Russian Foreign Minister Annual Speech: Highlights

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Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis 

  • Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s 2021 Speech and Q&A 
  • Details concerning Covid-19 vaccine cooperations
  • Discusses prospects for Russia-US relations under Joe Biden
  • Round up of Russia’s relations with the EU, China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan and the Ukraine  
  • Comments on US Social Media and Media Freedoms  
  • Compares Crimean situation with Britain’s Falklands  

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave his annual speech yesterday, highlighting multiple issues concerning Russia’s Foreign Policy and Trade. We can examine some of the highlights pertinent to business, trade and investment as follows, which include Covid cooperation, Freedom of the Press, the prospects for Russia-US cooperation under President-elect Biden, in addition to an exhaustive summary of relations with China, India and the EU amongst others.

On Covid-19 Cooperation

You probably follow the discussions around the Russian epidemiological policy – our Sputnik V vaccine, the EpiVakKorona and a third vaccine, which is currently on its way.

We confirm what President Putin said in August 2020 when announcing the registration of the world’s first vaccine against coronavirus: we are as open as possible for cooperation in these matters. We see a positive response to the proposals that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) makes to foreign partners for organizing licensed production. This topic is being discussed with our colleagues in Asia, the Arab East, Africa, Latin America. Recently the President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor also touched upon the prospects of Russian-German and Russian-European cooperation in the production and improvement of vaccines. I think this is the right path, based on the desire to consolidate our efforts and on the solidarity of humanity. Unfortunately, not everywhere and not always such a desire for solidarity and joint work was manifested in a pandemic.

Criticism of the West concerning Covid Coperation

Some Western colleagues, primarily the United States and its closest allies, tried to use the situation to increase their methods of pressure, blackmail, ultimatums, illegitimate actions with the introduction of unilateral restrictive restrictions and other forms of interference in the internal affairs of many countries, including our closest neighbor, Belarus.

The West unanimously ignored the calls of the UN Secretary General  and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to suspend, at least for the duration of a pandemic, unilateral, illegitimate sanctions in terms of the supply of medicines, food, and equipment needed to fight the virus. Russia was ready to support this approach. President Vladimir Putin made a parallel initiative at the G20 summit – the creation of economic “green corridors”, free from sanctions and other artificial barriers. Unfortunately, these sensible appeals – both ours and those of the UN leaders – “hung in the air.”

Concerns over subjucation of the United Nations

Last year, we celebrated the creation of the United Nations, the entry into force of its Charter. Against the background of these anniversaries, we are deeply concerned about the continuing impudent actions of the United States and most of its Western allies, aimed at undermining the architecture of international life based on the UN, its Charter and structure, as well as aimed at imparting oblivion to the classic forms and norms of international law for the sake of the so-called. “A rules-based world order.” Within the framework of this line, outside the UN and universal structures, certain exclusive mechanisms were created – groups of the so-called ‘like-minded people’. They are trying to impose the decisions of these narrow groups on all participants in interstate communication.

One of the manifestations of this kind of rules, on which the West would like to build a new world order, is the concept of multilateralism, which has been promoted by German and French colleagues in the past two years. Descriptions of this concept, by the EU and everything they do in terms of rule-making, the ideal of foreign policy. The European Union regards the establishment of specific rules as its exclusive right and believes that everyone else should follow these developed norms. There are many examples.

The EU has already carried out special events outside the UN structures on cybersecurity, media freedom, international humanitarian law, in which several dozen countries participated. The deliberate removal of these events outside the framework of universally recognized UN structures speaks volumes. It is an understanding that the UN will have to meet with people who may have slightly different views on ensuring cybersecurity, on what freedom of the media is, especially in today’s life, and on how to ensure the equal application of international humanitarian law. A tolerance for diversity is a trait that the West is rapidly losing.

On Western Social Media

There are situations when half a dozen people who have created their own technological empires do not even want to know what rights they have in their state. They themselves determine their rights on the basis of the so-called. corporate norms and do not put a penny in the constitutions of their states. We have seen this clearly in the United States. This is a serious concern.

On Freedom Of The Press

Q: A few days ago, the whole world watched in amazement how, literally “at the snap of their fingers,” corporations disconnected Trump from social networks. How, in your opinion, does this “digital gulag”, which politicians and their sympathizers, journalists and ordinary people around the world fall into, relates to the concept of “American democracy”? Is it possible that such selective blocking of accounts will become the basis of international politics in the future, and it will be quite commonplace?

Lavrov:  Now on all channels, in social networks, this is the only thing they talk about. I heard that Telegram was threatened to be deprived of the opportunity to provide services. It will be interesting.

I have already mentioned the topic of State obligations. I would like to remind you of them. The United States is a party to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is interesting (although they prefer not to remember this) that two international covenants were signed: On civil and political rights and On economic, social and cultural rights. By signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (this was in the 1960s), the United States has categorically refused and still refuses to sign the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This is a refusal to take on any obligations related to ensuring the standard of living of the population and solving social and economic problems. But the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is a binding document for the United States. The Helsinki Final Act and a whole series of OSCE documents (the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the Charter for European Security adopted in Istanbul in 1999) stipulate that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right includes the freedom to seek, receive, distribute all kinds of information and ideas regardless of state borders, orally, in writing, through the press, artistic forms of expression or in other ways of their choice. By “other ways” was meant the visionary awareness that soon humanity will have social networks. There is no exception here. It is said that everyone has the right to access information. And the state signed this commitment. Therefore, it is ridiculous and childish to nod that Google, Facebook, YouTube and other corporations have no obligations. The state is obliged to answer for them, and if they behave in this way, it is obliged to bring their actions in accordance with their obligations, which are of a legal nature.

Question on Journalists Arrested Over Breaching EU Sanctions

Q: I am one of the seven Latvian journalists detained in December by local special services for cooperation with the portals Sputnik Latvia and the agency Baltnews. In December 2020, we were searched, our office equipment, computers, dictaphones were seized, and a criminal charge was brought against us for violating “international sanctions.” It’s been a month and a half already. We still do not see any reaction of international human rights structures to this, to put it mildly, an unusual event. Why do you think our outrageous, in my opinion, case – the detention of seven journalists in Latvia – is passed over in silence by international officials? Can the Russian Foreign Ministry do something to protect the journalists representing Russian media abroad?

Lavrov: We are trying. I’m not just using this word as an excuse. We are actually taking serious steps. We discuss this topic at our weekly meetings, which I hold with my deputies and members of the Collegium of the Russian Foreign Ministry. We must not only somewhere declare our rejection of such gross violations of national legislation and international obligations, but we must also use international mechanisms. We made a presentation at the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe. Let’s continue this work.

When we have undeniable, irrefutable facts of gross violation of freedom of the media, also with threats to open a criminal case, then the mechanisms existing in the UN human rights formats (and there are many speakers on various aspects of human rights violations: there is a Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe , OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media) cannot justify what they are doing to you. There are many such cases around you – in the neighboring Baltic countries. They usually write letters to us. But we want to use the mechanisms that exist in the conventions and require the respective country to correct such a violation. These mechanisms should (sorry for the not very diplomatic word) “not get off” the violator until the violation is terminated. Our multilateral colleagues are much less willing to fight for the truth, when it comes to mass media in Russian. Although in the case of Latvia, Russian is a native language. Almost half of Latvia’s population thinks, lives and uses it, 40 percent for sure. To show complete disrespect for your own compatriots in this way, you need to have a specific political orientation.

We will continue to seek implicit actions from international structures, but at the same time we want to “raise” non-governmental organizations. They have every reason to go to courts. The denial of the courts allows you to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). He has already touched upon the topic of the media a couple of times. There were no such precedents before, but they were recently created in relation to reproaches expressed from the West against the Russian media. Therefore, the ECHR must now look at the situation, which is not even subject to any kind of double interpretation. It is so obvious, and I do not think that the court should consider the case for a long time before the verdict is delivered.

At the same time, we are working and will continue to work with international lawyers. We will also use our existing Fund for the Support and Protection of the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad, which, among other things, will be ready to help journalists.

On Membership of Regional Institutions

With regard to promoting a positive agenda. We invite our Western partners to return to common sense and consider under the UN umbrella all ideas that arise in them on cyber security, freedom of the media, and on many other problems that they are trying to solve in their circle.

We introduce similar approaches within other organizations where Russia participates, including the Shanghai Cooperation OrganizationBRICSthe Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Eurasian Economic Union .

On the Eurasian Economic Union & Offer To The European Union

The initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which we are promoting, is to form the Great Eurasian Partnership, open to all Eurasian countries without exception, through an equal collective dialogue. This covers the EU states along with the members of the EAEU, SCO and ASEAN, in general it covers countries that are not part of any of the regional organizations, but located on the Eurasian continent. I would like to note the importance of the G20, which unites the G7 of Western countries, which is no longer able to solve problems of global significance alone. The G20 also brings together the BRICS countries and their like-minded people who share our common philosophy of the need to renounce confrontation and the importance of solving all the problems existing in the world on the basis of finding a balance of interests.

On Relations With Italy

Russia and Italy have good relations. Italy is one of those EU countries that, following the discipline and principles of solidarity existing in the EU, do not consider it appropriate to take an aggressive stance towards the Russian Federation. While conscientiously joining the consensus on certain sanctions, Italy does not regard them as effective tools to influence anyone, in this case the Russian Federation. Italy, not without objections from Brussels, defends its right to develop bilateral relations with Russia and does it sincerely. This line reflects the correct understanding of the national interests of the Italian Republic – the interests of business, its citizens, interested in continuing humanitarian, sports, cultural and other contacts between people.

Italians and I have a good tradition of spending cross years. They are devoted to topics of interest to the citizens of both countries, primarily from the spheres of culture, language, literature, contacts between regions. This is a very good tradition. It actually helps to answer the queries of ordinary people and business, which is important.

Russia and Italy have a “2 + 2” mechanism, when the ministers of defense and foreign affairs of the two countries meet and review the key problems of the global situation, the Euro-Atlantic and other regions where the interests of Italy and the Russian Federation are present.

Statistics on what specific events we held last year and what are planned for the future can be found in the Main Foreign Policy Results of 2020 . All this is detailed there.

On US-Russia Relations Under Biden

Q:  Probably, the next US Secretary of State will be Antony Blinken, and the well-known Victoria Nuland has been “attached” to him to help him. What can you say about these candidates? What are your premonitions about further work with them?

Lavrov: I  try not to arouse any premonitions on any occasion. So much has already been said about what to expect from the new American Administration that I will not even take much time.

The people are familiar. On the one hand, this allows, if there is a reciprocal desire, to respond to the numerous proposals made by us on the Russian-American agenda, which remain on the table, to begin negotiations without a long break and “swinging”. On the other hand, this gives us the opportunity to roughly imagine what line the “old new” members of the foreign policy team of the new US Administration will pursue, especially since they themselves do not hide their plans and plans. In regular interviews, articles, and advice from the “brain trusts” of the United States, including the North Atlantic Council of NATO and other structures, it is clear that the line on the dominance of the American state and way of life will continue without understanding the way of life of other countries. Containing Russia and China will certainly figure on the foreign policy agenda. They are already discussing how to make sure that Russia and China do not unite enough to become more powerful than America itself. There are proposals to “play out” the confrontation between Russia and China. All this has long been present in American politics.

We have no illusions. We are realists. We have our own proposals on all issues on the agenda that are significant for humanity, and a number of them are being implemented. I will mention the UN work on international information security, suppression of cybercrime, which Western colleagues would not want to continue in a universal format, but to group it in a narrow circle of like-minded people, develop the very “rules” there, and then require everyone else to comply with them.

In short, we do not expect radical changes. But the methods of promoting American “leadership” will be somewhat different.

Q:  What step of the Biden Administration, in your opinion, can confirm that it is ready to “reset” relations with the Russian Federation? What is Russia ready to do to show its desire to improve relations with the United States?

Lavrov:  We do not need to do anything in order to show a desire to have good relations with the United States, which will reflect the mutual responsibility of the two largest nuclear powers for world security at the global, regional and all other levels. We have made such proposals. The Biden administration is well aware of this.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Mr. Biden on his election as President of the United States, he reaffirmed our commitment to cooperation on all issues reflecting mutual interest and important for the fate of the world. Consider this an invitation to dialogue.

But most importantly, on cybersecurity, on charges of meddling in US affairs, space affairs, arms control – on all these topics, Russian proposals are on the table. Only in September 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly invited the United States (not specifically President Donald Trump or anyone else, but the United States as a power that, we hope, will have at least some signs of continuity and negotiability in foreign policy) to sort out once and for all our relations in the field of cybersecurity and interference in each other’s affairs. It was proposed to solemnly proclaim that we will not engage in this (I mean interference in internal affairs); restore regular dialogue on all aspects of problems, emerging in the cybersphere from the point of view of the military-political security of states and the use of cyberspace by various criminals – terrorists, pedophiles, human traffickers. We did not receive any answers to this proposal, as well as a reaction to the initiative two years ago to clearly confirm in the new conditions what Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Reagan once stated – the inadmissibility of nuclear war, the inability to win in it, and therefore it should never be unleashed.

I don’t know how the new US President’s special envoy for arms control will formulate Mr. Biden’s position, but Marshall Billingslea under Trump has not stopped anti-Russian rhetoric at all and continues to push his interviews and articles. In one of his speeches, he said in plain text that under no circumstances should the new Administration fall for the “Russian trick” and make a statement about the inadmissibility of a nuclear war. This is not just a whim of any other American leader who considers it unacceptable for the United States to subscribe to the inadmissibility of nuclear war. This is a reflection of the guidelines that are enshrined in American doctrines on the use of force and nuclear weapons. Lowering the level of warheads with the expectation that they can be used on the battlefield, a refusal to record this in the doctrine, that nuclear weapons are being used only in response to an attack on the United States – these doctrinal nuances speak volumes. It is important for us to understand who and how will ultimately determine the position of the United States in the field of strategic offensive weapons, and not only nuclear ones.

New technologies make it possible to develop a project called “Prompt global strike” in the USA. It involves the creation of very powerful and high-precision strategic weapons in non-nuclear equipment, capable of reaching anywhere in the world in one hour.

They suggested that the outgoing Administration think about a new document on arms control, extend the START Treaty so that at least something remains in the field of arms control, and in the meantime, work on a new document that will primarily cover all types of weapons, not only those mentioned in START. 3, but also strategic weapons that can pose a threat to the territories of our countries. In my opinion, this is a very clear criterion. It is much more relevant than a simple count of all warheads of any kind, to which they tried to persuade us, refusing our proposal to focus on the real threats existing today that can be implemented.

Let’s wait. Mr. Biden is a specialist in the field of disarmament, arms control. I think he will be interested in having a professional, not a propaganda team.

On Relations With China

Q:  Recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China and Russia will continue to serve as an example of the development of good-neighborliness and friendship between major countries of the world, give impetus to the restoration of the world economy, and maintain global strategic stability. What opportunities do you see for the further development of relations between the two countries? How can Russia and China resist outside interference and attempts to drive a wedge into their cooperation?

Lavrov:  We have very close, strategic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Our leaders are friends, they regularly communicate with each other in confidence. This year, personal contacts were difficult, but detailed conversations by telephone and video conferencing took place at least five times. The next, already the 25th regular meeting of the heads of government took place, contacts of all five subcommissions created under the leadership of the heads of government took place, a meeting of the Russian-Chinese inter-parliamentary commission was held. We jointly celebrated the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. A Chinese delegation led by Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe and a company of the Guard of Honor took part in the parade on Red Square on June 24, 2020. We appreciate it.

A major event is now underway – the Year of Russian-Chinese Scientific, Technical and Innovative Partnership.

This is an urgent topic, designed to give a new breath, a new quality to our trade and economic cooperation. Unlike many countries, during the pandemic, we managed to prevent a decline in trade. It is developing quite steadily. Large projects are being implemented in infrastructure, industrial, agricultural, energy and investment areas.

From the very first day, we have been working closely together to combat COVID-19 and overcome its consequences. When our Chinese friends first documented the situation in Wuhan, we received the closest and most effective assistance in returning Russian citizens. We are cooperating to provide each other with humanitarian aid. There are such examples on both sides. We are currently working on vaccines. I am convinced that we will achieve success.

We cooperate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS. The People’s Republic of China and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) signed a cooperation agreement. The integration processes within the EAEU and China’s Belt and Road Initiative are being combined. In December last year, we signed a protocol that extended for another 10 years our bilateral Agreement on Notification of the Launch of Ballistic Missiles and Space Launch Vehicles. Also in December 2020, the second patrol of the Chinese Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces of the Japan and East China Seas took place. This reflects the trustful, forward-looking nature of Russian-Chinese relations, our mutual focus on ensuring stability in the Asia-Pacific region (APR).

Some other colleagues, in particular the United States, are trying to whip up tensions both by conducting military measures with an openly anti-Chinese orientation and aimed at isolating Russia, and in terms of the very real plans of the United States to deploy components of the American missile defense in the APR. These funds will be able to reach the territory of both China and Russia.

One can endlessly talk about Russian-Chinese interaction. It covers a huge number of areas – practically all spheres of activity of mankind and states. I will mention our very close coordination in the UN on many specific issues. It is permeated by the intention of Russia and China to protect international law, to prevent the collapse of universal structures and the substitution of the UN by some outside formats, partnerships, in which the West tries to formulate rules convenient for itself and then impose them on the rest of the world. Russia and the PRC stand firmly in defense of the gains enshrined in the UN Charter and based on the principles of equality, respect for the sovereignty of states, non-interference in their internal affairs, and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

This year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Treaty on Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. We have a fairly ambitious plan for how to mark this significant date.

On Relations with Greece and the Eastern Orthodox Church

Q: Your Greek colleague, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece N. Dendias, recently singled out Russia as the only power recognizing the right of Greece to a 12-mile sea zone of territorial waters. Despite such positive moments, Russian-Greek relations are developing, I would say, painfully. For the first time in many years, there are often opinions in Greece and Cyprus that Russia is conducting subversive activities in the Mediterranean region. This is what American diplomats say frankly. Others argue that Moscow is abandoning its historical partners, changing its policy in favor of an alliance with Turkey alone. Is it so? Is cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Russia possible under current conditions? Or do the interests of our countries diverge?

Lavrov: You said that in Greece and Cyprus it is increasingly said that Russia is playing some kind of subversive role in the region, after which you added that American diplomats are talking about this. If American diplomats in Greece and Cyprus talk about it, then they say so in any other country. So, don’t be surprised here. An American diplomat openly, in violation of all the canons and foundations, in any country does not hesitate to pick up a microphone and declare that the state in which he serves as an ambassador should stop communicating with the Russian Federation. Sometimes China is added, as US Secretary of State M. Pompeo did when he traveled across Africa and loudly demanded that Africans not trade with Russia and China, because the Russians and Chinese have some “ulterior motives”, but the US will trade with Africa disinterestedly. Simple,

I was recently in Greece and Cyprus. Not so long ago I spoke on the phone with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus Nikos Khristodoulidis. I see no reason why these countries could be convinced that Russia is their enemy or is pursuing a policy unfriendly towards them. They are trying to persuade them, but sane politicians see the whole “inside story”, which is simply to create an enemy from the Russian Federation, to declare that our presence in the Balkans impedes the movement of these countries into NATO, hinders their Euro-Atlantic integration.

There is no diplomacy here, just rough, public pressure. In countries such as Cyprus and Greece, not everyone is able to publicly respond to such calls, fearing of offending Big Brother. There is no deep enmity between anyone in Russia, Greece and Cyprus.

We have a very warm and close relationship, we have a spiritual connection. The same American colleagues who forced Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to follow the path of schism, undermining the centuries-old traditions of Orthodox Christianity, along the path of what is called “papism” in Orthodoxy, are actively trying to undermine this spiritual connection. He has always been rejected in Eastern Orthodoxy. It is not for nothing that there is no analogue of the Pope in the Orthodox world. There is the Ecumenical Patriarch, who until recently was revered as the first among equals. Under the grossest and not concealed pressure from Washington, he followed the path of a split in Ukraine, created a so-called puppet. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, deceived the Church by cutting off the rights promised to her. Now, together with the Americans, he is trying to cultivate other Orthodox churches, including the Greek Orthodox Church, Primate of the Cypriot Orthodox Church in order to continue to follow the path of deepening these subversive anti-canonical actions against Eastern Orthodoxy. The “Pandora’s Box”, which Bartholomew opened, has already led to a split in the Cypriot Orthodox Church, to “fermentation” in other Orthodox churches. The mission prepared for him by the Americans (and they do not hide the fact that they are actively working with him under the motto of “freedom of religion and belief”) is to bury the influence of Orthodoxy in the modern world. I simply do not see any other explanation for the actions of this person. prepared for him by the Americans (and they do not hide that they are actively working with him under the motto “freedom of religion and belief”) – to bury the influence of Orthodoxy in the modern world. I simply do not see any other explanation for the actions of this person. prepared for him by the Americans (and they do not hide that they are actively working with him under the motto “freedom of religion and belief”) – to bury the influence of Orthodoxy in the modern world. I simply do not see any other explanation for the actions of this person.

With regard to the disputes that you indirectly mentioned when you asked that Russia recognized the 12-mile zone of the territorial waters of Greece. This is not recognized by Russia, it follows from the universal UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of ​​1982. The convention to which everyone (except the United States) signed, states that the state has the right to establish the width of its territorial waters up to 12 miles.

When Greece announced this, we said exactly what I have just said: this is an absolutely legitimate decision. Another thing is when the territorial waters declared by the state come into conflict with the interests of the neighboring state. If it is determined that these interests are legitimate from the point of view of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, then a solution must be sought through dialogue and a balance of interests. We call on solving all problems related to the exclusive economic zones of both Greece and Cyprus through dialogue.

On Relations With India

Q: You spoke about the strategic partnership and excellent relations between the Prime Minister of India N. Modi and the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. How do you see the development of relations between Russia and India in the changing geopolitical environment, especially in the context of the threat of sanctions from some countries against India and Russia, incl. in connection with the supply of S-400 missile defense systems?

Lavrov: The partnership between Russia and India is called somewhat differently. You called it “strategic” – this was the original version. A few years later, the Indian side proposed to call it a “privileged strategic partnership”, and a few years later, when Mr. Modi became the head of the Indian government, we called him “a particularly privileged strategic partnership.”

There is room for further improvement in our relationship, which is still quite good. India is a close, strategic and privileged partner. Take the economy, innovation, high technology, military and technical cooperation. India is one of our closest partners on all these issues. We are in close coordination on political issues at such platforms as the UN and BRICS. We have done a lot for India and Pakistan to join the SCO, where a configuration has taken shape that makes this organization sufficiently representative to promote constructive, stabilizing ideas for the Eurasian region and the APR as a whole.

Together with our Indian friends at the level of presidents, prime ministers, ministers, experts, consultants, we discussed both practical things and conceptual issues, incl. based on the new concept “Indo-Pacific Strategy”. We do not believe that this is just a change in terminology. If you look at it in terms of geography, then Indo refers to all the countries bordering the Indian Ocean. However, East Africa (we were told) is not included in the Indo-Pacific Strategy. The Persian Gulf is not included in it either. What’s included? As the US Secretary of State M. Pompeo recently stated, the USA, Australia, India, Japan are the framework of a free open Indo-Pacific region. The Australians, Japanese and Americans are promoting this format and openly say that it is important to ensure stability in the South China Sea in order to

After discussing this with my good friend Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and other Indian colleagues, I realized that they clearly understand that some countries want to use the Indo-Pacific Strategy in a way that is not inclusive and involves some confrontation. Our ASEAN colleagues feel the same way. They are concerned that such aggressive imposition and promotion of such concepts will undermine the central role of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific region and in various formats, incl. the East Asia Summit (EAS), which has been centered around ASEAN for many years.

As far as I know, this issue is being actively discussed in India. India is going to use this Indo-Pacific cooperation in a constructive way. I dwelled on this issue in detail, since my comments on this issue were previously discussed in the Indian media critical of the Indian government. I want my words to be understood correctly: Russia is a friend of India. We will do our best to ensure that India and China – our two great friends and brothers – lived in peace with each other.

This is the political principle that we are promoting not only in the context of the SCO and BRICS. We have a special trilateral RIC format – the Troika, which includes Russia, China and India. It was created in the 2000s and is still operational. The last ministerial meeting was held in Moscow in September 2020. A joint communiqué was adopted, which recognizes the maintenance of peace and stability in Asia and the world in general, and also confirms cooperation between the three countries.

On Relations With Japan And Issues With North Korea

Q: The question of the situation in Northeast Asia. Japan is very worried that the DPRK is strengthening its nuclear power. This forces Japan to take security measures, i.e. acquire a missile defense system. Russia does not seem to share our concerns; on the contrary, it sees some threat in our efforts to ensure its security. The situation is aggravated by the US intention to deploy medium-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region. Some media reported that Russia and China are considering taking joint countermeasures in the event of such a move by the United States. Is it so? One gets the impression that two military blocs are being formed in the region: the USA, Japan and South Korea on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other. I believe that relatively good good-neighborly relations have now developed between Japan and Russia. How can we avoid deteriorating relations or even confrontation, given the current situation in the region? Do you consider it possible to preserve our positive relations against the background of deteriorating relations between Russia and the United States?

Lavrov: Over the past year and a half, difficulties persist in relations between the United States and the DPRK, the Republic of Korea and the DPRK. We presume that the sides will refrain from any drastic practical steps in the military sphere, which would lead to an escalation of tension around the Korean Peninsula. The parties do not renounce their earlier obligations. At the beginning of last year, North Korea, and then South Korea, confirmed their desire to fulfill the agreements that were reached by the leaders of the North and South in 2018. Many drew attention to the military parade on the occasion of another anniversary in the DPRK. In general, no action is being taken that will actually create the material basis for escalation in practice.

Let’s wait how the Biden administration will build a policy in this direction. We are interested in a lasting peace on the peninsula. Together with our Chinese colleagues, we prepared a roadmap for our common vision of moving towards peace back in 2017. We discussed it with other participants in the six-party talks, incl. with Japan, with the USA and, of course, with the DPRK and ROK. On the basis of common understandings and on the basis of this roadmap, we have prepared an action plan with our Chinese partners, which we are ready to propose as soon as there is an opportunity to renew contacts. Once again I would like to express our sincere desire to contribute here to the achievement of lasting peace and accord.

As for our relations with Japan, we consider them good. There have always been friendly ties, personal sympathy with the Russian President and his Japanese colleagues, prime ministers. I am sure that personal contacts will be established with Prime Minister Y. Suga.

If we talk about the military situation in the region, yes, we are engaged in joint work with the PRC, incl. in the form of military exercises. The Russian-Chinese exercises are far from something fundamentally new. They were held several times in the land version, in the SCO format, in a bilateral format. Now exercises have taken place in the line of the aerospace forces. They are not directed against Japan, but are designed to check the combat readiness of aviation, which ensures the security of the borders of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. What threatens this security? There are many threats, but incl. and the one you mentioned – the US plans to deploy in Japan and the Republic of Korea anti-missile defense systems and ground-based medium and shorter-range missiles, which were prohibited by the treaty destroyed by the Americans.

We handed over to Tokyo a list of our specific security concerns, which directly relate to the possibility of continuing constructive negotiations around the topic of a peace treaty. We have not received an answer yet. But both the creation of an American missile defense system on Japanese territory and the possibility of deploying medium and shorter-range American ground-based missiles in Japan are among these concerns. On missile defense, our Japanese colleagues assure us that they will simply buy the appropriate Aegis Ashore systems, but they will control them themselves, and the Americans will not have anything to do with managing these systems. With all due respect to our Japanese friends, this cannot be done. You will not be able to get away from American control over these systems. As for intermediate and shorter-range missiles, I heard that the Japanese government is not happy with the United States’ venture, but is trying to shift negotiations from the deployment of intermediate and shorter-range ground-based missiles to the possibility of their sea-based missiles. This will hardly change the essence of the matter, because the basing of intermediate and shorter-range missiles in the Sea of ​​Japan, even on ships, will mean that these missiles will be able to “reach” a significant part of the territory of the Russian Federation.

We are ready to continue the dialogue, but we would like to receive an answer to the security concerns of which the Japanese side is well aware. In addition to the material embodiment of weapons that are planned to be deployed in Japan in one form or another, there is also a military-political dimension – Japan’s alliance with the United States, according to which they can deploy their weapons on any part of Japanese territory. As we understand, Tokyo has repeatedly, including over the past year, reaffirmed its full commitment to this military alliance, calling the Americans its main allies. And this is all happening in a situation where the United States, in turn, calls Russia its main adversary and even an enemy, as M. Pompeo recently said. When Japanese friends actively reaffirm and deepen their alliance with a country that considers Russia an enemy, of course,

Comparing The British Falkland Islands With The Situation In Crimea

Q: I am a public television journalist in Argentina, Buenos Aires. And there is one topic that is very important for our region of Latin America, and especially for the Republic of Argentina, namely sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands. I would like to ask you what is the position of the Russian Federation on this score, as well as about the changes that will entail Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union?

Lavrov: We support all UN General Assembly resolutions on the Malvinas Islands. We vote for them from the very first minute when this topic appeared in the UN, and we will continue to strive for the implementation of these resolutions in practice. There is such a topic as double standards. The Malvinas problem appeared long ago. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has very strongly insisted that the inhabitants of the Malvinas (which London calls the Falklands) have the right to self-determination. We reminded the British of this when they “got excited” in March 2014 about the referendum in Crimea. They asked them: “Do Malvins, located 10 thousand miles from England, have the right to self-determination, and the Crimeans, who have been part of our country all their lives, have been denied such a right?” The answer was very simple: “They are two different things.” I leave it on their conscience. We are convinced that the dispute must be resolved through dialogue, as provided for in the resolution of the UN General Assembly.

On Peace In Ukraine

Q: On January 12, 2021, Berlin hosted the first meeting of the Normandy Four leaders’ advisors this year. As the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation D. N. Kozak stated, no decision was reached on any point. How do you see a way out of the impasse in which the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis found itself?

Lavrov: We see no other way except for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. What were the advisers of the Normandy format leaders doing now? They tried once again to draw up a “road map” of movement towards this goal. It is a major concession on our part that we are involved in or in an attempt to draw up a roadmap. There is also a concession on the part of Donetsk and Lugansk, with whom we are closely coordinated before each meeting in the “Normandy format”.

The Normandy format is just an accompaniment to the main work. And the main work is going on in the trilateral group, as the Ukrainians call it. We call it the Contact Group. But we can also say “trilateral”, given that there are three parties – Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, and Russia and the OSCE are mediators. The road map, which the Germans and the French proposed to develop three or four years ago, has now surfaced again. At that stage, the plan was to synchronize movement along the security track: disengagement of forces, withdrawal of heavy weapons, provision of checkpoints in such a way that they function comfortably for civilians, and measures in the field of political regulation: promotion of status, preparation of elections, amnesty, etc. Then it didn’t work, because the Ukrainian side categorically opposed just such a parallel movement and began to say that first we need to resolve all security issues, and then we will think about the political content. The topic of elections “rested on this” in its time.

According to the Minsk Agreements (if they are read without politicization and without ideological blinders), first it is necessary to ensure a special, special status for Donbass, and then, on the basis of this status, to hold elections. And Ukraine said: “Let’s just the opposite – first we will hold elections, and then, depending on who is elected there, if we like the result, we will give a special status. If you don’t like it, we won’t give it. ” Then a compromise was reached with the participation of President Vladimir Putin, the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine – the so-called. The “Steinmeier formula”, which synchronized the holding of elections and the granting of special status to this region. This was all confirmed at the December 2019 summit in Paris. President V.A. Zelensky undertook to translate this formula into legislation.

Of the Paris decisions, few have been implemented. In particular, the disengagement of forces and equipment, a small exchange of prisoners, held persons took place in several areas. Attempts to agree on another exchange, which lasted all these months, ended in failure due to the position of Ukraine, which put forward more and more artificial demands.

The DPR and LPR, with our support, announced that in the near future they plan, in good faith, to transfer part of the Ukrainian citizens who are being held on their territory to Kiev unilaterally. Let the Ukrainian authorities, at least, feel a sense of shame that the exchange of “all for all”, as previously agreed, is being delayed for reasons that have nothing to do with humanitarian considerations. And now, when the leaders’ advisers were meeting, an attempt was again made to make some kind of “road map”. If they are trying to present the Minsk agreements as agreements of indirect action, then let us decipher each step that is provided for there. Ukraine, on the other hand, takes a completely obstructionist position.

Here’s one example. The Minsk agreements say: it is necessary to withdraw forces and means at a certain distance from the line of contact. Everywhere. On the eve of the Normandy Summit in Paris in December 2019, experts agreed on the final statement of the leaders, and there was a clause on the disengagement of forces and equipment by a certain date along the entire line of contact. It has already been endorsed by experts, ministers and advisers. President V.A. Zelensky said that he could not agree to this, but was ready to agree only to disengagement at three new checkpoints on the line of contact. The leaders of Germany and France were simply taken aback. Ukraine “rings” everyone at every corner, that the main thing for it is the solution of security problems “on the ground”. Suddenly the president with whom they pinned so many hopes for progress towards peace and who made the slogan of peace in Donbass the main thing in his election campaign, said “no, I will not dissolve forces and means, I can only do this in three villages.” This is already suggestive. One can grieve for a long time about this, but the main reason lies in the inability or unwillingness of Berlin and Paris to force their wards in Kiev to stop undermining the Minsk agreements.

President V.A. Zelensky says that they need the Minsk agreements only in order to maintain sanctions against Russia, otherwise he would have withdrawn from these agreements, and complete silence follows from Paris and Berlin. The representative of Kiev in the Contact Group, former President L.M. Kravchuk, states that the Minsk agreements are the main obstacle to the settlement of the Donbass problem. This means only one thing: they prevent Kiev from trying to restore its order there by force. Another member of the Kiev delegation to the trilateral group, Mr. A.Yu. Reznikov, declares that the Minsk agreements may not be bad, but they are not legally binding, but simply a political wish … Complete illiteracy. The Minsk agreements were approved by the UN Security Council in a unanimously adopted resolution and thus became part of international law. And he also declares that “something can be changed there, the main thing is to first bring in Ukrainian border guards and occupy the entire border with the Russian Federation, thereby encircling the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and when the Ukrainian security forces take them into the environment, there are already elections you don’t have to. ” They will appoint some governor-general there, they will put all the leaders in jail, because they are called terrorists.

Now the main thing for me is to understand what the French and Germans think to themselves. In response to our numerous, including in the form of my letters, appeals to reason and reason with Kiev representatives in negotiations with Donbass, they simply go into the shadows, under the snag and do not say anything public. If there is a directive that it is impossible to offend the country (or rather, the Ukrainian leadership), which has one of the hopes of containing Russia, let them tell us so directly. Then we will structure our actions in this direction in a different way.

Comments

Foreign Minister Lavrov’s speech was heavy on Russia’s politcial relations and very light on trade issues. Clearly, Russia feels aggrieved and misunderstood by the West and this attitude comes across strongly.

Nevertheless, the tone of the speech and subsequent answers to questions posed indicate that Russia does miss its engagement with Europe, but is increasingly committed to relations to the East and especially with China, India and Japan. This also possibly signals upcoming trade connections, almost certainly involving the Eurasian Economic Union, and possibly the RECP during 2021.

The full transcribed speech and interview can be found here and viewed on YouTube (Russian only) here.

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Russia Briefing is written by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm has 28 offices throughout Eurasia, including China, Russia, India, and the ASEAN nations, assisting foreign investors into the Eurasian region. Please contact Maria Kotova at russia@dezshira.com for Russian investment advisory or assistance with market intelligence, legal, tax and compliance issues throughout Asia.

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