifle can be used in political games. There were no suspicions for 11 years that the press was used to stamp “hypersonic submarines” but now they suddenly appeared.
As for the vaccines, I know that currently, following the Russian President’s instructions, the Ministry of the Interior is working on a transparent, comprehensive approach to entry and exit rules for the Russian Federation. We want these procedures to be transparent. They are now in the process of obtaining approvals. I am sure it will take at least two months to complete this process. We will certainly convey your concerns to the interdepartmental group that is working on this issue. We want the business community to feel comfortable. Visa support, convenient visa procedures must be part of Russia’s investment appeal. We are well aware of this. There were apprehensions that somebody is suggesting limiting entry to Russia. No, we still allow stays of 90 days per each six-month period of the year. We have relevant commitments under the 2006 agreement with the EU.
As for the isolation requirements, rules on who must quarantine for 14 days, who must present a PCR test, a vaccination certificate or documentation of having had the disease or specific regulations for highly qualified specialists, they are continuously changing. There is, for instance, a proposal that nationals of countries to which our Government opens air traffic should quarantine for less than four days. I can assure you that this situation is developing rapidly. Now there is a tangible increase in coronavirus cases. The emergency centre has the authority and responsibility to make the public health situation as safe as possible. As the Foreign Ministry, we will do all we can to facilitate business contacts under the circumstances.
Question: I would like to say this on behalf of all members of the Association of European Businesses and myself – we know the situation is difficult, but nevertheless, the opportunity of direct dialogue with you is of the greatest value for us and AEB members.
We are well aware that epidemiological safety is an absolute priority not only for Russia, but also for all countries. Many foreign business executives and highly qualified specialists have been vaccinated in Russia with Sputnik V or another vaccine registered in the Russian Federation. We believe that an EU citizen returning from Germany, Italy or any other country with a Sputnik V vaccination certificate who gets a PCR on arrival does not pose a threat to the EU public health security any more than a Russian citizen who is also vaccinated with Sputnik V and is travelling to one of the EU countries. Mutual recognition of vaccines would be a valuable step, and an additional incentive to get vaccinated. The level of vaccination is still insufficient to achieve herd immunity. It would be good if people could see this gives advantages, and that foreigners also support the Russian vaccine.
To continue the migration topic, we are a little concerned about one innovation, one bill that has to do with the future immigration concept in the Russian Federation. The first version of the new legislation does not even include the category of highly qualified specialists. We know it is not the version that is being discussed today because the draft has been amended since then.
We are in close contact with the Interior Ministry on this matter. We know that this is their project. On the other hand, we believe that the category of highly qualified specialists is a real success story. It is an important component of Russia's investment appeal. It really makes the entire process of migration registration in the Russian Federation convenient for foreign investors, by international standards as well. We also support this if there is a common will to make immigration easier for other foreigners as well. We would not like to see a rollback in this sphere. This also applies to medical control and possible registries of foreign companies for hiring staff.
We understand there have been cases of abuse, but abuse is a completely different story. We firmly believe that, although the authorities have to deal with these problems, bona fide foreign investors who have conscientiously used these preferences, which are very valuable to us, should not have to suffer because of this.
Sergey Lavrov: I fully agree with you. We are working to preserve the category of highly qualified specialists. We have also heard comments and requests that the terms should not be made more stringent so that people are allowed to move here with their families for three years as before. I agree these terms should be kept. We are discussing a possible three months’ trial period with our colleagues from the Interior Ministry, but this is probably going too far.
I agree with you. There will always be abuse, in any country, in any field. People are people. Some always seek deeper and quieter waters, but to address that, we just need to enhance law enforcement and track violations, rather than impose overall bans. I absolutely agree with that.
As for all the specific comments, we keep track of everything. Following this meeting, I will speak with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and with the head of the Emergency Response Centre for the prevention of the import and spread of the novel coronavirus infection in the Russian Federation, Tatyana Golikova.
There have been some funny cases. For example, French diplomats in Russia have been vaccinated with Sputnik V and can travel to most countries. On the other hand, our diplomats in Paris, also vaccinated with Sputnik V, cannot go to a restaurant there or anywhere else. San Marino is a small country, but they have vaccinated the entire population with Sputnik V. Some people even travel to San Marino from Italy on vaccine tours. San Marino nationals with their Sputnik V certificates are allowed to go to Italy, and from Italy, they can travel further, apparently, since there are no longer any borders in the European Union. I was in Rome in August and I asked the Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio – how come? We’re talking about the same vaccine! He replied that they were also thinking about it and they will probably ban San Mariners from traveling starting in November. What kind of perverse logic is this?
Question: Your support on this matter is of great value for us, but going back to matters at a more global scale, you have mentioned all the current problems that exist between Russia and the EU countries. Many commentaries show that we have reverted into a Cold War era. Can it be that our main goal is to avoid the worst-case scenario of an armed conflict? If we look through the prism of the 19th century thinking, there were two main questions the Russian intellectuals were asking themselves, and others. There was either Alexander Herzen’s question who asked: “Who is to blame?” or Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s question, who, a little bit later, came up with the question “What is to be done?” You may recall that last year we also asked you: “Who can take the first step?” We also asked this question to our colleagues from the European Union. Now we turn to you. What could this first step look like?
Sergey Lavrov: Since 2014, when the European Union scrapped everything, and cancelled summits and all the planned meetings, we communicated specific proposals on ways to get out of this impasse some 30 times, including for specific sectors, as well as regarding the overall situation. We did so several times, including during my contacts with Josep Borrell, as well as at other levels. It has not worked out well. I get the impression that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, be it Federica Mogherini, or Josep Borrell, or anyone else for that matter, do not have much room for manoeuvre. Every time we met, they pulled out a text from their folders, and stuck to it, expect for some adjectives. This is a fact, and I am not going to criticise them for doing so. This is the EU’s reality, and we must deal with it. We are not happy about it, of course, since too many promising, mutually beneficial things remain outside of our interactions, and too many useful things fall victim to geopolitical games and Russia haters who are seeking to give the Russian Federation a hard time and act as instruments in unfair competition practices. They use the fight against authoritarian regimes and the manifestations of Russia’s expansionism as pretexts for undermining their partners. We understand all of this.
However, when you ask me, who should make the first step, we have made about 30 proposals, as I have already mentioned. Almost all of them were left unanswered, and the few replies that we did receive lacked any substance. In response, the European Union suggests that we change our behaviour, repent and “implement” the Minsk agreements, which is one of Federica Mogherini’s five principles, and put an end to the annexation of Crimea. If these politicians are serious people, they need to get better versed in Russian history and international law in general, and use their political experience. I do understand that the selection process for the European Commission is quite peculiar, but all these people were involved in politics, at one stage or another. There is no way they do not understand the absurdity of what is going on.
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell visited Russia in February 2021. He pointed out quite sincerely that the EU has its own position on Alexey Navalny, Crimea and Donbass, and he cannot change this stance. I said that we too have our own position on all these issues. If he has to say this, then I must respond, even if this exchange is pointless. Everyone understands that this will not take us anywhere, and even less so, if we continue this exchange publicly. The only purpose of these public statements is to make everyone happy that Russia once again faces false accusations. This is what the EU’s position that Josep Borrell and others keep repeating, is all about. They think that this will show that the small but very aggressive EU members are right to make Russophobia their government policy. Still, Josep Borrell and I have been able to agree on climate, green economy, research and technology projects and healthcare. At the news conference, we expressed our readiness to work together on these matters. There were some contacts on healthcare, and we are discussing climate-related matters as part of universal negotiations. Our bilateral consultations with the EU could very well supplement these efforts. We are ready for this.
There is a positive example I can share with you. I have already mentioned this in my public statements. Josep Borrell and I had a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. He told me that we needed to make a gesture of some kind to show that Russia is ready to take the European Union’s interests into account. I asked him, why us, and not you? Even during his visit to Russia, we were committed to achieving a positive outcome. The EU willingly seeks our advice when it comes to foreign policy matters and topics that are of interest to Europe. It is for this reason that we made what seemed to us as a proposal with absolutely no downsides: to issue a statement on the Middle East Peace Process. Both the EU and Russia are members of the Middle East Quartet, together with the United States and the UN. Russia and the EU share very close positions: we stand for a two-state-solution and implementing the decisions that were adopted. We wrote a two-page statement by Josep Borrell and Sergey Lavrov, and thought that this would send a positive signal showing that we can agree on something. However, we were informed ahead of his delegation’s arrival that the statement would not be approved. When we sat down for talks, I asked what the problem was. It turned out that the bureaucrats from his staff did not even bother to show him this paper and did not fill him in on our proposal. I am not going to blame anyone for undermining our efforts on purpose, but this demonstrates an irresponsible, unprofessional attitude to their duties. We submitted a draft document for adopting it at ministerial level, and Josep Borrell was not even aware of it.
In New York, he spoke about making a gesture of some kind. For example, the French have misgivings over the fact that we are sending military personnel to Mali. I explained to him that this is about a private security company that received a request from the Malian authorities, the President and Prime Minister of the transitional government, since the French are scaling down their presence there or even pulling out their troops. This is their business. We are not the ones paying for these servicemen. This is a private security company that has its own contracts and principles. However, Josep Borrell did say that Africa is far away, and Europe was there “first.” So Europe wants to play first fiddle in Africa, and does not expect Russia to go there. At the same time, Europe is proactively present in Central Asia, in the South Caucasus, in the Arctic, let alone our neighbouring republics in Europe. Saying that “you are far away, and this is ours” is like reverting to Medieval principles, and this is where they are pushing us. We always wanted to find common approaches regarding third partners.
When the Europeans invented the Eastern Partnership in 2009, we said that this is their project and their right. We cannot prevent anyone from being friends with someone else. However, since this was about our closest neighbours that were part of a single big state since the Russian Empire, and our economies are closely intertwined, with multiple links, cultural, family and people-to-people ties, we asked them to be cautious about these affairs. We suggested agreeing on approaches to working with these countries. They responded by saying that they can accept us as an observer. However, we did not need an observer or partner status. What mattered to us, was what this was all about. When the concept underpinning the Eastern Partnership crystallised, everything became clear. This philosophy consisted of choosing whether these countries wanted to side with the EU or with Russia. This “either-or” principle has been repeated many times since that time, including during the first Maidan uprising in Ukraine in 2004, and all the way up to early 2021 and in the run up to the election in Moldova.
By the way, Euronews, the most “balanced” network, as it advertises itself, writes everywhere that in a world of misinformation, access to real facts is essential, and plurality of opinion is key. This is followed by an announcement of a report on Moldova with a caption filling the entire screen: “Moldovans divided between EU and Russia.” This is what being planted into the subconscious of listeners and viewers.
This is my answer to your question, even if it is somewhat emotional and long, but I think that this really matters.
Question: The Federal Republic of Germany has always played a central role in formulating the European Union’s policy with regard to Russia. What is your opinion of the various processes and prospects in store for us following the elections in Germany?
Sergey Lavrov: My answer will be banal but honest. We will accept any choice made by the people of Germany. We will not try and pretend that we have a right to judge, in place of the citizens of Germany, what government they want. We are following the establishment of potential coalitions in various formats. We find it important to work with any German government, no matter which it is.
We have too many things in common; this concerns the economy, culture, humanitarian, scientific and educational ties, as well as our common history. This, too, is a highly important psychological part of our relations with Germany. Just like German-French reconciliation has tremendous historical significance for Europe, it is no less important to maintain historical reconciliation between the peoples of Russia and Germany. This matter has acquired a special meaning under President of Russia Vladimir Putin. I don’t want to underestimate this aspect.
We are expecting Germany to establish its government as soon as possible. Last time, it took about four months to accomplish this task. Germany has a fine-tuned system: the state functions even during talks to set up a coalition. I am aware that Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to actively deal with international affairs. We would like continuity to prevail with any country, so that such continuity would help us move on. This is an ideal scenario.
Question: In your remarks you said that this is mine, that this is far away from you, that you should not go there, and that this amounted to the Middle Ages. Are new opportunities for Russia-EU cooperation in Central Asia opening up in the context of a new situation that has shaped up in Afghanistan? What do you think about this?
Sergey Lavrov: Speaking from positions I have mentioned, no one should be presented with the “either-or” choice. We cannot try and substitute the essence of the problem and tasks for resolving it by our geopolitical ambitions. We are open for cooperation with the US, the EU and NATO. I believe that NATO countries should assume the main share of responsibility for restoring Afghanistan. They remained there for 20 years and built a state which is no more. The Taliban has now established a temporary structure. This is simply not enough. Just like the EU, we voice approximately the same positions with regard to the incumbent Taliban government. It is necessary to maintain stability, to fight terrorism, to guarantee human rights, to ensure the government’s all-inclusive nature, to facilitate the unimpeded movement of foreigners, especially those who would like to leave, as well as that of the Afghan citizens, etc. We will now organise the Moscow format in Moscow. This involves all Central Asian countries, Iran, China, Pakistan, India, the US, Russia and the people of Afghanistan. This is a step towards preparing an international conference which is already being announced. Conference delegates will have to discuss the matter of rebuilding Afghanistan. We have ample cooperation opportunities here.
The “this-is-mine-don’t-go-here” philosophy, that I have mentioned, probably amounts to an inadvertent statement made by Josep Borrell. Right after the United States and its allies hastily and somewhat unexpectedly left Afghanistan, he said that the EU should find its own niche in Afghan affairs, so as not to leave Afghanistan to China and Russia. This is the difference in approaches.
Of course, we are ready. We consider the stability of our Central Asian neighbours to be important. They are our allies and close friends. We have no common borders, but, if some negative factors spill over onto their territory from Afghanistan, not only they, but Russia, too, would be threatened. President of Russia Vladimir Putin told President of the United States Joe Biden in Geneva this past June, and we constantly remind our Western colleagues that we oppose the re-deployment of the military infrastructure from Afghanistan or the establishment of a new military infrastructure in Central Asian republics for, as the Americans say, launching hypothetical beyond-the-horizon strikes against Afghanistan, if need be. This immediately turns countries unexpectedly providing such services into a target for terrorists. It is necessary to fight terrorism using completely different methods. Those who had cooperated with these specific persons should assume responsibility for refugee flows. Today, many countries are coaxing Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan into accommodating refugees for a couple of months and telling them that they would later accept the refugees because it is necessary to draw up documents for these people. But if they had cooperated with these Western countries, including the Americans and others, for many years, does it really take two months to draw up documents? This is not a very correct aspect. By the way, the White Helmets (it had several hundred members) operated on Syrian territories controlled by extremists alone and staged incidents involving the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian authorities. Members of that group also settled in Jordan for “a couple of months” at the request of Western countries, while the Syrian army liberated the relevant territories with Russian support. The Americans, the British and the Europeans later promised that they would accept them. The media recently reported that Canada and the United Kingdom told the Jordanian authorities that the remaining 50 people presented an extremist threat, that they will not accept them, and that Jordan was free to deal with them as it saw fit. This is just one example of how our Western colleagues sometimes act, while thinking only about themselves and caring nothing about the problems that they create for partners who are ready to cooperate with them.
Question: Today, you discussed some interesting topics: climate, the green agenda. We see a huge potential for promoting relations between Europe, specific European and Russian companies, and not only in this sphere but also in the economy, finances and especially in technologies. We are aware that 40 percent of the technologies needed for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 are still nonexistent. We see a huge potential and a venue for development here. This could be a joint vision, localisation. Quite soon, Glasgow will be the venue of the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26). This is an important event. We would like to learn about your vision, position and proposals with regard to this event?
Sergey Lavrov: We will be publishing a relevant programme, outlining our position, within a few days. It will conform with the general trends. As the general trends, I see the concept of the agreement on climate, signed in Paris and ratified, among others, by Russia. This trend consists in shared and differentiated responsibility. Countries that are neither members of the “golden billion,” nor represent the historical West (and the West has succeeded in overtaking the rest by far in its technological development, including largely at the expense of what are now the developing countries) have their own views on how to fight for the purity of the environment and for climate conservation in ways other than those that are detrimental to their economic development. They seriously fear (there are relevant scientific findings) that if they keep abreast with the Western countries in measures and restrictions that must be undertaken and approved, they will hopelessly fall behind when it comes to their development. The agreement must inevitably be based on a balance between environment protection, climate conservation and economic development plus better living standards in the countries that are not so wealthy. We have submitted our proposals to this effect.
Russia is one of the leaders in terms of absolute and relative emission volumes by comparison with the goals of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. We will insist on the absorbing effect of forests being necessarily taken into account. The UN has relevant records in this regard. The records considered the forests separately but they should be incorporated in the analysis of the overall situation, of all the factors that influence warming, on the one hand, and enable absorption of greenhouse emissions, on the other.
Question: The Russian Energy Week will hold a meeting next week. Russia’s top leaders and heads of major energy companies will attend the event. I think, they will discuss in detail many topics we have broached today. What main vectors of energy diplomacy, as you see it, will Russia follow in the short term?
Sergey Lavrov: I would not like to tell again what President of Russia Vladimir Putin said at the recent meeting on energy transition. Neither would I like to repeat what I have said here. Tentatively, the principles are the following: to come to terms with partners interested in energy cooperation with Russia based on a balance of interests and strictly abide by the agreements reached on all types of energy and on the development of new energy sources, hydrogen projects. If we talk about stability, then, given the current crisis and what was the case before it, [the solution is] to coordinate emergency mechanisms, provided this is done in an honest manner and on a mutually beneficial basis. In this event, options will be agreed upon and sealed for the eventuality that temperatures drop dramatically or, on the contrary, that much more powerful conditioning will be needed than in the past. Implementing agreements in this regard is a sacred thing for us. When now they are pointing out to the events of 2009, 2011 and 2015, when Gazprom allegedly stopped its gas deliveries for political reasons, this is a dishonest claim because they are covering up for the Ukrainians, who without paying Gazprom for gas and in a situation where Gazprom was not supplying them free gas, started funneling transit gas from the export pipeline, thereby stealing from both Gazprom and Europe. But anyway the blame for letting Europe freeze was ultimately put on Gazprom. So, they must be more demanding (I am referring to Western governments) towards the Ukrainian authorities and generally towards all those whom the West has been patronising. To a decisive degree, [this patronage] is due to ideological causes where the wish to put some pressure to bear on Russia is not the least important consideration.
Question: How would you describe relations with France? What is your opinion on this?
Sergey Lavrov: Our relations are extensive at all levels. The presidents maintain very close contact. They are now discussing the best timing for the next meeting at the highest level. It always helps. There is also the two-plus-two format between our countries’ ministers of foreign affairs and defence. Last year’s meeting had to be cancelled, but we are returning to this format now. We continue economic cooperation in a wide range of areas. France is Russia’s strategic long-term partner, and our relations are important for the overall balance in Europe and for our cooperation with the EU. There is something I mentioned at the very beginning of our meeting – unfortunately, the initiative of two responsible politicians, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron, to hold a summit was not supported due to Russophobic, anti-Russia sentiments. Although there is no other way than to talk and try to find a balance of interests and points of view. Furthermore, France and Germany are our partners in the eastern Ukraine conflict resolution. There are many other dialogue formats that are aimed at maintaining the European part of strategic stability. We follow with interest the Strategic Autonomy for Europe initiative Paris advanced after the events in Afghanistan and after the Australian submarine deal “epic.” The closest, trust-based, frank and honest dialogue. As in the case with Germany, the leaders set the tone here.
Question: You spoke in detail about Nord Stream, the situation on the markets and the Russian President’s statement. I have a comment. I would like to say that the markets have reacted positively to what the President of Russia said.
Sergey Lavrov: They should listen more often.
Question: Prices actually dropped by 30 percent. This is very positive. You also mentioned that the EU often says Russia should support... Such statements as this one, when prices have risen sharply and the image of gas plays a role in general.
Sergey Lavrov: The President of Russia said there is no need to hurt Ukraine either, by the way.
Question: We hope that not only the energy market players, but also political leaders will perceive this positively.
Sergey Lavrov: Let me remind you that none of the other leaders made such a statement when prices were below zero. Nobody was particularly worried then.
Question: I would be very interested in your assessment, the Russian perspective on the current state and the priorities for further cooperation within the EAEU. My interest is not accidental; we also have business in Kazakhstan, and accordingly, we increasingly find the market there is regulated at the supranational level by the EAEU. Russia is one of the main players in this integration process, so it would be very interesting to know your opinion.
What is the current state of dialogue with Lithuania on facilitating transit to the Kaliningrad Region? I know that Russia tried to expand transit opportunities, but encountered resistance from Lithuania.
Sergey Lavrov: The next EAEU summit is now being prepared. I think that additional decisions will be announced during the preparations, the summit and following it. The EAEU is a key integration project for us. But I would like to reiterate that, while promoting the further creation of common markets for goods, capital, services and labour, and moving towards common energy markets (which is of particular interest to our partners), we also need balanced solutions on other aspects of our integration affairs. We always leave the door open, and also promote the broadest possible interaction on the entire Eurasian continent. The number of countries that have already concluded free trade agreements with the EAEU is growing. Take ASEAN – we have them with Vietnam and Singapore. Now we are starting a dialogue with ASEAN as a group, as an organisation, through the EAEU. Serbia, Israel, Egypt, Iran – countries on all continents are lining up to either make a free trade zone deal with the EAEU right away (this is complicated though, as an expert group needs to be created, so the process is not easy or quick), or to conclude an agreement on specific contacts to better understand, to get to the core of this cooperation. Alongside partner countries, the union has also signed memorandums of cooperation on the exchange of information and the possibility of finding common areas for efforts with the SCO and with ASEAN. As I said, we are open to the broadest continental ties in whatever formats are acceptable. The more advanced these formats, the more people will communicate and see what opportunities open up here and the more realistic these opportunities will be.
I have not heard of any relaxation of requirements being discussed with Lithuania. Some time ago, our Lithuanian colleagues changed the procedure for the use of transit routes to the Kaliningrad Region that our cross-border railway carriers viewed as a tightening of the procedure. As far as I know, they wanted to replace the former clearance procedures performed on the trains with requiring those who plan to use this transit route to obtain a digital visa before boarding the train. I think we have settled this with our Lithuanian neighbours. I will check it out. I have not heard any complaints lately.
Question: I was referring to freight, rather than passenger traffic because I know that, for our part, we have spoken with the governor and his team. All the required facilities are now in place there for a border crossing with Lithuania.
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, this implies freight traffic. We will mostly expand the infrastructure.
Question: Thank you very much for being able to find time in your packed schedule for speaking with representatives of the European business community. I have a short question in the context of your opening remarks. You mentioned that, although the overall situation in EU-Russia relations leaves a lot to be desired, Russia is trying to clarify hypothetical common interests for expanding business relations, and we have singled out such a concept as climate projects.
What climate projects can become the subject of cooperation and investment with foreign companies? On what principles will they hinge? What is your opinion on this?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, it is impossible to lock the climate inside national borders. Consequently, we have to maintain transnational and international cooperation in this field. But neighbours find it easier to understand common problems arising in this unique geographical zone within the framework of these universal international formats, including the 26th UN Climate Change Conference due in Glasgow. I believe that this includes clean production, as well as clean fuel production. Gazprom and Rosneft have various technologies for producing petrol and oil products, and these technologies drastically reduce toxic emissions. The very same Nord Stream 2 route is shorter than the current pipeline via Ukraine, and it has been designed and built using more advanced technology. The high-pressure pipeline has fewer compressor stations; additional compressor stations mean additional emissions, etc. It is possible to think about all of this, considering the fact that many European companies are actively involved in developing Russian deposits. It is possible to heed climate processes in the Arctic. Permafrost was mentioned here. We will work with interest on joint projects using technologies that make it possible to eliminate the problems with a lot of buildings on permafrost layers. If all of us are concerned with the climate, then within the framework of universal formats at the above-mentioned conference in Glasgow, when the decisions will be made, we have to understand in general, not only regarding Russia, that if these projects, including many high-tech projects, become the subject of unilateral and illegitimate restrictions, then those introducing such restrictions will have to assume additional responsibility for the state of the climate. I have no doubt that, if professionals dealing with the climate and the industry meet each other, then they will be able to very quickly find numerous spheres for applying their efforts.
Question: To what extent do you think it is possible in politics to distinguish countries’ fundamental strategic interests from actions and gestures dictated by their financial position, dependence on quantitative easing, stagflation risks, and all those factors that influence their domestic policies?
Sergey Lavrov: In the case of the Russian Federation, we are seeking – and have devoted an immense amount of effort to this – to be financially independent. In a number of cases, financial dependence plays an important part in the political and geopolitical choices made by some nations. When the Soviet Union ended, Russia found itself in a situation where it was fully dependent not only on financial infusions (which were very minimal) but also on humanitarian and food assistance. This was not very pleasant, of course, from the human and civic points of view.
Countries that need investment, countries that are dependent on foreign aid (there are quite a few in the EU, as you know) will be more intent on following a political course. For example, the EU is beckoning the Balkans to join, although the latest summit has shown that the Balkan countries are disappointed with the pace, and possibly not just the pace, but also the final results of these processes. There are countries that want association status with an eye to “skipping over” to full membership eventually. The Ukrainians, Georgians and Moldovans are forming an associated threesome within the Eastern Partnership. But when the EU negotiates various chapters, it stipulates, along with a candidate’s economic commitments and its own economic and financial promises, the following: “You will closely follow our foreign policy, security and sanctions-related moves.” This is an obvious approach that everyone knows about. It’s like that. This is life. This is far from ideal interstate relations, but that’s life. This is why programmes designed to provide universal multilateral assistance to developing countries in order to raise their living standards, feed the hungry, and try to lower the poverty levels are of much importance. We are involved in them as members of both the World Bank and numerous specialised agencies in the United Nations, such as the World Food Programme, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNESCO, and others. The G20 is also a very important area for cooperation.