Major events of 2010 through the lens of Russian diplomacy
The Russian Foreign Minister started his speech by voicing the main conclusion for the year: that the tendency for forming a new multi-polar world is continuing, despite of the fact that not everyone on the international arena is ready for these changes.
He also reaffirmed the main objective of Russian foreign policy, as defined by President Dmitry Medvedev – achieving concrete and understandable results to create conditions for Russia’s internal development and modernization. In this aspect, the foreign minister said, Russia’s achievements in 2010, such as the creation of the Customs Union between Russia and Kazakhstan, the creation of a single Eurasian political space and the strengthening of the Collective Security Treaty were very important.
Watch Sergey Lavrov's news conference (part 1)
Watch Sergey Lavrov's news conference (part 2)
Celebrating the Victory
In the year in which Russia celebrated the 65th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany, Moscow tried to give this date “a modern perception” and prevent attempts to rewrite history and justify Nazi ideology. Lavrov specifically noted the significance of an unprecedented event – the participation of the anti-Hitler coalition, or Allied, troops at the parade on Moscow’s Red Square on May 9.
Reset in the international relations
Network diplomacy was developing in the world. The G8 as well as G20 were actively working trying to remedy the world crisis and to reform the world financial institutions. Lavrov said that Russia supports these processes and believes that more states should be involved in what is happening in the world, with the UN playing a key role.
The Russian Foreign Minister has praised the year’s results in the “reset” of relations with the United States. The process, launched by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama, has already yielded practical results. The presidential commission established after the reset has developed into a diverse body with 18 working groups covering a wide range of interests.
The biggest breakthrough in 2010 was the signing of the New START treaty, which will see nuclear arsenals of the two nations downsized, according to the senior Russian diplomat.
The reinvigoration of bilateral relations gave a boost to Russia’s co-operation with NATO, which had been at a low-ebb for two years at the initiative of the West, Lavrov said. Now the Russia-NATO council is working actively and fruitfully again.
Washington is helping Moscow with its goal of joining the WTO, and there were considerable advances to this end in 2010. A number of American companies have agreed to participate in the Skolkovo project and other modernization initiatives in Russia. In addition to development of an economic foundation in their co-operation, Russia and the US have launched a number of joint humanitarian and scientific projects.
The biggest challenge for the US and Russia to work on in the future is the altered antiballistic missile system in Europe. There is much to be done to address concerns of all parties involved.
“All in all, today there are more things that unite us than those which separate us. Let’s hope this objective reality of common interests does not fall victim to short-term tactical considerations,” Lavrov said.
Speaking of Russia’s relations with the European Union, the foreign minister said that the modernization covers all aspects of international relations, including relations with the European nations. However, the minister noted that the primary point in these relations is the predominance of law. Lavrov noted that relations with the European Union are good, and that Russia and the EU have common experience in peacekeeping operations, albeit small, and now we are working on a common program of crisis management.
The minister also touched upon the issue of common European security and said that the concept, initially suggested by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was fully supported by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The concept includes the creation of the Russia-EU committee on European security and the minister said he hoped that the committee would start its work in 2011, including some practical steps.
Another important issue in Russia-EU relations is freedom of travel, the Russian Foreign Minister said. For strategic partners it is crucial to mutually abandon visas as soon as possible. He added that the Russian side saw no obstacles to such a step and that it hoped to settle all problems in 2011.
Speaking of relations with NATO, Sergey Lavrov noted that although NATO is not Russia’s strategic partner, both sides acknowledge the task of gradually moving closer and this is a quality breakthrough in bilateral relations. He added that the relations between the two sides must be free of stereotypes, the sides must hear each other and not raise some imaginary problems in common relations.
In particular, the Foreign Minister mentioned that Russia’s new military doctrine does not see NATO itself as a threat, but rather NATO’s eastward expansion, which is not the same thing. Lavrov criticized the foreign media for making this mistake and said that in mutual relations it was very important for the sides to hear each other. He added that the Lisbon Summit has proved that Russia and NATO had common challenges and all sides understood that the European security issue must be considered only as a single issue. Also, the sides agreed to consider creating a common missile defense system to Russia and NATO. Work on this has already commenced, but all interests must be taken into consideration in further development, the minister said.
Lavrov noted that the sides must understand the different levels of the problems they are facing. In particular, he said that Russia’s sincerity could be proven by its work on the solution of the Transdniestrian problem. Russia did everything it could to bring all sides to the negotiations table in Transdniestr and demonstrated its real intentions in the issue, but the creation of the common missile defense system could be a real test in Russia’s relations with Europe and NATO.
Russia's position in the OSCE
Sergey Lavrov also reminded the conference that at the latest OSCE summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, the sides were ready to adopt the texts on Transdniestr region and the Transcaucasian region, but this was canceled at the last moment due to the position of the US delegation, which insisted that the territories of the independent states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia must be seen as part of the Georgian territory. It was a lack of flexibility from the US side that prevented the other sides from coming to a common opinion, the Russian minister stressed. Nevertheless, the OSCE summit in Astana was a successful one, the he said.
Russia's policies in the Asia-Pacific Region
The Asia-Pacific region has its own security agenda, and Russia seeks to work on resolving the standing issues. Of course there are specific issues there not present in the Euro-Atlantic region, but the basic principles, such as common and equal security, non-use of force and the peaceful settlement of conflicts are universal and are true anywhere.
Unfortunately the Pacific Rim has no international security forum similar to Europe’s OSCE. Russia suggests that all countries of the region confirm their adherence to these principles as a step towards new regional security architecture, and several major partners, including China and India, agree with that.
Lavrov pointed to the role that Shanghai Co-operation Organization plays in term of security. The body has improved its standing in the international arena and provided some good results in counter-terrorism operations, the fight against drug trafficking and other forms of trans-border crime. The anniversary summit of the SCO in Kazakhstan in June this year will see some major summation of its ten years of history.
One of the greatest challenges Russia faces in the Asia-Pacific this year is preparation for the APEC summit in 2012. Over a year-and-a-half remains before Russia organizes the hundreds of events linked to the summit. Moscow has high hopes for it, since it will both help regional integration and give a boost to Russia’s own development in the Far East.
In 2010, Russia joined the Asia–Europe Meeting, an international forum aimed at improving links between the two economical centers. Russia’s geographical position enables it to be a link between Europe and Asia, and it is natural to seek larger involvement in this process, Lavrov said.
Russia-Norway accord on Barents Sea
Last year was also marked by the resolution of a 40-year-long territorial dispute between Russia and Norway over an area of the Barents Sea. In September, Moscow and Oslo signed an agreement splitting the area into two equal parts. The two parties also agreed on a joint exploration pact.
According to Lavrov, the deal was a historic breakthrough. The principles laid down in the document correspond to the norms of international law, which include such parameters as the balance of legal rights of both parties. The Russian Foreign Minister added that the agreement is also an example showing that any problems existing in the North, including those relating to maritime space delimitation, can be solved by political and legal means.
Any speculation that there will be a war over natural resources in the region is “just a provocation” and has nothing to do with reality.
"We don't discriminate our citizens on ethnic grounds"
A journalist asked Sergey Lavrov about the situation in Abkhazia and the alleged discrimination against ethnic Georgians with Russian citizenship, who are refused ownership of real estate.
The minister explained the working of an intergovernmental commission, chaired by Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh, which was formed to tackle the issue. As of now, the commission has taken several dozen complaints into consideration and about two dozen cases have been ruled in favor of the people seeking to return their properties.
Russia’ does not discriminate against its citizens on ethnic grounds and protects their rights equally, Lavrov assured. He added that the bias against Georgians in Abkhazia is understandable, albeit unjustifiable, and hopefully it will be rooted out as time heals past grievances and grudges.
Khodorkovsky sentence will not hamper cooperation
Sergey Lavrov commented on the emotional reaction in the West to the sentencing of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He said he cannot make political comments on the court’s ruling itself, especially since the legal procedures in the trial are not yet finalized, but assured that the sentence will not greatly affect Russia’s co-operation with other countries.
The minister attributed the vocal statements on Khodorkovsky in the European parliament and other bodies to those politicians whose goal it is to draw public attention to themselves. Most of Russia’s partner countries are governed by pragmatically-minded people who treat issues according to their importance, he said.
He also criticized the practice of linking international co-operation with domestic issues. For instance, the OSCE sometimes demands that Russia makes moves on human rights before discussing security issues. What would happen if Russia reverses this approach and refuses to discuss security issues important to European nations unless the OSCE stops raising the issues of human rights? That would be a dead end, Lavrov explained.
Too early to talk about further nuke reduction
In connection with the success achieved over the New START treaty, which is now nearing its ratification by both US and Russia, Lavrov was asked about the prospects of future nuke reductions and Moscow’s stance on the issue.
Sergey Lavrov noted that security in today’s world is much more complex compared to the Middle Ages or even WWI or WWII. “There are more factors that should be taken into account” when discussing these strategies. He added that security can only be equal and indivisible.
“We have nuclear arms, strategic and non-strategic weapons, including those without nuclear components, and so on. There is also the problem of the demilitarization of space, the problem of whether or not to deploy weapons in space. Finally, there are also conventional weapons. And, by the way, there are quite a few issues in that sphere,” he said.
So, Lavrov concluded, it is premature to talk about any further steps in nuclear arms reduction, as first of all, the treaty that has already been signed – New START – has to be fulfilled. After that is done, the sides could start negotiations.
On Iran's nuclear program
In reply to a question on Russia’s attitude to an Iranian offer to visit its nuclear facilities, the Russian minister said that though the offer was worth attention, it should not be considered a replacement for either the IAEA or the six-party talks. He also said that if some countries decide to accept Iran’s offer, it should not change any previously-reached agreements. “We think that any gesture that speaks for Iran’s additional openness to co-operation with the international community must be welcomed,” Sergey Lavrov said. He added that the visits themselves must be organized by professionals, especially with regard to the fact that the visits would be made to the nuclear facilities.
The top Russian diplomat expressed hope that the talks between Iran and the Group of Six in Istanbul next week might help to come to a compromise.
“The Iranian nuclear problem is one of today’s most pressing issues, both because we don’t see enough Iranian participation with the IAEA and secondly because there was a lot of speculation about it,” he said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while touring key Persian Gulf states, called on the Arab world to keep pressure on Tehran. There are more alarming statements on Iran coming from Israel.
“Our Israeli partners publicly say that we not only need to step up sanctions, but also to threat Iran with the use of force. We believe that it is counterproductive,” the FM said. "None of the problems can be solved by the use of force, and there are a lot of examples in history – and contemporary history as well – that prove that. Even after force was used, the sides had to sit down at the negotiating table, like it was in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
It is said that history does teaches us nothing, but Lavrov expressed hope that the case with Iran will become an exception to this rule.
Comments on Polish presidential plane crash call for dignity
A Polish TV journalist asked Lavrov to comment on the report on the crash of the presidential aircraft in Russia released earlier this week. The minister said his office is not entitled to comment on the judgments of a technical commission, but said a few words on the reaction to the report in Poland.
He pointed to the fact that the report, which is called “Russian” by many media, was prepared by an independent international body, the Interstate Aviation Committee. Top aviation experts from Russia, Poland, the United States and European countries participated in the investigation.
Moscow is concerned with how the situation is reflected in the public view and is monitoring this, Lavrov said.
“We want everything to be dignified and worthy of the memory of the people who died there,” he explained.
Speculation on the issue aimed at scoring political points is unethical, he added. Moscow hopes that the negative reaction to the report in Poland will not harm the positive course set during Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Warsaw, which corresponds to the core interests of the peoples of both countries.
BRIC format is mechanism of the future
The informal nature of the BRIC co-operation group has several advantages over more rigid international mechanisms, because it encourages direct dialogue between interested organizations, unhampered by red tape, believes Lavrov. The result of the BRIC summit in Brazil in April 2010 shows this clearly.
The summit saw a number of productive meetings between the nations’ governmental bodies, businesses and NGOs. The co-operation is facilitated by the fact that all the member nations share a common approach to the global agenda and view of the world’s future, which would in the best way reflect polycentric tendencies.
The BRIC countries, along with like-minded partners, managed to give a boost to the reform of the International Monetary Fund last year. There is also the prospect of South Africa joining the informal club, a move which Russia supports, Lavrov said.
The mechanism of BRIC is young, but it falls in line with modern global trends, he added.
On trial of suspected arms trader Viktor Bout
When journalists asked the top Russian diplomat if there were any plans to exchange Viktor Bout, a suspected illegal arms trader who is currently on trial in the US, for some Russian prisoner, Sergey Lavrov dismissed such speculation. He declined to comment further on the issue, saying only that the Russian Foreign Ministry had to express protest to the US side in connection with the recent detention of Viktor Bout’s wife.
“A few days ago there was an unpleasant incident with his spouse, who arrived in the United States with a valid visa and who was kept in a special room in an airport for several hours, where she was questioned and searched. Unacceptable methods were used during the questioning,” Sergey Lavrov said. “We have made a representation to our American partners,” he added.
Improvement in Moscow-Riga ties
Yet another important achievement the previous year brought is an improvement in relations between Russia and Latvia, which have been overshadowed by differences in views – mainly on events of the past – ever since the collapse of the USSR.
In December, President Medvedev met with his Latvian counterpart, Valdis Zatlers, in Moscow. That became the first official visit by a Latvian president to Russia in modern history, and both leaders felt rather optimistic after the talks.
Zatlers invited Medvedev to repay the visit and come to Riga, an offer the Russian leader accepted. Speaking at the conference on Thursday, Sergey Lavrov said that the schedule of the visit is yet to be agreed upon.
"Non-citizens" status is a shame for EU
One of thorny issues that still hamper relations between Russia and former Soviet republics on the Baltic is the so-called “non-citizens” status that was given to thousands of people living in Latvia and Estonia. Those carrying a “non-citizen” passport – or in other words those who are officially considered aliens – lack many basic human rights.
Sergey Lavrov said that it is unacceptable that hundreds of thousands people are called “non-citizens”.
“It is a shame for the European Union to have within its ranks a category of people who are, in fact, deprived of their rights,” he stressed. Moscow is not going to change its stance, but at the same time, does not seek a confrontation on the matter.