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Mr Hafiz Pashayev,
I am pleased to be here and to meet again with the students and faculty of the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, which has been renamed ADA University and has become firmly established as a higher school of education since its establishment 11 years ago. Your academy now has four departments, as ADA University Rector Hafiz Mir Jalal oglu Pashayev has told me. This is a very good result, especially considering that you have achieved it so quickly.
We are happy that you have Russian students, about 30 young people, they tell me. We welcome cooperation between ADA University and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy and MGIMO University, where about 100 Azerbaijani boys and girls are studying, including 82 at MGIMO University. According to our statistics, this is the largest group of foreign students after Kazakhstan. I see this as evidence of trust and mutual respect between Russia and Azerbaijan.
This is a special year in our relations. A quarter of a century ago, on April 4, 1992, we established diplomatic relations, which marked a new stage in the centuries-long history of our relations. Since then we have not just preserved but have built up on the traditions of friendship and neighbourliness, enriched the unique cultures of our countries as well as created a broad legal framework.
We have become real strategic partners, as we pledged to become in our fundamental treaties. We are working to strengthen our mutually beneficial ties in numerous spheres, from trade and the economy to humanitarian and interregional exchanges. I would like to highlight our constructive cooperation in international affairs. The mutual understanding and trust that exists between us is a major factor concerning the stability and security in the Caspian region of the Caucasus. Of course, our efforts are bolstered by regular contacts together with the trust-based dialogue between our presidents, Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev.
I will not speak at length about Russia’s views on the current situation. As far as I know, we will be able to interact after I deliver my opening remarks. I am sure that you, being students of international affairs, are closely monitoring the opinions of President of Russia Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials about the current situation in international affairs.
I will only say that we firmly believe that the development of real democracy in interstate relations, based on equality, mutual trust and respect of each other’s interests, is hindered primarily by the striving of a small group of Western states, led by the United States, to preserve their domination in all spheres on the international stage.
The so-called historical West has ruled the world and set the tune for centuries, and it is now very difficult for the leadership of some Western countries to abandon this genetically-entrenched behaviour. This is why they want to continue to dictate their agenda and to ensure their prosperity at the expense of other countries. By and large, interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, the use of force contrary to the UN Security Council, as well as unilateral sanctions, the exterritorial application of their legislation and attempts to adjust Cold War-era institutions to modern realities have denigrated the role of international law and a number of multilateral institutions and have seriously undermined global and regional security and stability.
This is why we see the resurgence of old crises and conflicts and the appearance of new challenges and threats. The biggest threat to all of us comes from an unprecedented upsurge in international terrorism, which is the result of attempts at exporting the [Western] system of government and changing undesirable regimes, involving the destruction of whole states to get rid of one dictator, for example in Iraq or Libya. The current chaos in the Middle East and North Africa has been largely produced by a short-sighted and, I would say, an extremely dangerous policy. It is only possible to deal with any threats, primarily the threat of terrorism, through collective effort. It is also alarming that attempts are being made to replace global human values with pseudo-liberal values, including through their aggressive enforcement in nations who do not want to live by others’ rules but want to preserve their national identity. Overall, it can be said that the attempts to create a unipolar world have promoted the spread of chaos and uncertainly around the world. International relations have become so complicated that it is no longer possible to rule them from any one centre.
Today we are witnessing the establishment of a new, more just and democratic polycentric world order. This is a natural process, which reflects that new centres of economic power are rising and growing stronger, together with the political influence that goes with this economic power. The new centres of economic power and political influence, following their own national interests, are steadily bearing their share of responsibility in supporting stability in their regions and are already contributing to the international process and the strengthening of international security. It is important for this process to be predictable, so that the new world order, which is objectively emerging, is based not only on a simple balance of power but on the principles of international law, agreement and cooperation.
This is how we seek to formulate our posture in global affairs, actively promote a positive agenda for international communication and advocate the solving of our major problems together. We are doing this both in our national capacity and in the framework of the UN Security Council, the G20, BRICS, the SCO, the EAEU, the CSTO, the CIS and other international organisations. Based on my contacts, I can say for sure that our position in favour of developing equal and mutually respectful dialogue as a tool to solve all problems is shared by the majority of states, which is reflected in our extensive ties with representatives of all continents.
The new generation of diplomats and international relations specialists in Russia and Azerbaijan will be actively working on further developing the truly limitless potential of our bilateral cooperation in the near future. I believe that the key to the success of these efforts is to rely on the time-tested values and ancient traditions of Russia-Azerbaijan friendship. I wish success to everyone who would like to try their hand at diplomatic service after the graduation and to everyone else, too.
Question: The railway Baku–Tbilisi–Kars opened on October 30. How, do you think, will this event influence relations between Russia and Azerbaijan?
Sergey Lavrov: I hope that, first of all, this railway will have a positive influence on relations between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. Russia has nothing to do with it, because this railway is not on our territory.
I know that there are many political analysts who regard these infrastructure projects as part of the strategic dynamics in the region. Some countries remain outside international transport corridors. This is not our approach. We also have a close cooperation process between three counties: Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran, which we started mainly because of three capitals’ desire to unite their efforts in building the corresponding sections of the North–South transport corridor. Infrastructure projects give us additional opportunities for further beneficial cooperation.
Question: How can Azerbaijan and Russia work together to fight terrorism?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already said that all countries must fight this evil together. Azerbaijan and Russia support the most extensive international cooperation possible against terrorism, without any double standards, without anybody trying to use terrorists as allies of convenience in the pursuit of secondary goals as we see happening now in Syria and other Middle Eastern and North African countries. We know how terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS emerged. Al-Qaeda was formed after the United States used Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan training and equipping them against Soviet troops. As a result, on September 11, 2001, the same group hit the United States. The same can be said about the Iraq intervention which brought about ISIS. The latest events in Syria started Jabhat al-Nusra, which was classified by the UN as a terrorist organisation along with Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
It is completely delusional to use some group in order to overthrow the ruling regime (which is exactly what is happening now in Syria) and to expect this group to be accountable to you later. The history of the world shows that the opposite happens.
Russia and Azerbaijan cooperate within the UN that has counter-terrorism bodies to develop common cooperation methods in this area. We also cooperate under CIS counter-terrorism projects. Our competent security agencies maintain close bilateral contacts. Let me give you an example. Russia’s Federal Security Service developed a database of information on foreign terrorist militants. It is a very important aspect of preventing and fighting terrorist crimes. It is publicly accessible. The larger the database and the more extensive different states’ involvement, the easier it will be to monitor criminals’ movements as they potentially move from the Middle East to Central Asia, Malaysia or Southeast Asia.
I believe it is one of the most important areas of our cooperation that meets our mutual interests. Let me note that there are a number of legal documents that provide the fundamentals for our cooperation in preventing organised crime in the Caspian Sea.
Question: Russia and the United States are members of the OSCE Minsk Group for Nagorno-Karabakh. How are relations between the two countries affecting progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process?
Sergey Lavrov: Generally speaking, my answer will be short. They do not affect it. The mediation in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process is special because, despite very strong disagreements between us (primarily because of the vehemently Russophobic policy of the Congress, the Democratic Party and a significant part of the Republican Party that cannot accept the fact that a president outside the establishment came to power legitimately) and the fact that many aspects of our relations are at a deep impasse, cooperation on Nagorno-Karabakh has not been affected by our bilateral affairs.
Russia, the United States and France share a common view which is quite well known. From time to time, the three co-chairing states meet at the level of ambassadors and ministers. They regularly visit the region. The most recent visit took place a couple of months ago if I am not mistaken. Just a few days ago, the three co-chairs met with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Moscow. I hope that the results of the meeting between Azerbaijani President Aliyev and Armenian President Sargsyan last month, which both presidents described as positive, will make it possible to overcome the stagnation in our common efforts and move forward towards a mutually acceptable solution. Yesterday, I spoke about this with President Aliyev who kindly received me at the beginning of my visit to Azerbaijan.
Question: What is your vision of the future of the UN? What measures should be taken to boost the effectiveness of this organisation?
Sergey Lavrov: This subject has very many aspects and tends to amount to not just a [university student’s] yearly project or research for a degree but rather to a credible thesis and this nothing short of a PhD dissertation.
I will try and touch upon some key aspects of this matter. The UN can only be effective provided that all recognise it as an organisation shared by all countries which have joined it and stand up for the principles of its Charter, which they have signed as well as ratified. In this context, it is very important that any reforms that are now beginning to be mulled over – the new Secretary-General has his own vision of these reforms and we are supporting his drive for making the organisation more effective – fully embrace the principles of sovereign equality, which is written into the Charter, as well as mutual respect between all UN member states.
Any reform – and reforming is a continuous process, particularly now when all elements of modern life are updated so quickly, scientific achievements are swiftly put in practice and new means of communications are offered – must reflect what is happening in real life in different countries. The desire to make the UN more fast-moving and efficient through fewer discussions on complicated topics is absolutely natural. However, I strongly believe that to make decisions work as well as to make them sustainable in the long term it would be better to take more time to reach a consensus.
I will give a simple example. One of the reforms that has already been discussed for about 20 years now, is the reform of the UN Security Council, which for understandable reasons is of interest to all countries as all of them seek to be better represented in the UN’s supreme body, which handles matters relating to ensuring global peace and security. Prestige plays a key role here. There is a group of countries which are demanding that new permanent seats be created plus there are those who strongly oppose this, calling for the creation of additional non-permanent seats, primarily for countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that are not represented in full. There are those who are keen to resolve this in one fell swoop by putting it to a vote. Estimates show that approximately two-thirds [of the member states] will support the creation of new permanent seats and one third will be against. Since under the Charter a two-thirds majority is required to adopt a decision like this, it will certainly be adopted, putting an end to the “agony” as they say. But we, as well as many other [countries], believe that if we act in this manner, the reform will be formalised on paper, legally, but, from the viewpoint of a one-third minority, the UN Security Council will lose its legitimacy, instead of strengthening it, because the decision to expand it will ignore the opinion of the members, which, though they constitute a minority, are not rogue countries – rather these are middle-sized countries, which are most vigorously supporting the UN, regularly pay their membership fees and actively take part in mechanisms for promoting global development, as well as in peace-keeping efforts. It is absolutely unrealistic to simply ignore them.
We invariably suggest seeking for a compromise between these two irreconcilable positions – those who are advocating additional permanent seats and those who are flatly against this move. There are different ideas, which, of course, will be discussed for a long time to come and this will undoubtedly take much time but if we want to have a stable UN we need to look for a consensus. As things stand, when this reform was launched, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, which says that the discussion on the reform of the UN Security Council through its expansion must yield a decision on the basis of mutual consent.
But, let me repeat this, the temptation to quickly resolve all matters relating to other UN activities – and this intention is manifesting itself – stems from the natural desire of those who, driven by good intentions, want to render the UN more effective. However, the limiting factor, which I already mentioned, is of essential importance.
The second thing to keep in mind, when we speak about how to make the UN more effective, is the steps that are made with bad, rather than good intentions. They include attempts to dictate, impose, demand and try to discredit one’s opponents using dishonest methods. Last week we observed the latest example when the Americans, in alliance with the UK plus other western countries, tried to railroad a resolution on extending the mandate of the OPCW – UN Joint Investigative Mechanism of potential cases of using chemical weapons in Syria. They tried to squash it, ignoring the fact that this Mechanism had been shamelessly misused. When reports of using chemical weapons started coming, the Mechanism promoters did not send inspectors to the incident sites but were satisfied with video plots sent by various NGOs working “on the ground” with histories of links with extremists and even terrorists.
There were explanations given like going to the sites was rather dangerous. Later, it came to light that French and British laboratories had received and analysed samples exactly from those very parts. When we wondered why, if it was dangerous, France and the UK found ways to take samples there, when we asked their experts how they had received those samples, the French said that it was a secret and the British said that there was no need to explain anything to us as it was clear to everybody that sarin had been used there. I am not kidding, this is a direct quote.
Later, it emerged that the UN security service had allowed visits to that area but we were blatantly kept in the dark about it.
Keeping all these drawbacks in mind, in spite of that report which raised many questions on our part, we requested a discussion, we asked responsible experts from the Mechanism to come and explain why they worked like that and could not work as the Chemical Weapons Convention prescribes. During their activities they directly ignored the methods that the Convention sets out that are required to be used in this work.
In that situation, a resolution was moved to extend the mandate of the Investigative Mechanism for another two years, with no reprimands or claims to establish order in it. Naturally, we vetoed this resolution and some other countries did not support it either. Together with China, we offered our resolution which required making steps in all those aspects, so as to bring the work of the Mechanism in compliance with the Convention requirements.
These are only two examples and there are many more. We could speak on this subject forever. We should respect each other’s opinions. Our US colleagues, who knew about the veto in advance because we always impose it when it is necessary to tell the truth and to be fair, derive pleasure from the opportunity to gang up on us accusing us of all deadly sins as well as alleging that we support chemical terrorists with no pity for the people who are killed in chemical attacks.
All this is even more surprising because these dishonest methods are used by high executives. Thus, the US Permanent Representative to the UN publicly declared, while making accusations against us, that her attempts to reach our Representative to the UN, so as to coordinate some compromise text, failed because he would not answer his phone. This is a pure lie. Our Representative informed us of every such contact. We have minutes of all their conversations. We sincerely tried to find common ground but the US rejected any wording that could cast a shadow on the Mechanism. Actually, there is no need to cast a shadow, no one can see this Mechanism in the utter darkness of its mistakes.
Question: My question concerns integration in the CIS area, in particular, the Eurasian Economic Union. How would you describe the EAEU’s economic potential, considering that non-CIS countries, such as the EU and China, account for the bulk of Russia’s foreign trade and that the purchasing capacity in the CIS countries is not very high?
Sergey Lavrov: You are absolutely right. The relative share of our trading partners, which is a statistical fact, shows that the EU is our largest collective partner and China our largest inpidual partner. Our trade with them is much larger than within the EAEU. But if we look at the dynamics, we will see that the volume of trade within the EAEU has been growing consistently. Initially, it was influenced by the situation on the global markets, but since then we have found ways to deal with this problem in order to promote trade, investment projects and joint production in promising areas that are not affected by negative factors in the global economy. I believe this tendency will persist.
By the way, we have always pointed out that the EAEU is an open integration association and that its underlying principles differ from those of the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, to which they have invited 11 select countries and said the others would have to wait until they coordinate the conditions for admitting them. When we established the EAEU we did not say that we would coordinate the conditions among three, or four, or five initial members and that we would dictate these conditions to other countries later. The EAEU has always been an open association. We welcome any new members. Tajikistan and several other countries, including non-CIS countries, are considering the possibility of joining the EAEU. We will be glad to see Azerbaijan among the EAEU members. We are now analysing the possibility of creating an institute of observers at the Eurasian Economic Commission.
Second, alongside developing the EAEU we also propose broad-based continental integration initiatives. President Putin discussed the future of Eurasian economic integration with his Chinese counterpart and partners from other countries, and they have coordinated several practical agreements, which are being implemented. For example, we are drafting an agreement on trade between the EAEU and China. At the same time, Beijing’s multilateral Belt and Road initiative, which can take on a global scale and is creating what I would describe as an ideological framework for various integration processes, is fully congruent with Russia’s philosophy.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is very active economically and is developing direct ties with the EAEU. In May last year, we held an ASEAN-Russia Summit in Sochi, during which a number of ASEAN countries expressed an interest in following in the footsteps of Vietnam, which has become the first country to sign and ratify a Free Trade Agreement with the EAEU. Singapore and several other ASEAN economies, as well as the association as a collective member, have shown interest in this. Moreover, we have launched practical consultations and talks on this issue.
Talks are underway on a large Eurasian project, which President Putin has described as Eurasian integration involving EAEU, SCO and ASEAN economies and which would be also open for the Western part of our common continent.
In the past, the European Union actively supported the concept of a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Urals, which Charles de Gaulle had proposed. Today we and the majority of European countries say that we need to create a common space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. So far, the EU’s involvement in this process has been hampered. They cannot even establish relations with the Eurasian Economic Commission because of strict bloc rules, according to which they must punish Russia for ideological reasons. They think that they are punishing us by refusing to cooperate with us. I believe they are punishing themselves. Of course, we are not benefitting from this either, but we always look for an opportunity to launch constructive interaction with those who are ready for this. When the EU introduced [the anti-Russia] sanctions in 2014, the European business protested and tried to appeal to reason, but the German leaders said that in this case politics must prevail over the economy, despite the fact that Germans are an extremely pragmatic nation. It is an absolutely exotic approach, which we have never seen in Europe before.
In other words, any contradictions will be smoothed over if the EU tries to join these processes. The point is not to create private clubs to compete with other private clubs, which will only lead to the fragmentation of the global trade system and shatter the WTO structure, but to be open. Everyone can carve out a niche for oneself in such open formats. I do not have the slightest doubt about this. By the way, quite a few countries are willing to sign free trade zone or cooperation agreements with the EAEU, including Chile and the Latin American economic organisation MERCOSUR.
Question: What kind of knowledge base should a student have to become successful in diplomacy or even become a foreign minister?
Sergey Lavrov: The more you know, the better. It isn’t about having some database of so many gigabytes in your brain. There is no limit to perfection. Strive to learn as much as possible, read, gain a profound versatile expertise and be sure to try to communicate with people in a friendly manner. This is very helpful in diplomacy.
It is essential to listen and try to understand a person. Not just agree to differ and that everyone sees the situation in their own way, but try to understand. Even if you have no specific goal to reach an agreement, having heard the opposite opinion, try to figure out an option that would suit both. Train yourself this way, since compromising is probably the most important skill in diplomacy. There will never be two countries that will agree 100 per cent in every area, without a hitch. Especially now, when interdependence grows with globalisation, almost all problems can only be resolved cooperatively. So, we need to compromise on approaches to these problems. Train yourself to do so. This works the same way as family relations for example, when you argue with parents, children or other relatives. We must learn to develop common approaches. This is very helpful in diplomacy. The value of personal contact will never go away. No modern communication technologies will ever replace eye contact. This is a universally recognised truth: even though we have been working for a long time amid the information and communication revolution, without personal contact, nothing gets done.
Question: Mr Lavrov, could you please motivate our students to read more fiction?
Sergey Lavrov: When I said ‘read more,’ I also meant this. One absolutely needs to read faction because it teaches eternal values and, in my opinion, these things cannot be found anywhere else these days.
Question: In the beginning of September, speaking before the students at MGIMO University and the Diplomatic Academy, you said you had offered the West a legally binding agreement on a single and inpisible security in Eurasia and the Euro-Atlantic area. If the West had accepted your proposal, the conflicts in Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Kosovo would have been resolved, and there would have been no Ukrainian crisis at all. What do you mean by single and inpisible security? Do you mean the non-aligned status of the buffer states? Does conflict resolution depend on Russia’s relations with the West?
Sergey Lavrov: I was actually referring to the principle the West had voiced during the period of euphoria in the early 1990s. The principle of inpisible security was solemnly declared by the West together with other countries that are members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It was solemnly proclaimed that no one should strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others. This happened at the OSCE summit in Paris in 1990, and was signed by the presidents and prime ministers. When the 2000s came, the developments that followed were in flagrant conflict with the inpisible security principle. The first was the US decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and start a missile defence system in Europe citing threats from Iran, which turned out to be far-fetched.
We immediately offered to start a dialogue on this issue, and explained our rationale that showed the risks of deploying missile defence systems with regard to the Russian Federation. We were simply told it was not directed against us, but the professional remarks of our military professionals based on ballistic, geographical and other data were ignored. There was no professional dialogue at all. We reminded them they had pledged not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others, and that we felt somehow disadvantaged; we were again told it was not targeted at us and not to worry.
Along with the above process in the OSCE, the newly established Russia-NATO Council also approved the inpisible security principle and NATO’s agreement not to permanently deploy large military contingents on the territories of its new member states. That was during one of the NATO’s expansion projects. When the agreement was approved, we proposed to define the large military contingent, because at that time NATO periodically sent brigades, military units, to its recent Eastern European members. They absolutely avoided doing so, arguing that its currently deployed forces were not large. In other words, political declarations remained empty words.
Back then, in 2009, we proposed a draft Euro-Atlantic Security Treaty, which codified the political commitment earlier solemnly proclaimed by presidents and prime ministers, and reconfirmed that we all pledged not to strengthen our security at the expense of the security of others. If one of the parties had a feeling that it was happening, they were entitled to call an official discussion to resolve the arising concerns. That only served as an excuse for NATO’s very nervous reaction and categorical refusal. The Alliance noted that the Treaty was aimed at extending legal security guarantees to all OSCE countries; we confirmed that. However, they responded by claiming it was impossible because only NATO should remain the provider of legal security guarantees, while all the others can use political guarantees; I just told you what happened to those.
Meanwhile, we put on paper our vision of a large military force, which should not be permanently deployed in new NATO members, indicating the pisions, armaments, the number of people as well as equipment. We handed it over to NATO to start a dialogue. They flatly refused to even talk. Now they have deployed their forces in Eastern Europe citing a ‘Russian threat.’ They came up with the idea that the West 2017 Russian-Belarusian exercises were a preparation for aggression against the Baltic states, that Russia planned to annex Belarus and it would never withdraw its forces.
Naturally, none of this happened. Belarus invited observers with our support. That was just another bogus story. Nevertheless, the US, Canadian, German, and British contingents pulled up under the pretext of neutralising the West 2017 exercise, have stayed. We were told that this was a non-permanent, but a rotational deployment , but that it would be regular. There is no difference whether a brigade or a battalion is permanently stationed on this territory, or people and personnel will simply be changing.
Euro-Atlantic security must mean security from the Atlantic to the Pacific plus it has to be equal. This means a situation where some are provided with clear legal guarantees while others must be content with promises no one is going to fulfill, is unacceptable.
Building of the Russian Embassy in Kingston