Speech by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at the Royal Institute for International Relations

Submitted on Tue, 10/15/2013 - 22:00

"Europe's role in a time of changes". Speech delivered by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov at the Royal Institute for International Relations. Brussels, 15 October 2013 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me pleasure to speak in one of the most renowned centers of political science in Europe as part of my visit to Brussels made on the invitation of my friend and colleague Didier Reynders. Ever since Belgium was founded it has had special relationship with Russia. I have no doubt that Belgians are well familiar with the biography of their first King Leopold who was related to the Russian Royal Family and as a general of the Russian Army fought in battles which took place in Europe in the early 19th century. The archives of the Russian Foreign Ministry include a letter by Alexander I to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg with the expression of his “special benevolence.”

This year our countries are celebrating the 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Sure enough, the Russian-Belgian contacts had to string along with the twists and turns of the European history, but we can say with full confidence that mutual affection between our peoples has been the constant of our relationship. Now that ideological contradictions are a thing of the past we see great new opportunities opening up in the relations between the two countries. The Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation signed on December 8, 1993 is a benchmark document that guides our cooperation in different areas.

An intensive dialogue between Moscow and Brussels has become an important element of European political life. During talks that were held today we reaffirmed basic commonality of our approaches to many issues on the international agenda.

We see Belgium as a reliable business partner. Despite the crisis, the trade volume has been growing steadily and investment cooperation has been developing actively. Today 250 Belgian companies successfully operate in Russia, making solid investments in the high-tech production capacities. The Solvay Group remains the leading Belgian investor in Russia, and has already created a number of large joint ventures with the Russian Sibur Holding in the Nizhny-Novgorod Region. The number of Russian investors in Belgium is also growing, Lukoil is just one to mention. All of the above strengthens our confidence in the fact that the traditions of partnership, friendship and cultural cross-fertilization, which were laid one and a half centuries ago, will be further developed.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Speaking in the political capital of Europe it is impossible not to dwell upon the issues pertaining to the future of our continent. Reflections on the topic are particularly relevant nowadays when there are all the signs that the period of smooth, linear movement is over and the world has entered a period of transition that will mark not simply the next stage of development, but rather a new historical era. For the first time in centuries the sources of global growth have shifted beyond the borders of the European civilization, reshaping the geopolitical landscape and establishing a polycentric international system in line with the realities and needs of the twenty-first century. The developments of recent years have shown again and again that today no single country, nor even a group of countries have sufficient resources to address international challenges by imposing their will on all others. The only way to provide effective global governance is to bring major poles of power and influence of the modern world into alignment, which implies that the respect for other nations' civilizational lifestyles and right to determine their own destiny becomes an imperative need.

It is clear that such a polycentric system is much more complex than a bipolar model of the second half of the previous century, but we believe that it has no reasonable alternative. Although mechanisms of joint decision making by the major world centers were enshrined in the UN Charter, the course of history has deferred their implementation for several decades. Today time is ripe to take full advantage of these opportunities.

In other words, time has come for the renaissance of diplomacy. The global economy turmoil of the past few years has clearly demonstrated that predictions that the role of national states would shrink with the onset of the globalization, were false. States alone are in a position to establish domestic fire departments, similarly it is them that are to assume the main burden when it comes to crisis, conflict and disaster response and relief. It is also their exclusive right to use available diplomatic tools to shape effective global governance structures and institutions.

The Russia-US proposals formulated on the basis of the arrangements between the Presidents of the two countries, which laid the groundwork for the subsequent OPCW decision and the UN SC resolution that set the framework for the efforts to destroy chemical weapons in Syria are sited, and rightly so, as an example of the productive diplomatic work. Let me emphasize that this was possible because we managed to bring the diplomacy to the next qualitatively new level, where the goal is not to form a coalition against anyone but rather to cope with common tasks and to find solutions to global challenges.

Keys to solving problems of the today's world cannot be found without genuine multilateral efforts, network diplomacy and cooperation in international affairs aimed at promoting shared interests. The BRICS that spans across four continents is a good example of an association that promotes a strictly positive and constructive agenda.

The EU member states, given their vast experience in international affairs, historical memory and extensive diplomatic traditions, are to play an important and productive role in the efforts to create a fair and democratic world order. As new centers of economic and financial power are emerging fast, it seems that in the new architecture of international relations Europe will no longer hold the central place as it used to throughout centuries. That, however, does not preclude Europe from churning out innovative technologies and ideas that could contribute to raising sustainability of the global economy, making it more environmentally friendly and resistant to conflict in international affairs.

Certainly, it would hardly be possible to advance towards this goal unless we agree on fundamental principles, first and foremost that it is absolutely imperative to respect common rules of the game. In case of international relations these are norms and principles of the international law, first of all the provisions of the UN Charter. No one seems to argue with this, but in practice we see attempts to undermine the legal framework of the existing international system and to set precedents by taking steps bypassing such key principles as sovereign equality of states, respect for their independence and territorial integrity, non-use of force or threat of force and peaceful settlement of disputes. We also cannot but be concerned with the encroachments upon immunity of diplomats or diplomatic missions. Such actions undermine the basics of civilized relations between the states.

We cannot agree with the logic of those that attempt to justify unilateral use of force by referring to the so-called "responsibility to protect" concept. The 2005 World Summit outcome document does indeed list cases in which interference, including military, is possible to prevent mass murder of civilians. However the UN Summit made it abundantly clear that it has to be mandated by the UN Security Council on a case-by-case basis. This is international law. All the rest is slyness. Unilateral interference will always be selective and inevitably aimed at promoting political interests of countries behind it. That bears resemblance to the colonial times when good intentions were used to justify violence. So far no one has proven that use of force in international affairs helps to reduce the number of civilian casualties rather than the opposite – think of Libya, Afghanistan and especially Iraq, where terrorist attacks claim dozens of human lives every day and have become a horrible reality politicians and mass media in the West no longer take notice of. One thing’s for certain: unilateral military actions lead to a dramatic rise in instability, both regionally and globally.

We believe that today international stability is one of the main values for the international community to cherish. I stress this point not because, as some may assert, Russia has presumably adopted retrograde stance and is struggling to defend the status quo with no chance of success. On the contrary, as I noted in the very beginning, we are convinced that today the world is changing faster and more drastically than ever. As the two epochs meet, sparks fly and serious turbulence is created, and there can be no excuse for aggravating the situation further by hasty actions in pursuit of some immediate benefits, and, at times, dictated by the domestic interparty struggle. That is why Russia consistently supports evolutionary, not revolutionary, path of development and advocates focusing international efforts on peaceful settlement of regional crises.

Now, everyone seems to have finally understood what we meant two years ago as we presented our analysis of the drastic rise in instability in the Middle East and North Africa. What we witnessed was the beginning of a long period of perturbations that might affect geographical borders of the local states that were drawn back in the colonial times, cause serious interfaith and intercommunal conflicts, give rise to a new wave of extremism which can expand far beyond the borders of the Middle East and North Africa, similar to what we are already seeing in Afghanistan, Mali, Kenya and other regions. No one can guarantee that those "arcs of instability" and trouble spots will not multiply, causing more and more serious threats to emerge, including those related to the danger of violation of the non-proliferation regimes of weapons of mass destruction.

Thus the task to work out a common long-term vision of how the international situation might evolve in order to prevent the negative scenario acquires paramount importance. We need to understand that external actors do need to act cautiously and in a balanced way with regard to the countries in conflict. It is also important to give up the paradigm of regime change on command from the outside, to promote settlement through inclusive national dialogue observing in full the rights of ethnic, religious and other minorities. And all must reaffirm and demonstrate commitment to countering extremism and terrorism and to refrain from double standards.

Let us look at how Russia's position regarding this set of issues correlates with that of the EU member states. As far as the main priorities are concerned, we, in fact, have no serious differences. Both Moscow and Brussels strongly advocate peaceful development of the Middle East and other regions, collective efforts to address new challenges and threats, fostering efforts of peoples living there aimed at democratic transformation of their societies and creating more efficient economic systems. Naturally, as we proclaim such positions, we should also strive to implement them in practice.

The question that is directly linked to the aforementioned is as follows: to what extent could the Euro-Atlantic region serve as a beacon of balanced development and offer solution to the security problems that would be acceptable to all. It  seems that the correct principles of mutually beneficial cooperation based on respect have recently been agreed upon. In 2010 at the Lisbon Russia-NATO Council (NRC) Summit and at the Astana OSCE Summit the task was set forth to build genuine strategic partnerships and to establish the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security communities. The decisions that were taken back in the days make up a solid program of joint action. However, in practice positive results are difficult to achieve, while on certain tracks there are even roll-backs. I am referring, in particular, to the deployment with NATO’s blessing of the Europe-based segment of the global US missile defense system, in defiance of the legitimate concerns of the Russian Federation and contrary to the commitment not to strengthen one's security at the expense of others, which was repeatedly declared in the NRC and the OSCE.

Such steps take us away from the goal set by the leaders of our countries, that is to establish a Euro-Atlantic space of equal and indivisible security. We hope that the "Helsinki+40" initiative discussed in the OSCE would help advance in the right direction. I would like to give some statistics to those that continue to trade on the myth of "the threat from the East". Today, Russian military budget is 14 times smaller than the aggregate military expenditures of all NATO countries. That said, our country has the longest land border, and if we calculate Russia's military expenditures per one kilometer of the border we shall see that our country ranks fortieth in the world.

In general discussions of the ways to strengthen the European security some demonstrate persistent lack of trust, as well as the desire to revive the Cold War logic: either you are with us or against us. Those who ignore the lesson that history clearly teaches us: attempts to isolate Russia always had extremely dire if not tragic consequences for the entire European continent. And vice versa, lasting periods of peaceful development in Europe were associated with the active role played by Russia in resolving pan-European problems.

Over the last two decades a lot has been achieved in relations between Russia and the EU. Today, the volume of our mutual trade is comparable to that between the EU and the US and the EU and China. However the potential for development of cooperation virtually in all fields is really tremendous. Together we number about 650 million people that populate the territory of over 21 mln. square kilometres and possess huge natural resources and highly developed technological base, as well as the comparative advantages since our economies complement each other. Recently, a number of irritants appeared in the Russia–EU relations. Those include visa regime that against the background of actively developing trade and economic ties, tourism and human contacts represent a clear anachronism, reluctance of the EU to open its market for certain Russian products, as well as attempts to aggressively and retrospectively apply the provisions of the "Third Energy Package" in violation of agreements on the protection of investments. However, disagreements on these and other issues will never distract us from our main goal, namely further comprehensive development of the mutually beneficial strategic partnership between Russia and the European Union. This goal was outlined in the Concept of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation approved by President Vladimir V. Putin. The document also set forth a perfectly realistic task to establish a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. For as Victor Hugo wrote, people do not lack strength, they lack will.

It is evident that advancement is only possible if we adhere to the principles of equality, mutual respect and consideration of each other's interests. We understand that the European Union has developed a habit to build relations with the neighboring states on the basis of bringing these countries up to the EU standards, making use of their desire to join the European integration project. However, Russia does not intend to join the EU and, therefore, the pattern of our relations with the European Union is of completely different nature and should be based on a mutual willingness of the two major European players to strive towards mutually beneficial rapprochement that will undoubtedly help to consolidate our common positions in today's highly competitive world.

Developing ties between the European Union and the Eurasian integration organizations which we are establishing together with Kazakhstan and Belarus also offers significant potential benefits. The Customs Union and the Common Economic Space are founded on the universal principles of integration in line with the WTO norms. They already started to bring tangible benefits to their members, contributing to the growth of mutual trade, reduction of unemployment and improvement of the investment climate. As a matter of fact, we are following the same path that the EU took back in its early days, and the experience of the European Union is of great help to us. That said, it would be a big mistake to disregard commercial, humanitarian and family ties between peoples that live in the CIS space that go back centuries, their common cultural matrix as well as existing infrastructure links. Therefore it would only be natural to strive towards harmonization of relations between the EU and the Eurasian Union that is being established with all due respect for the sovereign right of any State to set its own priorities.

In view of history, modern-day realities, as well as other factors it would be best if natural and objective integration processes among the CIS member states were to go hand in hand with strengthening ties with the European Union and were to result in the creation – and I quote J.M. Barroso's words – of "a common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok with free movement of people, free flow of goods and services". As I stated earlier, this is the goal set forth in our foreign policy concept.

Putting an end to confrontational rhetoric and arguments about values would strengthen positions and give competitive edge not only to Russia and Europe, but to the entire European civilization. At times one might get an absurd impression that in today's world the deepest rift in terms of values passes through the European continent. Russia has consistently adhered to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and respected traditional values, among which are basic moral principles rooted in Christianity and other world religions. Renouncing them in favor of hedonism and permissiveness would lead to the loss of human dignity and self-destruction of both individuals and the society. Literature masterpieces created both in the west and in the east of Europe are replete with the facts to prove this idea. Fyodor Dostoyevsky believed that "public civic ideals which are not naturally linked to moral ideals have never existed and cannot exist".

It is important to keep in mind the need to strike a reasonable balance between freedom and responsibility and learn to respect each other and our right to diversity. We still consider it vital to rely further on the Council of Europe as an independent European organization that unites the legal and humanitarian spaces of our continent.

Russia stands ready to continue working with other Europeans in order to build the Great Europe of the future.

Thank you.