Mr Lavrov, colleagues,
I would like to welcome everyone here to the expanded meeting of the Foreign Ministry Board. Today, our agenda is focused on the implementation of Russia’s foreign policy and priority tasks for the future, taking into account the adopted amendments to the Constitution, which also concern foreign policy.
Importantly, our Fundamental Law has now sealed such basic ideas and values as loyalty to the homeland, respect for our native tongue, history, culture and traditions of our predecessors. This is everything that unites our people around common ideals and determines the vector for the development of the sovereign, independent and peace-loving Russian state, an active member of the international community.
We will also fix the specific areas of foreign policy, of our diplomatic work in today’s difficult international conditions in the new version of the Foreign Policy Concept that is now being drafted. This document, along with the National Security Strategy endorsed this summer, will, actually, become a roadmap for the Foreign Ministry and other ministries and departments.
The main thing is that our foreign policy should continue ensuring the most comfortable and secure conditions for Russia’s development, resolving ambitious socioeconomic tasks and improving the living standards of our people.
With this in mind, Russia is committed to developing partnership and mutually beneficial constructive relations with all countries and regional associations. We will proactively participate in international efforts to counter common challenges and threats which, unfortunately, still include terrorism and cross-border crime, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, poverty, inequality, climate change and environmental degradation.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia is set to continue to firmly uphold the fundamental principles enshrined in the UN Charter such as sovereignty and equality of states, non-interference in their internal affairs, fair settlement of disputes and of course, the key role of the UN in addressing international problems.
Our proposal to hold a summit of states – permanent members of the UN Security Council, which bear special responsibility for maintaining international peace and stability, is in line with this principled approach.
The coronavirus pandemic – we will have to talk about this as well, since there is no way around it given the circumstances – has seriously disrupted the usual course of life around the world. Last year – and the [Foreign] Minister just mentioned this – we were unable to even get together for our traditional meeting at the Foreign Ministry with the ambassadors and Russia’s permanent representatives. In fact, we began to work in a new environment.
But here is what I would like to emphasise. I have spoken about this more than once. Despite the ongoing measures, the pandemic is far from being overcome, and the risks of more waves of the disease coming our way are quite likely, and not a single country will be able to isolate itself from them. So, Russia calls for establishing actual cooperation in fighting this insidious disease on an equal and fair basis. Achieving success and defeating the virus is impossible without this.
Recently at the G20 summit, I proposed expediting the mutual recognition of national vaccine certificates and urged our partners to act promptly – you have probably seen this. It is of the essence for reviving global business and tourism activity and, in general, bringing life back to normal.
Of course, in this context, the role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is increasing. Its work should be supported in every way. It could be even more active in mass immunisation, and in particular, could speed up the prequalification of new vaccines and medications, that is, the process for assessing their quality, safety and efficacy.
Another growing challenge is climate change. Russia is addressing it, proposing out-of-the-box initiatives. Clean nuclear energy and hydropower, gas power generation, as well as the enormous absorptive capacity of our forests and ecosystems have made our country one of the leaders in the global decarbonisation process. We meet all our commitments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.
Recently, a major decision was taken to implement a new programme to improve energy efficiency in the economy by 2035, and this is only the first stage. The programme will be part of a broader plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 at the latest. This does not mean it cannot be achieved earlier – I said, not later.
Our diplomacy should be more active in countering attempts by the European Union and the United States to assume the right to dictate the climate agenda single-handedly and to create standards for it, although we saw how difficult discussions in Glasgow were and how many questions they had between themselves. But we are not calling for dissent; on the contrary, we are calling for a search for mutually acceptable solutions. Incidentally, overall we should proceed from the premise that Russia has taken an advanced position in the green transformation and in digitisation in all economic industries and areas of life.
Regarding other priorities for the diplomatic service, I would like to mention the need to pay more attention to strengthening ties with our compatriots abroad, protecting their interests and preserving pan-Russian cultural identity, as well as to simplifying the procedures for granting Russian citizenship to them. Yes, I realise that this problem is at the junction of several ministries and departments, but the Foreign Ministry should also deal with this. In general, we should map out the best ways for using the creative potential of the millions of Russians around the world.
Obviously, it is necessary to continue creating an atmosphere of friendship, security and cooperation in the post-Soviet space. To achieve this, we need to expand our relations with our partners in the Commonwealth of Independent States, with whom we are bonded by historical, cultural and simply human ties.
The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is a key integration association. The EAEU goal is to create a common market for goods and services, capital and workforce. Consistent promotion of integration is already producing results for the participating states, driving their economic growth and helping improve the wellbeing of their citizens. We should use such achievements to involve new members and partners in the orbit of this organisation.
Considering the risks and challenges arising along the perimeter of our borders, we should pay special attention to joint efforts with our allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). In the last few decades, the CSTO has seriously contributed to the maintenance of stability in Eurasia. We should steadily promote our cooperation in the CSTO and use it in practice for the reliable protection of the national interests, sovereignty and independence of its members.
We should also enhance, through practical actions, our partnership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). This is one of the most influential centres in the multi-polar world, multi-polar international architecture. It is substantially facilitating stability and a sustainable socioeconomic growth in Eurasia. It is in our interests to achieve closer foreign policy coordination between its members, primarily in the UN, and other international venues.
Of course, we will develop cooperation in BRICS in the same vein. BRICS brings over 40 percent of the world’s population together and occupies more than a quarter of the Earth’s land area. BRICS should play a bigger role in international affairs and match the growing potential of its participants.
Traditionally, our diplomacy is actively involved in settling regional conflicts. Unfortunately, the number of these conflicts and crisis situations around the world is multiplying, requiring more attention and swift response.
Of course, Ukraine’s internal crisis is among the most pressing and sensitive issues for us, which has so far remained unresolved. Demonstratively, Ukraine has failed to fulfil its obligations under the Minsk Package of Measures, as well as the Normandy format agreements. In other words, our Normandy Quartet partners – Germany and France – do not dispute the importance of the Minsk agreements. By the way, we must not forget that the Minsk agreements have become a norm of international law since the UN Security Council adopted the relevant resolutions. Unfortunately, in reality, [Germany and France] are indulging the current Kiev leadership’s course on dismantling the [Minsk agreements], which, unfortunately, has led the talks and the settlement itself into a dead end.
Nonetheless, it is important to energetically continue the mediation efforts in the Contact Group and the Normandy format, since there are no other international mechanisms to promote an internal Ukrainian settlement, and there is no alternative to implementing the Minsk agreements in full.
Importantly, our Western partners are exacerbating the situation by supplying Kiev with modern lethal weapons, conducting provocative military exercises in the Black Sea and other regions close to our borders. With regard to the Black Sea, this even goes beyond certain limits since strategic bombers, which carry very serious weapons, fly at a distance of only 20 kilometres from our state border.
Indeed, we constantly express our concerns about these matters and talk about red lines, but of course, we understand that our partners are peculiar in the sense that they have a very – how to put it mildly – superficial approach to our warnings about red lines. We remember well NATO's eastward expansion – the audience here is quite representative and professional. Despite the fact that relations between Russia and our Western partners, including the United States, were nothing short of unique, and the level of relations was almost allied, our concerns and warnings regarding NATO's eastward expansion have been totally ignored.
There have been several waves of expansion, and let’s look at where the military infrastructure of the NATO bloc is now – anti-missile defence systems have been deployed right next to our borders in Romania and Poland. These can easily be put to offensive use with the Mk-41 launchers there; replacing the software takes only minutes. Nevertheless, our recent warnings have had a certain effect: tensions have arisen there anyway.
In this regard, I have two points to make. First, it is important for them to remain in this state for as long as possible, so that it does not occur to them to stage some kind of conflict on our western borders which we do not need, we do not need a new conflict.
Second, Mr Lavrov, it is imperative to push for serious long-term guarantees that ensure Russia’s security in this area, because Russia cannot constantly be thinking about what could happen there tomorrow.
Clearly, and I can see this despite the fact that many people are wearing face masks, but I can tell by their eyes that there are sceptical smiles with regard to whether we can count on and hope for serious agreements in this area, keeping in mind that, after all, we are dealing with, to put it mildly, not very reliable partners who can easily backtrack on any previous agreement. Nevertheless, as difficult as it may be, we need to work on this, and I want you to keep that in mind.
It is also impossible to ignore that Western countries are using the migration crisis on Belarus-Poland border as a new reason for tension in a region close to us, for putting pressure on Minsk, while at the same time forgetting their own humanitarian commitments. Just look how the Polish security forces are behaving at the border – you can watch it on the internet or on television. The first thing that comes to mind is those poor children, there are small children there. And they are shooting water and tear gas at the crowd, throwing grenades. At night, helicopters fly along the border, sirens are howling.
I remember well how in 2014, when the Polish government, trying to stop the use of similar equipment by law enforcement forces in Ukraine – [Viktor] Yanukovych was President then – how they said it was unacceptable to use such means against the civilian population. What are they doing now?
Indeed, we know and understand that Belarus has its problems, although domestic political tensions have calmed down, but the problems exist, and yes, we are well aware of this and we certainly support a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition. But Russia, for its part, will undoubtedly continue its policy of strengthening ties and deepening integration with Belarus. We are determined to implement all 28 recently adopted Union State industry programmes to develop a common economic space, and go on to pursue coordinated macroeconomic, tax, banking and credit policies.
A year ago, Russia’s vigorous mediation efforts helped curb the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, but the recent shootings on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border have shown that the region has not yet fully stabilised. The efforts of the Russian peacekeeping contingent, as a guarantor of the ceasefire and the civilian population’s security, are essential to ensure stability.
Undoubtedly, Russian diplomacy is playing a growing role in further efforts to settle disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, restore economic ties and unblock vital transport corridors in the South Caucasus. We have established an interstate commission at the level of deputy prime ministers. It is working, and I think it has good prospects. All countries of the region, including Russia, are interested in the long-term resolution of these problems.
There are serious challenges with respect to Afghanistan, especially after the US withdrawal from that country. In further contacts with the Taliban, it is necessary to make more active use of the formats of the Moscow consultations and the consultations of the extended “Troika” with the participation of external players and neighbours of Afghanistan with a view to promoting civil peace and public order, neutralising terrorist structures and drug crime.
Developments in Afghanistan dictate the need for additional measures to ensure Russia’s security on its southern borders and provide assistance to our allies – Central Asian states that consider Russia to be a guarantor of regional stability. It is necessary to continue acting in this vein, taking measures to prevent uncontrollable refugee flows and stop terrorists and other criminals from crossing our border.
We have repeatedly noted the centre of gravity of the world’s politics and economy steadily shift from the Euro-Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific. So, we should continue vigorously developing relations with the states of the Asia-Pacific Region, being guided by our ambitious initiative to create the Greater Eurasian Partnership as a common, broad and open space of security, mutually beneficial economic and humanitarian cooperation.
We will continue strengthening ties with our good neighbours and friends in the People’s Republic of China. Our bilateral ties have now reached the highest level in history and amount to a comprehensive strategic partnership. It is possible to say that they are a model for effective interstate cooperation in the 21st century.
Naturally, this is not to the liking of everyone. Some of our Western partners are openly trying to drive a wedge between Moscow and Beijing. We are well aware of this. Together with our Chinese friends, we will continue responding to such attempts by expanding our political, economic and other cooperation, and coordinating steps in the world arena.
Russia has a similar approach in relations with India, our specially privileged strategic partner. We intend to build up our truly multifaceted bilateral cooperation. We regard India as an independent, strong centre of the multipolar world. We have a similar foreign policy philosophy and priorities.
Cooperation between Russia and ASEAN contributes to maintaining stability and security, as well as ensures sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific. It is important to deepen and improve, in every possible way, the experience we have accumulated over 30 years of productive political, economic and social cooperation with ASEAN.
It is equally important to maintain the intensive work with our partners in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, consistently implementing existing initiatives for post-pandemic economic recovery, stimulating trade in goods and services, investment and technological exchange, and expanding humanitarian contacts.
Russia has always acted and will continue to act as an impartial mediator to resolve conflicts and crises in the Middle East and help stabilise that region in every possible way. Our direct involvement contributed to defeating international terrorism in Syria, preventing the country from disintegrating, and to launching the intra-Syrian settlement process under the auspices of the UN, as part of the Astana format with Turkey and Iran.
Russian diplomacy should continue to contribute to the normalisation of relations between Syria and the Arab countries and an early return to the League of Arab States, as well as to enlist international assistance to improve the humanitarian situation in that country.
Assisting in the advancement of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is of fundamental importance for the improvement of the situation in the Middle East. We need to continue balanced and purposeful work with all parties to the Libyan conflict, to direct them towards finding a compromise. Overall, forging a truly friendly, pragmatic and non-ideology based dialogue with all states in the Middle East remains our unconditional priority.
Russia intends to continue to focus on cooperating with the African states, building comprehensive and mutually beneficial ties. By the way, this was the purpose of a recent decision to strengthen the staff of the Africa Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As you know, in 2019, Sochi hosted the first Russia-Africa summit; the parties are exploring the possibility of holding the next meeting in 2022.
With regard to Latin American and Caribbean countries, this region has always been interested in cooperating with Russia, and interest is growing, especially in the wake of our major supplies of vaccines and medicines to combat the coronavirus. We have formed a circle of countries on the continent that we traditionally maintain good and close relations with, and this circle is expanding, so we need to keep this process going.
Regarding European affairs, I have to state with regret that the opportunities for cooperation continue to narrow. Even though the EU remains our leading trade and economic partner, the previously rather productive Russia-EU cooperation is currently experiencing major difficulties.
The EU continues to push us back with its sanctions, unfriendly actions and unfounded accusations while ignoring the obvious benefits of interaction in politics, the economy and culture. We must not forget that we are neighbours and, as we know from history, dividing lines on the continent have never led to anything good. Of course, Russia is interested in maintaining neighbourly and constructive ties with the European countries, but everything depends on our partners’ willingness to establish and maintain equal and respectful cooperation.
A similar, if not more depressing, situation prevails in our relations with NATO which has adopted a markedly confrontational stance and is stubbornly and demonstratively bringing its military infrastructure closer to our borders, as I mentioned earlier. Moreover, NATO was the one that broke our dialogue mechanisms. Of course, we will provide a proper response to NATO’s military activity along Russia’s borders, but, most importantly, Brussels must understand that alleviating military-political tensions is not only in Russia's interest, but also in the interest of Europe and the world in general.
Out of the blue, they expelled our diplomats without providing any reason for doing so, and then they take offence at us closing their [diplomatic] mission in Russia. Why take offence? This was their initiative. They did it with their own hands and then started looking for someone to blame. Well, if they do not want to cooperate with us, okay, don’t, it is not that we are desperate to cooperate with them. I think they will want to, they are already sending signals that they want to cooperate, but why did they expel our diplomats just like that, out of the blue, for no reason? Is it some kind of sport for them?
This also applies, by the way, to Russia-US relations, which, as you know, largely underlie global security and stability. At this point, these relations, to put it mildly, are in an unsatisfactory state. The diplomats from both countries are experiencing major problems. Embassy staffs have been cut and the embassies cannot function properly, let alone systematically engage in expanding bilateral ties. These are the consequences of the provocative policy pursued by US authorities, which began to practice large-scale bans and restrictions for Russian diplomats five years ago.
Our property in the United Sates has been seized in violation of every international standard and rule, every single rule. They have grossly violated the rules, just took our property and that was that – where is the Vienna Convention now? They even refuse to talk to us about it. Isn’t this strange, in the seemingly civilised world we live in? Or it is not so civilised after all.
Nevertheless, the summit with President Biden in Geneva last June opened up a few opportunities for a dialogue and gradual alignment, straightening out our relations, and it is important that both sides consistently expand the agreements reached.
Indeed, something is already being done, this much must be admitted: joint work has begun on the strategic stability and information security agenda. True, our interests, assessments, and positions on many bilateral and international issues differ – this is indeed so and everyone is well aware of it – sometimes the difference is dramatic. However, I would like to say this again, we are open to contact and an exchange of views, to a constructive dialogue.
The points that I made here show that the diplomatic service is definitely shouldering a heavy burden, which is constantly increasing. You have to work under very difficult and challenging conditions. The state will continue to heed any pressing problems with diplomatic service employees, and to strengthen their social guarantees.
We have made a few steps towards this in the past few years. Two basic laws have been adopted – on the diplomatic service and on the status of Russian ambassadors and permanent representatives in foreign states. A new remuneration system has been introduced, which increased the incomes of employees at the Foreign Ministry headquarters. The headquarters was slightly upsized, and the Foreign Ministry’s proposals on expanding Russia’s diplomatic and consular presence in a number of CIS countries have been approved, too. We will continue to keep all these matters under review, and to support useful initiatives from the top Ministry officials.
To conclude my remarks, I would like to thank all the employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their high-quality and dedicated work, and to wish them every success.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to again express my special gratitude to the diplomatic service veterans, who could not join us in this room today for obvious reasons, and I would ask you to convey to them my best wishes of good health and happiness.
Thank you for your attention.