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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's remarks and replies to questions at the Turkmenistan Foreign Ministry’s Institute of International Relations, Ashgabad, February 6, 2019

Mr Meredov,

Lecturers, colleagues and friends,

First of all I’d like to thank you for the invitation to speak at the Turkmenistan Foreign Ministry’s Institute of International Relations, the nurturing place of the diplomatic corps of your country. It is also educating highly qualified experts in the field of international relations in anything from the economy to law. I am pleased to say that your institute maintains close partnership with counterpart foreign educational centres, including my alma mater – MGIMO (U).

Today’s meeting once again confirms the high level of trust and mutual understanding between Russia and Turkmenistan. Our relations have reached the level of strategic partnership, which is stipulated in the relevant agreement which was signed during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ashgabad in October 2017. We have developed sustainable inter-parliamentary, inter-departmental and inter-regional exchanges. We are steadily promoting our trade and economic cooperation including in such fields as energy, transport, construction and agriculture. Today, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov spoke in detail about his assessment of the achievements of our cooperation in these and other spheres. Naturally, he stressed the need to move further and build up joint strategic projects, primarily in areas like investment and innovation which we fully agree with.      

President Berdimuhamedov laid special emphasis on the fact that over 28,000 students from Turkmenistan study in Russia. We are aware that the Alexander Pushkin Russian-Turkmen Secondary School has been operating in Ashgabad since 2002. Its graduates continue their education in leading universities of Russia and Turkmenistan. I would like to mention that the Days of Culture of Turkmenistan were successfully held in Moscow and St Petersburg in October 2018.

We continue our dialogue on security issues. As a follow-up to the agreements between our leaders reached during President Vladimir Putin’s visit in October 2017, the two countries held consultations on dealing with cyberspace threats in May 2018.

The world is undergoing rapid changes. New centres of economic power and related political influence are emerging. Guided by their national interests they are striving to pursue an independent foreign policy. In practical terms, this trend is embodied in the ongoing development of a new, more fair and democratic world order.

There is hardly any need to prove that a more complicated international life should have long taught everyone to come to terms and to jointly develop mechanisms of global management meeting the requirements of the 21st century. In this regard, diplomats bear special responsibility for elaborating optimal decisions in the most perse areas that will suit all participants in the international community without any exception. Only by pooling efforts is it possible to find effective answers to large-scale challenges and threats to the entire humankind: terrorism, drug trafficking, dissemination of weapons of mass destruction, and climate change, to name just a few.  

Recent events have shown that collective actions based on international law and buttressed by relevant UN Security Council resolutions are capable of resolving even the most intricate problems. Thus, owing to productive cooperation of Russia, Turkey and Iran in the Astana format and in strict conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, international terrorism was significantly eradicated in Syria, its statehood was preserved and conditions were created for economic recovery and the return of refugees. That said, there is still a lot to do there. The Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Sochi in January 2018 was a great diplomatic success. It was attended by the delegations of the Syrian Government, the opposition, representatives of the guarantors of the Astana process – Russia, Turkey and Iran, observers from a number of the region’s countries, including Jordan and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria.

Positive, albeit fragile, trends were also noted on the Korean Peninsula, where the situation is unfolding along the lines of the Russian-Chinese settlement roadmap, which provides for reciprocal moves by the protagonists in denuclearising the Korean Peninsula and encouraging North Korea to cooperate by easing the sanctions.

The results are deplorable in situations where the stakes on force and hegemony prevail, and diplomacy is pushed aside. The weakening and even collapse of statehood in vast swathes of territories in the Middle East and North Africa is a direct consequence of one-sided actions by a number of US-led Western countries, seeking to forcibly impose ultra-liberal values ​​and developmental models everywhere and on everyone. This has led to an unprecedented surge in international terrorism, an increase in drug trafficking, organised crime and illegal migration. More globally, there is a major lack of mutual trust and a dangerous militarisation of foreign-policy thinking. Unfortunately, the western capitals didn’t learn the tragic lessons of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Ukraine. This geopolitical engineering is being energetically, or rather, aggressively and shamelessly, used in Venezuela.

The US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme could undermine the global non-proliferation regime and lead to uncontrolled growth in regional and international tensions. All of this is being done in a situation where Tehran is strictly adhering to its commitments under the JCPOA, which was regularly confirmed by the IAEA.

Russia is unequivocally in favour of cooperation. We do not impose anything on anyone, or tell others how to go about their lives. We consistently believe it is important to respect the cultural and civilisational identity of the peoples of the world, their desire to determine their future and choose a foreign policy without instructions or pressure from outside. For a long time now and quite persistently we have been pushing for strict observance of the fundamental principles of international life as outlined in the UN Charter, such as the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in their internal affairs and peaceful resolution of disputes. Of course, the well-known initiative of President Putin to create a global anti-terrorism front under UN auspices without any hidden agendas and double standards and without trying to use radical or extremist groups for vested geopolitical interests remains on the table.

We deeply respect the policy of permanent positive neutrality pursued by the Turkmen leadership. We see it as an important contribution to stability and sustainable development in the Central Asian region. Twice - in 1995 and 2015 - Russia co-sponsored the corresponding resolutions of the UN General Assembly, which Foreign Minister Rasit Meredow mentioned with gratitude today during the talks. We reiterate the non-opportunistic and principled nature of our position in support of the neutrality of Turkmenistan.

The peace-loving foreign policy of Moscow and Ashgabat, the identical or close approaches to key international and regional issues allow us to cooperate productively at various multilateral platforms. Russia has repeatedly co-authored such relevant to Turkmenistan UNGA resolutions as The Reliable and Stable Transit of Energy Resources and its Role in Ensuring Sustainable Development and International Cooperation, and The Role of Transport and Transit Corridors in Ensuring International Cooperation for Sustainable Development. We are grateful to our Turkmen partners for co-authoring a number of Russia’s initiatives, including our traditional draft UNGA resolution, Combating glorification of Nazism. This is especially important given that the peoples of the former Soviet Union made the decisive contribution to liberating Europe and the world from the horrors of the brown plague.

We are also cooperating productively within the Commonwealth of Independent States. Since January 1, Turkmenistan has served as Chair of the CIS. We support the priorities outlined in the Chairmanship Concept, in particular, improving political and diplomatic cooperation within the CIS, increasing the level of cooperation of the CIS with international organisations, strengthening practical cooperation in energy, transport, communications and utilities. We also support Turkmenistan’s commitment to expanding cultural, scientific, educational and sports exchanges within the CIS.

I want to particularly point out our productive cooperation on the Caspian Sea. The wellbeing and prosperity of our peoples to a large extent depends on the developments in the Caspian region. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea that was signed during the fifth Caspian Summit last August. The convention secures the littoral states’ exclusive rights to this unique sea, its mineral wealth and other resources. This document guarantees that the sea will only be used for peaceful purposes and that no armed forces of any non-regional power will be present there. We see the signing of this convention as a vivid example of the culture of diplomacy, the ability to reach agreements based on a calibrated balance of interests.

Regulating the Caspian Sea’s legal status creates conditions for a new qualitative level of cooperation among the Caspian Five. The regulatory basis for this cooperation was secured, among other things, by the industry-specific agreements signed during the summit in Aktau. These agreements, which among other things, concern the economy and transport, were developed at the initiative of the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. I believe that enactment will facilitate the inflow of foreign investment and the further realisation of the region’s massive economic, transport and transit potential.

Today we discussed preparations for yet another historical event, the first ever Caspian Economic Forum that will convene at the initiative of the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in your country next August.

Additionally, Turkmenistan continues to actively support an expansion of the legal framework of cooperation between the five Caspian littoral states. Among the new initiatives that we also discussed today was a very promising proposal to develop an international legal framework for cooperation between the five littoral states in science and education.


We will continue to further strengthen the strategic partnership between Russia and Turkmenistan. Therefore, I cannot help but quote the words of Magtymguly, a great son of the Turkmen people: “Here, brotherhood is a custom and friendship is a law.” I am certain that we must follow these wise words in our daily cooperation.

Thank you. I will take your questions now. 

Question: Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation are linked by relations of strategic partnership. This implies a special nature of bilateral cooperation.  What are the results of your visit to Turkmenistan in this context?

Sergey Lavrov: I will sum up the results with my colleague, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Rashit Meredow. My sense is that the visit was quite useful.

We have praised the attention accorded the Russian delegation by President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov who spoke in great detail on all aspects of our cooperation and who underscored prospects for our future work in the economic, investment, cultural-humanitarian and other areas.

Another important result is that we have reached consensus on the need to conduct high-quality preparations for a regular meeting of the Inter-Governmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation. We completely share the desire of our Turkmenistan partners to focus on major strategic long-term investment projects, including investment-oriented projects as a priority, while continuing to maintain our trade ties. We share this approach completely.

I would like to single out the second aspect, namely, an appreciation of the unique value of our educational ties. President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov himself focuses on support for the Russian language and Russian-language education at all stages in Turkmenistan; this reflects our proximity and strategic partnership in the cultural sphere, not to mention the fact that our cultural agencies are planning many events. Quite recently, Moscow and St Petersburg have hosted Days of Turkmenistan’s Culture.

Speaking of a result directly linked with foreign policy activities, I would like to single out a plan of cooperation between our ministries over the next two years, signed by Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Rashit Meredow and myself. The plan stipulates consultations on all key matters of regional life and international relations. This is a good tradition when we compare all our joint approaches during such traditional consultations in line with cooperation programmes that have been signed.

We have coordinated a number of matters that should be addressed immediately in our foreign policy contacts. This concerns cooperation and the creation of a mechanism of consultations on regional security matters, exchanging assessments of developments in Afghanistan and comparing approaches and efforts aimed at creating favourable conditions for inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue, so that the people of Afghanistan themselves, supported by external players (primarily regional countries), could resolve their longtime problems.

I have also said that it is very important for us to expand cooperation in the Caspian region today. We fully support the initiative of convening an economic forum that I have already mentioned. This is an innovative approach. Turkmenistan is one of the main initiators of consolidating the contractual-legal framework in the Caspian region. An agreement that we should conduct this work actively and quickly is another result of this visit. This is a brief summary.

Question: President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov endorsed the foreign policy concept of neutral Turkmenistan for 2017-2023. For many years, Russia has firmly and invariably supported Turkmenistan’s neutral status. I would like to hear your opinion on how Turkmenistan uses this status internationally.

Sergey Lavrov: I can confirm that. I have just said in my opening remarks that our support for Turkmenistan’s neutrality is not opportunistic. It is our consistent position. As today’s discussion of regional and international issues has shown, Turkmenistan is primarily striving to create conditions for dialogue on all issues that trouble the countries of the region or all members of the international community. I believe that this is a position that commands respect, deserves all manner of support and should be an example for all others – not to get drawn into any disputes or conflicts, to say nothing of siding with one of their parties. To the contrary, it is necessary to create conditions and promote initiatives that help gather all parties at the negotiating table. It is in this vein that we discussed issues of Afghanistan today.

Question: Last January Turkmenistan assumed the CIS Presidency. In this context, it drafted a concept and plan of action for 2019. Turkmenistan placed special emphasis on the cultural and humanitarian aspect of our cooperation in the CIS. In this context, next May Ashgabad will host the 14th CIS Forum of Creative and Scientific Intelligentsia. What do you think about the development of CIS partnership in culture, science, education and art?

Sergey Lavrov: We fully support the concept for its CIS Presidency disseminated by Turkmenistan among the CIS members. We share the outlined priorities. Much attention is devoted to cultural ties, including the CIS Forum of Creative and Scientific Intelligentsia you mentioned. But much attention there is also devoted to the economy, investment, modern technology and innovations. In general, this concept is a very well balanced and comprehensive document that, as we believe, will allow the CIS to achieve new practical results. In early April, Moscow will host a meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers at which we will discuss preparations for different events during Turkmenistan’s CIS Presidency and encourage all CIS member states to take an active part in this work.

I would also like to say that a three-year programme for invigorating cooperation between the foreign ministries of the CIS countries is being drafted at Turkmenistan’s initiative. Until now we only had annual plans of consultations in the CIS format and now it has been suggested – the programme has basically been compiled and we’ll soon announce its adoption – to extend its term to three years, which will help our ministries to better plan their daily work.

Question: As you’ve already mentioned, Caspian issues occupy an important place of our cooperation. The first Caspian summit took place in Ashgabad 17 years ago, in April 2002. Since then a new political impetus has been given to the negotiating process on the Caspian Sea. On August 12, 2018 the presidents of the five Caspian states signed the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea in Aktau, which opened up vast new opportunities for cooperation. The first Caspian Economic Forum will be held in Turkmenistan this year to tap this potential to the utmost. What do you think about pan-Caspian economic cooperation?

Sergey Lavrov: We agree with the conceptual approaches suggested by Turkmenistan’s initiators of the forum. Today, I discussed this in detail with Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan Rashit Meredow. This forum is supposed to cover several aspects, starting from scientific and economic discussions and ending in business cooperation, up to and including the signing of deals. They cited the example of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum where annual discussions of the conceptual problems of the world economy and finances are supplemented with meetings between entrepreneurs, many of which are capped by the signing of agreements. In the same way, our friends from Turkmenistan want the Caspian Forum to help find promising, mutually beneficial multilateral projects.

We agree with this approach and share the view that it is important to discuss economic issues on a permanent rather than an ad hoc basis. Several years ago we discussed a possibility of establishing a Caspian economic cooperation organisation. This idea was based on the importance of regular annual meetings and discussions on the entire range of issues. I think the first Caspian Economic Forum will be quite successful.

Question: International efforts to promote sustainable transport are among the priorities for Turkmenistan’s diplomacy. The Russian Federation has been a consistent supporter of initiatives put forward by President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in this area. What do you think about the prospects for bilateral cooperation between our countries in the transport sector?

Sergey Lavrov: I think professionals could answer this question better. There is no doubt that these matters are very important.

Today, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov spoke in detail about the goals for the transport and logistics sectors, including matters related to the North-South international transport corridor that will include Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. We also discussed the need for a broader, continental approach to coordinating the work of various integration and transport-related initiatives, including as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In fact, the People’s Republic of China and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are already moving in this direction. The EAEU is also promoting logistics and transport corridors.

As you know, the Russian Federation offers extensive opportunities in terms of expanding cooperation on land and sea transport. Having the EAEU and China coordinate their approaches does not mean that all other countries cannot be involved in the discussion. Several years ago, President of Russia Vladimir Putin came forward with the initiative of a Greater Eurasian Partnership for all countries in the EAEU, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Association of Southeast Asian Countries (ASEAN) and all other Eurasian countries, including our EU colleagues. We must grasp the comparative advantages of being part of a single continent, and mitigate economic, financial or other barriers. We must do everything it takes to liberalise our ties, and transport routes that are in the pipeline can play an essential role in this.

Question: You are touring Central Asian countries currently. To step up regional cooperation, some countries of the region suggested partnership in the 5+1 format. What do you think about this form of multilateral cooperation?

Sergey Lavrov: I think that any multilateral cooperation primarily has the potential to produce mutually beneficial agreements. We certainly welcome this format. We think that any form of multilateral cooperation should be positively oriented rather than be directed against someone. We are friends with others for our own good and theirs, not to be against someone else.

We discussed the C5+1 format that is now making rapid headway. For our part, we are interested in such dialogue with our Central Asian neighbours. We have many venues: the CIS, the SCO and the EAEU where we cooperate with Central Asian countries. But there are issues that could be discussed more effectively in the Central Asia + Russia format. We will think of how to go about this.

Question: Do you consider international efforts to restore the socioeconomic infrastructure of Afghanistan to be the main factor in reaching a settlement in that country?

Sergey Lavrov: I consider this as one of the inextricable factors. In parallel with completing the fight against the threats of terrorism and drug trafficking, it is necessary to launch a political process, while economic stability is the best guarantee against the repetition of crises and conflicts. We are paying much attention to this, helping the Afghans restore infrastructure for normal life. Over 150 large enterprises have been established in Afghanistan since Soviet times. A number of them still continue to operate and we are helping Afghanistan to restore as many of them as possible.

Incidentally, the principle of restoring conditions for normal life is applicable to any conflict. For example, in Syria we are actively working not only on humanitarian aid for people who are going through hard times. We are trying to create basic medical, energy and educational conditions that will help refugees return, giving them confidence that they will not be returning to smoldering ruins.

Regrettably, some of our Western partners consider this approach wrong because they don’t want to restore infrastructure for the return of refugees on the territories that are controlled by the legitimate Syrian Government. This is pure idealisation and politicisation of humanitarian issues. At the same time, they are helping to organise life and rebuild socioeconomic infrastructure on opposition-controlled territories, especially on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. We are seeing a double standard pure and simple, and it is unfortunate.

Question: What do you think about the Aral Sea problem?

Sergey Lavrov: I spoke about this with Mr Meredov both today and during our previous meetings. Russia is interested in resolving the Aral’s problems. UN members have repeatedly supported this idea but final say belongs to the countries of the region. Since we lived in the same state not so long ago – the USSR that devoted much attention to this problem – Russia requested observer status in the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea. We are grateful to Turkmenistan for its active support of this request. We hope that the other members of the fund will make the same decision and Russia will be able to take part in the efforts to save the Aral Sea.

Question: Do you find any time for recreation in your busy schedule? If you do, what are your priorities – sports, artistic pursuits or family?

Sergey Lavrov: Spending time with grandchildren, and I have three of them, is always great. I also enjoy sports since it’s a persion from various concerns. I play football at least once a week and in summer I like to go river rafting in Siberia. This is really a persion. You don’t think about anything but staying alive.

Question: What advice can you offer to future experts in international affairs?

Sergey Lavrov: There are no secrets. It is necessary to be a good student and learn languages, the history of the world and diplomacy. No electronic means of conducting negotiations will replace direct communication. It is very important to be sociable. Some people are sociable by nature, can convince others and find solutions with their colleagues, and this is great. But nature is not always so generous. So, if you feel you are not sociable enough, try to cultivate these qualities in yourself. Diplomacy is the first profession in the world because you have to reach agreement on all the rest. Diplomacy is the art of reaching agreement. There are no special, magic recipes. Learn from the experience of your great predecessors. There are esteemed diplomats in this hall, who are sharing their knowledge with students. We are indebted to them. Use their experience and knowledge. I think that this is the best step you can take toward a successful diplomatic career.

I’d like to sincerely thank all of you for organising this meeting. It was very interesting for me and, I hope, useful for all those present. Thank you once again.



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