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Discussing this year’s diplomacy with FM Sergey Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked to RT on December 25 about 2009’s major agreements and international disputes, as well as prospects for the future.

Q.: Good afternoon, Sergey Viktorovich, thank you for your time. In 2009 we’ve seen a number of major changes in the Russian-US relations. The missile defense program in Europe has been halted, and we are expecting a new START treaty any time soon. If we continue working at the same pace, what’s going to happen in a year? Which issues are on the agenda of the Russian-US relations in 2010?

A.: I believe this year is characterized not only by the changes that have taken place within the U.S. leadership, although they do represent some of important events of the outgoing year, primarily in what it concerns the conceptual statements made by President Obama about the need to work on the collective basis and about the fact that no single country today can dictate its will to others… We have welcomed this position and we are working to have precisely the equitable approach assert itself in bilateral Russian-U.S. relations. We are succeeding in doing this; at least the atmosphere that we have in the dialogue with America is totally different by comparison with what it was under the previous administration.

The START Treaty that is practically ready (I hope the experts will finalize it quickly enough)… it is based on some fundamentally new principles…
I mean equal rights, parity, reciprocal trust… And for the first time in history the levels of strategic offensive arms will be unprecedentedly low. So, we do have prospects in relations with the U.S.A., this not only in the sphere that we have inherited from the arms race epoch, in the strategic sphere… We have established a presidential commission with 16 working groups that embrace all conceivable themes of bilateral interaction and cooperation on international problems… We have a new and, to my mind, decent economic dialogue in progress. And, of course, we and the United States are working over the solution of very many international problems, be it Afghanistan, Middle East settlement, the Iranian nuclear program, the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula… Thus, we won’t have to be bored next year, the more so that the international agenda goes far beyond the points I have just mentioned.

We have major tasks facing us in the CIS space, where Russia will be the chairman. Next year will be the Year of Science and Innovations in the Commonwealth of Independent States, which is in full conformity with the tasks that President Medvedev has outlined in his Address to the Federal Assembly, the tasks of modernization and of technological breakthrough… Our Commonwealth neighbors, generally speaking, are grappling with the same problems… the economy must be put upon modern track.

Next year will also be the Year of the 65th Anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The CIS has declared it the Year of the Veterans… These vectors will determine the main tasks of the Russian chairmanship alongside the current issues, among which let me indicate economic cooperation, our joint effort to overcome the consequences of the crisis, the CIS will continue its work on a new free trade zone agreement, within the EurAsEC framework, an anti-crisis fund and a center for high technologies will function, the Customs Union will start operations on January 1, 2010, and, of course, the Collective Security Treaty Organization will be due to finalize matters related to the establishment of the Collective Operational Reaction Force and to strengthen the CSTO as a multi-profile and multi-function organization that assures stability in a very important and a very restless region, which is what I said primarily from the point of view of the drug threat and the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan’s territory.

Q.: A question regarding the Collective Security Treaty. Russia is proposing a new model to Europe, in which all the decisions are to be taken jointly with Russia. The treaty’s benefits are obvious to everyone. So, why did Europe take it cautiously, if not coldly? What are the prospects of Russia’s proposal? Is Europe independent enough and does it have enough political will to embrace it?

A.: You know, changes taking place in world politics won’t crystallize overnight. A certain amount of time is needed, because the inertia of old thinking is huge… After all, what we are suggesting is not a new decision-making model. We are suggesting a very simple thing: the political declarations made in the 1990s – you may remember what condition Russia was in at the time – those political declarations said that the Euro-Atlantic security was indivisible and that no single state would assure its security at the expense of security of others. For some reasons – I won’t go into them, although one might speak for long on this theme – those political promises are not working even though all without exception Euro-Atlantic heads of state did put their signatures to them. We would like to come over to a new level of confidence and to make the same political declarations legally binding, to convert the declarations to an international legal treaty.

Thus, here we are not suggesting anything new, but so far our partners are practicing a cautious attitude. They suspect us of wishing to obtain a veto right with regard to NATO activities and its expansion. This is absolutely wrong. Our President has repeatedly refuted those speculations. As for us, we want just one thing: security in the Euro-Atlantic zone should be based on international legal obligations. If this had been done before August 2008, the tragedy in South Ossetia shouldn’t possibly have occurred, nor would have there been Kosovo’s unilateral independence, nor still many other irritants that, regrettably, persist as risks for the European continent. So, we won’t go into lower gear where the advancement of our initiative is concerned. It is absolutely intelligible and very hard to contest, and I am sure that in the final analysis – I don’t know when, because everything depends on how quickly our partners renounce their inertia of old thinking – but I am certain that it will flesh out after all.

Q.: The new NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, visited Moscow at the end of this year. It would seem that most differences of the past years have been surmounted. Russia even is ready to help NATO in Afghanistan. But can these relations be seen as equitable partnership?

A.: Our NATO colleagues say nothing should be changed in the European security system, they are pleased with it as it is. Of course, they can well go on living with this position. At the same time, the same NATO partners come to this country and say we expect you to send helicopters to Afghanistan and we also expect more effective contributions of yours to the Afghan campaign in other forms, but you shouldn’t think about security in Europe, because we’ll sort it out on our own. We are helping NATO in Afghanistan in any event, and we are doing that on the assumption that the treat coming from Afghanistan affects everyone. Neither do we want some even greater risks to arise from there for Central Asia and the Russian Federation, but, you know, this approach is utilitarian and inequitable, and NATO people will have to reckon with it.

Q.: 2009 saw a stalemate in the process of Middle East settlement. What is suggested by Israel is diverging from international standards and has no chance of survival. But what is being suggested by the international community, the Quartet in particular, lacks force. How will things shape up?

A.: You are quite right. There are internationally recognized principles that must be at the base of Middle East settlement – not only the Palestinian-Israeli but also universal Arab-Israeli settlement. These principles have been incorporated not only in the Quartet’s decisions but also in the resolutions of the UN Security Council. In May of this year, when Russia chaired the UN Security Council, we made a point, including with regard for the fact of there being a new Israeli government, of holding a Security Council meeting on the Middle East and approving a resolution that clearly reaffirmed all without exception decisions on what principles should lie at the base of Middle East settlement. The resolution was passed by a consensus, it wasn’t challenged by anyone – either the Palestinians or Israel or any other party, and it remains an international law, if you will,
which must be abided by. In the outgoing year, we, in fact, including within the Quartet, came to terms on supporting the efforts of a number of states that had played the role of intermediaries looking for ways of overcoming some concrete impasses that had taken shape in different areas of international efforts. We, in particular, continue to support Egypt’s efforts, which is seeking to help surmount the split among the Palestinians and restore the Palestinian unity. We also support the effort to free Gelad Shalit in exchange for the liberation of a number of Palestinian prisoners. We also support Senator Mitchell’s efforts, who has been urging the sides to coordinate the terms for the resumption of the negotiations. But what Senator Mitchell has managed to achieve and what has been worded by Prime Minister Netanyahu is a step in the right direction… I mean the temporary freeze on certain aspects of the settlement activities … but, of course, it is insufficient. For further progress to be made, the Quartet possibly needs to come into play again. Currently we are handling this matter. This is likely to happen early next year.