West is idle regarding Russian proposals – Lavrov

The new EU Security Treaty is a test for Russia’s European partners on how sincere they are, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an interview with RT, the “Voice of Russia” radio channel and RIA Novosti.

Elaborating on the new European security concept, he said, that what Russia suggests is nothing new and it goes to the collective political statements at the top level of NATO member countries and the work of Russia-NATO council in late 1990s, which approved the European Security Charter stating that security is indivisible and no country should improve its security at the expense of other countries in the Euro-Atlantic zone.

Read full interview with Sergey Lavrov

But mere declarations do not work, believes Sergey Lavrov, because NATO’s new Strategic Concept operates with the possibility of military strikes without UN sanction, and all this is happening as the alliance is getting closer to Russia’s borders, even though it promised not to do so in the past.

“The current security structures were created in a different era for different purposes,” Lavrov said, “yet at the same time we see NATO’s centralizing power getting stronger and stronger in response to today’s threats, which are generally accepted as totally different to what we saw 50 or 60 years ago as a threat.”

“We do not think it is logical and consider it as a contradictory approach,” he added.

For those who recognize the ideas Russia’s proposals consist of, but do not want to be engaged in practical work on the proposals, Lavrov quoted an unnamed European politician and decision-maker, who explained the difference between political obligations and legally binding ones by allegedly saying that “legally binding statements have to be observed, while it is not necessary to observe mere political declarations.”

“This is the general reason why our Western partners are not disposed at the moment to sit at the table and start discussing our proposals in detail,” concluded the Russian FM.

The minister said that any regional security system should be part of a global system and thus European security system is fully legitimate. “We do not believe that the European security system will pose a threat to Asian or African or any other countries. It is fully in line with principles recorded in the UN Charter,” he said.

Mr Lavrov said that NATO, in its attempt to adapt to current international situation, sometimes goes “beyond the limits of what is legitimate”.

START treaty – the 5% that remains

Speaking about the talks on a new START treaty, Russia’s Foreign Minister admitted that there are still delays in the negotiation process due to bureaucracy.

“We criticize bureaucracy from time to time. At the political level some decisions are made and then it takes a long time to transform them into some practical actions,” Sergey Lavrov said.

Mr. Lavrov then assured that both Russian and American leaders are working closely on the START treaty. The most important point to consider in the course of these negotiations is the link between strategic and offensive weapons.

“This means that, first and foremost, they should consider the link between strategic offensive weapons and strategic defensive weapons, the link between the START treaty and missile defense. This was also discussed during their meeting in London on the margins of the G20 summit. Also, the same understanding was recorded in the document they signed last [year] in Moscow. So there is no change in this matter on our side and we expect that American negotiators will preserve this link the way it has been agreed,” the minister asserted.

The Russian FM also stressed the importance of the principle of parity to finally strike the deal. He said that the two parties should trust each other and not resort to some extensive additional verification.

“Also, our presidents agreed that the treaty will be parity based. All measures of verification will not be excessive because it’s a different era today. We shouldn’t be as suspicious as before,” he said.

“Measures taken for control and verification should be equal for everybody, they should be parity based as the presidents have agreed. So these are the main areas of work,” Mr. Lavrov iterated.

Mr. Lavrov said that the rest of the technicalities can be addressed within the framework of the main principles and that there is nothing in the way of negotiators.

“After the recent contacts that we had between our Geneva delegations, the day before yesterday I talked to Hilary Clinton on the phone, and yesterday there was a telephone conversation between our presidents, so I think that after these contacts we’ll have a constructive political dialogue not substituted by anything else. We’ll be strictly following the instructions given by our presidents, especially now that Chief of the General staff, General Makarov, and his American counterpart Admiral Mullen also had understanding when they met in Moscow in December.”

The FM finally said that though the START treaty is 95 per cent ready, there are still some points to take into account.

“So I would not diminish the work that remains because the treaty is actually 95 per cent ready, but let’s not forget that we still have a 200-page protocol addendum to this treaty that includes some strictly military data,” he added.

Missile defense plans

The foreign minister mentioned that the USA has taken some steps to create an anti-missile system. It was first to protect its own territory. It then extended to protecting its troops abroad, and its allies in Europe and North-East Asia. Another step was that the USA withdrew from the ABM treaty.

“The reason why we emphasize that the new START treaty should be linked to missile defense is because it is being developed now, in the situation when there is no new ABM treaty,” Lavrov outlined.

Mr. Lavrov said that Russia welcomed President Obama’s decision to give up on the missile defense system plan of the Bush administration because it affected Russian security directly. He said that President Obama confirmed in his telephone conversation with President Medvedev that the USA will develop an anti-missile system aimed at neutralizing threats from medium-range to short-range missiles. It poses no threat to Russia.

“But the plan that they are developing now still implies that towards the end of this decade, maybe in 2017, 2018, the United States may have a global strategic scale. And we are interested how this is going to function,”
said the minister. “If this becomes a really global antimissile defense system, this will once again pose a threat to the Russian Federation and we would like to be ready for that and, if possible, prevent this from happening.”

That is why, the minister said, Russia has openly expressed concerns about the US anti-missile system. The two countries have agreed to analyze missile threats together on a bilateral basis. Moreover, any other interested country is welcome.

“This is something that Russia proposed back in 1992, but at that time nobody really considered Russia a serious partner”.

The minister stressed that Russia wants to have a say in the matter.

“This time we remind again: it is very important to analyze and decide where the threat comes from. We don’t want to be neglected,” he noted.

What Russia deems as of vital importance is joint analysis of the threats. “Once we have a common understanding of those risks, we can consider what diplomatic, political and economic measures we may take, and if all of the above is insufficient, then we can take some military and technical measures,” he said.

Russia welcomes that the US seems to share its approach. However, some steps taken by the USA still can be called unilateral.

“They announce that they will deploy missile defense and air defense elements in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, then they deny these reports, then they confirm these reports. Of course we have questions in this situation and we are very frank about it,” said the minister.

Mr. Lavrov also referred to the speech of EU high representative Catherine Ashton at the Munich security conference, who emphasized that more parties should be involved in the decision-making process on strategic issues.

“And then she emphasized starting with developing a common strategy together. Not waiting until the point of implementation when you already have a strategy and you don’t have enough resources to implement it, and only then do you get somebody involved,” he recalled.

The minister said that this view fully coincides with Russia’s position. He reminded that there is no legal mechanism now to restrict missile proliferation. Not all countries are eager to join voluntary clubs, like the treaty between the US and Russia banning short-range and medium-range missiles.

The minister said that at the time of the Bush administration, Russia put forward the proposal to the UN to make the above treaty universal, but it did not happen, noting, “We want to repeat the same call once again more insistently.”

Mr. Lavrov said that it is urgent to limit the spread of missile technology and to make the process transparent. This approach fully matches Russia’s aspirations.

Sanctions against Iran can only be used for non-proliferation goals

Russia may support further sanctions against Iran, but will be very cautious about the goals such sanctions would seek, said Lavrov.

He reminded that Russia, as a member of the UN Security Council, had supported sanctions against Teheran in the past. Those had been implemented at the request of the IAEA, which had good historical reasons, and had nothing to do with suspicions over the possible military application of Iran’s nuclear program.

“Iran had been doing nuclear research for almost 20 years secretly, without notifying the IAEA and in violation of Iran’s commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Of course, every country has the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program, but must notify the IAEA when it does so,” reminded the Russian foreign minister.

It was Iran’s violation of its obligations and its failure later to clearly answer some of the IAEA’s questions over its nuclear research, which prompted the Security Council to impose sanctions against some organizations and persons involved in the program. The sanctions are to motivate Teheran to make the program fully transparent.

Admittedly it has not done this so far, added Lavrov. Moreover, in September Iran gave an unpleasant surprise to the IAEA and the world community by revealing a new enrichment facility near Qum, which it had been constructing secretly. This does not help to dispel concerns over its nuclear activities.

“We, as a member of the UN Security Council, have no doubt that Iran has rights just like any other non-nuclear signatories of the NNPT, including the right to enrich uranium. But Iran has to respect the obligations which come with these rights. Namely, to answer the IAEA’s questions on their program,” Lavrov said.

He added: “Taking into account the lack of progress here and the fact that the Iranian leadership does not respond to constructive and compromise initiatives over the enrichment schemes, which would provide nuclear fuel for the Iranian research reactor, the UN Security Council may re-consider the situation.”

At the same time, sanctions cannot be an end in themselves. And the non-proliferation regime cannot be used as pretext for economically strangling and alienating Iran. Russia would not back proposals in the Security Council which go beyond the goals of nuclear non-proliferation.

On Georgia and its runaway republics

Answering a question about possible restoration of relations with Georgia, badly damaged by the aggression of the latter against South Ossetia in 2008, Sergey Lavrov said that the current regime in Georgia “has persistently done everything it could to incite enmity between the Russian and Georgian people.”

Georgia’s current president, Mikhail Saakashvili, is acting to purposely separate our nations, Lavrov said.

“I am sure he will never succeed, he or those who manipulate him,” added FM.

That is why Russia is not going to deal with Saakashvili, whom the Russian leadership believes to be a criminal that ordered the killing of people in South Ossetia and violated all international UN charters, as well as an agreement Georgia signed to establish peace in South Ossetia.

Still, Sergey Lavrov expressed hope that the two countries will resume regular flights between Moscow and Tbilisi.

“The border crossing will start functioning on March 1 if the Georgian side does not change its mind,” he underlined. “We have no doubt that the ties between Russian and Georgian people, which are centuries old, are much stronger than the problems brought to our relations by alien winds,” Lavrov added.

The Russian FM pointed out that none of the post-Soviet Georgian leaders have been able to take into account the interests of their own people and live in peace with people whom they considered their own, rejecting the right for autonomy for non-Georgians on Georgia’s territory.

“Considering that the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been living in peace with us like brothers for centuries, we could not stay away and we will do everything we can to make sure their security is not threatened,” promised Lavrov.

He stressed that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not Russia’s geopolitical project, so international recognition is not of primary importance in this case. “The only thing we considered was how to protect civilians according to international agreements.”

Lavrov pointed out that Western political analysts jump to fast geopolitical conclusions and speculate about these two countries’ independence.

“The main geopolitical conclusion is that the current architecture of European security has a serious flaw, and this is not the first time. The first time was when, during the Kosovo crisis, without any sanction of the UN Security Council, in violation of all OSCE documents, a number of OSCE member states attacked another country – a member of the OSCE,” Lavrov recalled. “Then there was the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo, which was a gross violation of Helsinki Final Act.”

“What happened in South Ossetia is also a major break down of this system,” he added.

Lavrov observed that President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative on European Security was introduced not after the war in South Ossetia, but before it, in June 2008, when the Russian president was on a visit in Berlin.

The Russian FM promised that Russia will continue to improve the legal framework with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and resolve all issues in a calm atmosphere.

Russia’s pragmatic over the new Ukrainian leadership

Speaking about another former Soviet state Ukraine, Sergey Lavrov said that for the last five years, Russia has been working to prevent accumulation of the problems in Russian-Ukrainian relations and settle those problems already existing, remarked the head of Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

“Many things were done by the Ukrainian leadership to practically ruin our relationship, no matter what they say,” Sergey Lavrov stated.

Calling Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera a Hero of Ukraine is “way too much” and serves a good illustration as to how far certain Ukrainian politicians will go in order to prevent Russia and Ukraine from living together as friends.

Russia is sticking to a pragmatic line, free of political speculations in its relations with Ukraine, developing economic ties first of all, by signing agreements on airplane manufacturing, gas issues etc.

“Our dialogue is no longer politicized, it is a professional dialogue and we’re trying to find common ground,” shared Sergey Lavrov.

As for the election of a new president in Ukraine, the Russian FM said that the people of Ukraine “simply made their choice and expressed their view on what was going on.”

Many people supported the new president Viktor Yanukovich, but there is still a large group of voters that voted against him. Nevertheless, “now there is a good opportunity to consolidate Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian people based on respect for the Ukrainian constitution and national interests, which has not been the case over the last five years,” underlined Lavrov.

Russia needs a “pro-Ukrainian leader of the Ukrainian state,” because such a president would think about the interests of the Ukrainian people. "And if he does think about them, he will undoubtedly think about having close ties with the Russian Federation and the other neighbors,” said Russia’s foreign minister.

There is no choice between Russia and Europe, as the leaders of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and some politicians in Europe have tried to misrepresent the situation.

“This goes against all principles of European co-operation they speak so much about,” Lavrov pointed out.

Despite the well-known problems in Russia-Ukraine relations, “we have every reason to go on and resolve them based on mutual respect and a parity of interests,” Lavrov concluded.

What the future holds for CIS

Reflecting on the future of the CIS, Mr. Lavrov said that on the whole the situation is positive.

The CIS has always been a political platform for the countries’ leaders to come together and openly discuss issues. Recently, the organization has started to explore its economic potential.

“When the financial crisis broke out, this interest became even more practical,” he noted.

A new institution, the Meeting of Finance Ministers, has started to function within the framework of the CIS. This meeting has approved crisis management program that supplements other documents, such as the strategy of CIS economic development until 2020.

The minister also spoke about the new system of presidency in the CIS, which was introduced as CIS activities are becoming more and more effective. This year Russia is the chairman across all these institutions.

Mr. Lavrov said that, according to the new mechanism of work of the CIS, one or two subjects have been chosen as the focus of attention.

“This year the priority is innovation and the importance of achieving a break-through in this area is obvious to all CIS countries, including Russia,” said the minister.

This year has also been announced the year of veterans by the CIS countries. Some more decisions to support veterans will be made.

“It is a good combination, I would say: going back to our common history on the one hand – because we can’t get away from our common history – and at the same time we are realizing that in addition to our common historic and cultural routes we have some real interest today to use the economic opportunities we have to enhance our socio-economic situation, to make our economies innovative, to achieve a breakthrough in the economy,” Mr. Lavrov observed.

Russia-China partnership makes the world more stable

Touching upon perspectives of international cooperation, Lavrov said thaе Russia’s relations with China in trade and investment are very intense, and even though the crisis affected the turnover, it is a temporary factor, believes Sergey Lavrov.

All common economic projects are mutually beneficial and are planned for many years ahead, commented Lavrov.

The minister pointed out that Russia and China are partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Security Council of the UN as permanent members, and realize their responsibilities in full, therefore have no intentions to gang up against anyone.

“Developing partnership and strategic interaction between Moscow and Beijing is not to the detriment of a third party,” Lavrov underlined.

Lavrov shared his belief that “the more centers of economic growth and economic power there are in the world, the more stable the world structure is.”

“The Asia-Pacific region today is a locomotive of global development and this historic development is only natural and is a historic trend.”

As for the security in this region, Sergey Lavrov pointed out that “The effort made to ensure security in a separate region should be coordinated with global security as presented in the UN charter,” he said, “because there is no umbrella organization that would unite everybody.”

The Russian FM said that security in the Asia-Pacific region is extremely important in the face of terrorism and securing trade routes.

He came to the conclusion that “We are all interested in developing security in such a way that we do not create alliances against somebody. No, we need to find approaches that help us neutralize threats that are common for everybody today.”

Going on-line

To end on a positive note, the journalists asked Mr. Lavrov if he is going to follow the example of many prominent politicians and start his own blog. The minister says he does not rule out the possibility.

“I realize that young people are more and more interested in foreign politics today. And most bloggers come from among young people. So it’s possible,” said Mr. Lavrov.

He added that the Russian Foreign Ministry has its own website, with thousands of web pages edited every month.