Iran – New Member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Iran – New Member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

September 18, 2021

Peter Koenig and PressTV

On 17 September 2021 Iran has become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It is an extraordinary achievement and new beginning for US and wester sanction-badgered Iran. On the occasion PressTV interviewed me on what this great move might bring for Iran. See the transcript below.

PressTV Question:

1.       Iran is finally a member of the SCO. It is said this solidifies a block to stand up to the West and US hegemony: will it be able to do that, and is the era of unilateralism over?

PK Reply:

First, my deepest and heartfelt congratulations for this extraordinary event – Iran the latest member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – SCO.
Bravo!

Yes, this will definitely open new doors, prosperous doors with new relations in the East. SCO with the current membership covers close to 50% of the world population and accounts for about one third of the world’s GDP.

Being a member of this organization, will take a lot of pressure away in terms of western sanctions, western impositions, monetary manipulations via the US dollar as a remedy for payment.
No more.

Iran is now free to deal in her own currency and in Yuan as well as in any currency of the SCO members, because western-type trade currency restrictions do not exist in SCO member countries.

This will drastically reduce the potential for US / western sanctions and will increase on the other hand, Iran’s potential to deal with the East, i.e., especially China and Russia; entering partnership agreements with these and other SCO countries, benefitting from comparative advantages. It may open-up a new socio-economic era for Iran.

Also, in terms of defense strategy – although SCO is not a military defense organization per se, but it offers strategic defense assistance and advice – and as such is a solidifying force for member countries.
SCO also respects countries’ autonomy and sovereignty – and facilitates trade arrangements between member countries.

Having said this, Iran must not lose sight of potentially disrupting internal factors, like the so-called Fifth Columnists – those who will keep pulling towards the west, and they are particularly dangerous as infiltrates in the financial sector, Treasury, Ministry of Finance, Central Bank, and so on. They are everywhere, also in Russia and China. But internal Iranian awareness and caution will help manage the risks and eventually overwhelm it. Russia has gone along way in doing so. And so has China. And so will Iran. I’m confident.

Again, excellent momentum to celebrate. – Congratulations!

——-

2.       Iran will also be part of the different regional bodies in neighborhood regions, including Eurasia, that could spontaneously break the “sanctions wall” and lead to diversified fruitful foreign relations. Does this mean the US sanctions will not be as effective?

PK Reply

Yes, absolutely. Regional bodies and trading arrangements within Eurasia – such as The Eurasian Economic Union – EAEU – has an integrated single market of 180 million people and a GDP of some 5 trillion dollars equivalent and growing. It covers eight countries of which 3 have observer status.

Other than trading with the members of the Eurasian Economic Union, the EAEU also has trading agreements as an entity with other countries, for example with Singapore.

Then there is maybe the most important trade deal in world history, the ten ASEAN countries, plus China, as well as Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand – but not the United States. Thus, no dealings in US dollars, no potential for US sanctions. This Trade Agreement is called The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). It was signed in November 2020 on the occasion of the annual summit of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

RCEP countries have a combined GDP of US$ 26.2 trillion or about 30% of global GDP, and they account for nearly 28% of global trade (based on 2019 figures). Total population of RCEP countries is 2.3 billion, roughly 30% of the world’s inhabitants.

Negotiation of this trade deal took 8 years. The longest ever. And it will of course, take time to reach the full potential of integrating the sovereign countries economies. In contrast to the European Union, RCEP will to the utmost possible preserve each country’s sovereignty. This is important in the long-run, especially for conservation of national cultures, ideologies and national development strategies.

There maybe a good chance for Iran to negotiate early entry into the RCEP Agreement. It will definitely be a blow to US sanctions – and on the other hand a tremendous opportunity for diversification of markets, production and consumption.

Again, congratulations. Being a member of the SCO is an extraordinary achievement. As, I always say – the future is in the East.

Best of luck to Iran, with new partners and new friends.

—–
Peter Koenig is a geopolitical analyst and a former Senior Economist at the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), where he has worked for over 30 years on water and environment around the world. He lectures at universities in the US, Europe and South America. He writes regularly for online journals and is the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed; and  co-author of Cynthia McKinney’s book “When China Sneezes: From the Coronavirus Lockdown to the Global Politico-Economic Crisis” (Clarity Press – November 1, 2020)

Peter Koenig is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He is also is a non-resident Sr. Fellow of the Chongyang Institute of Renmin University, Beijing.

FM Sergey Lavrov answers media questions following a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State, Minsk

September 11, 2021

FM Sergey Lavrov answers media questions following a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State, Minsk

September 11, 2021

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions following a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State, Minsk, September 10, 2021

Question: We pursue a common foreign policy. We seem to be already looking in the same direction. How much further do we need to go in this regard?

Sergey Lavrov: I think our prospects for further coordination of our foreign policies are good. Yesterday’s presidential meeting in Moscow and their principled agreement on union programmes and key spheres of activity was formalised today at a meeting of the Union Council of Ministers. The prime ministers signed the corresponding document. It will get finally approved at a meeting of the Supreme State Council, which the presidents plan to hold soon, most likely in October. This is critical for our joint actions if we want to pursue a coordinated foreign policy. We cooperate closely on almost all, without exception, items of the international agenda, be it at the UN, the OSCE or other organisations, including the CSTO, the EAEU and the CIS. We will thus have an additional foundation going forward.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the economy drives effective policy on the international arena. The stronger the economies of Belarus, Russia and the Union State, the more confident our actions on the international arena will be.

We have agreed with Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei to hold a joint collegium, which is a regular annual event, in November. In 2021, it will take place in Moscow. The first item on the agenda will include the goals arising from our foreign policy coordination stemming from the agreements on forming union programmes as part of the main guidelines for the implementation of the Union Treaty over the next three years.

Very shortly, we will come up with additional items for the agenda to be discussed during a meeting of our Foreign Ministry and the Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s collegium in the context of our actions at the UN and in promoting common approaches to disarmament and arms control.

We have ambitious plans, and we will put even more confidence in implementing them and will build on today’s developments and what will take place at the Supreme State Council as well.

Question: Both Russia and Belarus often say that sanctions are not an option for us. Is there a common counter-sanction policy?

Sergey Lavrov: Everything that has been done today on behalf of the presidents is the best response to the sanctions policy. Assuming that someone will just give up and give us a break is an exercise in futility. We are well aware of unreliability of our Western partners and their ability to grab the sanctions bludgeon at any given moment and for any reason. We should rely on ourselves, which is exactly what we will do following today’s meeting. However, we will leave the door open to anyone who is willing to cooperate based on equality and a balance of interests and is not striving to obtain unilateral advantages.

Iran embraces its Eurasian future

Iran embraces its Eurasian future

by Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi was sworn in as the 8th president of Iran this Thursday at the Majlis (Parliament), two days after being formally endorsed by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei.

Representatives of the UN secretary-general; OPEC; the EU; the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU); the Inter-Islamic Union; and quite a few heads of state and Foreign Ministers were at the Majlis, including Iraq President Barham Salih and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The Islamic Republic of Iran now enters a new era in more ways than one. Khamenei himself outlined its contours in a short, sharp speech‘The Experience of Trusting the US’.

Khamenei’s strategic analysis, conveyed even before the final result of the JCPOA negotiations in Vienna in 2015, which I covered in my Asia Times ebook Persian Miniatures , turned out to be premonitory: “During the negotiations I repeatedly said they don’t uphold their promises.” So, in the end, “the experience tells us this is a deadly poison for us.” During the Rouhani administration, Khamenei adds, “it became clear that trusting the West doesn’t work”.

With perfect timing, a new, six-volume book, Sealed Secret, co-written by outgoing Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and two top JCPOA negotiators, Ali Akbar Salehi and Seyed Abbas Araghchi (who’s still involved in the current, stalled Vienna debate) will be published this week, for the moment only in Farsi.

Professor Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran summed up for me the road map ahead: “Iran’s foreign policy decisions are pretty clear. Iran will be putting less emphasis on Western nations, especially European, and more emphasis on the Global South, the East, neighboring countries, and of course that will include China and Russia. That doesn’t mean the Iranians are going to ignore Europe altogether, if they decide to return to the JCPOA. The Iranians would accept if they abide by their obligations. So far, we have seen no sign of that whatsoever.”

Marandi could not help referring to Khamenei’s speech: “It’s pretty clear; he’s saying, ‘we don’t trust the West, these last 8 years showed that’, he’s saying the next administration should learn from the experience of these 8 years.”

Yet the main challenge for Raisi will not be foreign policy, but the domestic framework, with sanctions still biting hard: “With regard to economic policy, it will be tilting more towards social justice and turning away from neoliberalism, expanding the safety net for the disenfranchised and the vulnerable.”

It’s quite intriguing to compare Marandi with the views of a seasoned Iranian diplomat who prefers to remain anonymous, and very well positioned as an observer of the domestic conflict:

“During Rouhani’s 8 years, contrary to the Supreme Leader’s advice, the government spent lots of time on negotiations, and they have not been investing on internal potential. Anyhow the 8 years are now finished, and contrary to Rouhani’s promises we currently have Iran’s worst economic and financial record in 50 years.”

The diplomat is adamant on “the importance of paying attention to our internal capacities and abilities, while having powerful economic relations with our neighbors as well as Russia, China, Latin America, South Africa as well as maintaining mutual respectable ties with Europeans and the US government, if it changes its behavior and accepts Iran as it is and not always trying to overthrow the Iranian state and harm its people by any possible means.”

Iranians are heirs to a tradition of at least 2,500 years of fine diplomacy. So once again our interlocutor had to stress, “the Supreme Leader has never, ever said or believed we should cut our relations with Europeans. Quite the opposite: he deeply believes in the notion of ‘dynamic diplomacy’, even concerning the US; he said multiple times we have no problem with the US if they deal with us with respect.”

And now, let’s time travel

There are no illusions in Tehran that Iran under Raisi, much more than under Rouhani, will remain the target of multiple “maximum pressure” and/or Hybrid War tactics deployed by Washington, Tel Aviv and NATOstan, crude false flags included, with the whole combo celebrated by US Think Tankland’s analyses penned by “experts” in Beltway cubicles.

All that is irrelevant in terms of what really matters ahead in the Southwest Asia chessboard.

The late, great René Grousset, in his 1951 classic L’Empire des Steppes, has pointed out “how Iran, renewing itself for fifty centuries”, has “always given proof of astonishing continuity.” It was because of this strength that Iranian civilization, as much as Chinese civilization, has assimilated all foreigners that conquered is soil, from Seljuks to Mongols: “Every time, because of the radiance of its culture, Iranism reappeared with renewed vitality, on the road to a new renaissance.”

The possibility of a “new renaissance”, now, implies a step beyond the “neither East or West” first conceptualized by Ayatollah Khomeini: it’s rather a back to the (Eurasian) roots, Iran reviving its past to tackle the new, multipolar, future.

The political heart of Iran lies in the sophisticated urban organization of the northern plateau, the result of a rolling, pluri-millennial process. All along Grousset’s “fifty centuries”, the plateau has been the house of Iranian culture and the stable heart of the state.

Around this central space there are plenty of territories historically and linguistically linked to Persia and Iran: in Eastern Anatolia, in Central Asia and Afghanistan, in the Caucasus, in Western Pakistan. Then there are Shi’ite territories of other ethnic groups, mostly Arab, in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hezbollah), Yemen (the Zaidites) and the Persian Gulf (Bahrain, the Shi’ites in Hasa in Saudi Arabia).

This is the Shi’ite arc – evolving in a complex Iranization process that is foremost political and religious, and not cultural and linguistic. Outside of Iran, I have seen in my travels how Arab Shi’ites in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gulf, Dari/Farsi Shi’ites in Afghanistan, those of Pakistan and India, and Turcophone Shi’ites in Azerbaijan look up towards political Iran.

So Iran’s large zone of influence relies mostly on Shi’ism, and not on Islamic radicalism or the Persian language. It’s Shi’ism that allows political power in Iran to keep a Eurasian dimension – from Lebanon to Afghanistan and Central Asia – and that reflects once again Grousset’s “continuity” when he refers to Persian/Iranian history.

From Ancient History to the medieval era, it was always out of imperial projects, born in Southwest Asia and /or the Mediterranean basin, that came the drive to attempt the creation of a Eurasian territory.

The Persians, who were halfway between Mediterranean Europe and Central Asia, were the first who tried to build a Eurasian empire from Asia to the Mediterranean, but they were halted in their expansion towards Europe by the Greeks in the 5th century B.C.

Then it was up to Alexander The Great, in pure badass blitzkrieg mode, to venture all the way to Central Asia and India, de facto founding the first Eurasian empire. Which happened to materialize, to a large extent, the Persian empire.

Then something even more extraordinary happened: the simultaneous presence of the Parthian and Kushan empires between the Roman Empire and the Han Empire during the first two centuries of the first millennium.

It was this interaction that first allowed commercial and cultural trade and connectivity between the two extremities of Eurasia, between the Romans and the Han Chinese.

Yet the largest Eurasian territorial space, founded between the 7th and 10th centuries, following the Arab conquests, were the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. Islam was at the heart of these Arab conquests, remixing previous imperial compositions, from Mesopotamia to the Persians, Greeks and Romans.

Historically, that was the first truly Eurasian economic, cultural and political arc, from the 8th to the 11th century, before Genghis Khan monopolized The Big Picture.

All that is very much alive in the collective unconscious of Iranians and Chinese. That’s why the China-Iran strategic partnership deal is much more than a mere $400 billion economic arrangement. It’s a graphic manifestation of what the revival of the Silk Roads is aiming at. And it looks like Khamenei had already seen which way the (desert) wind was blowing years before the fact.

Crucial interview of Foreign Minister Lavrov (MUST READ!)

Crucial interview of Foreign Minister Lavrov (MUST READ!)

Source

April 02, 2021

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview given to Channel One’s Bolshaya Igra (Great Game) talk show, Moscow, April 1, 2021

Vyacheslav Nikonov: The word “war” has been heard increasingly more often lately. US and NATO politicians, even more so the Ukrainian military, have no trouble saying it. Do you have more reasons to be concerned now than ever before?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes and no. On the one hand, the confrontation has hit bottom. On the other, deep down, there’s still hope that we are adults and understand the risks associated with escalating tensions further. However, our Western colleagues introduced the word “war” into the diplomatic and international usage. “The hybrid war unleashed by Russia” is a very popular description of what the West perceives as the main event in international life. I still believe that good judgment will prevail.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: Recently, the United States has ratcheted the degree of confrontation up to never-before-seen proportions. President Joe Biden said President Vladimir Putin is a “killer.” We have recalled Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov.

Sergey Lavrov: He was invited for consultations.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: Hence, the question: How do we go about our relations now? How long will this pause last? When will Mr Antonov return to Washington?

Sergey Lavrov: What we heard President Biden say in his interview with ABC is outrageous and unprecedented. However, one should always see the real actions behind the rhetoric, and they began long before this interview back during the Barack Obama administration. They continued under the Trump administration, despite the fact that the 45th US President publicly spoke in favour of maintaining good relations with Russia, with which he was willing to “get along,” but was not allowed to do so. I’m talking about the consistent degradation of the deterrent infrastructure in the military-political and strategic spheres.

The ABM Treaty has long since been dropped. President Putin has more than once mentioned how, in response to his remark that George W. Bush was making a mistake and there was no need to aggravate relations, the then US President said that it was not directed against Russia. Allegedly, we can take any steps that we deem necessary in response to the US withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. Allegedly, the Americans will not take these actions as directed against them, either. But then they started establishing anti-missile systems in Europe which is the third missile defence position area. It was announced that it was built exclusively with Iran in mind. Our attempts to agree on a transparency format received support during the visit to Moscow by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, but were later rejected. We now have a missile defence area in Europe. Nobody is saying that this is against Iran now. This is clearly being positioned as a global project designed to contain Russia and China. The same processes are underway in the Asia-Pacific region. No one is trying to pretend that this is being done against North Korea.

This is a global system designed to back US claims to absolute dominance, including in the military-strategic and nuclear spheres.

Dimitri Simes can also share his assessment of what is said and written in the United States on that account. A steadfast course has now been taken towards deploying intermediate and shorter-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.

The INF Treaty was discarded by the Americans on far-fetched pretexts. This was not our choice. In his special messages, President Vladimir Putin suggested agreeing, on a voluntary basis and even in the absence of the INF Treaty, on a mutual moratorium with corresponding verification measures in the Kaliningrad Region, where the Americans suspected our Iskander missiles of violating restrictions imposed by the now defunct treaty, and at US bases in Poland and Romania, where the MK-41 units are promoted by the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, as dual-purpose equipment.

To reiterate, this rhetoric is outrageous and unacceptable. However, President Putin has reacted to it diplomatically and politely. Unfortunately, there was no response to our offer to talk live and to dot the dottable letters in the Russian and English alphabets. All of that has long since gone hand-in-hand with a material build-up in the confrontational infrastructure, which also includes the reckless eastward advance of NATO military facilities, the transformation of a rotational presence into a permanent presence on our borders, in the Baltic States, in Norway, and Poland. So everything is much more serious than mere rhetoric.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: When will Ambassador Antonov return to Washington?

Sergey Lavrov: It’s up to President Putin to decide. Ambassador Antonov is currently holding consultations at the Foreign Ministry. He has met with the members of the committees on international affairs at the State Duma and the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly. He has had conversations at the Presidential Executive Office as well.

It is important for us to analyse the current state of our relations, which did not get to this point overnight, and are not just because of this interview, but have been going this way for years now. The fact that inappropriate language was used during President Biden’s interview with ABC shows the urgency of conducting a comprehensive analysis. This does not mean that we have just been observers and have not drawn any conclusions over the past years. But now the time has come for generalisations.

Dimitri Simes: Now that I am in Moscow, after a year in Washington, I see a striking contrast between statements by the leaders of the two countries. I think you will agree that when officials in Washington talk about relations with Russia, their pattern is simple and understandable: “Russia is an opponent.” Sometimes, Congressmen are more abrupt and call it “an enemy.” However, political leaders from the administration still call it “an opponent.” They allow cooperation with Russia on some issues that are important to the US, but generally it is emphasised that militarily Russia is “the number one opponent,” while politically it is not just a country with objectionable views but a state that “tries to spread authoritarian regimes throughout the world,” that “opposes democracy” and “undermines the foundations of the US as such.”

When I listen to you and President of Russia Vladimir Putin, I have the impression that in Moscow the picture is more complicated and has more nuances. Do you think the US is Russia’s opponent today?

Sergey Lavrov: I will not go into analysing the lexicon of “opponent,” “enemy,” “competitor” or “rival.” All these words are juggled in both official and unofficial statements. I read the other day that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that for all the differences with Russia and China, the US does not have anything against these countries. As for what the US is doing, it is simply “promoting democracy” and “upholding human rights.” I don’t know how seriously one can take this description of US policy towards Moscow and Beijing. However, if they are promoting democracy, practice must justify theory.

George W. Bush announced that democracy was established in Iraq in May 2003. Aboard an aircraft carrier, he declared that Iraq’s liberation from its totalitarian regime was completed and democracy was established in the country. There is no point in elaborating. It is enough to mention the toll of the US-unleashed war – hundreds of thousands of people. We should also remember that the “rule” of the notorious Paul Bremer resulted in the birth of ISIS, which was rapidly joined by members of the Baath Party, employees of Saddam Hussein’s secret services, who had lost their jobs. They simply needed to provide for their families. ISIS emerged not because of ideological differences. Relying on US mistakes, the radicals actively used this fact. This is what democracy in Iraq is all about.

“Democracy” in Libya was established by bombs, strikes and the murder of Muammar Gaddafi which was accompanied by Hillary Clinton’s cry of admiration. This is the result: Libya is a black hole; refugee flows bound for the north are creating problems for the EU that does not know what to do about them; illegal arms and terrorists are being smuggled through Libya to the south, bringing suffering to the Sahara-Sahel Region.

I do not wish to describe what the Americans feel towards the Russian Federation. If their statements about us being their “opponent,” “enemy,” “rival” or “competitor” are based on the desire to accuse us of the consequences of their reckless policy, we can hardly have a serious conversation with them.

Dmitri Simes: When officials in Washington, the Joseph Biden administration or Congress, call Russia an opponent and emphasise this, I think they would not agree that it is simply rhetoric. Nor would they agree that it is designed solely for domestic consumption. The Biden administration is saying that the US did not have a consistent policy towards Russia and that former US President Donald Trump let Russia “do everything the Russian Government of Vladimir Putin wanted.” Now a new sheriff has come in and is willing to talk in a way he sees fit without paying much attention to how Moscow will interpret it; and if Moscow doesn’t like it, this is good. This is being done not to evoke discontent, of course, but to show that Russia is finally realising that it cannot behave like this anymore. Is there any chance that this new Biden administration policy will compel Russia to show some new flexibility?

Sergey Lavrov: The policy you mentioned, which is promoted in the forms we are now seeing, has no chance to succeed. This is nothing new: Joseph Biden has come in, started using sanctions against Russia, toughening rhetoric and in general exerting pressure all along the line. This has been going on for many years. The sanctions started with the Barack Obama administration and, historically, even earlier. Like many other restrictions, they have simply become hypertrophied and ideology-based starting in 2013, before the events in Ukraine.

Dimitri Simes: They will tell you, and you know this better than I do, that this policy has not been pursued sufficiently consistently, that it was not energetic enough, and that now they and their NATO allies will get down to dealing with Russia seriously so as to show us that we must change our behaviour fundamentally not just when it comes to foreign policy but also our domestic policy.

Sergey Lavrov: Dimitri, you are an experienced person, you know the United States better than Vyacheslav Nikonov or I do. What else can they do to us? Which of the analysts has decided to prove the practicability of any further pressure on Russia? How well do they know history? This question is for you.

Dimitri Simes: Mr Minister, you probably know that I am not a fervent supporter of the policy of the Biden administration.

Sergey Lavrov: I am asking you as an observer and an independent expert.

Dimitri Simes: In my opinion, the Biden administration still has a sufficient set of tools it can apply against Russia, including new sanctions, the promotion of NATO infrastructure in Europe, a more “harmonised” pressure on Russia together with its allies, the advance of the US policy not closer to the traditional Old Europe (I am referring to Britain and especially to France and Germany) but to Poland, and lastly, the supply of lethal weapons to Ukraine. It is now believed in Washington that it is very important to show Russia that its current policy in Ukraine has no future and that unless Russia changes its behaviour it “will pay a price.”

Sergey Lavrov: My views on the current developments range from an exercise in absurdity to a dangerous play with matches. You may know that it has become trendy to use examples from ordinary life to describe current developments. All of us played outdoors when we were children. Kids of different ages and with different kinds of family upbringing played in the same places. In fact, we all lived as one big family then. There were two or three bad boys on every street; they humiliated other kids, disciplined them, forced them to clean their boots and took their money, the few kopecks our mothers gave us to buy a pie or breakfast at school. Two, three or four years later, these small kids grew up and could fight back. We don’t even have to grow up. We do not want confrontation.

President Putin has said more than once, including after President Biden’s infamous interview with ABC that we are ready to work with the United States in the interests of our people and the interests of international security. If the United States is willing to endanger the interests of global stability and global – and so far peaceful – coexistence, I don’t think it will find many allies for this endeavour. It is true that the EU has quickly towed the line and pledged allegiance. I regard the statements made during the virtual EU summit with Joe Biden as unprecedented. I don’t remember ever hearing such oaths of allegiance before. The things they said publicly revealed their absolute ignorance of the history of the creation of the UN and many other events. I am sure that serious politicians – there are still some left in the United States – can see not just futility but also the absurdity of this policy. As far as I know, the other day 27 political organisations in the United States publicly urged the Biden administration to change the rhetoric and the essence of the US approach to relations with Russia.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: This is unlikely to happen. I believe that your example with “tough guys” on every street is too mild. The United States has gone beyond the pale, let alone the street ethics, which have always been respected. We can see this happening in Ukraine. President Biden is one of those who created modern Ukraine, the Ukrainian policy and the war in Donbass. As I see it, he takes the situation very personally, and he will try to keep it in its current tense state. How dangerous is the situation in Ukraine in light of the ongoing US arms deliveries, the decisions adopted in the Verkhovna Rada on Tuesday, and the statements made by the Ukrainian military, who are openly speaking about a war?  Where do we stand on the Ukrainian front?

Sergey Lavrov: There is much speculation about the documents that the Rada passed and that President Zelensky signed. To what extent does this reflect real politics? Is it consistent with the objective of resolving President Zelensky’s domestic problem of declining ratings? I’m not sure what this is: a bluff or concrete plans. According to the information published in the media, the military, for the most part, is aware of the damage that any action to unleash a hot conflict might bring.

I very much hope this will not be fomented by the politicians, who, in turn, will be fomented by the US-led West. Once again, we see the truth as stated by many analysts and political scientists, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, being reaffirmed. They look at Ukraine from a geopolitical perspective: as a country that is close to Russia, Ukraine makes Russia a great state; without Ukraine, Russia does not have global significance. I leave this on the conscience of those who profess these ideas, their fairness and ability to appreciate modern Russia. Like President Vladimir Putin said not long ago; but these words are still relevant, – those who try to unleash a new war in Donbass will destroy Ukraine.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: The US and Western diplomacy have definitely accomplished one thing: they put Russia and China in one boat. Indeed, we have already become strategic partners in deeds not just in words. You have just come back from China. You go there more often than once a year, for sure. During this trip, was there anything new that you sensed from Chinese leadership, which has recently come under unprecedented and rude attacks from the Americans? How strong are the bonds that are being established between Russia and China? How high is the bar that we can or have already reached in our relationship?

Sergey Lavrov: Like Russians, the Chinese are a proud nation. They may be more patient historically. The Chinese nation’s national and genetic code is all about being focused on a historical future. They are never limited to 4 or 5- year electoral cycles. They look further: “a big journey begins with a small step” and many other maxims coined by Chinese leaders go to show that they appreciate a goal that is not just on the horizon, but beyond the horizon. This also applies to reunifying Chinese lands – incrementally and without haste, but purposefully and persistently. Those who are talking with China and Russia without due respect or look down on us, or insult us are worthless politicians and strategists. If they do this to show how tough they are for the next parliamentary election in a couple of years, so be it.

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” A big debate is underway about which one is more effective. The coronavirus infection has taken the debate up a notch. To what extent the Western democracies have shown themselves capable of opposing this absolute evil and to what extent countries with a centralised, strong and “authoritarian” government have been successful. History will be the judge. We should wait to see the results.

We want to cooperate; we have never accused anyone of anything, or mounted a media campaign against anyone, even though we are being accused of doing this. As soon as President Putin announced the creation of a vaccine, he proposed establishing international cooperation. You do remember what was being said about Sputnik V. At first, they said that it was not true, and then that this was propaganda and the only purpose was to promote Russia’s political interests in the world. We can see the ripple effect of this. On March 30, Vladimir Putin held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. We sensed a more realistic commitment to cooperate rather than try to engage in “vaccine discrimination” or “vaccine propaganda.”

Getting back to the heart of the matter, by and large, no one should be rude to other people. But what we see instead is a dialogue with a condescending tone towards great civilisations like Russia and China. We are being told what to do. If we want to say something, we are asked to “leave them alone.” This was the case in Anchorage when the discussion came to human rights. Antony Blinken said that there were many violations in the United States, but the undercurrent was clear – they would sort it out themselves and are already doing so. However, in Xinjiang Uygur, Hong Kong and Tibet, to name a few, things should be approached differently. It’s not just about a lack of diplomatic skills. It runs much deeper. In China, I sensed that this patient nation, which always upholds its interests and shows a willingness to find a compromise, was put in a stalemate. The other day, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson made a relevant comment. I don’t remember that ever happening before.

With regard to whether we are being pushed into the arms of China or China is being pushed into our arms, everyone remembers Henry Kissinger’s words that the United States should have relations with China which are better than relations between China and Russia, and vice versa. He saw this historical process and knew which way it could go. Many are writing now that the United States is committing a huge strategic mistake making efforts against Russia and China at a time, thereby catalysing our rapprochement. Moscow and Beijing are not allying against anyone. During my visit to China, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and I adopted a Joint Statement on Certain Issues of Global Governance in Modern Conditions, where we emphasised the unacceptability of violating international law or substituting it by some secretly drafted rules, of interference in other countries’ internal affairs and, overall, everything that contradicts the UN Charter. There are no threats there. The documents signed by the leaders of Russia and China always emphasise the fact that bilateral strategic interaction and multifaceted partnership are not directed against anyone, but focus exclusively on the interests of our peoples and countries. They build on a clear-cut and objective foundation of overlapping interests. We look for a balance of interests, and there are many areas where it has been achieved and is being used for the benefit of all of us.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: Have you noticed any change in China’s position? It is clear that Beijing is in a very tight situation. How far is China willing to go in its confrontation with the United States? It is obvious that they are now responding harshly. Sanctions are being introduced against Beijing, so it responds with tough counter-sanctions, and not only against the United States, but also against its allies, who are also joining the sanctions. Europe has joined this confrontation. Are we prepared to synchronise our policies with China, for example, our counter-sanctions, as we did with Belarus? Do we have a common strategy to counter the increasing pressure from the so-called alliance of democracies?

Sergey Lavrov: There is a general strategy, and I just mentioned it. Along with the Statement signed during my visit to China, a comprehensive Leaders’ Statement was adopted last year. Now we are preparing the next document, which will be signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Treaty on Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation. Our strategic treaty will be renewed.

These documents spell out our line of conduct. We are not planning, and will not plan, any schemes to retaliate for what they are doing to us. I do not think that we will synchronise our responses to any new sanction acts against China and Russia.

Our level of cooperation continues to grow qualitatively.

You mentioned military alliances. There is popular speculation out there that Russia and China might conclude a military alliance. First, one of the documents signed at the highest level underscored that our relations are not a military alliance, and we are not pursuing this goal. We regard NATO as an example of a military alliance in the traditional sense, and we know that we do not need such an alliance. NATO clearly breathed a sigh of relief after the Biden administration replaced Donald Trump. Everyone was happy to again have someone to tell them what to do. Emmanuel Macron still occasionally tries to vainly mention the EU’s strategic autonomy initiative, but no one else in Europe even wants to discuss it. It’s over, the boss is here.

That kind of alliance is a Cold War alliance. I would prefer thinking in terms of the modern era where multi-polarity is growing. In this sense, our relationship with China is completely different from that of a traditional military alliance. Maybe in a certain sense, it is an even closer bond.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: The “alliance of democracies” will be created. This is obvious although fewer people in Russia still believe that it’s about democracy. In its election, its attitude towards freedom of the media and opportunities to express opposing views, the US has made it very clear that it has big problems with democracy. Europe also gives examples that compel us to doubt its efforts to promote a strong democratic project. After all, it still holds a position as a player under a big boss.

Vladimir Putin had a conversation with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel via videoconference on March 30 of this year. Without Vladimir Zelensky, by the way. This is the Normandy format minus Ukraine, which resulted in a bitter response from Kiev.

They discussed a broad range of issues. Meanwhile, you have said more than once that our relations with the EU are frozen or absent altogether. Do you mean that we stay in contact or that contact is possible with individual EU members but not with the EU as a whole?

Sergey Lavrov: This is exactly the case, and this was also mentioned during the March 30 talks, and during Vladimir Putin’s conversation with President of the European Council Charles Michel. We are surprised that this assessment offends the EU. This is simply an objective fact.

It took years to develop relations between Moscow and the EU. By the time the state coup in Ukraine took place these relations included: summits twice a year; annual meetings of all members of the Russian Government with all members of the European Commission; about 17 sectoral dialogues on different issues, from energy to human rights; and four common spaces based on Russia-EU summit resolutions, each of which had its own roadmap.

We were holding talks on visa-free travel. It is indicative that the EU broke them off back in 2013, long before the crisis in Ukraine. As some of our colleagues told us, when it came to a decision on signing the proposed agreement, the aggressive Russophobic minority adamantly opposed it: Russia cannot receive visa-free travel status with the EU before Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova do. This is the entire background. What the EU did after that, braking all channels of systematic dialogue was a burst of emotion. They took it out on us because the putschists insulted the West by throwing out the document signed by Yanukovich and the opposition the day before, this despite the fact that Germany, France and Poland had endorsed this document. The first actions of the new authorities were to remove the Russian language from daily life and to expel Russians from Crimea. When Russian-speakers and Russians in Ukraine opposed this and asked to be left alone, a so-called “anti-terrorist operation” was launched against them.

In effect, the EU imposed sanctions on us and broke off all communication channels because we raised our voice in defence of Russian citizens and ethnic Russians in Ukraine, Donbass and Crimea. We try to discuss issues with them when they start making claims against us. They probably understand this; I hope they are still seasoned politicians. But if they understand this but don’t want to consider it in their practical policy, it means that they are being charged with Russophobia or cannot do anything about the aggressive Russophobic minority in the EU.

Dimitri Simes: I believe when we talk about the EU, it’s important to look at what the EU is and to what extent it has changed compared to what it used to be and what it was supposed to be when it was founded. The EU was primarily designed as an organisation for economic cooperation.

No political component was even envisioned at the start. It was about the EU contributing to European economic integration. The possibility was even mentioned of Russia playing some associated role in that process. But then they said the EU should also have some common values. At first, the idea was that those common values were the cement of the EU itself. Then a new idea emerged in Warsaw that it would be nice for those European values ​​(since they are actually universal) to spread to other regions, as well as for Russia to respect them, or even to obey them. When I look at the EU’s approach to Ukraine, the conflict in Donbass and the demands to return Crimea to Kiev, it seems to me that the EU is becoming a missionary organisation. When you deal with crusaders, trying to reckon with them or appealing to their logic and conscience is probably useless. Do you not think that the EU has journeyed to a place where there are limited opportunities for partnership and great potential for confrontation? Or am I being too pessimistic?

Sergey Lavrov: No, I agree with you, absolutely. This is a missionary style – lecturing others while projecting superiority. It is important to see this tendency, as it has repeatedly brought Europe to trouble.

This is actually the case. Established as the Coal and Steel Community, then the European Economic Community – if you look at the EU now, look at their values, they are already attacking their own members like Poland and Hungary, just because these countries have somewhat different cultural and religious traditions. You said it originated in Poland. I actually forget who started this…

Dimitri Simes: I first heard it from Polish delegates at a conference.

Sergey Lavrov: Now Poland itself is facing the consequences of its ideas, only not outside the EU, but within the organisation.

When anyone tries to impose any values on Russia, ​​related, as they believe, to democracy and human rights, we have this very specific response: all universal values ​​are contained in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights that everyone signed. Any values invented now, which they try to impose on us or other countries, are not universal. They have not been agreed upon by the entire international community. Even inside the EU, look at those street protests! A couple of years ago, they had protests in France in defence of the traditional family, the concepts of “mother,” “father,” and “children.” This lies deep. Playing with traditional values ​​is dangerous.

As to the EU once inviting Russia as an associate member, we never agreed to sign an association document. Now the same is being done with regard to the Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia, Ukraine, and Moldova. As for Russia’s relations with the EU, which Brussels destroyed, only one thing remained – the basic document on the terms of trade and investment. It was indeed the subject of negotiation between the Brussels Commission and the Russian Federation. This is a document that remains valid. We cooperate with individual countries, but not with the EU, because those were the terms agreed upon, and their practical implementation is going through bilateral channels. The only thing the EU is doing in this respect now is imposing sanctions and banning its members from fulfilling some parts of this agreement because they want to “punish Russia.” That’s it, there are no other ties.

We are being told that we are deliberately derailing our relations (although the facts are simply outrageous), trying to shift our ties with Europe to bilateral channels, wanting to “split up” the European Union. We don’t want to split anyone up. We always say that we are interested in a strong and independent European Union. But if the EU chooses a non-independent position in the international arena, as we just discussed, this is their right. We cannot do anything about it. We have always supported its independence and unity. But in the current situation, where Brussels broke off all relations, when certain European countries reach out to us (we have not tried to lure anyone) with proposals to talk, to visit any of the sides and discuss some promising projects in bilateral relations, how can we refuse our partners? It is quite unfair (even a shame) to try to present such meetings as part of a strategy to split up the EU. They have enough problems of their own that split them up.

Dimitri Simes: This is a philosophical issue in Russia’s relations with the EU. When the EU has imposed anti-China sanctions, China made a tough response. This was an unpleasant surprise for the EU and caused indignation. Meanwhile, Brussels does not expect such a response from Russia in the firm belief that Russia has no economic levers to oppose the EU. To my knowledge, Russia has not imposed any serious sanctions on the EU.

This is an interesting situation. Russia supplies Europe with 33 percent of its gas. The figures for oil are about the same. I think during all this time Russia has proved convincingly that it won’t use energy for political leverage in Europe. Understandably, Russia has been interested in this, especially when it comes to the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It seems to me that certain people in Europe have forgotten that if Russia does not do something, it doesn’t mean that it cannot do it, or won’t be compelled to do it if the EU’s pressure on Russia crosses a line. Do you think this is possible in theory? Or does Russia completely rule out such actions?

Sergey Lavrov: You are saying (metaphorically) that they either have not read (which is most likely) or have forgotten the epic about Ilya Muromets who slept on the stove while nobody paid attention? This is not a threat. We will never use energy supplies or our oil and gas routes in Europe to this end. This is a position of principle regardless of anything else.

Dimitri Simes: Even of you are disconnected from SWIFT and everything else?

Sergey Lavrov: We will not do that. This is a position of principle for President of Russia Vladimir Putin. We will not create a situation where we force EU citizens “freeze.” We will never do this. We have nothing in common with Kiev that shut down water supplies to Crimea and takes delight in it. This is a disgraceful position in the world arena. Frequently accusing us of using energy as an instrument of influence, as a weapon, the West keeps silence on what Kiev is doing with water supplies to Crimea. I believe the provision of basic needs on which the daily life of common citizens depends, should never be an object of sanctions.

Dimitri Simes: In this case, what do you mean by referring to “the phenomenon” of Ilya Muromets?

Sergey Lavrov: It is possible to respond in different ways. We have always warned that we will be ready to respond. We will respond to any malicious actions against us but not necessarily in a symmetric manner. By the way, speaking about the impact of the sanctions on civilians, look what is taking place in Syria under the Caesar Act. My colleagues in Europe and, incidentally, in the region, whisper that they are horrified by the way this act has eliminated any opportunity to do business with Syria. The goal is clear – to stifle the Syrians to make them revolt and overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

Now a few words about our and China’s responses to the European sanctions. After all, China also avoided suspending economic activity. It simply imposed sanctions on a number of individuals and companies that held certain anti-China positions. We are doing basically the same.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: As we know, Ilya Muromets did not shut down oil and gas supplies. He used other methods that were often symmetrical. I think we also have a solid set of instruments.

Don’t we exaggerate the importance of the EU in the modern world? It has an identity and there are European values. I know this since I have dealt with European MPs and experts for many years.

However, I have the impression that there are two main values: the first one is the euro and the second is LGBT and 60 more letters that describe this notion linked with sexual identity, their presence, absence, or mix.

The EU is undergoing a crisis – Brexit. Britain has left the EU. The economic crisis is very bad. Probably, in Europe it is worse than elsewhere. The economy has dropped by up to 10 percent in many countries. The vaccine-related crisis has shown that Europe cannot counter the virus and adopt a common policy. These problems are emerging at all levels. It cannot draft a common economic policy, migration rules, and so on. Maybe, we are really paying too much attention to Europe? Maybe we can act without looking back at this “falling” structure?

Sergey Lavrov: But where are we paying too much attention to Europe? We have a very simple position that President of Russia Vladimir Putin has set forth many times: we do not feel hurt. As we know, hurt people get the short end of the stick, or as we say in Russia, hurt people are made to carry water, something we are short of in Crimea. We will always be willing to revive our relations, practically to raise them from the ashes, but to do this we must know what the EU is interested in. We will not knock on a locked door. They are well aware of our proposals, just as the Americans know our proposals on strategic stability, cyber security and many other things. We have said to all of them: “Our friends and colleagues, we are ready for this. We understand that you will have some reciprocal ideas but we have not yet heard them. As soon as you are ready, let’s sit down and discuss them, seeking a balance of interests.” Meanwhile, now we are being accused of neglecting policy on the EU, so I don’t think we are courting this alliance or exaggerating its importance. It determines its place in the world itself. We have already talked about this today.

As for European values, we have many ongoing debates. Some people need European price tags more than European values. They want to travel there for shopping, recreation, buy some property and return home. As I said, our common values lie in our history, the mutual influence of our cultures, literature, art and music. They are great.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: As for modern European culture and art, have they really…

Sergey Lavrov: I am referring to our historical roots.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: Because I think today’s Europe is pretty empty in terms of culture.

Sergey Lavrov: There are some funny songs; we can listen to them in the car sometimes.

Dimitri Simes: Speaking of relations with the United States, I would like to ask you a personal question because you lived and worked there for a long time when you were Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Of course, you have also been dealing with the US as the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation. I lived in the US for almost 50 years.

Sergey Lavrov: Why past tense?

Dimitri Simes: I am now in Moscow. When I look at the United States today, I have the impression that it is undergoing a cultural revolution. I think that if many people in the Joseph Biden administration or the Democrats in Congress are told this, they would not feel offended in any way. They will say that a cultural revolution is long overdue, that it is finally necessary to eradicate racism, give equal and not-so-equal prevailing opportunities to sexual orientation minorities because they were also discriminated against and to develop a true democracy that requires that all those who want to vote can vote. In practice, this means that millions of people will have an opportunity to vote without necessarily being US citizens at all. This is why the Democrats emphatically oppose a ban on voting on Sundays. As you know, there was never any voting in the US on Sundays. Sunday is called God’s day. The Democrats wanted Sunday elections so that buses could go to Afro-American churches and take people to the polling stations.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: Why take them by bus? They can vote by mail.

Dimitri Simes: Both options are available.

Sergey Lavrov: Why not put a ballot box right in a church?

Dimitri Simes: Exactly. Do you believe the United States is, in many respects, evolving into a different country and that this is not necessarily an irreversible process, though a momentous one? Also, would you agree that this process is not a purely American internal matter because it goes hand in hand with the emergence of a new revolutionary ideology that requires that American values spread around the world and that these American models should not be resisted as they are now in Russia and China? Can this lead to an existential conflict?

Sergey Lavrov: We will talk about this but, first, let me finish what I was saying about European culture. Here is, in my view, a telling illustration of the state of European culture today. If we talk about revolutions, including a cultural revolution, the Eurovision  contest speaks volumes.  What they are doing now to the Belarusians is repulsive. This is sheer censorship that goes like this: since we – nobody knows who exactly, some anonymous individuals – fancy that we heard some innuendoes in your song, we will not allow you to take part in the contest unless you have another song. But then the same fate befalls another Belarusian song. What does this have in common with art, culture or democracy?

As for a cultural revolution in the United States, I do feel that processes which deserve to be described like this are unfolding there. Everyone probably wants to eradicate racism and, as for us, we have never had any doubt regarding this. We were trailblazers behind the movement to secure equal rights for all people, regardless of the colour of their skin. However, we should beware that we do not slip into another extreme, the one we have observed during the Black Lives Matter events, and into aggression against white people, white US citizens.

The other day we marked an international day designated to increase awareness of this issue and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking at a General Assembly meeting, said that the previous year had been a year of the most serious and numerous manifestations of white supremacy. I have asked to be given the full text of his speech, as I want to understand what specifically he had in mind. If this is about having a sense of a trend you talked about and the willingness to follow this trend, it is lamentable. This is still the United Nations Organisation and not a venue for promoting US concepts, some US trends.

As for why they need this, yes, they want to spread this to the rest of the world. They have a huge potential to achieve this goal. Hollywood has also started to change its rules, so that everything reflects the diversity of contemporary society, which is also a form of censorship, art control and the way of imposing some artificial restrictions and requirements on others. I have seen black actors perform in Shakespeare’s comedies. The only thing I do not know is when a white actor will play Othello. You see, this is nothing less than absurdity. Political correctness reduced to absurdity will lead to no good.

The other tool is social networks and internet platforms, as well as servers located in the United States. The US flatly refuses to discuss ways of either making internet governance more democratic or establishing common rules regulating social networks for the sake of avoiding the recurrence of the situation with TikTok and other social networks we encountered during the recent events in Russia, including the spread of abominable information, like personal abuse, pedophilia and many other things. We have already approached TikTok and other social networks about the need to establish elementary rules of respect and propriety but the Americans are unwilling to make these types of rules universal.

In Anchorage, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken lectured the Chinese on human rights, ethnic minorities and democracy in China. Indeed, Mr Blinken said they [in the US] also had to address certain issues in this field but they would do it on their own. During talks with the Americans – the same goes for the Europeans – as soon as you start offering to discuss ways of democratising international relations or the supremacy of law on an international scale, they invariably get away from the subject. They want to replace international law with their own rules, which have nothing in common with the supremacy of law globally, on a universal scale. I already talked about large-scale rallies in France in defence of traditional family values. It appears that to secure the rights of one group of people, the rights of another group have to be infringed upon. That is, promoting these values around the world is not an end in itself, but rather a tool for ensuring their dominance.

Dimitri Simes: Richard Nixon once told Nikita Khrushchev that there would be no true harmony or true partnership between the Soviet Union and America unless the Soviet Union stops spreading its ideology. And that was a big problem in the Brezhnev era, I must say, because they discussed a détente while at the same time supporting a continued international class struggle. As I see it, Leonid Brezhnev was doing it without much conviction. But now, things have turned the other way around. Now the collective West is eager to proliferate its ideology and values. And they seem to be doing so with far greater conviction and perseverance than the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev ever tried. Does this pose a risk of collision?

Sergey Lavrov: Under Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union saw no threat to its existence. One can argue whether that stance was far-sighted enough, but that is how it was. Today’s West senses a threat to its dominance. It is a fact. So all those wiggling moves, including the invention of some ‘rules’ – as in the rules-based international order, something the West has come up with to replace the UN Charter – they reflect precisely this tendency.

I agree that we have swapped positions, or rather the Soviet Union and the modern West have. I don’t think this will offend anyone since this is not a big secret. I spoke with Rex Tillerson when he was US Secretary of State. He is a thoughtful and experienced politician and diplomat. It was good to work with him. We disagreed on most things, but we always wanted to continue the dialogue to bring our positions just a little bit closer at least. When he first told me they were concerned about Russia’s interference in some elections, I said they had not proved anything to us yet, and all we heard was accusations. When they began to accuse us of interfering in their elections, we repeatedly proposed using the special channel we had for exchanging information about threats to information networks and organisations. They refused. We had repeatedly offered dialogue even before that, when Barack Obama was president, from October 2016 until Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. They always refused.

I pointed out to Tillerson that they had in fact directly stipulated in legislation that the US State Department should spend $20 million a year to support Russian civil society and promote democracy. That was not even a suspicion on our part as they did it openly (for example, the Ukraine Support Act). There was nothing to prove – they just announced that they would interfere. He told me that was totally different. I asked him why, and he said because we promoted authoritarianism, and they spread democracy. That was it.

Dimitri Simes: And he said it with sincere conviction, didn’t he?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: Mr Lavrov, naturally, this policy leads to a drastic polarisation. The polarisation of international relations is a dangerous thing. We remember the early 19th century, and the early 20th century. It always ended in wars. The Americans, losing their global dominance, will create (they have already announced this) a new ‘alliance of democracies.’ I mean create American and pro-American alliances, compelling everyone else to make their choice. This polarisation will increase. What will this mean for the world and for the alliances where Russia is a member? I mean BRICS (which I think they will try to split up), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). How far can this go? How dangerous is it?

Sergey Lavrov: This is a deliberate policy and an extension of the agenda we are talking about – about the United States promoting democracy and spreading benefit. The Americans and Europe are very active (but the Americans are especially active) in Central Asia. They are trying to create their own formats such as C5+1. Russia is also part of a 5+1 format in Central Asia, in addition to the SCO, CIS, EAEU and CSTO – one that involves the foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries and your humble servant. That format is useful. True, the volume of economic ties that the US and the EU are now building with Central Asia is still incomparable with our economic interpenetration, but they are pursuing an unambiguous goal to weaken our ties with our allies and strategic partners in every possible way.

The numerous initiatives around the Afghan reconciliation and around the Indo-Pacific region envision Central Asia’s reorientation from its current vector to the South – to help rebuild Afghanistan and at the same time weaken its ties with the Russian Federation.

I could talk for a long time about the Indo-Pacific region and the Indo-Pacific concept. That multi-layered initiative is aimed at hindering China’s Belt and Road Initiative and limiting the Chinese influence in the region, creating constant irritants for that country. There have been some slips about creating an ‘Asian NATO.’ Although in the US interpretation the Indo-Pacific region is described as ‘free and open,’ the chances that positions will be worked out through an equal or open process there are slim. It is already obvious that it isn’t ‘open’. China has not been invited; rather, that country is declared a target for containment. We have not been invited either, which means the attitude to Russia is similar. I would say those are long-term trends. We are talking about this frankly with our neighbours and closest allies. I am confident that they understand all these threats. None of them even considers the possibility of anyone telling them who to talk or not talk to. It is their sovereign right to choose their partners.

The term ‘multi-vector’ has become semi-abusive, but we are not giving up the multi-vector approach. We are open to cooperation and friendship with everyone who is ready for relations based on equality, mutual respect, compromise and balance of interests. That our Western colleagues are clearly abusing this approach, especially in post-Soviet countries, is an obvious fact.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: Is it possible to avoid the actual military scenario in these circumstances? Isn’t it time to create an alliance of free countries given the role reversal that has taken place in the modern world? An alliance, perhaps, of genuine democracies that will oppose the ongoing all-out attack?

Sergey Lavrov: We will not get involved in this kind of political engineering. Russia is committed to the United Nations. When France and Germany put forward the effective multilateralism concept, we asked them what it meant. There was silence followed by joint articles written by the foreign ministers of France and Germany stating that the European Union is an example of effective multilateralism, and everyone needs to adapt to the European processes. Our question why the readily available and universal UN multilateral platform is not a good option remained unanswered. However, the answer is there, and we mentioned it more than once today. They are making up the rules that the international order is supposed to be based on.

Dimitri Simes: Mr Minister, we have taken up much of your time and we appreciate it. But we cannot let you go without asking you one more personal question. What is it like to be Russia’s Foreign Minister in this rapidly changing world?

You have worked in several completely different eras. When you were Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, it was a period of Russia’s “romantic infatuation” with the United States, though perhaps not quite on the terms that were beneficial for Russia. In the early 21st century, Russia was in search of partnerships. Well, then we got what we are witnessing now. How do you, a person who, in many ways, is the architect of this era, a witness and a participant of this process, find your work in this very complex role?

Sergey Lavrov: To put it short, I never get bored. That is if we are talking about the different eras in my career. We all lived in these eras, and we have seen these transitions. You asked me earlier whether the United States has changed. It has. A lot.

Dimitri Simes: Have you changed?

Sergey Lavrov: Probably. It’s not for me to say. A person perceives the environment as a constantly evolving process. People grow up, get smarter or dumber, but they have no way of seeing it.

Dimitri Simes: Do you think we have all become disappointed in many ways, but we have grown, too, as a result of these experiences, and, of course, in the first place, a person holding such positions as yours?

Sergey Lavrov: This is true, of course. How can this not influence the formation of a person? The personality never stops to evolve. It is something that lasts until the end of our lives. Those revolutionary developments had a strong influence on me. I believe the 9/11 attacks were the turning point in the American life. I was in Manhattan, in New York, at the time, and I felt that odour. I was having a hard time trying to make a phone call, because the phones went dead. Since then, New York has become a different city. This free city, living its own life around the clock and enjoying it, became wary and started looking over its shoulder to see if there was someone around who could hurt it.

This suspicion then spread deeply into American society. There were probably serious reasons for that. I have to commend the US intelligence services, because since then, apart from the Boston Marathon, which we had warned them about, there have been no other terrorist attacks. However, wariness and aloofness can still be felt. Perhaps, there are people who want to take advantage of this in order to do things that you just mentioned. If 11 million Americans become eligible to vote, welcome to the one-party system, Back in the USSR.

Vyacheslav Nikonov: Mr Lavrov, thank you very much for the interview. Now that we are within the historic walls of the Foreign Ministry’s Mansion on Spiridonovka, a place where history and great diplomacy were made, including the diplomacy of the great powers, I would like to wish us all the return of diplomacy. If it comes back, as President Vladimir Putin is conveying to President Joe Biden, in the form of a live-stream dialogue, then The Great Game will be at your service and at the service of the two presidents.

Sergey Lavrov: Thank you. President Biden has already said that diplomacy has returned to US foreign policy. Your dream has come true.

source: https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4662534

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – annual Q&A press conference in Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov – annual Q&A press conference in Moscow

January 18, 2021

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s annual press conference in Moscow, summing up the results of Russian diplomacy and foreign policy during 2020.

Please forward the video to time marker 19:40.  Transcript now being loaded up below as it becomes available:

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

This is our traditional news conference on the foreign policy outcomes of 2020. It is traditional, but remote. We opted for a format that was widely used over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions imposed in almost all countries, including Russia.

Despite the pandemic, our Ministry kept in close contact with you and your colleagues at all levels. I myself had the pleasure of speaking to you following talks, which did take place several times in Moscow, and will continue to do so. I also spoke to you in a video format. My deputies regularly talk with agencies. The Ministry’s official spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, conducts regular weekly briefings and, in between them, interacts with most of you. I am sure you are aware of the facts and information about what Russian foreign policy is currently promoting in the international arena.

The pandemic has dealt a severe blow to all forms of communication, particularly contacts between people in culture, research, sports and tourism. This caused major shifts in public consciousness in many countries. We know this from daily reports coming from European and other countries. In Russia, we are also trying to minimise the inconveniences caused by objective sanitary restrictions on everyday life. However, certain and not too positive changes are still being felt. You are probably following the discussion focusing on Russia’s epidemiological policy, including the Sputnik V vaccine, EpiVacCorona and the third vaccine, which is on its way.

We reiterate what President of Russia Vladimir Putin said in August 2020 when announcing the registration of the world’s first coronavirus vaccine: we are wide open to cooperation in these matters. We had a positive response to the proposals that the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) had made to its foreign partners with regard to organising licensed production. This topic is being discussed with our colleagues in Asia, the Arab East, Africa and Latin America. Not long ago, President Putin and Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel also briefly discussed the prospects for Russian-German and Russian-European cooperation in producing and improving vaccines. I think this is the right path to take based on the desire to consolidate our efforts and the solidarity of humankind. Unfortunately, not everywhere and not always has this quest for solidarity and joint work manifested itself during the pandemic. Some of our Western colleagues, primarily the United States and its closest allies, tried to take advantage of the situation and to ratchet up pressure, blackmail, ultimatums and illegitimate actions while introducing unilateral restrictions and other forms of interference in the internal affairs of many countries, including our closest neighbour Belarus.

The West unanimously ignored the calls by the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to suspend, at least for the duration of the pandemic, unilateral and illegitimate sanctions regarding the supply of medications, food and equipment needed to fight the virus while Russia was ready to back up this approach. President Putin put forward a parallel initiative during the G20 summit to create green corridors in the economy that are free from sanctions and other artificial barriers. Unfortunately, these sensible appeals – both ours and those of the UN leaders – were left hanging in the air.

Last year we observed the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, the birth of the United Nations and the entry into force of its Charter. Against the backdrop of these anniversaries, we are very concerned about the continuous arrogant actions of the United States and most of its Western allies, which are aimed at undermining international security, which is based on the UN, its Charter and its agencies and replacing the traditional norms and standards of international law with a “rules-based international order.”

Some exclusive mechanisms – groups of so-called co-thinkers began to be set up in this context outside the UN and its universal agencies. These narrow groups are trying to impose their decisions on all members of the international community. One of the manifestations of these rules on which the West would like to establish a new international order is the concept of multilateralism, which our German and French colleagues have started promoting in the past two years. The descriptions of this concept in the public statements of the German and French foreign ministers make it very clear that the EU wants to present itself and everything it does as a foreign policy ideal. The EU views the establishment of specific rules as its exclusive right in the belief that all others must follow these standards. Examples are many.

The EU has held special events on cybersecurity, freedom of the media and international humanitarian law outside UN agencies. These events have been attended by several dozen countries. Holding them outside the UN framework is very indicative. It is based on the understanding that in the UN the advocates of this concept will have to meet people with somewhat different views on ensuring cybersecurity, freedom of the media, especially in today’s world, and on how to ensure the equal application of the standards of international humanitarian law. In my opinion, unless I am convinced of the opposite, these are apprehensions of competition and the understanding that in today’s world the West can no longer dictate its own orders to others as it has over the last five centuries. History is moving forward, it is developing. This has nothing to do with ideology. This is just a statement of fact. It is necessary to consider the views of the countries that now have a much greater weight in the world arena (completely incomparable with that of the colonial era) and the countries that want to preserve their civilisational  identity and that do not see in the West the ideals for their societies. Tolerance of diversity is another characteristic that the West is losing very quickly.

There are situations where half a dozen people that have created their own technological empires do not even want to know what rights they have in their own states. They determine their rights themselves proceeding from so-called corporate standards and completely ignore the constitutions of their states. We have seen this clearly in the US and this is a source of deep concern. Much has been said about this recently in television reports and special analytical materials. We are not pleased by the attempts of the Western elites to find external enemies to resolve their internal political problems. They find these enemies in Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. The list of these countries is well known.

We all see the response to the news of Alexey Navalny’s return to the Russian Federation. Carbon-copy comments on this event are coming in one after another. They are full of joy because they allow Western politicians to think that in this way they can divert public attention away from the deepest crisis of the liberal development model.

I am convinced that it is necessary not to seek outside excuses to justify one’s own actions or sidetrack attention from one’s deepest problems and crises. On the contrary, it is essential to play an honest game and look for opportunities to resolve domestic problems via fair and equitable international cooperation. No one can expect to resolve its own problems outside multilateral formats any longer.

Russia strives to act as constructively as possible in the international arena. We are convinced that we must sit down and discuss all existing grievances rather than wrangle with each other. We have always been ready to do so: back when Russia was accused of “interference” in the US elections, in Barcelona, ​​during Brexit, the Skripal case, the Malaysian Boeing, which was shot down over Ukraine in July 2014, and with regard to Alexey Navalny. I can later cite in more detail the arguments that you are well aware of. In every above case and in other cases where we were accused of something specific, we have never been given evidence that would corroborate these unfounded accusations. We’ve only heard “highly likely,” “no one else has these motives” or “only you have such capabilities, so you are guilty, so we don’t need to prove anything.” They just don’t provide the facts, which is what decent people always do in order to justify their discussions.

We are interested in addressing problems through a dialogue. However, “forcing a closed door” that the West keeps “under lock and key” is beneath our dignity. Your governments are well aware of our proposals that we have made repeatedly, starting with the dialogue on strategic offensive arms, arms control and nonproliferation to interaction on cybersecurity and non-deployment of weapons in space. There are many such areas. For each of them, Russia has proposals for establishing honest cooperation on key threats that are common to all countries around the world instead of using these threats to achieve unilateral geopolitical advantages by means of unscrupulous competition. President Putin’s initiative to hold a summit of the five UN Security Council permanent members is a manifestation of such a desire to start a dialogue. All other leaders of the Group of Five responded positively to this proposal. Unfortunately, the pandemic made holding such a meeting impossible. We are convinced that the leaders must meet in person. We hope this summit will take place the epidemic situation permitting.

With regard to promoting a positive agenda, we invite our Western partners to return to common sense and to consider under the UN umbrella their ideas on cyber security, freedom of the media and many other problems that they are trying to resolve among themselves.

We will introduce similar approaches in other organisations of which Russia is a member, including the SCO, BRICS, the CSTO, the CIS and the EAEU.

President Putin’s initiative, which we are promoting, is to form the Greater Eurasian Partnership that is open to all Eurasian countries without exception by way of an equal collective dialogue. This covers the EU countries along with the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN members. Generally speaking, it covers countries that are not part of any regional organisations, but are located in Eurasia. I would like to note the importance of the G20, an association that unites the Western G7, which is no longer able to overcome global challenges all by itself. The G20 also brings together the BRICS countries and the like-minded nations which share our common philosophy: to say no to confrontation and to address existing problems on a balance of interests.

Today we will discuss ongoing conflicts as well. We are working with other countries to advance a settlement in Syria, to break the deadlock of the intra-Libyan conflict that erupted after NATO countries’ aggression had undermined the Libyan statehood almost 10 years ago.

We will also talk about other hot spots in the Middle East and North Africa, primarily the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which they are undeservedly trying to put on the back burner.

Quite recently, we released a multi-page document on the main foreign policy results of 2020. It contains a lot of hard facts. I hope you have had a chance to read it.

Today, we will focus on challenges facing the world which quickly change our daily lives.

Question: In what direction are relations between Russia and Italy developing, especially in the coronavirus pandemic year?

Sergey Lavrov: Relations between Russia and Italy are good.  Italy is one of those EU countries that follow the discipline and principles of solidarity in the EU, but that still do not consider it appropriate to take an aggressive position against the Russian Federation. Conscientiously, in joining the consensus on certain sanctions, Italy does not consider them to be effective tools for influencing anyone, in this case the Russian Federation. Not without objections from Brussels, Italy insists on its right to develop bilateral relations with Russia and does so sincerely. This policy reflects a correct understanding of the national interests of the Italian Republic, the interests of its business and its citizens seeking to continue humanitarian, sport, cultural and other contacts between people.

We have a good tradition with Italy with our cross cultural years. They are dedicated to topics that interest citizens of both countries, primarily in areas of culture, language, literature and regional contacts. This is a very good tradition. It actually helps respond to the needs of people and businesses, which is important.

Russia and Italy have a 2+2 mechanism where the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries meet and review the key issues in the world, in the Euro-Atlantic area and other regions where both Italy and the Russian Federation have interests.

Information on the specific events we held last year and what are scheduled for the future is available in the Results of Foreign Policy Activities in 2020. All this is described in detail there.

Question: I am one of the seven journalists in Latvia who were detained in December by local security service officers for cooperation with Sputnik Latvia and the Baltnews agency. In December, they carried out a search of our office and took away our office equipment, computers and dictaphones, bringing criminal charges against us over the violation of international sanctions. During the six weeks that have passed since then we have not heard of any reaction from international human right organisations to this out of the ordinary event, to put it mildly, including from the leaders who yesterday vehemently reacted to the detention of Alexey Navalny only five minutes after it happened.

Why do you think international officials say nothing about this outrageous, in my view, incident – the detention of seven journalists in Latvia? Can the Russian Foreign Ministry throw its weight behind the journalists representing Russian media abroad?

Sergey Lavrov: We are doing our best. I do not use these words to give you the runaround. We are really taking important measures. We discuss this issue at the meetings I hold weekly with my deputies and Foreign Ministry Collegium members. Not only must we voice our disapproval of a flagrant violation of the national law and international commitments like this, but we must also resort to international mechanisms. We spoke about this incident at the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. We will continue this work.

Whenever we have incontestable and hard facts that freedom of the media has been flagrantly violated coupled with threats to bring criminal charges, the mechanisms existing in the UN human rights formats – and there are plenty of speakers there reporting on various aspects of human rights violations; they have the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media – cannot justify what they are doing to you. Quite a few incidents like this happen now and then in the neighbouring Baltic States. Usually, they write letters to us. But we want to use mechanisms provided for in relevant conventions that require that a country in question rectify this type of violation. These mechanisms must – pardon me for the parlance that is not altogether diplomatic – put a squeeze on the violator until things are put right. Our colleagues at multilateral institutions show much less zeal seeking to establish the truth when it comes to a Russian-language media outlet. Although in the case of Latvia, Russian is a native tongue, as about half of the population in this country – no less than 40 percent – think in Russian and use this language in their daily life. One should have a very specific political orientation to want to show complete disrespect to one’s own compatriots in this way.

We will continue to seek reasonable actions from international agencies, but at the same time we want to involve NGOs in these efforts. They have every reason to appeal to the courts, but a denial in a court allows them to address the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It has dealt a few times with the subject of the media. Such precedents did not exist before but they have been created in connection with Western reproaches concerning the Russian media. So at this point the ECHR has to consider a situation that does not allow for any dual interpretation. It is so obvious, and I don’t think the court should take a long time to pass a ruling.

At the same time, we are working and will continue working with international lawyers. We will also use the Russian Fund for the Support and Protection of the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad that is willing to help journalists among others.

I confirm our support for Sputnik and not just because it’s a Russian media outlet. Citizens of any country, including Latvia, have the right to alternative information sources. Access to information is provided for by the numerous decisions of the OSCE. It is guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This principle of access to information was recently trampled underfoot in the United States to the accompaniment of perplexed silence or indistinct comments by US allies. Now attempts are being made to hush it all up by saying that Donald Trump’s Facebook account has been restored (but not his Tweeter account). But this is not about Trump but about the big failure of the state to comply with its commitments to ensure access to information. They said it was not the US Government that has shut out all those that were recognised by these platforms as sources of unreliable information. After all, corporations have not signed any pacts. All this comes “straight from the devil.” The Pacts and top-level decisions of the OSCE, which the West never tires of quoting (at least this was the case until recently), oblige the state to ensure free access to information for every person on its territory. So, Sputnik enjoys our full support. I know it is also popular with my Western colleagues. They consider media like Sputnik and RT important because their views differ from the common opinion that is being imposed by the Western media at every more or less important instance.

Question: Antony Blinken will probably become the next Secretary of State and Victoria Nuland, whom we all know, will be his deputy. What can you say regarding these candidates? What are your expectations with respect to working with them further in the future?

Sergey Lavrov: I try not to have any expectations on any subject. As for what to expect from the new US Administration, so much has already been said about it that I don’t want to take up your time with that.

We know these people. On the one hand, this makes it possible, given their reciprocal wish, to respond to many of our proposals on the Russian-US agenda, which are still on the table, and start talks without a large pause and preparations. On the other hand, we can easily imagine what line will the “new old” members of the incoming US Administration’s foreign policy team take; moreover they do not conceal their intentions and plans. From regular interviews, articles and advice given by US think tanks, including NATO’s North Atlantic Council and other entities, we can see that the line will continue to pursue the goals of US state and way of life, without understanding other countries’ patterns of life. The containment of Russia and China will undoubtedly be present on the foreign policy agenda. They are already discussing how to prevent Russia and the PRC from joining forces to such a degree that they could become more powerful than America. There are proposals of playing on the confrontation between Russia and China. All of this has long been a part of US policy.

Possibly, their manners will be more polite with respect to Russia, but the essence of their policy will hardly be different. When the Americans find it beneficial, when they realise that they cannot achieve anything without Russia and China, then they will have to be ready for agreements. This concerns combatting infections (by all appearances, it is a long-term topic); climate change, which also implies specific and practical interaction between many countries, including Russia and China; fighting terrorism and other forms of organised crime – drug trafficking and human trafficking. Most importantly, they should deal with the situation in arms control which is absolutely abnormal. We have heard about the intention of Joe Biden’s Administration to resume the dialogue with us on this subject, including trying to agree on the extension of the New START  treaty before it expires on February 5. We will wait for their proposals. Our position is known very well and remains in force.

We have heard about the plans to revise the decisions of the outgoing US administration to withdraw from quite a number of other multilateral agreements and organisations, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNESCO, and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

We harbour no illusions. We are realists. We have our proposals on all agenda items that are important for all humankind, and a number of them are being implemented. I would mention the UN work on international information security and curbing cybercrime, which our Western colleagues do not want to continue in a universal format, but rather to concentrate it within a close circle of likeminded parties and work out the rules, and then demand that everyone observes them.

In brief – we do not expect any radical changes. However, the methods of promoting US “leadership” will be somewhat different.

Question: What move by the Biden Administration do you think could indicate its readiness to reset relations with Russia? What is Russia ready to do to display a desire to improve relations with the United States?

Sergey Lavrov: We do not have to do anything to indicate our desire to have good relations with the United States, relations that would reflect the responsibility of the world’s two largest nuclear powers for security at the global, regional and any other level. We have put forth proposals to this effect, and the Biden Administration is well aware of them.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Joe Biden on his victory in the presidential election, he reaffirmed our commitment to cooperation with the United States on all issues of mutual interest and importance for the world. This can be interpreted as invitation to dialogue.

The most important thing is that our proposals on cybersecurity and on investigations into our alleged interference in US affairs, as well as on space projects and arms control, are on the table. As recently as in September 2020, President Putin publicly invited the United States – not President Trump or anyone else, but the United States as a power which, we hope, has retained at least a degree of respect for continuity and compliance with foreign policy agreements – to reboot our relations in the sphere of cybersecurity and non-intervention into internal affairs of each other. He proposed exchanging guarantees of such non-intervention and restoring a regular full-scale bilateral dialogue on all aspects of the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) related to the military-political security of states and the possible use of cyberspace by all kinds of criminals, including terrorists, paedophiles and human traffickers. We have not received any response to that proposal, just as to our initiative put forth two years ago for reaffirming the statement made by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan to the effect that a nuclear war is unacceptable, cannot be won and so must never be fought.

I don’t know how the new US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control will formulate President Biden’s position, but Marshall Billingslea, who will leave the post in two days, cannot let up but continues to give interviews and write for the media. He said openly in one of his statements that the new administration must not fall into the Russian trap by making a statement on the inadmissibility of a nuclear war. This is not a whim of Mr Billingslea or any other American official, who consider it unacceptable for the United States to agree that a nuclear war must never be fought. This position reflects the US doctrinal provisions on the use of military force and nuclear weapons. Lowering the yield of nuclear charges so that they can be used on the battlefield, and refusal to formalise a provision on the no-first use of nuclear weapons – these nuances of the US doctrines speak volumes. We would like to know who will ultimately determine the US position on strategic offensive armaments (not only nuclear ones) and how this will be done.

New technologies can be used to boost the US Prompt Global Strike project designed to create powerful conventional precision weapons that can deliver an airstrike anywhere in the world within one hour.

We called on the outgoing US administration to consider formulating a new arms control document, to extend the New START treaty so that we have at least one effective arms control document, and in the meantime to coordinate a new document that would cover all types of weapons, including not just those mentioned in New START but also strategic armaments that could be considered a threat to our national territories. I believe that this is an understandable consideration, and a much more important one than the idea of recounting all warheads of any type, which we are being encouraged to accept, while our US partners reject our proposal to focus on the current and very probable threats.

Let’s wait and see. Joseph Biden is an expert on disarmament and arms control. I think he would rather have a team of professionals than propagandists.

Question: Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi has said recently that China and Russia would continue to provide an example of the development of neighbourly and friendly relations between world powers, boost the revitalisation of the global economy and maintain global strategic stability. What possibilities do you envision for the further development of ties between our two countries? What can Russia and China do to hinder foreign interference and attempts to drive a wedge between their cooperation?

Sergey Lavrov: We have very close strategic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Our leaders are good friends who maintain regular trust-based communication. Their personal contacts were complicated last year, yet they managed to have at least five detailed telephone conversations and videoconferences. We have held a regular, 25th meeting of our heads of government, contacts between the five subcommissions set up under the guidance of our prime ministers, and a meeting of the Russian-Chinese Inter-Parliamentary Commission. We held joint celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. A Chinese delegation led by Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and a Chinese Honour Guard company attended the parade held on Red Square on June 24, 2020. We appreciate this.

We are now implementing a major project, the Year of Russian-Chinese Scientific, Technical and Innovative Cooperation. It is currently the most important matter designed to give a second lease of life and a new quality to our trade and economic interaction. Unlike many other countries, we managed to prevent our mutual trade from decreasing during the pandemic. It is developing quite sustainably. We are implementing major infrastructure, industrial, agrarian, energy and investment projects.

We have been collaborating closely to stop the spread of the COVID-19 infection and to overcome its impacts since the start of the pandemic. When our Chinese friends identified the problem at Wuhan, they collaborated closely and effectively with us to help repatriate Russian citizens. We are working together to provide humanitarian assistance to each other. There are such examples on both sides. We are working on the vaccines at present. I have no doubt that we will succeed.

We are cooperating within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS. The People’s Republic of China and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) have signed a cooperation agreement. We are aligning integration within the EAEU and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Last December, we signed a protocol on extending the agreement on notification of the launch of ballistic missiles and space carrier rockets for another 10 years. Also in December 2020, the Chinese Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted the second joint patrol mission over the Sea of Japan and East China Sea. This is evidence of the trust-based and forward-looking nature of Russian-Chinese relations and our mutual commitment to maintaining stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Some of our other colleagues, for example, the United States, have been trying to build up tension by conducting military activities that are openly spearheaded against China and are aimed at isolating Russia, as well as within the framework of practical US plans to deploy the components of the US ballistic missile defence system in Asia Pacific. These components have the capacity to reach the territory of both China and Russia.

A lot more can be said about Russian-Chinese cooperation. It is ongoing in a wide range of spheres, in fact, in nearly all spheres of human and state endeavour. I would like to mention our close coordination at the UN on many practical matters. It is based on Russia’s and China’s commitment to protecting international law and preventing the erosion of universal structures and the replacement of the UN with extraneous formats and partnerships, which Western countries are using to formulate rules suiting their own purposes  and subsequently force them on the rest of the world. Russia and China firmly stand for protecting the achievements set out in the UN Charter, which are based on the principles of equality, respect for the sovereignty of states, non-interference in their internal affairs and a peaceful settlement of disputes.

This year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Russian-Chinese Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. We have huge plans for celebrating this memorable occasion.

Question: Several days ago now, the entire world was amazed by how easily, virtually with a snap of a finger, corporations banned Donald Trump from social networks. In your opinion, how does this “digital GULAG,” that is holding captive politicians and their supporters, journalists and ordinary people all over the world, align with the concept of American democracy? Is it possible that in the future, such selective blocking of accounts becomes a fundamental of international policy and common practice?

Sergey Lavrov: Everybody is talking about it on all the television channels and social networks. I heard that Telegram was threatened with blocking their services. It will be rather interesting.

I have already mentioned the topic of states’ obligations and now want to remind you about them. The US is a member of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Interestingly (however, this issue is often omitted) there have been two international treaties, one for civil and political rights, and the other the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Having signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (it was in the 1960s), the US flatly refused to sign the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This is a refusal to take any responsibilities related to providing adequate quality of life to its population and solving social and economic problems. But the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is an obligatory document for the US. The Helsinki Final Act and an entire series of OSCE documents (the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the Charter for European Security adopted in Istanbul in 1999) say that every person has the right to freely express their opinion. This right includes the freedom to search, receive and distribute various kinds of information and ideas regardless of state borders, by mouth, in writing, using the press, creative forms of expression or other means. “Other means” meant the visionary prediction that social networks would appear. There is no exception to this. It is said that each person has the right to access information. The state signed under it. So, claiming that Google, Facebook, YouTube and other corporations have no responsibilities is childish nonsense. The state has to assume responsibly for them, and if they misbehave, the state must bring them to order and to its legal obligations.

I do not know what will happen next. There have been many different forecasts. There is a state, private capitalism. Who will be changing the rules of the game now? Many recalled Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and other analysts of capitalism and imperialism as its last stage. I do not know. The only thing I am sure about is that if the US fails to make the violators comply with the freedom of speech and its own Constitution (let alone international covenants), the US will present itself to the world as something other than a champion for democracy.

Speaking of the freedom of speech. Every year, the UN General Assembly at our initiative adopts a resolution on inadmissibility of glorification of Nazism and other forms of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, and the US votes against it saying that the voting for prohibiting neo-Nazi movements is a violation of the First Amendment. They state this openly. By the way, only one country, Ukraine, votes against this resolution alongside the US. And for obvious reasons: neo-Nazis freely march there and hold torchlight processions and in addition to all that really influence the practical policy of this, so to speak, state. In the US, the situation is slightly different, but they also do not want to violate the First Amendment.

Let us hope that American society will not allow the elites in their fight against each other to use blatant censorship in violation of the Constitution and international obligations. But this is their problem. If the American society fails to cope with it, we cannot do anything about it. But then everybody should be ready for the ramifications of this failure of the American state. And these ramifications will be grave on the global stage. I think everybody understands this. It is no coincidence that Europe is preparing EU documents about how to start a dialogue that takes into account all possible scenarios immediately following Joe Biden’s inauguration.

I would suggest paying attention to how the US has found itself in a position that bears risks to undermine the American state if it fails to bring private corporations that are fewer than 12 to order so that they would comply with the state mechanisms, legislation, and first of all, its own Constitution.

Question: A politician and Russian citizen has alleged that Russian security services attempted to poison him. Alexey Navalny has provided facts which nobody has reliably invalidated so far. He has decided to return to his home country, where no criminal case of his poisoning had been opened. The plane he boarded was diverted to another airport. The people who came to welcome him home, including journalists, and Navalny himself have been detained. How does this make Russia look? Don’t we care about our image any longer?

Sergey Lavrov: Of course, one should care for one’s image, but we are not a young girl preparing for a ball. We must first of all do our job, which is to implement Russia’s foreign policy. A foreign policy aspect has been added to the Navalny case artificially and without any justification. Everything associated with his return and detainment is the competence of the law enforcement authorities. There is a detailed statement by the Federal Penitentiary Service, which provides facts and violations and explains why the complaints have been put forth. This is not something that can be placed on the Foreign Ministry’s doorstep. The matter concerns compliance with Russian laws. As we pointed out, if some countries regard respect for their own laws to be of secondary importance compared to their geopolitical goals, that is their problem. In our case, the law enforcement agencies have clearly formulated their position. And they spent a long time doing this, since August, several days after the blogger left the Omsk hospital.

Alexey Navalny has said that he is returning home with a clear conscience, because he had not left Russia of his own free will. He inferred that he was well-nigh forced to leave. In fact, he was unconscious; it was a dramatic life-or-death situation. It was his wife who insisted that he must be allowed to leave Russia and who was responsible for putting him on a German plane, as well as the German authorities, who demanded quite aggressively that we hand him over without delay. We did so.

Euronews broadcast a story today. Correspondent Galina Polonskaya, who was on the plane with Alexey Navalny, said that according to Charité doctors Navalny had been poisoned with a chemical warfare agent, which the OPCW later confirmed. She added that the Russian authorities repeatedly denied the allegation. According to the initial information provided by Germany, doctors at the civilian Charité hospital, just like their colleagues in Omsk, had not found any traces of warfare agents in Navalny’s samples. They were later found at the Bundeswehr hospital. First Germany refused to provide test results to us, claiming that this would enable us to learn about Bundeswehr technologies for identifying chemical weapons. How do you like that? Actually, they should not supposedly have such technology at all, because after the alleged poisoning of the Skripals with Novichok the West claimed that it did not have the relevant knowledge or technology.

However, in the case of Navalny it took the Bundeswehr barely a few days to determine that he had allegedly been poisoned with Novichok or a similar agent (we don’t know for sure to this day, because they have not provided any materials to us). The French and even Swedes have reaffirmed that it was a Novichok-class agent even though it was not on the list of substances prohibited by the OPCW. In accordance with their numerous commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), both bilateral and European ones, we requested to see the results of these tests. First they told us that it was a multilateral matter and that all materials had been sent to the OPCW. OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias refused to answer our questions, but later he admitted that they had taken samples from Navalny but could not provide them to us because they “belong” to Berlin.  It was Berlin that requested the analysis, so we should ask Berlin for its results. Berlin told us that it was not a bilateral matter and redirected us back to the multilateral organisation. I believe this is sheer mockery. There is no question about the OPCW, which has long been privatised by the West. It has been trying to do the same with other organisations, but it has been especially successful in the case of the OPCW. Only after a long time, during which we were directed from Berlin to The Hague and back, were we told that there was another reason for their refusal to give us the test results: Alexey Navalny does not want Russia to have this information.

Several days ago, Germany happily announced that it had answered the four requests it received from the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia. The reply consisted only of answers they had received from Navalny and his wife. That is all we got. No factual evidence, nothing about water bottles with traces of poison, copies of toxicology results, biological samples or test results. Navalny claims that he has been poisoned by the Russian state and by President Putin personally. The West accepts this without asking any questions. The Western countries only provide facts as they had been presented by Navalny himself during his interviews with the law enforcement authorities. I regard this as total contempt for the procedure.

The German parliamentary party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is widely seen as being cultivated by Russia, has officially requested relevant information from the German government. They have not received any reply. They asked concrete questions: Who had the water bottle during the flight from Omsk to Berlin? Was it known before the flight that its organisers allowed the bottle to be taken? The answer was that the German government had no information regarding this. How can this be? There were not only doctors but also representatives of German special services on board the plane that delivered Navalny from Omsk. Everyone knows this. If they don’t know who took the bottles on board the plane, this is on their conscience.

First it was said that Navalny had tea at Tomsk airport; this version had been planted in the public space at the very beginning. Later it was removed. It turned out that a close associate poured tea for Navalny. Then they presented the version with the water bottle. It fizzled out as well. The next version concerned clothes, and then they revived the bottle version again. It has been said recently, several months after it all happened, that attempts to poison Navalny had been made before that, but as a result it was Yulia Navalny who was poisoned. When increasingly more surprising news is made public, we as a foreign policy agency have a question for our German, French and Swedish colleagues: Ladies and gentlemen, please act on your international obligations and present the results of the tests which, as you claim, contain an unidentified toxic substance that is not on the OPCW lists. We have not received any replies in the case of Alexander Litvinenko, which was kept secret, or in the alleged poisoning of the Skripals. Those who expelled Russian diplomats at Britain’s request said they would provide the facts later. They have not provided a single fact, any information one can get is in the public sphere. “Highly likely” and that is it. Those who trusted the British may be sorry now, but they will never admit this out of a misguided sense of solidarity.

Neither do they say anything about interference in the US elections now. Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has refused to provide the “irrefutable proof” he had said publicly they have. They will not provide any proof, full stop. The same is true about the Navalny case. If you want to know the truth, just be polite and respect the law, honour your obligations and do not resort to diplomatic insolence by saying that you would not give anything to Russia, which is a poisoner by default. That is no way to talk to us. This is the foreign policy dimension for which the Foreign Ministry has been responsible throughout its history. This is not how our partners should behave.

Question: Will Russia send another request to Germany regarding the case of Alexey Navalny, since Moscow wasn’t happy with the previous answer they got? Did I understand correctly from your previous answer that without Navalny’s permission Russia will not get access to his test results from Germany and no criminal case will be opened?

Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the Prosecutor General’s Office’s inquiry, this is its prerogative. I think that an additional request must be sent so that our German colleagues do not feel like they have already performed their functions. It was a perfunctory reply, which is unworthy of a department in charge of the law enforcement cases’ legal aspects.

Doctors in Omsk, who saved Mr Navalny’s life before he was literally ripped away from their hands unconscious, asked his spouse to sign a paper to the effect that she insists on taking him away. They made their findings and test results available to German doctors, who also gave a receipt thereof. In August, the Charite Clinic reported that nothing had been found. This is a civil clinic, just like the one in Omsk. The samples were made available to a Bundeswehr clinic, which detected traces of a chemical agent. Since nothing was found in Mr Navalny’s tests in Russia which would indicate poisoning with warfare agents, there’s no reason, under our legislation, to initiate a criminal case, no matter what someone may tell us.

If there’s something that makes someone suspicious, the matter could have been settled long ago as follows. The Germans say that this is no longer a bilateral, but a multilateral issue, and sent it to the OPCW. We suggested that the OPCW Director-General use the CWC article, which provides for according assistance by its Technical Secretariat to the participating country. They were offered to come to Russia. They have samples of Navalny’s biomaterials. We also have them. They are being kept in the Omsk hospital (maybe they have already been transported to the corresponding laboratory). There’s an OPCW-certified lab in Russia. Their and our doctors first examine one set of samples, then another, or vice versa. They will perform these tests together so as to be able to establish mutual trust. The lab is adequately equipped to conduct such tests. If they believe they need innovative sophisticated equipment, they can bring it in, we have no objections. The only condition is to do it together. After a number of episodes involving the alleged use of chemical agents in Syria, and after the Secretariat’s reports, we said outright that we have no trust in that. So, we want to use Ronald Reagan’s paraphrased principle “trust but verify.”

For a very long time they tried to avoid providing a direct answer. They said they were internationally recognised and asked for our samples, saying that “they will let us know afterwards.” This will not happen again. There will no longer be a one-way street approach. There will be no trust in the Bundeswehr clinic, the French or Swedish clinics, or the one that the OPCW may choose for its internal purposes without our participation until we are convinced that these people are honest researchers and specialists. I don’t see how anything can be done until we see the requested materials, or until they carry out the experiment that we asked for. They chickened out, probably, meaning that their conscience is not clear. It is not for nothing that the organisation, which the Germans mentioned saying that they now own it, is saying that it is Berlin’s property. The circle is complete. As Vladimir Putin said, don’t try to make retards out of us.

Question: The future of prisoners in Baku is what concerns Armenia’s public opinion most. As we understand it, this matter remains unresolved. Azerbaijan is manipulating the prisoner issue. Armenia is hoping that Russia will help. What is being done to get the prisoners of war back home? Is there an understanding of the time frame within which a positive decision on this matter can be made? Armenia has released all the prisoners of war, but its move was not reciprocated. Processes are underway that do not quite fit into the framework of the declarations signed on November 9, 2020 and January 11, 2021. Are there any classified attachments to these declarations that we are unaware of? Is there any progress in determining the status of Nagorno-Karabakh? How delayed is it? There are rumours in Karabakh that since Russia has helped it out so much in this situation, perhaps it may become part of Russia? Is this option on the table?

Sergey Lavrov: The issue of prisoners of war was indeed discussed. It is part of the agreements signed in the early hours of November 10, 2020. It was further discussed during telephone conversations between President Vladimir Putin and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and in my conversations with Foreign Minister Ara Ayvazyan and Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov. It was also part of rather lengthy discussions during the visit of the leaders of the two countries to Moscow on January 11.

Summing up the developments, indeed, the Armenians had more problems initially. First of all, both countries needed to get together lists of the missing people who they want to rescue from captivity. Azerbaijan provided such lists, which were fairly short. Not right away, but everyone mentioned on the Azerbaijani lists were released. There were no more questions to Azerbaijan about missing, captive or involuntarily held persons. The lists provided by Armenia were incomplete and overdue.

Subsequently, there were exchanges of the participants in the events that ended on November 9, 2020. Now, the focus is on the issue that arose already in early December 2020. In late November 2020, a group of 62 Armenian servicemen was sent to the Hadrut region and captured within a week. Azerbaijan then stated that since they came to the area after the ceasefire had been announced and the hostilities had ended, they should be considered separately, rather than falling under the Declaration of November 9, 2020. Nevertheless, during our contacts with our colleagues, President Putin and I promoted the need to continue to consider this matter in order to bring it to a closure based on the “all for all” principle. I spoke with Mr Ayvazyan in an effort to clarify the final lists of those missing. It turned out that there are many more than 62 of them.

In a collaborative effort with their colleagues from Armenia and Azerbaijan, our military are checking the lists person by person in order to locate these people’s whereabouts. Of course, the issue is there. If it were not for the Russian peacekeepers, the matter would probably be even more complicated. Commander of the peacekeeping contingent Lieutenant General Rustam Muradov maintains direct contact with his Armenian and Azerbaijani colleagues.

I did not quite understand the assertion that the processes “on the ground” do not quite follow the agreements of November 9, 2020 and January 11, and whether there are any secret protocols or annexes in this regard. Where specifically do events “on the ground” “not follow” the agreement? I believe that the Declaration of November 9, 2020 is being implemented quite effectively. This is what both Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan are telling us. That is, with the exception of the POW issue, which remains unresolved for reasons I already mentioned and which, in its current form, arose in early December 2020, a month after the signing of the agreements. The issue concerning the peacekeepers’ mandate is in the process of being settled. It should be the subject of a trilateral agreement as discussed in Moscow on January 11. There are no secret annexes. I don’t understand what topics might be classified.

Regarding the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, it is not mentioned in the agreements of November 9, 2020. This was done deliberately. The territory where the Russian peacekeepers are deployed is the area of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. We operate on this premise in our contacts with Yerevan and Baku. The nuances and details related to organising transport routes, delivering supplies to the peacekeepers’ area of responsibility and providing humanitarian aid to returnees (50,000 already) are being worked through. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been working there for a long time now in coordination with the Russian peacekeepers. International organisations, including UNESCO, the United Nations Office for Refugees and Humanitarian Affairs, are now coordinating the format of their assessment mission with Baku and Yerevan. There are issues primarily related to differences concerning the status. Exactly because the problem of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is controversial, if we take the positions of Yerevan and Baku, the three leaders decided to leave it be for future consideration.

The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs should also be involved in this. They have renewed their contacts with the parties and are going to visit the region again. The faster Baku and Yerevan comply “on the ground” with their assurances that the most important thing is to improve the daily life of the ethnic and religious communities that coexisted in Karabakh and to restore peaceful and neighbourly life, the sooner the status issues will be resolved.

As for the exotic proposal to make Nagorno-Karabakh part of Russia, as far as I understand it, the independence of Karabakh is not recognised by anyone, including the Republic of Armenia. We are not even close to having thoughts like that. We believe that all matters in this region must be resolved between the countries of the region, primarily, Armenia and Azerbaijan. We are ready to help look for and find solutions which will ensure peace and stability in this region. The safety of the people who have always lived here and should live in the future is of paramount importance.

Question: Azerbaijan protested against the visit of Armenian officials to Nagorno-Karabakh. Why are Armenian officials unable to obtain Azerbaijan’s permission while visiting Nagorno-Karabakh? How will the Russian peacekeepers resolve this issue? Have you taken note of Azerbaijan’s protest on this matter?

Sergey Lavrov: All agreements, especially those made on November 9, 2020, stipulate the parties’ agreement that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh will communicate via the Lachin corridor, which will be controlled by Russian peacekeepers. No one has ever denied ties between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. During the decades of talks, there has never been any discussion of cutting off Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia. This is why no one has rejected the Lachin corridor as a concept. The parties still agree on this matter, and this includes the consent of our Azerbaijani neighbours. In addition to the Lachin corridor, which will be run along a new route, reliable and permanent lines of communications will be established between western districts of Azerbaijan’s main territory and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. The leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia have formalised this agreement. Everyone agrees that Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and those in Armenia should maintain communications, and I see no reason for hampering contacts at this level.

Armenian officials are involved in providing humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh, and this has not caused any negative reaction in Baku. It would be strange if things were different. Certain Armenian officials make sufficiently politicised statements in Nagorno-Karabakh, and this causes tensions. I believe that it would be better to avoid this. Prior to the 44-day war, we saw how emotional statements from Nagorno-Karabakh or about the region and dealing with a new war and new territories became a reality. Words become a material force. In this event, words from different sides became a highly negative material force. Consequently, we pay so much attention to establishing contacts between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia and creating an atmosphere of trust. This became yet another important essence of the Moscow meeting between President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia. I hope that these emotions will now be relegated to the background.

Now is not the best time to prioritise Nagorno-Karabakh’s status. This subject will be discussed in the future. I guarantee that the zone of Russian peacekeepers’ responsibility (and this is how this status is defined in practical terms) will guarantee the interests of both Azerbaijan and Armenia. We will review this matter later on. There are co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group; but, most importantly, future discussions between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be specific and calm, and they must be based on law and on neighbourly relations that all of us together should restore in the region.

Question: Your Greek counterpart, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias has recently singled out Russia as the only power recognising Greece’s right to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles. Despite such positive aspects, I would say that Russian-Hellenic relations are developing painfully. For the first time in many years, opinions are being expressed in Greece and Cyprus that Russia is pursuing destabilising activities in the Mediterranean region. This is what American diplomats openly say. Others say that Moscow is abandoning its historical partners and changing its policy for an alliance with Turkey alone. Is this true? Is cooperation possible between Greece, Cyprus and Russia in today’s conditions? Or do we have diverging interests?

Sergey Lavrov: You have said that in Greece and Cyprus they say more often that Russia is playing a destabilising role in the region and then you added that it was American diplomats who were saying this. If American diplomats are saying this in Greece and Cyprus, they also say it in every other country. So don’t be surprised about this. In any country an American diplomat would openly, against all rules and traditions, take a microphone and say that the state where they serve as ambassadors should stop communicating with Russia. Sometimes China is also added, for example when US State Secretary Mike Pompeo was touring Africa, he demanded Africans stop trading with Russia and China, because the Russians and the Chinese had some “hidden agenda” while the US would trade with Africa selflessly. Fairly primitive, but this is the diplomatic way today.

I have recently visited Greece and Cyprus. Moreover, I have recently talked with Foreign Minister of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides by telephone. I can see no reason why these countries should be persuaded that Russia is an enemy of theirs or has carried out an unfriendly policy towards them. Someone is trying to convince them, but politicians with common sense can see the whole truth: that they are only trying to make an enemy out of the Russian Federation and saying that our presence in the Balkans prevents these countries from moving into NATO, hinders their Euro-Atlantic integration.

There is no diplomacy here, only crude public leverage. Not everyone in such countries as Cyprus and Greece can publicly respond to such battle cries because they are scared to offend “Big Brother.” There is no underlying enmity between anyone in Russia, Greece and Cyprus.

We have very warm and close relations, a spiritual connection. Our American colleagues are actively trying to undermine this spiritual connection: they made Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew follow the path of schism, undermining centuries-old traditions of Orthodox Christianity, the path called Popery. It has always been rejected by the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is a reason that there is no analogue of the Pope in the Orthodox world. There is the Ecumenical Patriarch, who until recently was revered as the first among equals. Under the gross and open pressure from Washington, he chose schism in Ukraine creating a puppet Orthodox Church of Ukraine and deceived the Church by cutting off the rights promised to it. Now, together with the Americans, he is trying to work on other Orthodox churches, including the Greek Orthodox Church and the Primate of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, in order to continue deepening these subversive anti-canonical actions against Eastern Orthodoxy. The Pandora’s Box Bartholomew opened has already led to a split in the Cypriot Orthodox Church and unrest in other Orthodox churches. The mission the Americans have assigned to him (they do not even hide that they are actively working with him under the slogan of “freedom of religion and confession”) is to bury Orthodoxy’s influence in today’s world. I can see no other explanation for his actions.

As for the disputes that you indirectly mentioned asking if Russia recognises the 12 nautical mile zone of Greece’s territorial waters. It is not Russia who recognises it, it follows from the universal 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The convention, which everyone (except the United States) signed, states that a country has the right to establish territorial waters of 12 nautical miles.

When Greece announced that, we said the same thing I have said now: this is an absolutely legitimate solution. It is a different thing when territorial waters chosen by a state challenge the interests of a neighbouring state. If these interests are identified as legitimate, considering the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, it is necessary to search for a solution through dialogue and a balance of interests. We call for all the problems related to the exclusive economic zones of both Greece and Cyprus to be addressed via a dialogue.

I hear that my colleague, Foreign Minister of Greece Nikos Dendias has agreed to have a meeting with Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu in late January. I believe this is the right format for discussing and finding solutions to such issues. Of course, no one wants the use of any kind of force in the Eastern Mediterranean. As for Russia, it is ready to use its good relations with counties involved in these disputes if it might be helpful. We will be ready if we receive any such request.

Question: You spoke about the strategic partnership and great relationship between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. How do you see the evolution of India-Russia ties in the changing geopolitics, particularly in the context of the threat of sanctions from some countries on India-Russia defence trade, including the S-400 missile system?

Sergey Lavrov: The partnership between Russia and India is called slightly differently. You called it a strategic partnership. This was the original title. Some years later, the Indian side proposed to call it a privileged strategic partnership. And a few years ago, when Prime Minister Modi became the head of the Indian government, we changed it to a specially privileged strategic partnership.

I believe there is room for further improvement, but the current terminology indicates a special kind of relationship. India is our very close, very strategic and very privileged partner. Take the economy, take innovations, high technology or military and technical cooperation, India is one of our closest partners in all these areas. We have close political coordination in the United Nations and within BRICS. We did a lot to make sure that India and Pakistan join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation where, I think, we now have a configuration which is very representative, to promote constructive, positive and stabilising ideas both for the Eurasian region and, in broader terms, for the Asia-Pacific.

We discussed with our Indian friends, at the level of the president and the prime minister, at the level of ministers, experts and consultants, we discussed, in a very open way, both practical things and conceptual issues, including issues emanating from the new concept which is called the Indo-Pacific Strategy. We do not believe that this is just a terminological change. Because if you take it literally from the geographical point of view, then “Indo” means the entire Indian Ocean, all littoral states of the Indian Ocean. But East Africa, we were told, is not included in the Indo-Pacific Strategy. The Persian Gulf, which is part of the Indian Ocean, is not included. What is included? As the American sponsors of this concept say, the US, Australia, Japan and India, which is the backbone of, as US State Secretary Mike Pompeo recently said, the free and open Indo-Pacific Region. We have reasons to believe that when the Australians, the Japanese and the Americans promote this format and, well, they almost openly say that this is important to ensure stability in the South China Sea and this is important to contain China. We discussed this with my good friend, Foreign Minister of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and our Indian colleagues fully understand that some countries would like to use the Indo-Pacific Strategy in a manner that is not inclusive and that is confrontational. ASEAN, by the way, feels the same way. They are concerned that this aggressive promotion of the Indo-Pacific concept will undermine the central role of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific Region, the East Asian Summits (EAS) and other formats, the center of which has been ASEAN for many years.

I know that in India this issue is very actively discussed. And I know that India is not going to move this Indo-Pacific cooperation in a way that would be not positive and not constructive. I say so in much detail because some of my previous statements on this issue have been widely discussed in the Indian media which I belieive is not very friendly towards the Indian government, but we don’t want any misunderstanding with our friends, the Indian people: we are friends with India. We are doing our utmost to make sure that India and China, our two great friends and brothers, live in peace with one another.

This is our policy which we promote not only in the context of the SCO or BRICS. We have a special trilateral format, a “troika” or RIC – Russia, India and China. It was established in the late 1990s, and it is still functioning. The last meeting at the level of ministers took place in Moscow in September 2020. We adopted a joint communiqué recognising the role of the three countries in promoting peace, stability and security in Asia and the world and confirming the cooperation between our countries.

I am glad that, besides the political dialogue between the three countries, we have plenty of formats that involve people-to-people contacts, including academic formats, youth formats and many others. We all are wise enough to see that if a  strategy is indeed intended to be not inclusive but rather divisive, then the wisdom of our countries will certainly prevail. And in no way will our closest cooperation and partnership with India be affected. The most sincere and honest dialogue, even on the issues where we do not one hundred percent see eye to eye, is the key to the further development of our partnership.

Question: The next question has to do with the situation in Northeast Asia. Japan is seriously concerned about the nuclear build-up in North Korea, which has forced it to strengthen its security, or more precisely, buy a missile defence system. Russia does not seem to share our concern, but regards our efforts to protect our security as a threat. The problem has been complicated with the US intention to deploy its medium-range missiles in Asia Pacific. Several media outlets have reported that Russia and China are considering joint countermeasures if the United States does deploy its missiles. Is this true? It appears that two military blocs are being created in the region, one comprising the United States, Japan and South Korea, and the other made up of Russia and China. I believe that current relations between Japan and Russia are relatively good and neighbourly. What should be done to prevent their deterioration or even a confrontation, in light of the current situation in the region? Do you think we can maintain our positive ties amid the deteriorating Russia-US relationship?

Sergey Lavrov: Tension between the United States and North Korea and between the two Korean states has persisted during the past 18 months. We hope that the parties will refrain from taking any dramatic moves in the military sphere that could aggravate tension around the Korean Peninsula. The parties have not abandoned their previous commitments. At the beginning of last year, North Korea, followed by South Korea, reaffirmed their readiness to honour the agreements reached between the leaders of the two Korean states in 2018. A military parade held in North Korea to mark its anniversary attracted considerable attention. In general, no actions that could lead to the development of a material basis for escalation have been taken so far.

Let’s wait and see what policy the Biden administration adopts in this sphere. We would like to see stable peace on the peninsula. Together with our Chinese colleagues we prepared a roadmap of our common vision of movement towards peace back in 2017. We discussed it with the other members of the six-party talks, that is, with Japan and the United States, as well as with North Korea and South Korea. Based on our common views and that roadmap, we and our Chinese partners prepared an action plan, which we are ready to submit for discussion as soon as contacts are resumed. I would like to once again express our sincere desire to promote the achievement of a lasting peace and agreement in the region.

As for our relations with Japan, we regard them as positive. The Russian President and his Japanese colleagues, the prime ministers, have always maintained friendly ties based on personal sympathy. I am sure that such personal contacts will be established with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as well.

Touching upon the military situation in the region, it is true that Russia and China are working together, including in the form of military exercises. Russian-Chinese military exercises are nothing new at all. We have held several army exercises within the framework of the SCO and at the bilateral level. We have held joint exercises of our aerospace forces. They are not spearheaded at Japan but are held to check the combat readiness of our air forces, which are guarding the safety of Russian and Chinese borders. What is threatening them? There are quite a few threats, including the one you have mentioned, the US plans to deploy ballistic missile defence systems and ground-launched medium and shorter-range missiles, which were prohibited by a treaty from which Washington has withdrawn, in Japan and South Korea.

We have forwarded to Tokyo a list of our practical security concerns, which are directly related to the possibility of continuing constructive talks on a peace treaty. We are still waiting for a reply. The deployment of a US BMD system and the potential deployment of US ground-launched medium- and shorter-range missiles in Japan are among our concerns. When it comes to BMD systems, our Japanese colleagues assure us that they would control the Aegis Ashore systems they would buy, and that the Americans would have no connection to their management. With all our respect for our Japanese friends, this is impossible. They will be unable to prevent the Americans from controlling these systems. As for medium- and shorter-range missiles, the Japanese government is not happy with this US idea, as far as I am aware, and it has attempted to turn the talks around from ground-launched to sea-launched missiles. But this will hardly change the essence of the matter, because medium- and shorter-range missiles, even if deployed on warships in the Sea of Japan, will be able to target a substantial part of the Russian territory.

We are ready to continue dialogue, but first of all we would like to receive answers to our security concerns about which the Japanese partners are well aware. In addition to the material aspect of the planned weapons deployment in Japan in one format or another, there is also a military-political dimension, that is, Japan’s union with the United States, in accordance with which the United States may deploy its weapons in any part of Japan. As far as we know, Tokyo has reaffirmed its full commitment to this military union on numerous occasions, including last year, describing the Americans as its main allies. This is taking place at a time when the United States describes Russia as its main adversary and even enemy, as Mike Pompeo noted recently. When our Japanese friends reaffirm and promote their union with a country that considers Russia an enemy, we see this as a specific situation that should be clarified.

Question (retranslated from Spanish): I am a journalist from a public television channel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is an important subject for our Latin American region and particularly for the Argentine Republic. I am referring to the sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas. I would like to ask you about the Russian Federation’s position on this score and on changes following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union?

Sergey Lavrov: We support all resolutions of the UN General Assembly on the Islas Malvinas. We have been voting for them ever since the UN started reviewing this subject, and we will continue to demand that these resolutions be fulfilled. There is such a notion as double standards. The problem of the Islas Malvinas came into being a long time ago. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland insisted very sternly that the residents of the Islas Malvinas (that London calls the Falkland Islands) have a right to self-determination. We reminded the UK’s representatives about this when they became overexcited about the March 2014 referendum in Crimea. We asked them whether the Islas Malvinas, located 10,000 miles away from the UK, had the right to self-determination, and whether the people of Crimea who have been part of this country all their life were denied this right. The answer was very simple; they replied that these were two different matters. Let this rest with their conscience. We are convinced that it is necessary to settle the dispute through dialogue, as stipulated by the UN General Assembly’s resolution.

Question: On January 12, 2021, Berlin hosted this year’s first meeting of the advisers of the Normandy Four leaders. As Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, Dmitry Kozak, said they failed to come to terms on a single issue. What do you see as a way out of the deadlock in the Ukraine crisis?

Sergey Lavrov: In our opinion, the only way out is to implement the Minsk agreements. What were the advisers of the Normandy Four leaders doing at this meeting? They were trying, once again, to put together a roadmap for moving towards this goal. Our participation in compiling or trying to compile this roadmap is a serious concession on our part. A concession was also made by Donetsk and Lugansk with whom we closely coordinate our position before every meeting in the Normandy Four format.

The Normandy format merely accompanies the main work that is being conducted by what the Ukrainians call the trilateral group. We call it a contact group. But it can be called a trilateral group since there are three sides— Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, while Russia and the OSCE are the mediators. The roadmap that the Germans and French suggested drafting three or four years ago has now reappeared. At that time, the idea was to synchronise movement along the security track: the disengagement of forces, withdrawal of heavy weaponry, and usable checkpoints for civilians. It was also necessary to move towards a political settlement by making progress on the status of the regions in question, preparing for an election, announcing amnesty, etc. However, at that time these goals were not achieved because Ukraine adamantly rejected this parallel progress and insisted that security issues must be resolved first and political problems settled later. At one point, the election issue faced a similar stumbling block.

According to the Minsk agreements (if they are not politicised or viewed through the prism of ideology), it is first necessary to ensure the special status of Donbass and then hold an election on this basis. But Ukraine had a different position: “Let’s first hold the election and if we like those who are elected, we will give it special status. If not, we won’t give them this status.” At that time, the sides reached a compromise with the participation of President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine – the so-called Steinmeier formula that synchronised the election and the granting of the special status to the region. All this was confirmed at the summit in Paris in December 2019. President Vladimir Zelensky committed himself to introducing this formula into legislation.

Few decisions from the Paris summit were carried out. The disengagement of forces and weapons took place in some sections, and a small exchange of prisoners and other detainees was carried out. Attempts to come to terms on another exchange of prisoners, which were going on all these months, ended in failure due to Ukraine’s position of introducing more and more contrived demands.

The DPR and the LPR announced, with our support, that they planned to unilaterally transfer to Ukraine some of its citizens that were detained on their territory as a goodwill gesture. Let the Ukrainian authorities at least feel ashamed that an “all for all” exchange, as agreed on earlier, was delayed for reasons that had nothing to do with humanitarian considerations. Now, at the recent meeting, the leaders’ advisers made another attempt to compile a roadmap. If the Minsk agreements are presented as the accords of indirect action, let’s specify each and every step they envisage. As for Ukraine, its position is completely obstructionist.

Here’s one example. The Minsk agreements read: forces and weapons must be withdrawn to a certain distance from the contact line. Thus must be done all along this line. On the eve of the December 2019 summit, the negotiators harmonised a final statement from the leaders that contained an item on the disengagement of forces and arms all along the contact line by a certain deadline. The statement was signed by the negotiators, ministers and advisers. President Zelensky said he could not do this but was only willing to agree to the proposed disengagement at three new check points. The German and French leaders were taken aback. Ukraine was saying at every instance that its priority is to achieve security on the ground. All of a sudden, the president that inspired so many hopes for progress to peace, and made the goal of peace in Donbass the main slogan of his election campaign, said “no” to the disengagement of forces and weapons except in three villages. This makes you think twice. It is possible to lament this approach but the bottom line is the inability or reluctance of Berlin and Paris to compel their protégés in Kiev to stop undermining the Minsk agreements.

According to President Zelensky, Ukraine needs the Minsk agreements to maintain the sanctions against Russia. Otherwise, he would have withdrawn from them. Paris and Berlin remain completely silent. The Kiev representative in the contact group, former President Leonid Kravchuk, declared that the Minsk agreements were the main obstacle to settling the Donbass problem. This means only one thing: these agreements stand in the way of Kiev’s attempts to impose its own rules. Another member of the Kiev delegation in the trilateral group, Alexey Reznikov claims that the Minsk agreements are not so bad, but they are not legally binding and simply amount to a political wish… This is total lack of competence. The Minsk agreements have been approved by the UN Security Council’s unanimous resolution and have therefore become part of international law. He also said “it is possible to change the priority of some measures; the main goal is to first introduce Ukrainian border guards to occupy the entire border with the Russian Federation, thereby surrounding the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics; then the Ukrainian defence and law enforcement agencies will encircle them and in this case the election will become unnecessary.” They will appoint their own governors-general and imprison the leaders of these republics because they will be labelled terrorists.

Now, the main task for me is to understand what the French and Germans think about themselves. In response to our numerous appeals, including my own letters, to bring Kiev’s representatives to reason at the talks with Donbass, they are simply retreating into the shadows and refraining from public statements. If there is an instruction not to offend the country (or Ukraine’s leaders, to be more precise) in order to realise a desire to deter Russia, let them be straight about this. In this case, we will have a different policy in this area.

Question: Here is a question from SANA news agency and the people of Syria who have been suffering from Israel’s aggressive actions all this time. Israel continues to bomb our cities, our villages, and it has now considerably expanded the territory of its operations in Syria. At the same time, the people of Syria are suffering from aggressive sanctions, imposed on them by the United States and its allies. The people of Syria are experiencing hard times. Tell me, please, what can you say about this situation?

Sergey Lavrov:  We have repeatedly expressed our assessments of the developments in Syria. Everyone signed the unanimously approved UN Security Council Resolution 2254 that calls for respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the Syrian Arab Republic. US actions in Syria blatantly violate this resolution. Washington’s line to block humanitarian relief aid distribution to Syria in any way they can, including blackmail and ultimatums, also crudely violate this resolution. UNSC Resolution 2254 calls for providing humanitarian relief assistance to the people of Syria. The United States is doing everything it can to prevent this from happening. It has declared extremely tough sanctions, the so-called Caesar Act. It has also forbidden international organisations and other parties to take part in the November 2020 Damascus conference for repatriating Syrian refugees and temporarily displaced persons. Nevertheless, the conference gathered about 20 countries, including five Arab states that did not fear the domineering United States.

At the same time, while forbidding everyone to even send humanitarian goods to Syria, the United States occupied substantial territories on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. It ruthlessly exploits Syrian hydrocarbon deposits, Syrian national wealth, plundering and selling it and using the money to support its proxies, including Kurdish separatists, and to persuade the Kurds not to hold a dialogue with Damascus while encouraging a separatist atmosphere. This is also causing problems in Turkey. But the main thing is that all this is happening in the Syrian Arab Republic, and no one invited the United States or its Western allies there.

We, including the President of the Russian Federation, have repeatedly expressed our position on this. Yes, we maintain contacts between the military with the United States but we are not doing this because we recognise the legitimacy of their presence there but simply because the United States must act within certain boundaries. We cannot expel it, and we will not clash with US forces. Now that US forces are deployed there, we are conducting a dialogue with US representatives on so-called deconfliction. During this dialogue, we demand compliance with certain rules, and also sternly note the unacceptability of using force against Syrian state facilities.

Regarding Israel, we maintain close contact with Tel Aviv. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly discussed this subject with Benjamin Netanyahu. We strongly noted the need to honour UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the resolution on Lebanon. Israel also violates this while using Syrian air space to hit facilities in Lebanon. This is a serious aspect of our relations. Israel insists that it is forced to respond to national security threats emanating from Syrian territory. We have repeatedly told our Israeli colleagues: “Please give us the relevant information if you see these threats.” We absolutely don’t want Syrian territory to be used against Israel or as an arena for an Iranian-Israeli confrontation, as many people would like. To our Israeli colleagues: please notify us immediately of any facts that a threat to your state emanates from some part of Syrian territory. We will act to neutralise this threat. So far, we have received no specific reply to this appeal, but we continue to press the point.

Question: If possible, I would like to go back to the developments in the United States. They were quite dramatic, especially in Washington. All of us remember the footage of the Capitol and the violence we saw happening there. But the subsequent events, the reaction to these events are notable as well. Many people in the United States are now using the old rhetoric we remember from our own history. They are talking about purging the Republican Party of extreme Trumpists, which actually amounts to a cleansing campaign. You have mentioned that some people, including the US President, have been deprived of access to social media platforms. Mr Lavrov, isn’t this reminiscent of anything to you personally? Also, do you expect new political and information attacks against Russia considering that many people in America continue to believe that Donald Trump came to power four years ago with the help of Russia? Thank you.

Sergey Lavrov: We have already spoken, in part, about this subject. As for whether this is reminiscent of anything to me, I will not answer this question, because this may be reminiscent of different things to different people. There have been different periods and forms of persecution in different periods of human history. I don’t think people can easily forget this. Although people tend to have a short memory, we have history textbooks and we must teach historical truth to our young people. Otherwise, future generations may decide that there has never been anything apart from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms, which have a monopoly on the truth. Like all other normal people, I take no pleasure in watching problems come to a head in the United States.

Some people could be tempted to say, “The Americans have been lecturing the world, and have tried to lecture us, driving us into all kinds of corners, and now they are on the receiving end.” The United States is a huge country, and we cannot steer clear of it, because whatever happens there is bound to have global consequences, if only because the so-called digital giants are global corporations. Unlike the global corporations of the past, when Ford and other industrialists moved production to developing countries, these new corporations are producing ideas. As the classic saying goes, “A thought expressed becomes a lie.” This explains the risks we are facing.

If we look back on history, customs and manners of US foreign policy activities, it is always “America is Number One,” “America must prevail, “American democracy is an example to be emulated by others” and “democracy must be spread everywhere.” They have tried and continue trying to spread American democracy in the Middle East contrary to the region’s civilisation, traditions and culture. They have tried doing this in Afghanistan and Iraq and are trying to do this in Libya with complete disregard for the traditions, history, and ethnic and religious aspects of the countries concerned. They have changed the government in a European country, Ukraine. In which of the countries I have mentioned, or any other country where the Americans have tried to spread democracy has life become better for people?  There are no such countries.

During the past few years President Donald Trump has been saying that there would be no wars during his term. No new wars have been launched indeed. But US interference in the internal affairs of others went on very energetically. The physical methods of interference are giving way to interference through social media. Reliance on NGOs and the nursing of opposition forces loyal to the West are complemented with a dramatic increase in the power of social media and their capabilities. The American state is now facing the issue of whether they should be taken under control or left with regulation “standards” based on the liberal ideology and world outlook.  No restrictions are being placed on the US’s freedom of expression, freedom that has been set out in corporate standards that gives the Americans the right to restrict the others’ freedom of expression. This is a serious problem, and I sincerely hope that the Americans will settle it. After all, it is their country where they will have to live.

This shows once again how important it is to take multilateral decisions. I hope that those who have tried for years and even decades to hinder discussions on making internet governance more democratic, and those who have been putting spokes in the wheels of the Russian initiative set out in the UN General Assembly resolution on advancing responsible state behaviour in cyberspace and in the draft Convention on Cooperation in Combating Cybercrime will see the problem in a different light, especially when it comes to more democratic internet governance. This subject has been under discussion for years at a specialised UN body, the International Telecommunication Union. Nearly all countries are willing to coordinate universally acceptable forms, but the Americans are categorically against this.

Touching upon the events that have led to this situation, it would be worth recalling – a lot has been said about this – how the social media reported on voting during the US presidential election and how they worked to form a lop-sided public opinion of the developments in the United States and across the world.

Many people are talking now about the things that were obvious from the very beginning but have been glossed over. Two months before the actual election day, ballot papers were mailed to voters in several states for casting postal votes. They mailed 95 million ballots. Two-thirds of them turned out to be filled in prior to the election day. One-third of the ballots were not completed despite aggressive encouragement. This campaign of forcing people to cast their ballots by postal vote did not fit in with the US election standards. When both candidates got more than 40 percent of the vote, postal voting became a serious problem. As I have already said, those who received ballots by mail could send them back, take their ballots to the polling stations or cast them in some other way. This went on for weeks and was reported on social media as a normal practice and accepted by those who had criticised our voting on constitutional amendments. Curbside voting is child’s play compared to what has been done to the voting mechanism in the United States. Social media played the decisive role in covering the process. They openly supported one of the two parties and did not make any secret of their desire to have a system of government based on one ruling party. American society’s problem is their own election system and the way they hold political debates. This is a war on dissent, something which our Western colleagues have always claimed to be against. But they have taken up this banner now and are unlikely to cede it to anyone in the near future.

Question: Thank you, Maria and thank you, Mr Minister, for taking my question. I need some clarification on Alexey Navalny, on what you are saying about the findings because the Germans have said that they have given you the blood and tissue and clothing samples, that you would need to carry out a proper criminal investigation. I am not entirely clear on what would hold you back?

We are also at the police station where he currently is and he said there is a hastily convened court hearing which is not part of the standard legal procedure. Why is he not receiving normal recourse through Russian law like a normal citizen would?

Sergey Lavrov: I don’t know where you received the information that the Germans have given us tissue samples and other bio materials. This is not true.  The reply that the German authorities sent us three days ago, obviously preparing for Navalny’s return on January 17, only quotes the information provided by Navalny himself and his wife Yulia. To say nothing about bio materials or the bottles involved in this case, we don’t even have the results of his tests or a toxicological conclusion! We don’t have any of these. If you were told we were given his clothes, bottles and biomaterials, you were misled.

As for the legal procedure, let me repeat that biomaterials were taken and tests made at the Omsk clinic (a civilian clinic). Nothing like a chemical warfare agent was discovered in them. The Charite Clinic (also a civilian clinic, as the Germans reported) has not identified anything like a toxic chemical agent. The Omsk and Charite clinics are civilian clinics. The Germans, as they said themselves, transferred Navalny’s samples, taken at the Charite Clinic, to a Bundeswehr clinic. Its military staff who evidently possess the required knowledge discovered a prohibited chemical warfare agent, but of some new modification. Where did the Bundeswehr and the Germans in general receive this information? This is an interesting question. We asked this in the queries sent by the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office to the German Ministry of Justice. It is necessary to find this out.

Recently they told us almost in unison in Germany, and in Britain after the Skripal case, that they did not conduct any research on the so-called Novichok. Hence, researchers in Germany, France and Sweden couldn’t have the relevant markers and technology for identifying Novichok, albeit of a new version, in a matter of three to five days.

To initiate a criminal case in our judicial practice, we must have justification in the form of evidence that a crime was committed or an attempt to commit it was made. Since no chemical warfare agent was detected in Navalny’s samples taken by our doctors, we have asked for the OPCW tests made in Germany, France and Sweden. I hope you heard that I described in detail our proposal to this organisation to conduct a joint investigation. I find it hard to believe that our Western colleagues are so high-handed and arrogant that they deem it possible to demand explanations from Russia without presenting us any evidence. You (I mean the West) say you have evidence that he was poisoned and this is beyond doubt. But when we are told that we won’t be given this evidence, allow us to at least remain skeptical as regards to what happens with Navalny.

If you have nothing to hide, if you are not afraid to put the truth on the table and submit these facts to us, why aren’t you doing so? As soon as we see this, and if the attempt to poison him with chemical warfare agents is confirmed, we will start criminal proceedings. The pre-trial investigation conducted here in conformity with Criminal Procedure Rules has not revealed any grounds for opening a criminal case. I understand that you do many things on the sly. I have mentioned that the investigators in the Alexander Litvinenko poisoning in Britain have suddenly decided to classify this case and many details remain classified. We have received no information on the Skripals. Nothing has been disclosed to Britain’s allies in NATO or the EU. The case with the Malaysia Airlines crash (flight MH-17) is the same.

In accusing us, the Dutch have organised a trial with 13 witnesses, of which 12 are anonymous. They are refusing to reveal the names of 12 out of 13 witnesses. First, bother British and other European law-enforcement bodies and ask them why they are playing in the dark, what they are concealing and what they are afraid of. Then I will be ready to answer your questions if you receive sensible answers from them.

To be continued…

Eurasian Economic Union Enjoying Broader Cooperation

By Vladimir Odintsov
Source: New Eastern Outlook

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Noteworthy events to do with increased integration within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) took place in the first half of December 2020.

On December 7, representatives of the EAEU and China met during the special negotiation session called “Towards a bigger Eurasia via the integration of nations, businesses and people”, which was organized by the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) and the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) within the framework of the First Eurasian Congress. The head of the PRC delegation, Deputy Minister of Commerce Yu Jianhua, made a number of fairly interesting proposals aimed at expanding cooperation between China and the EAEU member states. For instance, he suggested adding an economic dimension (a feasibility study) to it so that a free trade zone agreement between the PRC and the EAEU could be implemented. Such a deal will, unquestionably, promote all aspects of mutual cooperation, strengthen the foundations of global trade, foster bilateral dialogue and lead to more unified standards. A joint commission for implementing the agreement between the EAEU and China will facilitate the adoption of measures that will ease global trade involving e-commerce to ensure an uninterrupted supply of goods.

Participants at the joint session discussed another proposal made by the Chinese delegation regarding the creation of a steel caravan of the Eurasian continent in order to establish joint logistics and warehouse hubs comprising networks of cross-border railways, which will cover the entire Eurasia with trade routes for cargo transportations, thus encouraging the construction of economic corridors, similar to the New Eurasian Land Bridge. Yu Jianhua emphasized that to ensure the trade ties between the PRC and the EAEU continued to strengthen and all the participants of the initiative derived benefits from the process of integration, it was important to facilitate the smooth functioning of green transport corridors and to streamline customs procedures at relevant border harbors.

At present, Central Asia has the necessary infrastructure on the basis of which a broad range of opportunities for continent-wide collaboration could be created. That is why, the session participants actively discussed all the proposals on increased integration. Kairat Kelimbetov, the head of Astana International Financial Centre and the Chairman of the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms, pointed out that it would be easy to create a framework for cooperation within the nations of the region, which would, for instance, provide access to sea routes to those countries (such as Kazakhstan) that did not have it.

During the session, Vladimir Chizhov, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union (EU), stated that there could be a reshuffle among the global players. Such processes occur naturally, which means that the ever-expanding and transforming Greater Eurasia may become one the new global centers as a result.

Another important event in the region, from the point of view of further Eurasian integration, was the online meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC) on December 11, which not only leaders of the 5 core member-states took part in but so did heads of observer states (Moldova) and of nations vying for such a status (Uzbekistan and Cuba). The agenda included more than 20 issues that directly dealt with the resolution of outstanding integration-related problems and the provision of economic support to member-states still facing socio-economic hardships, such as Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

During the SEEC discussion of the points tied to integration, the participants backed an initiative on strategic directions for promoting EAEU integration by 2025, focusing on completing the creation of a common market for goods, services, capital, workers as well as an integrated digital environment. Essentially, the aim is to stimulate the growth of member states’ economies, and to improve the well-being and quality of life of these nations’ inhabitants.

Another important achievement of the recent SEEC video conference, aside from the approval of strategic directions to encourage integration by year 2025, was Uzbekistan and Cuba obtaining observer status within the EAEU.

According to Article 109 of the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union, observer states can, upon invitation, attend meetings of EAEU bodies but without the right to participate in decision-making processes and receive any documents approved by the Union that are not confidential in nature.

Incidentally, the EAEU began its life on January 1, 2015, and its member states include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. In year 2020, Belarus has the chairmanship within the EAEU. Moldova has been an observer state within the organization since May 2018. The EAEU is an economic union only.

Uzbekistan has been fostering ties with its member states for a long time. As a result of these joined efforts, bilateral trade worth $4.5 billion in 2016 increased two-fold by the end of 2019 to more than $9 billion. In fact, transactions with the Eurasian Economic Union account for one third of all of Uzbekistan’s external trade in value, while their share in the agricultural sector exceeds 75%.

Uzbekistan gaining the observer status with the EAEU was the result of ongoing policies, pursued by the its government and its President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, aimed at promoting an open national economy and at utilizing the country’s transport corridors and logistics networks. Hence, at present, the common EAEU market with its 180 million consumers is increasingly becoming the target for products from Uzbekistan, and of all of this is, in turn, laying the groundwork for closer collaboration and mutual cooperation within Eurasia. The observer status will enable Uzbekistan to build up capabilities in its economy to better meet the demands of the EAEU common market and to increase the share within it taken up by Uzbek manufacturers and suppliers.

Similarly, Cuba also became an observer state in the EAEU. Thus, the organization is expanding not only its economic but also its geopolitical reach. This new status within the Eurasian Economic Union allows Cuba to foster closer economic ties and cooperation not only with Russia and Belarus (which it already collaborates with) but also with other EAEU member states. Cuba needs to increase revenues it earns from its global exports, particularly, from the products and services of the economy’s medical sector. Sugar production is a key sphere of Cuba’s economy, and sugar cane is a crucial agricultural commodity. Recently, the Cuban economy has been experiencing a two-fold crisis: due to the COVID-19 pandemic and tightening US sanctions. In 2020, the nation’s economy will have contracted for the first time in 26 years. Its government has put forward an economic strategy focused on opening up the country to international travelers, stimulating Cuba’s food production sector and introducing economic reforms faster. Hence, a closer relationship between this nation and the EAEU could, in the opinion of the Cuban government, help, in large part, to resolve the country’s current economic woes.

Vladimir Odintsov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

How West, Central and South Asia are interconnecting

How West, Central and South Asia are interconnecting

January 02, 2021

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted on Asia Times

It’s one of those quintessential journeys that make people dream: Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad by train. Let’s call it ITI.

Soon, in early 2021, ITI will become a reality. But, initially, just as a freight train. The deal was recently sealed at the 10th meeting of the transport and communication ministers of ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) in Istanbul.

ITI’s official name is actually the ECO Container Train. Trial runs started in 2019. The 6,500 km overland journey should now take 11 days – compared to the roughly 45 days across sealanes for trade between Western Europe and Pakistan.

ECO is a very interesting – and strategic – organization, virtually unknown outside of Asia, uniting Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, the five Central Asian “stans”, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan.

Some of these players are also members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO); some are part of the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU); and almost all of them are partners to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

They have come up with a ECO Vision 2025 that emphasizes connectivity as a springboard to “social and economic development”, privileging trade, transportation, energy and tourism. ECO seeks to de facto integrate West, Central and South Asia plus the Caucasus. For all practical purposes, ECO straddles most of the New Silk Roads developing across a large part of Eurasia.

That pesky Sultan, again

The ITI/ECO Container Train will be yet another layer of connectivity running in parallel to the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, centered on the Caucasus, and as we have seen in a previous Turkey/New Great Game column, a key plank of Ankara’s trade strategy.

Soon, ITI/ECO will also link with the European rail networks via that 76-km long engineering marvel – the undersea Marmaray railway tunnel in Istanbul. Of course opportunities abound for branching out to parts of the Middle East. By the end of the decade, ITI/ECO may well go high-speed rail – think Chinese investment.

The fascinating counterpoint to the Marmaray undersea tunnel is the Trans-Caspian: the actual connection between the BTK in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

As you can see here , the strategically designed layout of the ports allows instant roll on-roll off from the cargo trains to huge freight ferries.

Iran, for instance, is building a roll on-roll off shipping port in Bandar-e Anzalī on the Caspian Sea – which will be used to export merchandise but also oil and gas transiting via Russia or Kazakhstan, both Caspian nations, and thus bypassing any further blockade imposed by the US.

The interlink of ITI/ECO with BTK will solidify yet another important East-West trade corridor. Apart from the northern corridors linking with the Trans-Siberian, every East-West trade corridor across Eurasia goes through Turkey. That gives President Erdogan a wealth of options – as Beijing knows too well. The Xian-Istanbul corridor is as important as the Xian-Kazakhstan-Russia corridor.

Our previous Turkey/New Great Game column provoked serious debate in Istanbul. Political analyst Ceyda Karan remarked Erdogan “has only one card: Turkish geopolitics. He doesn’t care how many soldiers will die in Libya or Syria. He doesn’t care about the Turkish people”.

Esteemed Professor Korkut Boratav, now a nonagenarian eminence in macroeconomics, wondered how I could “ascribe those important roles to our chief”, referencing Erdogan.

Well, it’s all about playing geoeconomics. Erdogan certainly has leveraged his Rolodex across Eurasia, in terms of foreign policy, going no holds barred in the manipulation of all sorts of proxy gangs practicing all manner of extremisms. But ultimately what The Sultan really needs is trade and foreign investment in his battered economy.

So trade connectivity is essential. But the problem always remains his own strategy. Supporting, feeding and weaponizing an army of ISIS/Daesh, Jabhat al-Nusra, and Uighur/Caucasian jihadi proxies is not exactly a sound business strategy.

Erdogan seems to be everywhere – Libya, Azerbaijan, the Turkish-northwest Syrian border. Strategists in Beijing, Moscow, Tehran and Islamabad of course are asking questions: what for, exactly?

There’s no realistic geoeconomic scenario for him to bypass Russia. He may use Azerbaijan as a sort of de luxe messenger between Turkey and Israel – and perhaps, subsequently, profit from Israel’s courtship of Persian Gulf monarchies. After all, as far as allies in the Arab world are concerned, the only player he can really count on is Qatar. Follow the money: Doha by itself won’t finance an economic boom in Turkey.

Let a million trade corridors bloom

Silly rumors about the demise of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are greatly exaggerated – considering they are a sub-section of American propaganda. CPEC is a complex, very long-term project whose implementation, according to the Chinese timetable, has not even started.

What Islamabad must be aware of is how much sexier, in comparison, is Tehran, when seen with Beijing’s eyes. Pakistan counts mostly on Imran Khan’s efforts. Iran has a wealth of oil, gas, gold and an array of crucial minerals. As India famously shot itself in the back – once again – by de facto abdicating from investing in Chabahar port in Iran, China stepped in. The $400 billion China-Iran deal is way more comprehensive than CPEC, at roughly $64 billion.

Back on the road, the good news is Iran-Pakistan seem to be focused on increasing connectivity. It boggles the mind that until recently there was only one crossing along their 900 km border. Finally they decided to open two more border gateways.

This is hugely important, because the first gateway is in ultra-sensitive Sistan-Balochistan province – constantly susceptible to Salafi-jihadi infiltrators – and only 70 km away from strategic Gwadar port.

As far as tourism goes – what the Chinese describe as “people to people exchange” – that’s an extra dimension, because Pakistanis can now easily cross the border, reach Chabahar, and then go by train to Iran’s holy sites Najaf and Karbala.

Finally, there’s the all-important Russian factor – which always commands Erdogan’s undivided attention.

Arguably Moscow’s top strategic priority is to decouple the EU from any US/NATO-imposed Dr. Strangelove impulses. So a EU trade alliance with Beijing – now in progress, via their investment treaty – cannot but be a win-win, as it spells out closer European integration with the Eurasian century, driven by China but with Russia, crucially, positioned as the premier security provider.

And as President Putin once again made it clear in his year end’s vows, BRI and the EAEU are increasingly merging.

Quite a few readers have noted that Russia has now achieved the tripartite capacity that Kissinger once declared essential for US strategic leadership: mastery of weapons exports; control of energy flows; and agriculture exports. Not to mention diplomatic finesse – widely respected all across Eurasia and the Global South.

Meanwhile, Eurasia goes with the flow: let a million trade corridors – Trans-Siberian, BTK, ITI/ECO – bloom.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks at the 28th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, Moscow, December 10, 2020

Source

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks at the 28th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, Moscow, December 10, 2020
File Photo

11 December 202000:22

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks at the 28th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, Moscow, December 10, 2020

Colleagues, friends,

Fyodor Lukyanov spoke about the role of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy. Who would have thought at the time when the Council was created, and I was invited to join in as a co-founder, that the Council would live to this day. The experience gained over the decades of its functioning is instrumental in our work and makes it possible to bounce ideas off the expert community, which is deeply versed in international matters and is keenly interested in them. This is important.

This year was truly challenging and pivotal. Humanity was unprepared for the differences and mixed trends that had been piling up on the agenda over years and exacerbated confusion in international affairs. The habitual way of life of hundreds of millions of people and states, as well as ordinary citizens, has been upended, many sectors of the economy found themselves on the verge of collapse, business activity has significantly decreased, global cooperation chains were disrupted and the unemployment rates went up. Closed borders abruptly reduced the chances for maintaining multifaceted contacts between the countries and the people.

The scale and inertia of the events that we are witnessing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic make it impossible to say when life will get back to normal. I hope Mr Lukyanov was right when he confidently stated, albeit with reservations, that we will be able to meet in person in the spring. So far, humanity and its best representatives in the person of healthcare professionals are just trying to understand where we are and when this might end. Many people are saying that this will never end, and we will have to live with it just like the annual flu, but with much more severe consequences. One of the key lessons of the pandemic is that no one can secure themselves against these cross-border threats.

The pandemic affected literally everyone. Clearly, this kind of global cataclysm can only be overcome by uniting and rising above fleeting differences. President Putin has repeatedly stated this firm position adopted by Russia. Unfortunately, a number of countries, primarily the United States and its allies, are trying to take advantage of this situation in their geopolitical interests and ignore the needs that are common to humanity.

The term “common to humanity” does not at all mean an average, consensus-based or accommodating understanding of how the inter-civilisational diversity should be respected. This manifests itself in way too many areas of modern international life, including the interpretation of multilateralism energetically promoted and propagated by our Western colleagues. This is also happening in connection with the coronavirus pandemic, despite the fact that people in America and Europe are suffering from COVID-19 as badly as people in other countries.

The need for conducting a mutually respectful dialogue and rejecting artificially created confrontational schemes is nowhere to be seen. Just think of the indiscriminate accusations against China regarding the spread of the disease. There was an attempt to blame the PRC for everything that happened. This undermined the efforts to achieve unity, including of the research capacities, in order to come up with effective responses. In addition to healthcare aspects, we must take a closer look at the international bodies in charge of the health and well-being of the people. The WHO-related developments are quite telling in his regard. Ideas are being put forward to create some non-governmental institutions mandated to determine the international community’s policy. This is a clear attempt to sideline the World Health Organisation. These developments are reminiscent of neo-colonial approaches and habits and show the attempts to restrain the formation of new global centres and to punish those who pursue an independent foreign policy. This can also be seen in the “vaccine race.” We are well aware of attempts to oppose the new concept of the so-called rules-based international order to everything that has been created after establishing the UN and forming a large block of universal international legal instruments.

Russia believes it is imperative to look for ways to unite countries and governments, to look for a constructive agenda relying on the principles of collegiality and equality, which should contribute to de-escalating international tensions and ensuring the predictability of global processes. Later, we will discuss the initiatives that Russia has been promoting to this end. A CSTO summit and a Collective Security Council meeting took place on December 2. Among other decisions, the participants adopted a statement by the heads of state on forming a just and sustainable international order. Among other initiatives, this document proposes setting up a meeting of authorised representatives of the CSTO, the CIS, the SCO, the OSCE, NATO and the EU and seeing if these organisations can sit down and form a common agenda, jointly identify problems and, ideally, outline ways to overcome them. This is not something radically revolutionary. In 1999, the Platform for Co-operative Security was adopted at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul. It proclaimed the unification of the efforts of the OSCE and other sub-regional organisations in the Euro-Atlantic space. Some time ago, before the pandemic, we told our Western partners that it would be nice to take advantage of that consensus and try to build bridges between these organisations, instead of watching them build up confrontational potential, but our Western colleagues chose to step aside. Cooperative security and engagement of the bodies created in the post-Soviet space were important in the 1990s (in this case, in 1999), when the West still hoped that we would follow the path charted by the winners of the Cold War. Now, we have officially submitted a proposal on behalf of the CSTO heads of state. Let’s see how the West will respond to it.

Our goal is clear. We seek stability, fair opportunities for all states, including, of course, Russia. Gunboat diplomacy or democratic or any other sort of messianism is hardly an option if we want to accomplish this. I mentioned the rules which the West wants to base the international order on. There’s an “effective multilateralism” initiative which is openly opposed to multilateralism within the UN. There’s a tendency to interpret it as the need to return to Euro-Atlantic solidarity without exemptions. We are seeing this. I believe that more positive and sustainable results can be achieved through joining efforts based on the observance of the norms and principles of the UN Charter. We are upholding this consistently. President Putin’s initiative to hold a summit of the UN Security Council’s permanent members is part of our policy. It is imperative that they realise their responsibility under the UN Charter and act upon this responsibility. We must do our best to defuse this tension acting together. Heads of all UN Security Council permanent member states gave their consent. The coronavirus pandemic thwarted our efforts to agree on specific dates. However, we are working on it and agreeing on the concept and the potential outcomes of this summit.

We realise that the UN is not a static structure. It needs reform, including the reform of the UN Security Council. Our position is absolutely clear and consistent. It is necessary to increase the representation of the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa if we want to make this body more representative. Only this approach will add value to reforming the UN Security Council. Everything else is up for discussion, but it is unlikely that an increase in Western representation on the Security Council will add diversity of opinions to this central body, which is in charge of peace and security on the planet. In any case, it is necessary to strive for the broadest possible agreement between the member states, so everything will depend on compromises. We are ready to discuss these compromises based on a balance of interests. In principle, this is the key to what needs to be accomplished if we want to ensure stability and harmony in the world inasmuch as this harmony is possible.

We believe that respect for the cultural and civilisational specifics of the modern world and refusal to impose one development model and values on everyone is an absolutely necessary step if we want to calm down the current situation. We see that this approach is shared by the overwhelming majority of participants in international communication. We disagree with the Western attempts to portray Russia as a country in isolation or a geopolitical loner. The viewpoint of our Western colleagues whereby everyone who disagrees with them is a lonely state probably has the right to exist.

However, we can see how the positions that we share are promoted within BRICS, the SCO, the CSTO and the CIS. The EAEU is actively working to align its plans with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. There is the G20. It has been in existence for quite a while, but was brought to the highest level and its meetings were made regular after the 2008 crisis. At first they met twice a year, then once a year. The G20 is the recognition of the fact that the G7 (and even the G8 in its old format) is not capable of resolving all international problems. The G20 includes the G7, the BRICS countries and a number of other like-minded states. The recognition that the G20 is necessary in order to develop generally acceptable approaches based on the balance of interests is a highly symptomatic trend.

Reviewing peace problems should not be driven by ideology, but rather be approached on the basis of equality. President Putin’s initiative to form a Greater Eurasian Partnership is going in the same vein. The partnership is supposed to unite continental efforts with the participation of the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN and be open to all countries of our vast continent, including the EU states in the long run. This is a long process, but it is crucial to set this goal.

Russia’s proposals regarding strategic stability, arms control and European security are indicative of our constant readiness to achieve mutual understanding. You are aware of our position on renewing the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty (START), a moratorium on deploying ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles and de-escalating tensions along the Russia-NATO contact line. We came up with a proposal to agree on an arrangement that the exercises on both sides are conducted at a distance from the contact line, and also agree on the minimum distances that may not be violated by military aircraft and warships of Russia or NATO.

Conceptually, we came up with a proposal a long time ago (and failed to see any reciprocity on the part of the United States) to confirm, in the statement made by our countries, and perhaps in the Russia-NATO format, the unacceptability of nuclear war. Many of you have probably seen the recent remarks by US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea, where he almost ridiculed our proposal and called on any future US Administration to never agree with the statement on the unacceptability of nuclear war.

We believe that implementing these initiatives or, at least, a professional straight-to-the-point and substantive discussion of the subject, possibly along with other steps, would help improve the overall atmosphere in Russia-West relations.  Dialogue itself on these matters would improve it. But so far these ideas have been hanging in the air.

Leaving behind almost everything that has been achieved so far, including our proposals, Mr Billingslea puts forward confrontational ideas, including sanctions against all buyers of military products from Russia and China. This is a fairly telling philosophy, which, unfortunately, has not met any serious opposition in Washington so far.

If we take a close look at what we have heard from the North Atlantic camp so far, we can come to a conclusion that it has consciously opted for not just a policy of containment, but confrontation. Perhaps this approach underlies its unwillingness to admit that the world must change. We are now witnessing two opposite trends in Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron is strongly promoting the EU’s strategic autonomy. The trend embodied by Germany is based on the assumption that defending Europe without the United States is impossible. We have already asked about whom they want to defend it from, but haven’t received a clear answer yet. Given this, multipolarity, which Yevgeny Primakov foresaw many years ago, has shown its objective nature. In an effort to stop it, they are doing whatever it takes in order to minimise the number of potential poles that have the strength and courage to uphold national interests.

One of Washington’s primary goals is to make the EU lose its strategic independence and return to the fold of Euro-Atlantic unity, where everyone is aware of who pays the piper and calls the tune.

Despite the above, we are open to an equal dialogue. Most importantly, our counterparts must be willing to engage. We will keep the communication channels open until they are. Our proposals and initiatives remain on the negotiating table. They have been reiterated many times. It is enough for our partners to know that they remain valid. However, in order to move ahead, we need our Western colleagues to respond to them.

Keeping open the channels for a dialogue on all matters, we will continue to work on the newly available opportunities in the economy, culture, science and people-to-people contacts. We do not fence ourselves off from this. Those who want to impose their agenda on us and ignore our status of a subject in international affairs must understand that we are not going to either make excuses or seek approval for our actions. Threats, sanctions or attempts to come up with other punishments are absolutely pointless and counterproductive. It is strange that the West has not realised this so far.

We do not need interaction with the West any more than the West needs Russia and what it has to offer. If our Western colleagues prefer to stick to certain rules and concepts that they themselves invented when they talk with each other, this is up to them. They can build a dialogue with other participants in international life, including Russia, solely on the basis of a generally accepted code of conduct. You can call it the rules enshrined in the UN Charter, namely, respect for the sovereign equality of states, the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

We are pursuing our own foreign policy, which has taken shape over the past two decades. It is aimed at ensuring the country’s security and creating the most favourable external environment for achieving our internal development goals. We are aware that the goal of the West is to prevent us from creating this particular external environment that is beneficial for our internal development. Everything that is being done to contain Russia is clearly done to this end. Attempts to destroy external opportunities that can be used to promote Russia’s growth continue unabated, but, in any case, there’s more to the world than the West. In the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we wanted to become part of something, but we now realise that there isn’t much we can become part of. At least, the West is not building anything of its own. Indeed, President Macron has come up with a proposal to conduct an analytical and philosophical dialogue about whether modern capitalism can meet the needs of the people and resolve related problems.

If we take Western development models, we have no place to fit in. The coronavirus, as if everything else wasn’t enough, showed it very convincingly. We need to build something ourselves. This is a fairly ambitious and complex goal, but it calls for immediate action.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei

November 27, 2020

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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a joint news conference with Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei

While this press conference contains a shorter Belarus update, it has a wider context and is posted to illustrate Foreign Minister Lavrov’s clear expression of irritation with the west, which he now covers in each of his routine press conferences.  In this one, he handles among other topics, protests across the world, Heiko Maas, Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CMCE), International agencies, including the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner being silent and not doing their jobs, as well as strategic stability.

Joint session of the collegiums of the Russian and Belarusian Foreign Ministries, November 26, 2020

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have held a joint session of the collegiums of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. By tradition, it took place in a confidential and truly friendly atmosphere.

Using this opportunity, I would like to thank again our Belarusian friends for their traditional hospitality and excellent organisation of work. We highly value these annual meetings in the format of members of the collegiums and other representatives of the two ministries’ top management. They allow us to discuss in detail the most urgent international issues that involve the interests of our countries and need to be addressed.

Despite the complicated epidemiological situation, we managed to meet offline and talk face to face. We had four items on our agenda: relations of our countries with the European Union, participation in UN peacekeeping missions (in part, in the context of the prospects of the CSTO’s involvement in the UN peacekeeping activities), cooperation in the EAEU on forming the Greater Eurasian Partnership and ways of ensuring international information security.

We achieved specific agreements on all of these issues. They are reflected in a resolution that we signed in addition to the plan of consultations between our foreign ministries in 2021. We also spoke about broader cooperation in international organisations, including the CIS, CSTO, EAEU, UN and OSCE.

We and our Belarusian colleagues had to state that unfortunately our US-led Western partners continue persistently promoting their narrow selfish interests in a bid to preserve their hegemony in the world arena. They are using the concept of the “rules-based” world order, setting it directly against universal, commonly recognised standards of international law, including the UN Charter.

We are concerned about the attempts by the Western countries to establish control over international organisations, up to and including privatisation of their secretariats. When this fails, they try to replace collective work in universal formats with private get-togethers where all those who agree with the Western policy make decisions that are later presented as multilateral and binding. It is hardly possible to make us follow these rules. The overwhelming majority of countries are firmly committed to the old, tried-and-tested principle – respect for international law, primarily the UN Charter.

We noted numerous facts of crude interference by the US and those who follow in its wake (I am referring to some European capitals) in the internal affairs of sovereign states. The dirty methods of colour revolutions continue to be used. These include manipulation of public opinion, instigation and support of overtly anti-government forces and contribution to their radicalisation. We are seeing how these methods are being applied to the Republic of Belarus. We spoke about this in detail today both with Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, who received us before this meeting.

We were informed in great detail about the current developments in Belarus. We are not indifferent to them. The Republic of Belarus is our ally and strategic partner and also a fraternal nation. We are interested in a calm and stable situation in that country. This will be facilitated by the Constitutional reform that was launched by the Belarusian leadership as a major transformation of the political, economic and legal systems.

We believe the Belarusian people are wise and always act in a balanced manner. They are capable of resolving their problems without any outside prompting or obtrusive proposals on unwanted mediation. It is obvious that attempts to jeopardise normalisation are being made. There are many examples of this: a desire to radicalise the protesters, encouraging people to engage in subversion and high treason, which are made, in part, from abroad.

Today we again reviewed in detail the entire range of our ties and ways of protecting the interests of each of our countries, as well as the interests of the Union State of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation.

I would like to emphasise again that we are content with our joint discussion. We will carry out everything we have agreed on today.

Question (addressed to both ministers): On November 18, 2020, your German counterpart Heiko Maas accused the authorities of Belarus of violently suppressing peaceful protests. Having said this, he urged the Council of Europe to use its instruments for monitoring the situation even in those European countries that do not want to join the organisation. Could you comment on this, please?

Sergey Lavrov (speaking after Vladimir Makei):  We took note of how Germany took over the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CMCE). German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas first made a speech at a closed CMCE meeting and then held a news conference. His speech was unconventional for the presidency of this pan-European body because the main goal of the Council of Europe, which is recorded in its statute, is to promote greater unity of all European countries. By definition, the President, all the more so in the Council of Europe, must focus on enhancing unity in his future work rather than stir up confrontation.

It is no secret that at the CMCE meeting prior to that news conference, Heiko Maas presented his programme for the next sixth months in a politicised vein and unacceptable tone, in a crude, undiplomatic manner. He made a number of Russophobic statements. He had grievances not only as regards the Republic of Belarus but also made groundless Russophobic accusations in respect of Crimea, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria and southeastern Ukraine. His opinion on the Nagorno-Karabakh agreement also sounded rather strange.

At the news conference Mr Maas urged everyone “to respect the rules-based order.” Our Western colleagues are not going to respect international law as a matter of principle. He did say that the principles of the Council of Europe must be imposed by using relevant instruments, including on those countries that are not members of the Council of Europe. I consider this absolutely unacceptable.

It is indeed strange that of all countries it is Germany that has recently decided to act as a driver of aggressive approaches to the countries that are not NATO or EU members.

Those who are objective and pay attention to double standards will note that neither Mr Maas, nor other Western representatives or UN human rights agencies have said a word about rather serious incidents in France and Germany. There were protests by yellow vests in France, demonstrations against COVID restrictions in Germany and some other countries, and protests against a ban on abortions in Poland. They were dispersed in a very tough manner.

International agencies, including the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner, stayed silent. Human rights champions in France covered the yellow vests protests in a completely different manner than they cover events in Russia and Belarus. Only in the beginning did they cautiously urge the sides to overcome their differences. But later the yellow vests began to encounter a tough police response. In the estimate of French human rights activists, almost 15,000 rubber bullets were shot at the protesters; 2,500 people were wounded and 12,000 detained, including 2,000 who were sentenced, in part, to real prison terms. But nobody speaks about this. This is considered normal because these are their compatriots. It is necessary to get rid of this attitude, especially for those who head the Council of Europe.

About a month ago, Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric asked us in Moscow about our assessments of the events in the Republic of Belarus. She received our answers and inquired whether the Council of Europe can contribute to normalisation there in some way. We promised do convey her wish to those concerned. She emphasised that this will be possible only if the Republic of Belarus makes this request itself. But as you can see, the German Presidency has different plans in this respect. This is regrettable.

We will try to compel the Council of Europe, all the more so under the German Presidency, not to forget about the issues that the West is trying to hush up in many different ways. This applies to discrimination against Russian speakers in the Baltic states, the disgraceful lack of citizenship, and the so-called reforms in the field of education and language in Ukraine that are aimed only against the Russian language, as distinct from the languages of other national minorities because they are EU languages. We will not accept the efforts of the Council of Europe (or some of its members) to hush up the facts of the purposeful harassment of the Russian media, not to mention the glorification of Nazism. The German Presidency must remember all this and must not divert the Council of Europe to the discussion of issues that are more comfortable for the West and justify its positions, while ignoring the problems that have become chronic for our Western colleagues.

Question: What are the prospects for concluding new strategic stability treaties with the United States once the new administration is in office? Last year, President Trump mentioned a new trilateral document involving Russia, the United States and China. What will happen now?

Sergey Lavrov: This is a long-standing matter. True, the Trump administration was consumed (I can’t come up with any other word) by a desire to involve the People’s Republic of China in disarmament talks. Initially, they talked about the need to include the PRC in the START Treaty which is still in force, although this is impossible by definition. Then, they proposed creating a new treaty and not renewing the current one, because it’s outdated and bilateral, whereas they would like to take a step towards multilateral disarmament and arms control. Their position was erratic. As a result, they came up with a proposal to extend the treaty for another year, but on the condition that we recount each other’s warheads and put in overseers at the defence plants’ checkpoints. Counting warheads and ignoring carriers and innovative technologies that directly affect strategic stability is a frivolous and unprofessional approach.

Earlier this year, we made proposals to our US colleagues about structuring our future dialogue on arms control and non-proliferation. They stood their ground and insisted on warheads alone. They have long been interested in Russian tactical nuclear weapons, hence their interest in warheads at the expense of everything else. We say we will be ready to discuss non-strategic nuclear weapons, including warheads, when the Americans withdraw their tactical weapons from other countries. In Europe, these weapons are deployed in five NATO countries. Also, NATO structures conduct training in handling nuclear weapons for military personnel from non-nuclear countries in flagrant violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

With regard to the People’s Republic of China, President Putin has repeatedly stated that we have nothing against it, but the decision is up to the PRC. China has officially and publicly stated on several occasions that it is not going to join the talks with Russia and the United States, since its nuclear arsenal is an order of magnitude smaller than the corresponding arsenals of Moscow and Washington. We respect this position. If and when the Americans persuade China to join multilateral talks, we will have no objection to that. We will be willing to participate in them if the PRC agrees to this of its own accord. But we are not going to persuade Beijing to do so just at the whim of the Americans. But if and when a multilateral format in disarmament and arms control talks is created, we will push for France and the United Kingdom to join it as well.

When we told the Americans about this, they told us that these counties are their allies and they vouch for them. Precisely because they are allies of the United States, we would like to see them at the negotiating table, if the talks become multilateral. Washington’s absolutely hostile doctrine towards Russia cannot but raise questions about the motives of the US allies, whether in Europe or Asia. When they enter into a military alliance with a country that declares us a hostile state, we must draw our own conclusions regarding these allies.

I don’t see how we can seriously discuss anything related to the continuation of the arms control process with the Trump administration. We do not know yet what kind of administration will move into the White House or what kind of policy it will conduct. The voting results have not yet been announced officially, but there’s already an understanding that the change-of-command process is underway. Let’s wait and see what kind of assessments will eventually form in the minds of those who will shape the US strategic stability policy after January 21, 2021.

Question (addressed to both ministers): Popular protests have been growing around the world for various reasons, including political ones. The law enforcement reaction is the same everywhere, going as far as the use of force and special equipment. At the same time, such events in Belarus are receiving heightened attention from foreign politicians. What do you think is the reason?

Sergey Lavrov: I have already cited examples of protests being suppressed in France. Those drastic figures are rarely revealed to the general public. Human rights agencies in the UN system, as well as numerous human rights rapporteurs are trying their best to avoid any topics that are uncomfortable for Western representatives.

Speaking of the protests in Paris, there is a huge wave of protest against the global security bill, which includes a ban on photographing, filming or otherwise identifying law enforcement officers. I can imagine the kind of racket a bill like that would have sparked if it were proposed in Russia or Belarus. The French public and human rights groups are concerned, yet we can see no reaction from international bodies. The police used water cannons and noise grenades during rallies against the bill. The protesters, too, provoked the police, using stones and sticks. One police officer was injured. And yet, I repeat, this does not prevent the West from lecturing anyone who is not their ally.

Voting processes in Russia and Belarus have been scrutinised through a magnifying glass. When a similar story happens in the United States, it is declared “normal, it’s democracy, and everything is just fine.” Though, even respected and influential think tanks in the United States openly write about “the problems with the US electoral system.” To put it mildly, that system does not fully comply with the principles of democracy or the rule of law. They write these things themselves, but our international partners prefer to ignore them and concentrate on the countries whose “regimes” they find undesirable.

When UN rapporteurs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, describe violent clashes in Western capitals, they urge everyone to find a solution through dialogue. When they criticise us or Belarus, they demand a change of the system. This difference is visible to the naked eye. We have long lost any illusions about what kind of standards the West is promoting and how they use double standards. We will fight, and will defend our position at the UN bodies, where these issues should be considered. We will not allow the vices that the Western community is demonstrating to be forgotten.

Question (addressed to both ministers): How can you comment on Pavel Latushko’s last interview, where he spoke about the possibility of unofficial contacts with Moscow?

Sergey Lavrov: Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has just shown me part of that interview. Not only did he mention the possibility of unofficial contacts with Moscow – he said such contacts were underway and were coordinated. He shamelessly declared he could not cite any names, but mentioned “contacts at a sufficiently high level.” He speculated whether I will be allowed to tell my Belarusian friends about it. I will answer briefly: this is a blatant lie, and it once again says something about those trying to make some kind of career with foreign handouts.

RCEP hops on the New Silk Roads

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RCEP hops on the New Silk Roads

November 16, 2020

by Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted on Asia Times

Ho Chi Minh, in his eternal abode, will be savoring it with a heavenly smirk. Vietnam was the – virtual – host as the 10 Asean nations, plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, on the final day of the 37th Asean Summit.

RCEP, eight years in the making, binds together 30% of the global economy and 2.2 billion people. It’s the first auspicious landmark of the Raging Twenties, which started with an assassination (of Iran’s Gen. Soleimani) followed by a global pandemic and now ominous intimations of a dodgy Great Reset.

RCEP seals East Asia as the undisputed prime hub of geoeconomics. The Asian Century in fact was already in the making way back in the 1990s. Among those Asians as well as Western expats who identified it, in 1997 I published my book 21st: The Asian Century (excerpts here.)

RCEP may force the West to do some homework, and understand that the main story here is not that RCEP “excludes the US” or that it’s “designed by China”. RCEP is an East Asia-wide agreement, initiated by Asean, and debated among equals since 2012, including Japan, which for all practical purposes positions itself as part of the industrialized Global North. It’s the first-ever trade deal that unites Asian powerhouses China, Japan and South Korea.

By now it’s clear, at last in vast swathes of East Asia, that RCEP’s 20 chapters will reduce tariffs across the board; simplify customs, with at least 65% of service sectors fully open, with increased foreign shareholding limits; solidify supply chains by privileging common rules of origin; and codify new e-commerce regulations.

When it comes to the nitty gritty, companies will be saving and be able to export anywhere within the 15-nation spectrum without bothering with extra, separate requirements from each nation. That’s what an integrated market is all about.

When RCEP meets BRI

The same scratched CD will be playing non-stop on how RCEP facilitates China’s “geopolitical ambitions”. That’s not the point. The point is RCEP evolved as a natural companion to China’s role as the main trade partner of virtually every East Asian player.

Which brings us to the key geopolitical and geoeconomic angle: RCEP is a natural companion to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which as a trade/sustainable development strategy spans not only East Asia but delves deeper into Central and West Asia.

The Global Times analysis is correct: the West has not ceased to distort BRI, without acknowledging how “the initiative they have been slandering is actually so popular in the vast majority of countries along the BRI route.”

RCEP will refocus BRI – whose “implementation” stage, according to the official timetable, starts only in 2021. The low-cost financing and special foreign exchange loans offered by the China Development Bank will become much more selective.

There will be a lot of emphasis on the Health Silk Road – especially across Southeast Asia. Strategic projects will be the priority: they revolve around the development of a network of economic corridors, logistic zones, financial centers, 5G networks, key sea ports and, especially short and mid-term, public health-related high-tech.

The discussions that led to the final RCEP draft were focused on a mechanism of integration that can easily bypass the WTO in case Washington persists on sabotaging it, as was the case during the Trump administration.

The next step could be the constitution of an economic bloc even stronger than the EU – not a far-fetched possibility when we have China, Japan, South Korea and the Asean 10 working together. Geopolitically, the top incentive, beyond an array of imperative financial compromises, would be to solidify something like Make Trade, Not War.

RCEP marks the irredeemable failure of the Obama era TPP, which was the “NATO on trade” arm of the “pivot to Asia” dreamed up at the State Department. Trump squashed TPP in 2017. TPP was not about a “counterbalance” to China’s trade primacy in Asia: it was about a free for all encompassing the 600 multinational companies which were involved in its draft. Japan and Malaysia, especially, saw thought it from the start.

RCEP also inevitably marks the irredeemable failure of the decoupling fallacy, as well as all attempts to drive a wedge between China and its East Asian trade partners. All these Asian players will now privilege trade among themselves. Trade with non-Asian nations will be an afterthought. And every Asean economy will give full priority to China.

Still, American multinationals won’t be isolated, as they will be able to profit from RCEP via their subsidiaries within the 15-nation members.

What about Greater Eurasia?

And then there’s the proverbial Indian mess. The official spin from New Delhi is that RCEP would “affect the livelihoods” of vulnerable Indians. That’s code for an extra invasion of cheap and efficient Chinese products.

India was part of the RCEP negotiations from the start. Pulling out – with a “we may join later” conditional – is once again a spectacular case of stabbing themselves in the back. The fact is the Hindutva fanatics behind Modi-ism bet on the wrong horse: the US-fostered Quad partnership cum Indo-Pacific strategy, which spells out as containment of China and thus preclude closer trade ties.

No “Make in India” will compensate for the geoeconomic, and diplomatic, blunder – which crucially implies India distancing itself from the Asean 10. RCEP solidifies China, not India, as the undisputed engine of East Asian growth amid the re-positioning of supply chains post-Covid.

A very interesting geoeconomic follow-up is what will Russia do. For the moment, Moscow’s priority involves a Sisyphean struggle: manage the turbulent relationship with Germany, Russia’s largest import partner.

But then there’s the Russia-China strategic partnership –which should be enhanced economically. Moscow’s concept of Greater Eurasia involves deeper involvement both East and West, including the expansion of the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), which, for instance, has free trade deals with Asean nations such as Vietnam.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is not a geoeconomics mechanism. But it’s intriguing to see what President Xi Jinping said at his keynote speech at the Council of Heads of State of the SCO last week.

This is Xi’s key quote: “We must firmly support relevant countries in smoothly advancing major domestic political agendas in accordance with law; maintaining political security & social stability, and resolutely oppose external forces interfering in internal affairs of member states under any pretext.”

Apparently this has nothing to do with RCEP. But there are quite a few intersections. No interference of “external forces”. Beijing taking into consideration the Covid-19 vaccine needs of SCO members – and this could be extended to RCEP. The SCO – as well as RCEP – as a multilateral platform for member states to mediate disputes.

All of the above points to the inter-sectionality of BRI, EAEU, SCO, RCEP, BRICS+ and AIIB, which translates as closer Asia – and Eurasia – integration, geoeconomically and geopolitically. While the dogs of dystopia bark, the Asian – and Eurasian – caravan – keeps marching on.

U.S. sanctions bring Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran together: Russian academic

September 18, 2020 – 23:18

By Mohammad Mazhari

TEHRAN – An associate professor in the Department of Comparative Politics at Russia’s RUDN University believes that the United States’ sanctions are one of the factors that bring Iran, Russia, and China together.

Russia, China, and Iran are expanding economic and political ties as a result of U.S. pressure policy, Vladimir Ivanov tells the Tehran Times.
“One of the forces that bring these countries together is U.S. sanctions pressure, which affects Iran, Russia, and China,” the Russian academic says.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: Some analysts and politicians argue that Russia, China, and Iran are forming an alliance against Washington’s bullying, sanctions pressure, and use of the dollar as a weapon. They cite the Iran-China-Russia joint naval exercise in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman in December 2019 as the signs of such an alliance. What is your comment?

A: Today, many experts see Russia, Iran, and China’s military exercises as a “Maritime security Belt” in the Northern Indian Ocean and the Arabian sea as the end of American hegemony in the Persian Gulf.
Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran have begun to outline a possible security system in the most important part of the world’s oceans. Contrary the U.S. is trying to promote a naval coalition’s idea to “protect” shipping in the region. So, Washington announced the formation of the International Maritime security coalition (IMSC) under its auspices.  Also, Washington began to realize that Tehran is not isolated and will not be left alone, that the Iranians have serious partners who are ready to support them in the region.
But will this initiative lead to the emergence of a military-political Alliance “Russia-Iran-China” is premature, but we record a noticeable change in the Middle East (West Asia) and Southeast Asia’s power balance.

Q: Economic and scientific ties between Iran and Russia are not commensurate to their political ties. This is despite the fact that the two countries are immediate neighbors with rather large populations and great untapped potential. What are the impediments?

A: Russia, China, and Iran are expanding economic and political ties. One of the forces that bring these countries together is U.S. sanctions pressure, which affects Iran, Russia, and China. These countries already do not use U.S. dollars in mutual trade, but their national currencies. And they create special mechanisms to circumvent U.S. sanctions. In addition, Iran is preparing new agreements on long-term cooperation with China and Russia. The Iran-Russia cooperation agreement expires in March, so the newly updated treaty is likely to develop a long-term comprehensive strategic agreement.
At the same time, Iran continues negotiations with China on a 25-year partnership, which many Iranian officials called a “turning point” in relations between Tehran and Beijing.

Q: What is your analysis of the course of action that the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) has taken?  What steps are needed to make the EAEU effective like other economic blocs such as ASEAN?
The recent establishment of a free trade zone between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Indonesia is a decisive step towards creating a full-fledged trade zone with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Recently the volume of mutual trade between the EAEU and the ASEAN is not high enough. Integration associations need to expand trade, economic, and investment cooperation, including the development of the initiative of the large Eurasian economic partnership.

In October 2019, the agreement on trade and economic cooperation of the Eurasian Economic Union with China came into force. Although this agreement is “only” a framework agreement, it creates a platform where representatives of the EAEU member states and China can discuss existing barriers to mutual trade and ways to overcome them. The next step could be the creation of a free trade zone between the EAEU and China. But this is not a short-term prospect.

Q:  Is it technically and geographically possible that China also joins the club like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes countries from  Europe and Asia? 

A: In October 2019, the agreement on trade and economic cooperation of the Eurasian Economic Union with China came into force. Although this agreement is “only” a framework agreement, it creates a platform where representatives of the EAEU member states and China can discuss existing barriers to mutual trade and ways to overcome them. The next step could be the creation of a free trade zone between the EAEU and China. But this is not a short-term prospect.

Q: The U.S. intelligence agencies have claimed that Russia, China, and Iran are seeking to influence the result of the November elections in America. Please give your answer?

A: This is mostly a conspiracy theory that is popular in the U.S. But all these media and political commotions are supported only by public speculation about hacker attacks.

Q: Please give your view of the U.S. failure at the UN Security Council to extend an arms embargo against Iran.

A: Even though Washington has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, it still uses its mechanisms. However, at the UN, no one except the Dominican Republic supported the U.S.-proposed extension of the arms embargo against Iran. In any case, the whole issue of the Iranian arms embargo still looks rather symbolic. Tehran could already acquire some types of weapons — such as air defense systems.

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