Russia’s Foreign Minister answers your questions exclusively

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Following his interview with various Russian media Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took the time to answer a few additional questions from readers. He plans to answer even more in the future.

Due to imminent time constrains during his mid-April interview Lavrov managed to answer to only a few questions from visitors of RT’s website.

Here are his answers to four other questions.

1. Q.: (Kevin Edwards, United Kingdom): Dear Mr. Lavrov, I have been married to a Russian lady for coming up to 12 years. Yet every time we visit Russia, being a UK citizen, I have to apply for a visa. Do you think it will be possible in the near future that Russia will follow Ukraine and end the need for visas for holders of EU passports or at least introduce some mechanism where spouses of Russian citizens can at least travel to Russia with their spouse without having to apply for a visa every time?

A.: In the first place, I would like to say that doing what Ukraine has done in unilaterally introducing a visa-free entry regime for EU citizens seems unacceptable for Russia. In this respect, we proceed from the considerations of practical expediency and are guided by the generally recognized principles of international law, including the principle of reciprocity.

During a number of recent years, the Russian Federation has been active in advocating a visa-free regime for reciprocal travel by citizens of Russia and EU states. For almost two years – starting from June 2007 – the agreement on facilitating the issue of visas to the citizens of the Russian Federation and of the European Union has been applied with success, an agreement that laid the basis for the current dialogue on introducing a visa-free regime for reciprocal travel. Our position on this matter is a well-known one and was confirmed by President Dmitry Medvedev during his recent visit to Finland: The Russian side is ready to undertake, in relation to the visa regime, whatever is necessary for free entry, but it is others who must have their say.

As is to be regretted, our European partners are so far unable to take a reciprocal step. It is difficult to say how much time will yet be needed for them to do so. The prospects for a visa-free regime run athwart the European Union’s position, and its members entertain different views, but the strategic vector in the development of our relations in this area is clear: a transition to the visa-free regime must take place within the foreseeable future.

2. Q.: (James Allan, Scotland, United Kingdom) To what lengths will Russia go to protect its claims in the Arctic sea?

A.: If the case in point is the Russian application for specifying the continental shelf boundary in the Arctic Ocean that was submitted in 2001 to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, then in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Russia will additionally substantiate it – and precisely this is required at the present stage – by scientific persuasion methods. Russia is working to collect the necessary information, as it is envisaged by the Foundations of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic for the Period till 2020 and the Subsequent Period.

In a broader context, let me say that the Arctic is playing a growing role in the life of Russia. The decision accepted by Russia’s Security Council in September 2008 clearly formulates our interests in the region. These are:
 – using the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation as this country’s strategic resource base that ensures the accomplishment of the socioeconomic development tasks;
 – preserving the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation;
 – saving the region’s unique ecosystems;
 – using the Northern Sea Route as Russia’s national single transport line of communication in the Arctic.

Some concrete tasks have been outlined for the implementation of those goals: special state programs are being drawn up; and the necessary budget funding is being determined. We are sure that the specification of the Russian approaches will help further the development of cooperation with our neighbours in the common Arctic home both in the bilateral and multilateral format. As President Dmitry Medvedev repeatedly stressed, many of our national interests in the region can only be realized in close interaction with partners. The very nature of problems, primarily those linked to climate change, and the Arctic’s still-harsh conditions, predetermine the need for joint actions and a buildup in coordinated joint efforts. We are certain that the main tendency in the Arctic is developing a broad-scale regional cooperation.

Held at Ilulissat, Greenland, in May 2008, a meeting of the foreign ministers of five Arctic littoral states achieved some important understandings, primarily on that all possible grievances in the Arctic would be tackled on the basis of the existing treaties and legal standards. Russia will firmly follow those understandings.

3. Q.: (Tom Bahar, Israel) First of all, what do you think about NATO enlargement toward former Warsaw Pact countries in the near abroad of Russia (Albania, Croatia and maybe Georgia and Ukraine in the future)? Second, what do you think about the 2009 NATO summit?

A.: Russia’s position is well known. We cannot see how this NATO expansion is able to strengthen security in Europe and NATO’s own security.

We do not call into question each state’s sovereign right to choose the schemes and methods for assuring its security, foreign policy strategy and partners. At the same time, it is clear the refusal to take into consideration each other’s well-justified concerns and interests in the security sphere is leading to the disruption of trust.

As is evident from practice, certain “new recruits” have joined NATO in order to use its “protective umbrella” for dealing with their bilateral problems in relations with Russia rather than in order to assist regional security. One has the impression that they are not interested in having the Alliance become transformed from a closed military-political structure and a tool for the advancement of interests of an “elite” group of states into an effective organisation tending to react to real, not imagined, threats.

The main challenges to security of our countries today – international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, aggressive separatism and religious extremism, natural and man-made disasters, drug trafficking and other types of organised crime – are of a transnational nature. It is unlikely that the inertia-driven NATO expansion is the optimal option for an effective opposition to those threats and for finding some very much needed collective solutions to global problems.

One cannot but nurture doubts about the West’s widely publicised claim that a zone of stability is approaching Russia and that a space is being expanded where “democratic values” have taken root. No one is attempting to take those values away. Everyone is free nowadays; each can choose his own way of development, and NATO expansion has nothing to add to this.

Moreover, while speaking about NATO expansion, our partners are dissembling. For some reason, they would drop the military aspect. As is obvious, Russia cannot disregard the approach of the military infrastructure of NATO countries to its borders: this bloc’s expansion is accompanied with the introduction of air patrol activities, the modernisation of airfields, and the establishment of military bases in the territories of the new member-states. All of that will certainly be taken into account in a comprehensive manner in our foreign policy and military planning from the point of view of assuring Russia’s national security.

We have made considerable efforts to overcome the stereotypes of bloc confrontation. Russia and NATO have ceased to regard each other as enemies and begun building up a potential for cooperation in the fight against modern threats and challenges. This, in my view, is the main achievement in our relations and it is in our common interests to preserve it.

But NATO’s further progress towards Russia's borders would in some way or other lead to the regeneration of the Cold War approaches and would take the European security system to the confrontation stereotype. We are against the emergence of artificial divides in Europe. One would like to believe that NATO, too, has no stake in going back to the spirit and logic of the “zero-result games.”

The global nature of modern threats and challenges requires we coordinate our actions on a qualitatively new and broad basis. This makes it a necessary more than ever before to establish in the Euro-Atlantic zone a really effective mechanism, one conforming to modern requirements, for collective interaction in the interests of equal security on the basis of common “rules of the game,” which will be the same for all states and international organisations. This is the goal of President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiative regarding the European Security Treaty.

As for the results of the Strasbourg-Kehl NATO summit, we are examining the resolutions made there, especially in the part of developing the alliance's new strategic concept and its relations with Russia. It is important for us to understand how the alliance’s actions will integrate into the world community’s efforts to strengthen global and regional stability; what algorithm NATO is going to follow in its cooperation with the UN and other multilateral organisations; what are the tasks to be set for NATO’s force potential, and how those comply with the norms of international law. We have quite a few questions regarding the intentions to give the alliance certain functions in the sphere of energy and cyber security.

The recent chill in our relations with NATO, caused by the alliance’s one-sided position on the Caucasian crisis, shed a bright light on the problems that exist in our dialogue. At the same time, preparedness for the further resumption of the normal functioning of the Russia-NATO Council, which was declared at the summit, confirms that leaders of the NATO countries realise the need to cooperate with Russia and are prepared to remove any obstacles standing in that way.

Russia is determined to find constructive solutions and work cooperatively. We have always realised that interaction with the alliance plays a stabilising role in ensuring the security of the entire Euro-Atlantic Region. The future development of Russia-NATO relations depends on the nature of the alliance and its ability to integrate within modern architecture instead of trying to adjust it to suit NATO’s own needs. That development will greatly depend on how prepared NATO is to look for common “points of contact” with Russia on an honest and equal basis. First of all, this applies to the obligation not to strengthen one’s security at the expense of the security of others.

In this connection, I cannot but touch upon the alliance’s decision to hold NATO military exercises in Georgia. We regard this decision as dangerous. Such actions are obviously aimed at rattling sabers and demonstrating one’s military component. We cannot imagine a situation when such exercises could take place in areas of high tension, like in the Middle East or near South Korea. In the current circumstances, when the situation in the Caucasus is rather tense already, this decision looks shortsighted and un-partner-like. It is hardly going to facilitate the restoration of our full-scale contacts with the alliance.

4. Q. (Aftab Hussain, Islamabad, Pakistan): What is Russia’s official policy about terrorism? Does Russia also see terrorism as an Islamic phenomenon, as it is being perceived by the West?

A.: Let me start with your last question. One of the most dangerous provocations of international terrorism is the attempt to cover it with “religious banners”. Terrorism has no religious or ethnic nature. Its practice and ideology, based on defying fundamental human values, human life being the first among them, are equally alien to all world confessions, nations, and cultures. Terrorism feeds on political, social and economic problems, which have grown more acute – particularly regarding the preservation of the cultural and civilisation diversity of the modern world – as the result of globalisation and corresponding imbalances in world development.

This understanding underlies Russia’s consistent course towards combating terrorism and its ideology by way of uniting the efforts of states and state institutions with the possibilities of civil society, including religious institutions and organisations.

In this connection, let me remind you that Russia is a unique example of peaceful coexistence and cooperation among more than 160 nationalities. There are 23 thousand religious organisations in our country, representing nearly 50 confessions. Respect to other people’s faith, lifestyle, customs and traditions have created conditions for civilian peace and helped ensure stability. Along with other traditional confessions in Russia, Islam has been making its contribution into efforts towards preventing extremism and intolerance and maintaining an atmosphere of tolerance.

Today, furthering the mutually respectful and constructive communication among different confessions is one of the unconditional priorities of Russia’s policy. The inter-religious dialogue is going on very actively within the country, including the Inter-Religion Council of Russia, which unites leaders of the main traditional confessions. We support all international initiatives aimed at promoting inter-religious concord. The Strategic Vision Group “Russia – Islamic World” and the World Social Forum “Dialogue of Civilisations” have been created upon our initiative, and we keep promoting the idea of establishing the Consultative Council of Religions under the auspices of the UN.

We firmly and decisively condemn terrorism in all its forms. Like many countries, Russia has suffered from terrorism. However, in fighting it, Russia has gained a successful experience of complex anti-terrorism efforts that combine military and law enforcement measures with informational, educational, and socio-economic work. Our tangible achievement is the significant reduction of the terrorist threat in Russia, including the North Caucasus, in which international terrorism had been pumping significant funds and efforts.

Russia is among the leading members of global anti-terrorism cooperation that mostly goes in the format of the UN, which has the central coordinating role in this area, and in regional structures. We have also created an efficient bilateral mechanism of anti-terrorism cooperation with more than 30 states, including Islamic ones. These mechanisms are intended for solving practical tasks in the sphere of anti-terrorism.

We also advocate the active improvement of international anti-terrorism instruments. So far, 13 international anti-terrorism conventions have been signed under the auspice of the UN, but those efforts must be continued. Our obvious reserve is the strengthening of the international contractual basis to combat the use of latest technologies, including the Internet, for terrorist purposes. Russia, among others, has stepped forward with relevant initiatives in this area.

You are invited to continue sending your questions to Sergey Lavrov via our website. RT will present them to the Russian Foreign Ministry and wait for more answers.