Lavrov gives Russian Foreign Policy 101 lesson

Speaking in Washington, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke on a laundry list of issues in international politics, which Moscow considers very important for its interests.

At a Q&A session at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the top diplomat spoke in detail about such problems as the row over the US missile defense system, the Iranian nuclear program, a peace settlement in Afghanistan, the reform of the international monetary system, and ways to ensure European security.

Iran and Missile Defence

I can only speak for the Russian Federation, not for the United States. And we have been presenting geometrical, ballistic and all sorts of other data to our American colleagues when the idea to have missile defense bases in Poland and Czech Republic first appeared, explaining to them that this would have nothing to do with Iranian potential threat but would have very immediate effect of the Russian strategic arsenals in the European part of the Russian Federation. So for us, to take the position that ‘let’s resolve Iranian nuclear issue, and missile defense in Europe would not take place’, I mean it’s a misnomer. We know that these missile defense bases are directly related to the Russian security. As for the Iranian nuclear issue, we continue to address it in its merits in the context of the group called five plus one, or three plus three which recently developed further its own proposals to Iran which were delivered to Iran by Javier Solana’s people and which Iran said it would consider. And if accepted we would be really getting closer to starting negotiations with Iran. We don’t have any confirmation of the Iranian nuclear program having military dimension but we want to be 100% sure that this is indeed the case that this program is entirely peaceful. And that’s why we strongly support IAA continued effort in Iran. We strongly urge Iran together with other countries to cooperate fully with IAA and to do extra steps so that all the issues which I want to clarify are clarified as soon as possible.

As for the potential missile risks from the southern direction as it were, President Putin in 2007 meeting with President Bush at Kennebunkport as I referred to in my introductory remarks, suggested a collective project which would begin with collective analysis of threats, collective meaning Russia, US and the Europeans working together, and which could be using the existing radar facilities in Russia and in Azerbaijan as it were, to monitor the situation in this region. Then whenever there is some dangerous developments it would always be possible to take collective measures not to allow this developments to materialize. Just couple of weeks ago we developed this proposal further in greater detail with some technical things added and transmitted this to our American colleagues for consideration. And I hope they would consider it in a constructive way. At least we discussed it today with Secretary Clinton, and she confirmed that the strategic review continues of the missile defense project, and that in the context of this review the proposal submitted by Russia would be taken into account. So as soon as this review is over we would be ready to resume our dialogue with the United States on this one.

As for S-300, yeah we touched upon this again in our discussions today. Whatever we sell to Iran or to any other country is not covered by any prohibitions internationally or nationally. In the Russian Federation we have one of the strictest export control legislation. And whatever we sell to Iran in particular is only of defensive nature. In spite of this, we always listen to concerns expressed to us regarding one or another aspect of our military and technical cooperation with one or another country. But as I said and I want to emphasize it, whatever we do in the area of military and technical cooperation with Iran is absolutely legal and, which is also very important, the weapons we sell to Iran have never been used against any one country. Speaking of arms sales, the weapons which had been sold to Georgia have been used to kill Russians, to kill civilians, including Russian peacekeepers who are serving under the international agreement signed by Georgia. And those weapons were sold to Georgia ignoring the continued warning which we have been making for the last two or three years, that to arm this particular regime would be really very dangerous.

Energy charter

Indeed we, and not only Prime Minister Putin in Davos and President Medvedev at Sakhalin have been raising these issues. We have been raising it at the top level for quite a number of years already starting probably from the what is called first gas crisis in early 2006. And we have been explaining why the Energy Charter is not going to work and why we are not going to be bound by it, which we formally said recently. If only because when the Energy Charter was signed by Russia there was a deal that there would be additional protocols to the Charter which would be negotiated including the transit protocol in the context of which we expected to resolve the issues which you’re addressing now. This never happened, and also a couple of other deals attached to Russian signature to the Energy Charter were not delivered in particular, by the European Union. And I have in mind the commitment of the European Union to resolve the issue of barriers on the way of the trade in the Russian nuclear energy services. This is still pending. So eventually, our position… Yes, when this crisis in early 2006 happened, EU suggested to have an early warning mechanism between Russia and the European Union. We said we would be ready and suggested that this mechanism should also include the transit countries. EU was not enthusiastic about this for whatever reason I don’t now. So the events of January this year made us absolutely convinced that we need something which would be working unlike the Energy Charter and the Treaty to the Energy Charter.

That’s why speaking in Helsinki last month, President Medvedev announced our new initiative which has since been circulated to all G20 members including of course all G8 members, the EU members, the CIS members, all the countries who are directly involved in this particular energy situation in all this Euro-Atlantic, Eurasian space, I would say. This is going to be discussed with our partners. The immediate occasion would be May 22 when Russia-EU summit takes place at the city of Khabarovsk. We discussed it also briefly with the European Union Troika, the Foreign Ministers level last week in Luxemburg. So I don’t know how all of our partners would react. They recognize the importance of finding a way out of situations which we experienced once again last January. But we don’t see anything else by way of new initiatives. We only keep hearing every year that we, Russia must ratify the Treaty to the Energy Charter. And it’s really not very intelligent way to proceed, because we have repeatedly explained why we would do not this and why this particular regime embodied in the Treaty to the Energy Charter is floored. So the offer on the table is to address in a comprehensive way the energy security issues of the producers, consumers and the transit countries, and not only as regards oil and gas but basically all other sources of energy including nuclear energy. We believe that given the failed experience of the past, including the experience of the commitments undertaken by all partners in relation to the signature of the Energy Charter Treaty, we must not take chances and we must address the energy security in all its aspects as actually was agreed by the G8 leaders when they assembled in St. Petersburg for the summit in 2006 and adopted a declaration laying down exactly those principles which we want now to codify.

Dealing with Afghanistan

You cannot resolve problems of Afghanistan by force alone, in spite of the fact that against terrorists force must be used, and that’s why after 9/11 the Security Council strongly endorsed the retaliation. The second conclusion is that you cannot resolve the problems related to the political system of Afghanistan by some smart schemes from outside. You cannot really build the scheme which would be based on one ethnic group alone, even if this ethnic group is the largest one. You cannot ignore other ethnic groups, so apart Pashtuns you have Tajiks, Uzbeks, Khazarians. And each of these regional groups has very close ethnic and historical cultural links with one or another neighbour of Afghanistan. So you also have to take into account this neighbourhood factor. And I referred in my introductory remarks that we welcome very much that the regional factor is very much highlighted in the new American approach. And you have to involve neighbours. An interesting example, not exactly related to Afghanistan, but how neighbours could play a helpful role. When in the early 90s last century there was a very bloody war in Tajikistan, a civil war in Tajikistan, it was through direct Russian and Iranian mediation working with different factions that eventually a peace deal was signed under the UN auspices.

So it is important that, apart from this new strategy on Afghanistan, President Obama sent a very strong message that he wants to have a direct dialogue on Iran in a comprehensive way. That’s the only way to proceed in this region. The Bush’s administration engaged Iran a couple of times but under the condition that they want to discuss only Iraq and they only want to discuss this by way of asking Iranians not to meddle, you know, with one part of Iraqi groups. And Iranians participated in these discussions. But this is a piecemeal approach. If you take the region of the Middle East broader, well, the Bush’s administration spoke of the Greater Middle East but this project never materialized in some strategic thinking which would embrace a comprehensive approach as far as Iran is concerned. Yes, Iran has influence in the region. Iran has influence in Iran; has always had influence on Afghanistan; now has influence in Gaza; in Lebanon it has good standing. In Gaza the Iranian influence increased because the West refused to accept the outcome of democratic elections three years ago when Hamas won. And we tried very much, UN tried to find some way to accept this outcome because it was a free and fair election. But the US and the European Union at that time said this was democratic but they would not recognize the government. That’s why we found Palestinians now in a split mode. So my answer would be: don’t rely on force alone; more emphasis on economic and social development, and this is also a part of the Obama strategy; involve neighbours to provide the setting for all ethnic groups in Afghanistan to feel engaged in building of their own country; respect the traditions, and the traditions are that Afghanistan never was a highly centralized state. And that’s I believe how consensus is emerging now. And hopefully this would be implemented.

Monetary system reform

What we mean under the reform of the international the monetary system, the answer if very simple. You take the final document of the London summit and translate it into further details and implement it. Why the current system is not satisfactory? Well I think the answer is obvious: because we don’t want to experience this type of crisis next time. Whether ruble is meant by us when we speak about regional reserve currency? The answer is yes. And I leave it to you to make comparisons between the Canadian dollars and the Yuan. There are various ways of promoting innovative schemes. For example, a small country like Belarus and big country like China agreed to swap their currencies at a certain amount to serve as bilateral trade. This in itself is a stabilizator. The Turks proposed to us to do the same between their currency and the ruble. And of course in the context of creating a customs union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, in the context of relationship between Russia and Belarus, we not only speak more and more about using our currencies and using ruble as a reserve currencies but we promote practical steps in this direction.

So I think without stronger regional pillars of international monetary system which would still be, you know, headed by the IMF and the World Bank, it would not be very easy to avoid similar crisis in the future. And the experience of Euro for example, the growing growl of Yuan, Yen, and you know, projects being discussed in the context of Asian courtiers and South-East Asia of developing a common exchange currency. The projects of similar nature are in very practical terms considered in Latin America and in the Persian Gulf by the way. So it’s the trend which must be embraced, and used not to just oppose IMF vis-à-vis everyone else but to harmonize the role of the IMF and inevitable prospects of multipolarity in the financial and economic area.

Nagorno-Karabakh status

If the two Presidents agreed of course it’s going to bring peace and stability to the region. And Kouchner has been working very hard. This is the conflict on which there are no geopolitical games. US, Russia, Europe in the person of France through Kouchner, they all work in unison. And actually, the basic principles of the settlement have been transmitted to Armenia and Azerbaijan in the fall of 2007. And they met in Madrid, and those basic principles remained on the table. They have been accepted by both countries with certain caveats related to 3 or 4 issues which are still to be finally agreed. And the purpose of the current stage in negotiating process is to close the positions on these issues. I haven’t obviously seen the report as to what specifically was achieved by way of progress. But I hope that this momentum which has been reached after the meeting last November in Moscow, now in Prague. And both Armenian and Azerbaijan Presidents accepted the invitation to come to St. Petersburg economic forum in the margins of which they would have an opportunity to have another meeting if they so wish. I believe this momentum is encouraging and we keep our fingers crossed, of course, but it’s a quiet process. It’s not possible to discuss details of the two Presidents discuss. But we are generally optimistic about the possibility of progress and achieving an agreement soon.

Security for Europe

I alluded to it in my initial remarks. The problem is that we have a lot of principles endorsed in the context of all European cooperation under OSCE, under Russia-NATO council and other formats. And these principles do not ensure security in this region. They could not prevent the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 including the bombing of media outlets, TV stations, even hitting an embassy in the process. These principles and mechanisms existing in security area in Europe could not prevent what happened last August in the Caucasus in spite of the fact that we have been repeatedly calling a couple of years before that crisis, calling for a non-use of force document to be signed. We were given cold shoulder and only told by our American colleagues that Saakashvili would never use force; if he uses force he could forget about NATO. That was the phrase which, well let’s be transparent, which Doctor Rice used in the conversation with me. Then, when it happened I reminded her about this and said, Condy, now he did use force, what about him forgetting about NATO? There was no answer.

So, the current system is based on collective security principle inside NATO. The Organization of Collective Security Treaty is also an organization based legally on the principle of collective security. And there is no other legally binding organization which would be of the universal nature as far as the Euro-Atlantic region is concerned. And the key principle which we want to become really universal is the principle of the indivisibility of security. Russia-NATO Council founding documents say that no country should ensure its security at the expense of security of others. And when we speak about applying this principle, for example, to NATO expansion in spite of all the commitments not to do so at the end of the Soviet Union when we were withdrawing from Eastern Europe we were promised that NATO would not be expanded. And we have recently declassified those discussions including some of the secretaries, former secretaries of state and presidents who were saying this to us. So when we say that, you know, we feel insecure when you expand NATO and when you put military bases around our borders while we all committed, well, while NATO committed itself not to put any substantial combat forces on the territory of new members. We find a cold shoulder. We are told: no-no, this is not against you. Then we present some arguments that this was the commitment which is being violated; the answer is, it is not against you. Missile defense plans. We presented calculations showing how this would disturb the strategic balance, scientific and practical calculations; the answer is, this is not against you.

So, what President Medvedev suggested is, first of all we are not asking for any new principles to be invented. We want all the existing principles, first of all, the principle of indivisibility of security, to be made legally binding by all Euro-Atlantic states and also all organizations in this Euro-Atlantic space, organizations which have anything to do with security: NATO, European Union, CIS, Collective Security Treaty Organization. And also to agree that we would not have double standards in resolving conflicts; that we would all be basing ourselves when resolving conflicts, on the principles which are very well known. The principles of the UN charter, the principles of OSCE including territorial integrity, including the need to respect the agreements reached between the parties in conflict, including the need for the parties themselves to agree, like what is going on in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh so that no one can impose the solution, but the parties themselves must reach an agreement which would be acceptable to both of them. Humanitarian needs of the conflict areas, this type of things. And also I think this Euro-Atlantic security summit which President Medvedev suggested to convene to agree on avenues of the walk on a new treaty should also address the conventional arms which are really being neglected since the time of NATO refusing to ratify adapted CFE Treaty. So it is not to substitute for anyone but rather to make sure that there is a unified legal space where everyone feels comfortable in the area of hard security in Euro-Atlantic area.

CIS states: influence

There is a competition, there are interests which are legitimate, and we recognize these interests of non-regional countries energy-wise, also from the point of view of transit roads, terrorism, drug threat. So, many countries including Europe, the United States, China, others have their interest in this region. The only thing we want is, if it is the time of no monopoly and fair competition, let this competition be really fair. Let the means of promoting this legitimate interest be also legitimate. Let’s not have some covert contacts telling these countries, you must decide either you are still a colony of Moscow or you want to be with the free world. And these examples are… you know, secrets do not hold these days. Everyone knows everything what’s been told about one or another person or a country. As far as Russian doctrine is concerned, yes, we clearly state that CIS countries are our privileged partners. But the fact of the matter is that Russia for them is also a privileged partner. Why? Because families live on both parts of the border. Because the infrastructure, transportation, social, economic and otherwise is so much common that you really cannot build a wall and forget about your neighbours. Culturally, historically, family wise we lived together for centuries and centuries, and it’s just only natural that they are our privileged partners. And it’s only natural that we are their privileged partners, not to mention new aspects of this partnership being for example migrant labours. By the way, when President Medvedev first mentioned this term, ‘privileged partnership’, the noise which you know immediately was raised surprisingly deeply. For the first time this term, privileged partnership was used some, I think, 35 years ago to describe relations between the Soviet Union and France. No one raised any hell at that time.