Iran in South Caucasus: Turning losses into wins

Determined not to be cut out of the South Caucasus, Iran is forging strategic ties with both Baku and Yerevan

July 11 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Yeghia Tashjian

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have averted conflict through geo-economic compromise

At the end of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war – which Azerbaijan won with Turkish support and Russian diplomacy – Iran was widely seen by analysts as the conflict’s biggest loser, in terms of its regional strategic interests.

Without wasting much time, however, Tehran flipped those fortunes by very proactively engaging its soft power in the South Caucasus to advance its geo-economic interests. This is arguably due to Iran’s concerns over Turkish-Azerbaijani expansionist designs in the region.

In the main, Iran has sought to revitalize its relations with Azerbaijan to mitigate Turkey’s push for control over the Zangezur Corridor, a strategic transportation route bypassing Armenian territory close to the Iranian border.

The corridor’s opening is said to be dependent upon the development of a comprehensive Armenian-Azerbaijani agreement. In this regard, Tehran is engaging with both countries simultaneously, and in doing so has helped reduce Baku’s political pressure on Yerevan.

Resetting relations with Azerbaijan

On March 11, 2022, Azerbaijan and Iran signed an agreement to establish new railway, highway, and energy supply lines connecting the southern territories of the disputed Karabakh region (captured by Azerbaijan) to the Azerbaijani Nakhichevan exclave.

According to the agreement, the new highway will be 55 km long and will pass through northern Iran, eventually connecting to Nakhichevan. In addition to the highway, two railway bridges and a road bridge will be constructed over the bordering Arax River.

Iranian political analyst Vali Kaleji says these projects have geo-economic significance for both Azerbaijan and Iran.

For Baku, the construction of this highway is essential for several reasons. First, it is a continuation of an already existing highway in Azerbaijan and will draw investment into the southern regions of Karabakh currently under the control of Baku.

Second, the 55-km highway through Iran will offer an alternative to the Zangezur corridor that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was pushing for after the trilateral statement, which put an end to hostilities – for now – between Baku and Yerevan.

Despite the fact that the trilateral statement called for the opening of trade routes and communication, it did not mention anything about a ‘corridor.’ President Aliyev has largely promoted the Zangezur Corridor idea for domestic consumption while adding political pressure on Armenia to sign a peace treaty over Nagorno-Karabakh.

To date, Russia, Armenia and Iran have disregarded Baku’s Zangezur Corridor claims.

Peacekeeping policies

To prevent another war between Baku and Yerevan, Tehran came up with an alternative solution by providing this alternative route that will lift some pressure from Armenia’s shoulders, as Azerbaijan was threatening to gain the corridor by any means necessary.

Moreover, Baku is also concerned that if the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government falls and the opposition comes to power, the successive government will not provide any corridor to Azerbaijan through the Armenian territories. Hence, as Keleji noted, “Baku is deliberately pursuing another option should the Zangezur Corridor not come to fruition.”

Finally, Azerbaijan will establish a link with Nakhichevan through Iran, providing additional Iranian leverage over Baku in the future.

Iranian interests

Iran, in turn, has its own considerations for allowing the construction of a highway and railway across its territory that would connect Azerbaijan proper to Nakhchivan.

In reaction to the expansionist narrative pushed by Azerbaijan over the Zangezur Corridor and Azerbaijani incursions into bordering villages in Syunik (southern Armenia), Iran drew its red lines and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) threatened to use military force if necessary to prevent any territorial change in its 44 km border with Armenia.

As such, Tehran sees the construction of a new highway and railway line via Iran as an appropriate alternative to the Zangezur corridor that will alleviate the military pressure on southern Armenia.

For this reason, Ahmad Kazemi, an Iranian expert on the South Caucasus region, in his article “Baku’s reconciliation with geopolitical realities” wrote that Baku is pushing a “fake Zangezur corridor” to appease Turkey, Israel, NATO while following pan-Turkic dreams.

It was only last year that Aliyev declared: “The corridor that is going to pass through here is going to unite the whole Turkic world.”

For Kazemi, this “Turanic corridor” will go against the interests of Iran, Russia, and China. It is therefore inevitable that these three states will not allow geopolitical changes on Armenia’s southern borders.

Isolating Iran

Meanwhile, with the ongoing war in Ukraine, Moscow has focused its attention on the importance of the North-South trade route. According to Kaleji, strengthening this transit route will aid in countering the tightening economic sanctions and transit restrictions imposed on Russia by the west.

In this regard, the Iranian Roads and Urban Development Minister Rostam Qasemi visited Moscow on 30 April to sign a comprehensive agreement on cooperation in the field of transportation. Both countries agreed to accelerate the construction of Azerbaijani-Iranian railway to connect Moscow to the strategic Persian Gulf – a security concern of western powers since the Cold War era.

In February, during an Iranian-Armenian conference held in Yerevan, an Iranian diplomatic source told The Cradle that “Iran will take all the necessary measures to prevent the loss of the strategic Armenian-Iranian border and will do all it can to prevent a new war.

Tehran realizes that any such loss will further increase Turkish influence in the region and that Iran was an indirect target of the 2020 war in Karabakh, with the aim of isolating Iran regionally.

Within this context, the Iranian-Armenian railway line from Meghri, Armenia’s Syunik province, could have been an alternative route connecting Iran to Russia, but it suffers from high costs and has not seen any progress since 2009.

Armenia’s poor infrastructure, its conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijan, and its slow progress in the construction of the North-South highway (over the past twelve years, it has implemented only five percent of the 556-kilometer highway connecting Georgia with Iran) has further isolated and slowed down Armenia’s participation in the regional economic project.

Armenia’s gateway to Asia

However, over the past four months, Iran and India have been pushing Armenia to take crucial steps to reinvigorate the north-south transport project. As a result, important meetings between Iranian and Armenian officials have been organized to address trade, transit, and energy issues.

On 2 March, leading a high-ranking delegation of trade officials and private entrepreneurs, Iranian Minister of Industry, Mining, and Trade, Reza Fatemi-Amin paid a visit to Armenia as part of Tehran’s efforts to strengthen trade ties with its neighbors.

This was the first visit to Armenia by senior Iranian officials since President Ebrahim Raisi took office in August 2021. Accompanying the delegation were the CEOs of 35 Iranian private companies.

The Iranian side stated that Tehran attaches great importance not only to the development of economic relations with Armenia but also considers it as a “gateway” to the markets of Russia and other Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) member countries.

For the rail connection, Miad Salehi, head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways, pointed to three possibilities for rail transit between Iran and Armenia. The first two rail connections are:

  • The Jolfa-Nakhchivan-Yerevan.
  • The Jolfa-Nurduz (in Iran) and Yerevan-Nurduz (in Armenia) railroads, which were agreed upon seven years ago though not realized.

Iran has also proposed a multi-modal transit route from Yerevan to Jolfa by road, and then southward to the port of Bandar Abbas by rail, essentially opening the gates of Asian markets for Armenia.

Iran hasn’t been pushed out of the South Caucasus  

After the trilateral statement in 2020, Iran felt isolated from the South Caucasus, though its absence did not last long. Following the election of President Raisi, Tehran adopted a proactive balanced foreign policy in its neighborhood to secure its primary geo-economic interests.

The Iranians have realized that the Zangezur Corridor poses a threat to their national security as it bypasses Iranian territory and prevents Iran from gaining transit fees from Azerbaijani trucks. But it also threatens to reshape the strategic international borders between Iran and Armenia to the benefit of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and by extension, their mutual ally, Israel.

Tehran recognizes that were Azerbaijan to succeed in imposing the Zangzur Corridor on Yerevan, Baku could connect to Turkey, Israel, and the European Union by land. Crucially, Iran also interprets this as an expanding presence of Israel and NATO on its borders.

During his Caucasian tour this month, Iran’s national security chief, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, held talks in Yerevan with his Armenian counterpart and Prime Minister Pashinyan, where he stressed that Tehran was against any actions leading to a geopolitical change in the region.

Rather than accepting a lesser role, Iran has successfully deployed its economic soft power to recalibrate the field and increase its leverage over Azerbaijan. On one hand, Tehran fostered the construction of a railway with Azerbaijan to connect with Russia; on the other hand, it strengthened its trade, energy, and communication projects with Baku’s archenemy, Armenia.

For now, though, Iran’s engagement with Azerbaijan over the alternative corridor has lifted the military and political pressure on Armenia, thus preventing another war near its northern borders.

Iran’s dialogue with both countries has – for now – arguably lifted Azerbaijan’s military and political pressure on Armenia, safeguarded its national interests, and prevented another war near its northern borders.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

مردوا على النفاق

نيسان 11 2022

المصدر: الميادين.نت

بثينة شعبان 

إن تاريخ الاستعمار العثماني لبلادنا وعداءهم للعرب وأطماعهم بضم أراضينا وتواطأهم مع الصهاينة واضح للعيان بشكل يثير الشكوك بأصول حكامهم المشبوهة.

الغريب أن هناك بعض العرب ما زالوا يصدّقون أكاذيب إردوغان التي تدعي الدفاع عن الإسلام

حين قام الرئيس قيس سعيد باتخاذ قراراته الجريئة في 25 تموز/يوليو 2021 كتبت زاوية بعنوان “أول الغيث قطرة” آملة أن يكون هذا التحرك هو الإشارة الأكيدة لاجتثاث ما تبقى من التراث الدموي لعصابة الإخوان المسلمين من الوطن العربي بعد أن أسستها المخابرات البريطانية وفق نظريتهم الاستعمارية “فرّق تسد”، وبعد أن فشلوا في مصر وسورية وتوضح دورهم كأداة تخدم المصالح الإسرائيلية ضد العرب، ولذلك اتخذت دول عربية عديدة إجراءات حازمة ضدهم. وفي الأيام الأخيرة، وبعد أن أخذ الغنوشي يحاول عرقلة خطوات الرئيس قيس سعيد اتخذ الرئيس سعيد قراراً بحلّ البرلمان وحينها لم يعد زعيم عصابة الإخوان المسلمين العميلة في المنطقة “إردوغان” قادراً على التزام الصمت فانبرى يتدخل في الشؤون الداخلية لتونس حيث قال: “إن التطورات في تونس تشويه للديمقراطية وحل البرلمان الذي لا يوجد فيه مسؤولون منتخبون مدعاة للقلق على مستقبل تونس وضربة لإرادة شعبها.” 

من الواضح أن خطوات الرئيس قيس سعيد قد أثارت حنق الرئيس التركي رجب طيب إردوغان الذي مازال يمارس النفاق مع كل الأطراف الإقليمية والدولية وهو في حقيقته لا يتعدى كونه زعيم مشروع إسرائيلي يستخدم الإخوان المسلمين كأداة إرهابية ضمن مخطط مجهز من قبل المخابرات الإسرائيلية وبدعم من المخابرات الغربية المعادية للعرب، وإردوغان هذا مجرد طاغية وعثماني جديد يعيد مسيرة أجداده من سلاطين الظلم والتجهيل، ودوره واضح في التواطؤ مع الصهاينة ضد فلسطين وشعبها سابقاً ولاحقاً، وهو الذي يقوم جيشه باحتلال أجزاء من سورية والعراق، وهو من درب وسلح وأرسل مئات الألوف من الإرهابيين لقتل وتهجير الملايين من السوريين والعراقيين في تناغم لا يطاله الشك مع مخططات الحركة الصهيونية في المنطقة وإلحاق بالغ الأذى بالعرب والوطن العربي تاريخاً وثقافة وحضارة وحاضراً ومستقبلاً. 

والغريب أن هناك بعض العرب ما زالوا يصدّقون أكاذيب إردوغان التي تدعي الدفاع عن الإسلام أو التعاضد مع جيرانه العرب تماماً كما صدقوا وتوارثوا الكذبة التاريخية المماثلة أن الاحتلال العثماني للأمة العربية كان فتحاً إسلامياً وخلافة إسلامية، وهناك من يصدّق الدعاية التي تروجها المخابرات التركية بأن السلطان عبد الحميد قد رفض الموافقة على إعطاء أرض فلسطين كوطن قومي لليهود، وكثيرون بين ظهرانينا ما زالوا يؤمنون بصحة ذلك حتى هذا اليوم رغم أن الوقائع التاريخية الدقيقة تثبت أن التواطؤ العثماني كان أساسياً وهاماً في تمكين الصهاينة من الاستيطان في فلسطين.

ورغم كل مناورات وفرمانات السلطان عبد الحميد والتي تشبه إلى حد بعيد كل مراوغات ونفاق إردوغان في العقدين الأخيرين فإن الحقيقة التاريخية هي أن السلطان عبد الحميد لعب دوراً فاعلاً في الهجرة اليهودية إلى فلسطين وتنامي المستوطنات، وقد بدأت هذه العلاقة بين السلطنة العثمانية والصهاينة من السلطان العثماني عبد المجيد الأول الذي وقع اتفاقاً عام 1840 مع موسى مونتيفوري بمعاونة هنري جون تيمبل رئيس وزراء بريطانيا يقضي بمنح اليهود امتيازات داخل فلسطين وفي كل أرجاء الدولة العثمانية حيث شكّل هذا الاتفاق بداية سرطان الاستيطان  الصهيوني الذي سرى في جسد فلسطين وبدأ يأخذ الشرعية بفرمانات السلاطين المتلاحقة إلى أن جاء عهد عبد الحميد الثاني سنة 1876، ومع عصره بدأ سرطانهم يتوحش ويأخذ أبعاده على أرض فلسطين كلها بدعم من الدول الاستعمارية الغربية.

فقد كانت علاقة السلطان عبد الحميد الثاني وطيدة جداً مع زعيم الحركة الصهيونية العالمية تيودور هرتزل تماماً كعلاقة إردوغان بالصهاينة اليوم، ورغم التحايل من أجل عدم كشف الدعم الحقيقي الذي قدمه للحركة الصهيونية إلا أن الوقائع تثبت عدد وأسماء المستوطنات الصهيونية التي بنيت على أرض فلسطين خلال فترة حكمه من عام 1876-1909. فخلال فترة حكم السلطان عبد الحميد الثاني أسس اليهود ثلاثاً وثلاثين مستوطنة على أرض فلسطين واستحوذوا على مئات الآلاف من الدونمات من أرض فلسطين وقاموا بتهجير عشرات الآلاف من يهود أوروبا إلى فلسطين، وقد تم تأسيس الكثير من هذه المستعمرات في وقت ادّعت فيه الدولة العثمانية أنها شددت من إجراءاتها لمنع دخول اليهود! بل واعترفت الدولة العثمانية بوجود المستعمرات وهو ما سمح للبارون روتشيلد بتسجيل الأراضي التي اشتراها باسمه وسمحت لليهود بشراء الأراضي، فقد كان عدد اليهود في فلسطين عام 1882 أربع وعشرين ألفاً فقط بينما وصل في نهاية القرن التاسع عشر إلى خمسين ألفاً وفي عام 1908 إلى 80 ألفاً أي نحو ثلاثة أضعاف ما كان عددهم عام 1882 .

إن تاريخ الاستعمار العثماني لبلادنا وعداءهم للعرب وأطماعهم بضم أراضينا وتواطأهم مع الصهاينة للسماح لهم بالهجرة والاستيطان في فلسطين العربية واضح للعيان بشكل يثير الشكوك بأصول حكامهم المشبوهة بينما يحاول عملاؤهم من الإخوان بدفع من المخابرات التركية أن يبرّؤوا العثمانيين من هذه الجريمة التاريخية من خلال تلاعبهم بالفرمانات والسرديات والتصريحات ويعتبر أنموذجاً يتبعه إردوغان منذ توليه الحكم في تركيا وتحركاته البهلوانية من سفينة مرمرة إلى كل التصريحات الكاذبة التي يطلقها دعماً للفلسطينيين بينما تتوطد علاقته المخابراتية والعسكرية والاقتصادية بشكل لا لبس فيه مع الكيان الغاصب ويبلغ حجم تبادله التجاري مع هذا الكيان مليارات الدولارات بينما لم يقدم دعماً واحداً للقضية الفلسطينية العادلة سوى التصريحات الكاذبة والمنافقة والتي تهدف إلى التضليل وذرّ الرماد في العيون، بينما يحتل الأرض العربية في سورية والعراق ويشيد القواعد العسكرية في قطر وغيرها تهديداً للدول العربية وشقاً لصفوفها.

إن احتلاله لأجزاء من الأراضي السورية والعراقية وتدخله الخبيث في ليبيا واليوم تطاوله بالتدخل في الشأن الداخلي التونسي كما تدخل في الصراع في ناغورني كاراباخ ضد إيران وفي أوكرانيا ضد روسيا، كل هذا كفيل بتعرية نفاقه واتضاح صورته أمام العالم برمته وخاصة أمام العرب في مختلف أقطارهم وأمام الحليف الروسي الذي أسقط عدداً من طائرات بيرقدار التي أرسلها أردوغان إلى حكومة أوكرانيا لقتال روسيا.

إن الله سبحانه وتعالى وضع المنافقين في الدرك الأسفل من النار لأنهم أخطر من الكافرين، وفي كل عقاب يتقدم المنافقون على الكافرين لأنهم الأخطر على حياة البشر وجميع مناحي حياتهم فكيف إذا كانوا قد مردوا على النفاق باسم الإسلام ماضياً وحاضراً وأتقنوا التلاعب بأدواته لتحقيق أهدافهم الخبيثة.

إن الآراء المذكورة في هذه المقالة لا تعبّر بالضرورة عن رأي الميادين وإنما تعبّر عن رأي صاحبها حصراً

Testing the waters: Could Turkey’s Russian relations sink over Ukraine?

Neither friend nor foe, Turkey and Russia have backed opposing sides in several regional conflicts, yet managed to avoid direct confrontation. Now the Ukraine crisis poses a serious challenge.

March 22 2022

Caught between NATO and Russia over Ukraine, Turkey is forced to walk a thin line to avoid confrontation with either side.Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Yeghia Tashjian

The war in Ukraine has become the latest test for Turkey’s regional ambitions in confronting those of Russia, in what has clearly become a “cooperative rivalry.” This is where both sides, despite their opposite views on various regional conflicts ranging from Libya to Syria to the South Caucasus, have worked to manage these conflicts without directly challenging one another.

The current crisis has raised Turkey’s concerns of being in the firing line of Russia’s hegemonic ambitions. It is important to note that Turkey and Russia are not allies, but bitter ‘frenemies.’ Despite having robust commercial, energy, diplomatic and military ties, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned back in 2016 that NATO has to act and increase its presence in the Black Sea.

Over the past two decades, Russia has consolidated its presence in the Black Sea region by directly controlling Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, and annexing Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014. The Black Sea Fleet is responsible for bringing supplies to Russian forces in Syria, mostly based in the port of Tartus and Khmeimim airbase, as well as for patrolling the eastern Mediterranean. Russia’s 2015 Maritime Doctrine clearly prioritizes the Black Sea as a pillar of its power projection.

Turkey’s waning power in the Black Sea

Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea tipped the balance of military power in the Black Sea in favor of Moscow. Not only has Russia significantly increased its Exclusive Economic Zone and its Black Sea coastline, it has also cancelled existing agreements with Ukraine, which limited the latter’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol.

Additionally, Russia has stationed new military ships and submarines and installed a dense network of advanced weapons systems across the Crimean peninsula. From Ankara’s perspective, Turkey feels surrounded by Russian military presence from the north (Crimea), east (Armenia), and south (Syria).

In response, Erdogan initiated the construction of the Istanbul Canal to put additional pressure on Russia using the 1936 Montreux Convention whereby Turkey can close the Black Sea Straits to all warships in times of war.

Indeed, following NATO’s intensified pressure, Ankara has started exercising its right under Article 19 of the Convention, and has warned all coastal and non-coastal states that it will not allow warships through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. The convention also limits the period of stay for warships belonging to non-Black Sea states in the Black Sea.

However, this action also exposed Turkey’s limitations by raising the questions: How will Turkey react if Russian naval warships seek passage through the Straits? Will Turkey prevent them? The answer is clear.

As a Black Sea state, Russia has the privileged right to transit the Turkish Straits to return its warships to their bases. The treaty states that during armed conflict, belligerent warships “shall not” pass through the Straits unless the ships belong to a state that borders the Black Sea and are returning to their home ports.

Once Turkey determined that Russia was “at war,” it had no choice under the treaty but to stop Russian warships from passing through the Straits. The only exception for passage is for Russian warships from other areas returning to their bases in the Black Sea.

For example, a Russian fleet registered in the Black Sea but currently located in the Mediterranean Sea is allowed to pass through the Turkish Straits and return to its base. The condition also applies to Russian fleets currently in the Black Sea that belong to a base in the Mediterranean or Baltic Sea. Russia is free to take them out of the Black Sea. This option provides Russia with enough space to maneuver its naval power and downplay Article 19 of the Montreux Convention.

Turkey is aware that blocking access of Russian warships through its Straits will be viewed in Moscow as a “declaration of war.” This is the last thing Erdogan wants, knowing full well that the economic and political consequences will be harsher than those Turkey tasted after it downed the Russian jet over Syria in 2015.

Turkey’s balancing act between Russia and Ukraine

While Turkey will not directly provoke Russia, it has increased its military cooperation with Ukraine. This includes the supply of Bayraktar TB2 drones to the Kiev government. The Russians, for their part, have shown their preparedness for Turkish drones. Despite the fact that the Bayraktar TB2 drones are still operating and useful to the Ukrainian side, the Russian Ministry of Defense almost daily announces that its forces are downing many drones, including TB2.

This military relationship has also involved Ukraine supplying Turkey with military engines intended to boost Turkey’s growing arms industry; in particular, the Bayraktar’s successor drone and T292 heavy attack helicopters that are currently under production.

For Russia, this poses a threat, as in the future it may shift the military balance of power towards Turkey and Ukraine in the Black Sea. It is for this reason that Russian forces destroyed most of the Ukrainian heavy military infrastructure (including its naval and air force) and arms industry.

As such, Erdogan will aim to continue cooperation with Russia in the region; but he is equally likely to step up engagement with NATO to improve his global standing and reduce international criticism of his domestic conduct. Erdogan knows that standing against Russia and directly confronting Moscow is very risky as – excluding the ongoing war in Ukraine – he would start a war on three fronts in the region: in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

In order to extract itself from the ongoing difficulty of placating both sides, in recent days Turkey has engaged in proactive diplomacy and mediation between Kiev and Moscow. Ankara announced that the two adversaries have made progress on their negotiations to halt the war and are “close to an agreement.” However, Ukraine’s president responded by saying that any consequential agreement with Russia would be put to a referendum. This signaled that there is no agreement in sight and Ankara’s mediating efforts are fruitless.

Turkey will not gamble with Ukraine against Russia

Dr Maxim Suchkov, a Moscow-based expert in the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) expresses concern that Turkey may view the crisis as an opportunity to re-establish itself in the Black Sea and strengthen its relations with the west. Ankara enjoys good ties with both Moscow and Kiev and seeks to balance itself, supplying arms to Ukraine, on the one hand, but also refraining from sanctioning Russia.

Suchkov argues that Turkey may indeed be useful to the Russian endgame here, but “Moscow should also be careful since President Erdogan is known for his penchant to fish in muddy waters.” Hence, even if the outcome of the conflict does not favor Erdogan’s interests, Turkey may try to wrest something out of this crisis.

For this reason, President Erdogan cannot antagonize Russia and risk full-scale war as, domestically, the implications of this battle will be heavy on the Turkish government. Already, on 22 February, six Turkish opposition parties, not including the Kurdish HDP, called on a unified platform for the revival of the parliamentary system in the country with the aim of establishing an alliance to topple Erdogan in the coming parliamentary and presidential elections in June 2023.

According to recent public surveys, the opposition coalition is polling ahead, and indeed may oust Erdogan, given the financial chaos Turkey is experiencing. The current crisis will worsen the economic and political situation of Turkey.

One sector that is especially vulnerable is tourism, as between four to seven million Russian tourists and around two million Ukrainian tourists visit Turkey each year. Moreover, western sanctions on Russia will make money transactions difficult between both countries.

Crucially, Turkey imports almost 50 percent of its gas from Russia, and with the increase in global gas prices, Turks find themselves in a difficult quandary. For these reasons, Ankara is unlikely to undertake any risky gambles and will continue to strike a balanced posture in the crisis.

Turkey still has an important role to play

Turkey has general elections scheduled for June 2023, hence any change in the leadership in Turkey would affect the current track of Russian-Turkish relations. In a post-Erdogan Turkey, Ankara is likely to move closer to the western camp due to the pro-western (pro-US) leanings of the Turkish military, entrepreneurs, technocrats, diplomats, and civil servants – regardless of their liberal or nationalistic personal views.

This could form a long-term challenge for Russia-Turkey relations, given the successful “cooperative rivalry” both sides managed to arrange in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh. It is worth mentioning that on 2 March, Meral Akşener, leader of the Turkish opposition İYİ Party, raised the alarm on whether there were any guarantees that Turkey’s eastern provinces would be safe from a similar kind of Russian aggression. She also called Russia a “security threat” for Turkey. This is another indication that the Turkish opposition is not on the same wavelength as Erdogan’s multi-vector foreign policy.

Moscow has never viewed Ankara as an equal partner, but as a junior partner that could help configure a regional order which benefits Russian interests and decreases western influence. However, if Russia becomes stuck in a Ukrainian quagmire, it may need Ankara to arrange a temporary settlement.

Will the Syrian and Nagorno-Karabakh scenario be repeated – in which both sides sidelined western influence and Russia accepted a Turkish role in the region? If Ukraine is divided into two zones, would Russia accept a Turkish ‘peacekeeping force’ in the western part of Ukraine? Would the Americans give Turkey the green light to enter such a game? What would Ankara gain in return? Is such a military adventure within Turkey’s capabilities?

According to Dr Mitat Çelikpala, Professor of International Relations and the Dean of Faculty of Economics, Administrative and Social Sciences at Kadir Has University, such a scenario is beyond Turkey’s financial and military capacities – and Turkey cannot act unilaterally. Hence, for now, Turkey must continue its role of mediation between both sides to avoid any spillover effect near its borders.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Will Erdogan’s Peacekeeping in Ukraine Work?

February 10, 2022

Claudio Gallo

His diplomatic stunts appear more aimed to protect his business while the ball is precisely over the net than an actual peace-building process.

Day by day, the western media cry wolf: “They are arriving, they are at three meters, two, one”. Cutting corners, Bloomberg, the top of the class, has already staged the invasion: why not anticipate the news? In reality, in Ukraine, we are as in the first image of Woody Allen’s 2005 movie Match Point where the shot remains frozen in the exact moment when the tennis ball is over the net. This suspension time, full of risks and opportunities, attracts some characters searching for a leadership role under the international spotlight and, of course, an image boost at home. Easy to guess we are speaking of the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In the last weeks, he succeeded in defending the sale of lethal Turkish drones to the Ukrainians that are using them to terrorise Donbas and, at the same time, proposing himself as a peace mediator between Moscow and Kiev. Erdogan’s political identity card is irregular enough to give him some room for manoeuvre. But Turkey’s unpredictability, the chance to see the country in a soft version of non-alignment, stems more from its weakness and contradictions than from a position of strength that could support its credibility.

Although Ankara is the second-largest military force in Nato, after the U.S., it is buying the S-400 air defence system from Russia, rejecting the American Patriot. A little bit over rhetorically, someone in the country hailed the choice as a “country’s liberation from the West”. The gas import from Russia is crucial, and the economic ties include industrial, construction investments and tourism. Russian President Vladimir Putin has just accepted President Erdogan’s invitation to visit his country. The Turkish are expecting that the Kremlin will announce the date of his visit this month, after his return from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Therefore, the relations with Moscow aren’t always good; sometimes, they are horrible. In Syria, Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 bomber in November 2015. Turkish weapons (the drones again) helped Azerbaijan blitz to retake Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia in the 2020 war. A strategic area for Russia. Ali Akbar Velayati, the international affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that Turkey is “adding fuel to the fire”. More recently, some reports suggested the Turkish secret services not so covert involvement in Kazaksthan’s violent upheaval on December’s beginning.

After many years of Bruxelles’ closed-door politics, the love and hate engagement with Europe is fading in resentment. So, in the last decade, the Asian soul of Turkey has grown dramatically at the expense of the European one.

The NATO links are still strong, but Ankara prefers to gather Asia’s Turkish populations under its Pan-Turkish flag than under America’s Global Police. The recent killing in Syria of the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, is also seen as an American message to its eastern NATO ally. In the words of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Turkey “turned the areas of northern Syria into a safe zone for Daesh leaders”.

Ankara disowned the statement of its sworn enemies but its initial choice to sit out the war against ISIS speaks volumes.

The relationship with Tel Aviv has seen the same zigzag. Israeli-Turkish relations have been tense, especially since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident in which IDF’s fire killed nine Turkish nationals. In May 2018, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in Ankara after deadly clashes between the Israeli Army and Palestinians on the Gaza border. The Turkish diplomatic counterpart had to leave Israel. For the last two years, Turkey has been trying to reactivate its ties with Israel. A few days ago, Erdogan announced an official visit of Israeli President Isaac Herzog for mid-March. Pushed by its economic difficulties, Turkey may see normalisation with Israel to improve its economy and, at the same time, its political status in the Middle East and with the US. Especially in the new climate, real or not is too early to say, produced by the Abraham Accords, Ankara is betting on an economic opening to the Gulf countries.

Erdogan’s regard for Turkey’s geopolitical stance is conditioned partially by the wishful thinking of the pan-Turkish-New Ottoman ideology. Still, his action is more substantially guided by the urge to exit the deep Turkish economy’s crisis. Turkey’s annual inflation has just risen at nearly 49%, hitting a near 20-year high and further eroding people’s ability to buy even basic things like food. The Turkish Statistical Institute stated that the consumer price index increased by just over 11% in January from the previous month. According to the data, the yearly increase in food prices was more than 55%.

The Turkish opposition parties have repeatedly questioned the Statistical Institute’s independence and data. The independent Inflation Research Group put Turkey’s actual annual inflation at a stunning 114.87%. As financial hardship has spread, the crisis has prompted criticism of the president’s recent accumulation of authority, from appointing bank policymakers to university rectors to high court judges.

Ankara’s so-called “drones diplomacy” is easier to understand in this context. Its first success was in Libya in 2020. The Bayraktar TB2, purchased by Qatar and operated by Turkish personnel, helped the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) stop Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s assault on Tripoli. The drones are manufactured by Istanbul-based Baykar, owned by Erdogan’s son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar. Federico Borsari of the European Council on Foreign Relations noted that the Bayaktars had become a major asset: “Their most significant effects may be in the economic opportunities and political leverage they have provided Turkey”.

Further irritating Moscow, Turkey now is planning to build near Kiev a drones factory to produce the long-endurance Anka drone, made by Turkish Aerospace Industries.

Drones are not invincible; above all, their most significant advantage is comparatively low cost. Electronic countermeasures are one of the most used defences against them. Russia has the new Tor-M2 SAM; a lethal short-range air defence missile system developed expressly against drones. But in many cases, it is like “take a hammer to crack a nut”. General Oleg Salyukov, the commander of Russia’s ground forces, told Rossiyskaya Gazeta: “The cost of one guided air defence missile is way above the cost of a small-size drone. For this reason, a relatively inexpensive small missile is being developed for this system”.

President Erdogan’s peacekeeping attempt is welcome but challenging to pursue, not recognising the Russian incorporation of Crimea as legal (still, in 2008, he rushed to recognise Kosovo’s independence) and arming the Ukrainians to the teeth. More than everything, he seems not in a position to extract any concessions from NATO. His diplomatic stunts appear more aimed to protect his business while the ball is precisely over the net than an actual peace-building process.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with radio stations, January 28, 2022

January 29, 2022

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Sputnik, Echo of Moscow, Govorit Moskva and Komsomolskaya Pravda radio stations, Moscow, January 28, 2022

Question: Will there be a war? We sent them our proposals, we waited for their response, and we got their response. Their answer did not suit us, which was to be expected. Before that, we said and made clear through different representatives that if their response does not suit us, we reserve the right to respond and protect our interests forcefully. Can you explain what that means and what are we going to do? We aren’t going to make McDonald’s illegal after all, are we? If I may quote my subscribers, they frame this question as follows: “When are we going to hit Washington?”, “Will there be a war?”, “How long are we going to procrastinate?”, “Will there be a war?”

Sergey Lavrov: If it depends on the Russian Federation, there will be no war. We don’t want wars, but we won’t allow anyone to trample on our interests or ignore them, either. I cannot say that the talks are over. As you are aware, it took the Americans and their NATO allies more than a month to study our extremely straightforward proposals that are part of the draft treaty with Washington and the agreement with NATO. We received their response only the day before yesterday. It is written in that typically Western style. In many ways, they are confusing the issue, but also providing kernels of rationality on secondary issues such as intermediate- and shorter-range missiles which were quite important for us at some point. When the Americans destroyed the INF Treaty, we urged them to listen to reason. President Vladimir Putin sent a message to all OSCE members suggesting that they join our unilateral moratorium when agreeing on verification measures. It was ignored. Now, it has become part of their proposals. Similarly, our initiatives that were introduced by the General Staff of the Russian Federation to conduct military exercises further away from the borders on both sides, to agree on a critical safe distance between approaching combat aircraft and ships, as well as a number of other confidence-building, deconflicting and de-escalation measures, were ignored. All of that has been rejected during the past two to three years. Now, they propose discussing this. That is, the constructive approach in these proposals has, in fact, been borrowed from Russia’s recent initiatives. I think that now, as we say in Russia, “we are getting somewhere.” To reiterate, most importantly, we should figure out the conceptual pillars that underlie European security.

In 2010 in Astana, and before that in 1999 in Istanbul, all presidents and prime ministers from the OSCE countries signed a package that contained interrelated principles to ensure the indivisibility of security. The West “ripped out” just one slogan from this package: each country has the right to choose its allies and military alliances. But in that package this right comes with a condition and an obligation on each country, to which the Westerners subscribed: not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others. With its mantra that the NATO open door policy is sacred and no one can say “no” to Ukraine joining the Alliance and that it’s up to Ukraine to decide, the West is, deliberately and openly, refusing even to acknowledge the second part of the commitments. Moreover, when Josep Borrell, Antony Blinken and many other colleagues of ours talk about the importance of sticking to agreed-upon principles in the context of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, none of them ever mentions the Istanbul Declaration or the Astana Declaration. They mention the Helsinki Final Act and the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, in which there is no obligation not to strengthen one’s own security at the expense of others. Russia insisted on including this commitment in subsequent OSCE documents.

Today, as I made clear earlier, I am sending official requests to all my colleagues asking them directly to clarify how they are going to fulfill, in the current historical circumstances, the obligations that their countries have signed onto at the highest level. These are the matters of principle. Before we proceed to discussing individual practical aspects of European security, we want to see the West wriggle out of it this time.

I hope they will give an honest answer about what they have in mind when they implement these agreements in an exclusively unilateral manner that benefits them – again, completely ignoring that fact that the right to join alliances directly hinges on recognising that it is unacceptable to strengthen the security of some states at the expense of the security of others. Let’s see how they respond.

Question: If they give us the answer many experts are discussing, it will most certainly not suit us. Can it lead to a breakdown in relations? Everything we have been hearing recently from the Americans, and they are going to introduce sanctions against the leadership of our entire country, even against you…

Sergey Lavrov: What do you mean “even”? Are you saying I am not worthy of them?

Question: It has never happened in history. There has never been talk of sanctions against the Foreign Minister and the President. This is beyond the pale. Look at what is happening with our diplomats against this backdrop. Yesterday our Ambassador to the United States said that ultimately this might lead to something close to severing relations. As Anatoly Antonov said, our diplomats are simply being expelled although this is presented in a somewhat different way. What should we do? How will it look?

Sergey Lavrov: This is a multilayered question. I will start with the main point: What will we do if the West does not listen to reason? The President of Russia has already said what. If our attempts to come to terms on mutually acceptable principles of ensuring security in Europe fail to produce the desired result, we will take response measures. Asked directly what these measures might be, he said: they could come in all shapes and sizes. He will make decisions based on the proposals submitted by our military. Naturally, other departments will also take part in drafting these proposals.

Now the interdepartmental analysis of the responses received from the US and NATO is underway. Practically everyone knows what these responses are. I have made some remarks. I will note in passing that the American response is all but a model of diplomatic manners compared to NATO’s document. NATO sent us such an ideologically motivated answer, it is so permeated with its exceptional role and special mission that I even felt a bit embarrassed for whoever wrote these texts.

Our reply will be prepared. The proposals contained in our reply will be reported to the President of Russia and he will make a decision. We are developing our line at this point, including the steps that I mentioned.

As for the threats of imposing sanctions, the Americans were told, including during the presidential meeting, that the package you have just mentioned, the one that includes completely cutting off Russia from the West-controlled financial and economic systems, will be equivalent to severing relations. This was said directly. I believe they understand this. I don’t think this is in anyone’s interests.

Now a few words about their treatment of our diplomats. When I was in Washington several years ago, or, to be more precise, in December 2019, a deputy US Secretary of State under Michael Pompeo told my deputy in passing, before saying goodbye, that they were thinking of ways to streamline the functioning of our diplomatic missions on a reciprocal basis. He said American diplomats work abroad for three years. Then they are replaced, sent to a different country or returned to the central office in Washington. So they decided that our diplomats should also observe this term of three years and that’s it. We asked why we were told this on the sly and whether we were the only ones to hear it. We asked whether they had similar thoughts as regards other states, the answer was “no.”  No other country was supposed to be subjected to this experiment, just the Russian Federation. This is when we started yet another round of our diplomatic tit-for-tat. We said okay, you have a practice of sending diplomats to serve abroad for three years, and we have a practice of not hiring local personnel to work in our embassies. The Americans hired over 400 people (nationals of Russia and other countries, mostly CIS).

You probably followed this discussion. They started moaning and groaning “How come? Are you ‘unplugging’ us?” You wanted to be guided by the principle that you can do everything and impose on us what you think is right. We will do the same. This is yet another escalation of the crisis that was triggered by Barack Obama who revealed his genuine character. Three weeks before his departure from the White House, he decided to bind Donald Trump’s hands before slamming the door on the way out. He deprived us of five diplomatic properties and expelled dozens of diplomats who had to pack up all their staff with their families in three days. This was the beginning of it all.

We spoke about this again with Antony Blinken in Geneva, completing our conversation on European security. It is necessary to get back to normal in some way. We suggested starting from scratch and resetting everything to zero, beginning with this disgraceful, piddling move by Nobel Prize winner Barack Obama and everything that followed after it. Let’s wait and see. Another meeting is supposed to take place in the next couple of weeks. The Americans are now in a bargaining mood. They are telling us that they need 12 people serving the ambassador alone.  They argue that we must therefore exempt them from the quota that we establish on a reciprocal basis. We have explained to them that the agreed-upon quota is 455 people, both for them and for us. On our part, this is a gesture of enormous goodwill. The figure of 455 includes not only the employees of the bilateral diplomatic missions: the Embassy and two general consulates but also 150 people who work at our mission at the UN, which has nothing to do with our bilateral ties or any sense of balance. This was a goodwill gesture. However, we warned them that if they continue their obnoxious behaviour (I don’t know how else to describe their statements that if we don’t accept the guards for their ambassador immediately, they will ask Mr Antonov to leave the US), we still have the option of truly equalising our diplomatic presence.

Question: You know perfectly well that my questions are largely based on our radio listeners’ questions. Since we are talking about Russia-US relations, our listener Michael McFaul of California, a Stanford University professor, has sent a question for you. Why didn’t Russia try at least to get UN Security Council authorisation for the use of force if needed in Ukraine? Doesn’t Russia believe in the UN Security Council any longer? Why hasn’t Russia recognised the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics if they are facing the same risk as South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008?

Sergey Lavrov: To be honest, the questions are absolutely ignorant. Take the question about the UN Security Council. Did I get it right?  Why didn’t (past tense) Russia go to the UN Security Council for authorisation to use force if necessary? I will not even try to explain the futility of the phrase. The word “if” does not belong in the diplomatic practice in any country.

Regarding recognition, I think Mr McFaul, who had made a tremendous contribution to destroying anything constructive in Russian-American relations, just did not have time to read the Minsk agreements approved in February 2015. They are about preserving the unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics had already declared independence several months prior to the Minsk meeting. Germany and France, who endorsed the text of the Minsk agreements with us and the Ukrainians, begged us, with Pyotr Poroshenko joining those requests, to persuade the leaders of the two republics to sign the Minsk agreements thus, in essence, changing the results of the spring 2014 referendum in Donbass. Mr McFaul should probably learn the contemporary history of the region. The issue of recognition must be considered in the context of our firm line to get the West to compel Kiev to abide by the Minsk agreements. Then everything will be all right, just as envisaged by this document endorsed by the UN Security Council.

Question: I think that the document we delivered to the United States surprised many of those who read it. It left many, myself included, feeling that Russia won in some kind of a war, while America lost. What I mean is the radical proposals contained in it like returning to NATO’s 1997 borders, etc. My question is, what was all that? It is obvious that the arguments must be really strong for the Americans to return to the 1997 terms or withdraw from countries where they feel so good, confident and comfortable? By all means, you clearly had something in mind. What was that, and what kind of a response did you expect to this letter? After all, the withdrawal must be swift. They were required to respond quickly.

We did our math. You are now working with your fourth US administration, since you became Foreign Minister during George W. Bush’s presidency. Are there any major differences between these teams? Can specific individuals actually make a difference in history as we were once taught, or not? Which of your counterparts did you work better with, and how are you getting along with the current “guys” compared to the previous administrations?

Sergey Lavrov: The proposals we delivered to the United States and NATO on December 15, 2021, may seem excessive only if the expert assessing them proceeds from the premise that “the Americans have already taken away everything there was all around you, so it is too late to make a fuss about it. Just accept it and try to keep the bare minimum they left you.”

What we want is fair treatment. I cited the commitments we all accepted at the highest level within the OSCE. Let me emphasise that presidents, including the US President, signed under these commitments promising that no one would seek to bolster one’s security at someone else’s expense. The United States claims that the right to choose alliances is sacrosanct. But we say, provided it doesn’t worsen the security situation for any other country. This is what you signed, my dear sirs.

They are now trying to present our proposals as an ultimatum, but we are there to refresh their memories and make sure that instead of equivocating they set forth in all honesty their interpretation of what their president signed up for. If he signed these documents while being confident that Russia would never be able to get what they promised, they must acknowledge that. This will be yet another confession on their part. We already reminded them about the promises they made verbally in the 1990s not to expand NATO, but in response they claimed that we got them wrong, that they did not want to mislead us and had little time to think because there were more urgent issues to deal with at the time. This is how they explained it, literally.

We are on our own territory. Michael McFaul has referred to the UN Security Council where the United States intends to discuss what we are doing regarding Ukraine and why we are not working to de-escalate the situation. This is what we hear from a person representing a country with military bases spread around the world, encircling the Russian Federation and the CIS, a country doing who knows what in Iraq (who invited them there?) and so forth. If the Americans want to discuss troop deployments, there are things to talk about. Everywhere we deploy our military forces, we do so based on a request from the host country. We fulfil the agreements we reach with host countries strictly in keeping with international law. Both Josep Borrell and Antony Blinken have been whipping up hysteria on the topic of escalation in Ukraine, demanding that we de-escalate, which has become a mantra of sorts for them, saying that they do hope that Russia chooses the “path of diplomacy.” I take them at their word. For many years after the end of the Soviet Union, we opted for the path of diplomacy. The Istanbul and Astana arrangements I had mentioned are the major outcomes of these diplomatic efforts: everyone undertook not to reinforce one’s security at the expense of others. After all, this was a commitment, a declaration, the supreme act of diplomacy. Use any word you like: compromise, consensus, agreement – anything. If diplomacy is what you stand for, start by delivering on what we already agreed upon.

It is not my intention to discuss our partners on a personal level, though there is much that could be said. Our motto is that we have to work with everyone, and work we do. I can say that I had smooth relationships with all my colleagues. We could always speak candidly with each other at all times even on increasingly divisive matters and on the differences our countries have in their relations with one another.

Question: You are a diplomat. You will never put it the way I’m going to put it right now. But I am a journalist and I can afford to.

Sergey Lavrov: I have said a few undiplomatic things before.

Question: True. But you didn’t say those things into a microphone during an interview. It’s just that we keep an eye on you and print your brilliant sayings on T-shirts.

We recently saved Kazakhstan. We may have to salvage things between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. We have also preserved the peace in Karabakh and, generally speaking, in Armenia, too. We are endlessly saving our “exes.” What do we get in return?

Reporters from Komsomolskaya Pravda – colleagues of editor-in-chief Vladimir Sungorkin who is joining us from their studio – have unearthed a great story. They have investigated school textbooks used in former Soviet republics, including those we continue saving, to find out what they say about Russia, about the Soviet Union and about the Russian Empire. Quite a fascinating story. If you haven’t read it, you’ll be amazed. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev reports to our President that Russian is widespread in Kazakh schools, and not only in schools. According to our information, this is not entirely true, or rather it is not at all true. Regarding Russians living in those countries, we have many, many harassment complaints. I’m not talking specifically about Kazakhstan, but about the former Soviet republics in general. We have heard many times that the Foreign Ministry is opposed to simplifying the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship by Russians living in those countries. I know for sure that it is not. I discussed this with you, and I know your position. Moreover, you have recently played an active role in simplifying current laws. Can you tell us how long we will tolerate this kind of attitude towards our people? When will we start returning our people – the way the Greeks, Germans, Jews and many others are taking people back based on their ethnic identity? How will we defend the rights of our people who have found themselves stranded there after their country’s collapse, which was not something they wanted?

Sergey Lavrov: This is several questions in one. As for relations with our neighbours, CSTO allies, CIS partners – we have a problem. Nobody is hiding this. It largely stems from the fact that the newly independent states, which left the Soviet Union and which had been part of the Russian Empire before that, have been given the first chance in a long historical period, the first opportunity to build their own national (the key word) states. They sometimes overdo it because they want to assert their national identity as soon as possible. Nobody would deny this. This always happens when great empires fall apart.

The Soviet Union was heir to the Russian Empire. In fact, it was an imperial entity, although softer and more humane than the British, French or other empires.

Some of the imbalances you are talking about would be inevitable in the current historical period. We certainly wish to avoid them and curtail them. This must be done by all means, including so-called soft power, and we need to allocate significantly more resources for it than now. Our ministry is active in lobbying for appropriate Government decisions and streamlining the state’s activities on this track. But we are still far below the level that Western countries have reached in this respect. In addition to soft power, apart from diplomacy, bringing these problems up during meetings with our allies and partners – there is also reciprocity, which refers to considering our partners’ approaches to matters that are relevant to us when making decisions that affect them. This concerns labour migrants, economic assistance, and much more. Our economic systems are interconnected. The Eurasian Economic Union creates conditions, but it is up to the Russian Federation to make most of them a reality, and much more.

I do not see why this should rule out the development of friendly, allied, and very close – including personal – relationships with the elites of our neighbours. This whole situation is the result of a geopolitical catastrophe, the collapse of the Soviet Union. As Russian President Vladimir Putin said, 25 million people (maybe more) then found themselves abroad, outside their country overnight. We had no borders and no idea how to build ties. It took a titanic effort. Now the situation is more or less back to normal; it is clear who should be responsible for what. This is already a great achievement. But the problems you mentioned – our compatriots’ situation – should be addressed on a mutual basis.

I’ll make a couple of points now. The first point is we should be more active and open in discussing human rights within the CIS, including the rights of non-titular ethnic groups – Russians in Kazakhstan, Kazakhs in Russia, Azerbaijanis in Armenia and vice versa (although there are very few of them left there). We have reached the following agreement with our CIS partners. Back when the Commonwealth was being created, its Charter included a provision on the CIS Commission on Human Rights as one of its bodies. However, we never got around to actually setting it up. At first, the idea was simple – the West should see that we also address human rights. But over the past few years, we have proposed materialising this statutory provision. There is a general agreement to launch the commission and an understanding that we will primarily deal with human rights issues in the CIS. It should be up to us, to all CIS countries, to make judgments about the human rights situation in our countries, not to Western agencies or bodies like the European Court of Human Rights, which has long lost the ability to rely on the principles of justice and which increasingly politicises its decisions every year.

Last year, the number of regional programmes exceeded 80, that is, apart from the federal programme, including in the regions of the Far East and Trans-Baikal Territory which we see as priority areas for those willing to move to the Russian Federation. I listed the major benefits that have been approved. I will say straight away that we wanted more. I believe that one’s family, parents and relatives having roots not only in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic but also in other republics of the Soviet Union must have relevance for being entitled to preferential access to citizenship.

We have to consider a number of issues that we would like to settle as soon as possible. The work has not been finished yet. We have now “capitalised” what we have agreed on at the current stage. The President approved the consensus that was reached. We will continue to work to further improve the process and ease conditions for acquiring citizenship. The more so that at President Putin’s direction, the United Russia party, our leading political force, formed a commission on international cooperation and assistance to compatriots abroad. It involves not only helping compatriots come to Russia but also in the sense in which we discussed your first question – so as to make them feel as comfortable as possible upon arrival.

A couple of days ago the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper ran an article about history textbooks published currently in the former Soviet republics. I will not comment on what Estonians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Latvians are writing in them. However, regarding the CIS countries, we have repeatedly told them that nationalists should not be given pretexts by exploiting difficult moments in our common history. It ultimately helped all the peoples inhabiting this huge geopolitical space to lay the foundation for building their statehood. While we acknowledge the newly independent states’ aspiration to self-determination which I mentioned, overheated assessments should be avoided as they obviously, and maybe intentionally, play into the hands of extremists and nationalists.

Last year, a decision was signed within the Commonwealth of Independent States on establishing an international association (commission) of historians and archivists from CIS member states. It will focus, among other things, on discussing the issues of our common history with an eye toward a constructive consideration of all matters. I don’t think there will be unified history textbooks, but guidelines will be produced to reflect a consolidated point of view and a variety of perspectives. We have a commission of historians with Germany, Poland and Lithuania. They release joint documents. I believe that a similar mechanism within the Commonwealth will operate much more constructively in view of our closeness in many organisations – CSTO, EAEU, CIS and SCO.

Question: To follow up on our relations with the United States, you just said that we will continue to work with them. A meeting with Antony Blinken will take place soon. However, now that we have their answer, many analysts, in fact, almost all of them, are saying that the United States and the Alliance members are unlikely to change their position on the main issues. They are saying that “the ball is in Russia’s court now, and we are ready for any scenario.” You are saying our President said that we would respond, and that the response is in the works. The Foreign Ministry is involved in this. Can we have a sneak peek at the direction in which our Foreign Ministry is going to move in order to shoot the “ball” back at them? Is it Latin America? Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua? Could it be Europe? Serbia? Maybe we can do something with Iran? Can you give us a hint about what our response should be like for these guys to sit down, use their heads and try to give us different answers to our main questions, rather than secondary ones?

Sergey Lavrov: If they insist on not changing their position, we will not change ours, either. It’s just that their position is based on false premises and a flat-out misrepresentation of the facts. Our position is based on things that everyone has signed onto. I don’t see any room for a compromise here. Otherwise, what are we supposed to talk about if they openly sabotage and misrepresent previous decisions? This will be a key test for us.

As for the “ball,” we are playing different games. They may be playing baseball, while we may be playing tipcat. What matters is not to try to shirk responsibility, which is exactly what our American and other NATO partners are doing now.

They will not succeed in dodging the question of why they are not complying with what their presidents have signed onto, namely, that it is unacceptable to strengthen one’s security at the expense of the security of others.

Regarding our relations with Latin America, Serbia, Iran, China and many other states that act decently in the international arena, are not trying to unilaterally impose anything on anyone and are always willing to seek mutually acceptable solutions to any issues. Our relations are not subject to the vagaries of life. They are quite comprehensive and cover economic, cultural, educational, and sports contacts. They also include military and defence cooperation in full compliance with international law. I assure you that no matter how developments unfold with regard to European security, we will continue to consistently expand these relations.

I would like to underscore that we are studying their response and we have already provided our initial assessments. It is not satisfactory with regard to the main issue: the West fails to honour its obligations in terms of indivisibility of security and ignores our interests, although we laid them out in an extremely straightforward and clear way

With regard to issues of secondary importance, they were shocked by us presenting these documents publicly. This helped change their negative attitude towards our previous proposals, including medium- and short- range missiles and working out de-escalation measures during the exercises. This means that the West understands only this kind of language, and we should continue in the same vein that we did when we put forward our initiatives. We are now focused on getting explanations. We cannot accept evasive answers when it comes to the indivisibility of security. The West is shirking its commitments just as it failed to deliver on its commitment not to expand NATO. But then (as it is now telling us) it was a verbal commitment. Now, written commitments are available. Respond to us in writing to our written demands. Explain how you fulfill the written commitments signed by your presidents.

Question: When it is necessary to come to the defence of Russian journalists that are subjected to certain restrictions in the US or Germany, and we know the story with RT, the Foreign Ministry is forcefully intervening and defending them both on and off the record, and not only Maria Zakharova but also at the level of ambassador, deputy minister and at your level. When it comes to the countries with which we have closer relations, your department is quite modest. It is enough to recall the case of the Komsomolskaya Pravda journalists and the end of their news office that is practically closed. Its chief is behind bars.

I would like to remind you of the murders of journalists. When our journalists were killed in Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry took a very tough, assertive position that was hard to ignore, but it was silent when our journalists were murdered in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Here’s a question from our listener Dmitry Muratov from Moscow, a Nobel Prize winner and editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta. Without any additional investigation or operational measures, the new ambassador of Russia to the CAR named the murderers of the Russian journalists – the 3R group. The Foreign Ministry is aware of this but their families are not. The clothes of the journalists were burned as evidence, no investigation was conducted and the Foreign Ministry does not make any statements as regards the CAR leaders. Maybe, the Foreign Ministry should become more active in these cases with respect to both the Belarusian government and the CAR leaders?

Sergey Lavrov: You are right in saying that we must always defend the rights of Russian citizens, and not only journalists but every citizen, and the Americans have simply abducted dozens of them. We must also protect our journalists when there are obvious reasons for doing so.

We expressed our concern over what was happening with the Komsomolskaya Pravda news office. We talked with Mr Sungorkin about this. As I understand, the matter concerns Belarusian citizens and a specific Belarusian citizen. This is a somewhat different story. Any country that allows dual citizenship follows its own laws if something happens on its territory. I don’t want to go into details but there are issues that require silence. We did quite a bit to persuade the Belarusian authorities to be understanding. Now their position is what it is, and I cannot argue against it. They are ready to open any news office but its employees have to be citizens of the Russian Federation.

We could also look at how Russian journalists are treated in the West and how their working conditions are dictated there. I think a request to employ Russian citizens in Russian media is not beyond the pale. We believe the rights of journalists must be respected without exception everywhere, including Belarus or any other CIS country. If these rights are openly violated, we will continue to raise questions about this.

As for the CAR, we are willing to convey any information we have to the families of the dead journalists. As for the culprits, as you know, the CAR authorities are conducting an investigation. I don’t want to excuse the acts of these murderers. I can only say that journalists should take precautions. If they had at least notified the Foreign Ministry and our Embassy that they were bound for a country with a domestic armed conflict and a terrorist threat, the chances of avoiding this tragedy would have been a bit higher. This was all the more important since they went there as tourists, without declaring the purpose of their visit. Let me repeat again that this is not an excuse but this creates additional security risks in such cases.

Therefore, I’d like everyone to know that we do want journalists to work all over the world, including hot spots. I remove my hat and bow to all those who do such reporting in flak jackets and helmets, and let me say something, in passing, to your colleagues in eastern Ukraine. Once again I am addressing, through you, those who may have some influence on Western journalism and the media. Why do journalists appear sporadically, once every six months, at best, on the Kiev-controlled side of the contact line in Donbass? Why is their reporting so spotty? It would be very interesting to see them there. On the other side of the contact line, our journalists show the results of the atrocities committed by the Armed Forces of Ukraine that are bombing kindergartens, outpatient clinics and residential areas and killing people. According to the OSCE, civilian casualties on the side controlled by Donbass defenders are five times higher than on the opposite side. This speaks for itself.

Let’s return to the Central African Republic. We again sent an inquiry to the CAR government when the information about this 3R group emerged. We will do all we can to bring this investigation to completion. As you know, their government is dealing with this. Let me emphasise once again that we want to know the truth. I would like to impress upon our journalist colleagues and friends the importance of notifying us about trips to hot spots (if you don’t trust the Ministry, I cannot force you to do this). Please do it for the sake of your own safety. It will help.

Question: Thank you very much for your support to our service in connection with what happened to Gennady Mozheiko. Our thanks go to Alexei Venediktov for bringing up this issue. Gennady Mozheiko has been in police custody for four months now and not even once has he been questioned. He’s just sitting there. I appealed to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko [for assistance] but, so far, there has been no response.

You were right in saying that it is not only a matter of journalists. Today, according to the Russian Embassy in Belarus, 457 Russian nationals are behind bars in Belarus. This is only what the embassy says, and I suspect the real figure is even bigger. Yesterday, another person – Russian national Vera Tsvikevich – was added to this list. She was detained only for taking, during the protests, a photograph of herself, a selfie, in a beautiful red dress with a patrol in the background. She was taken to prison for that. Judging by the precedents, she will be sentenced to two years in prison. Something needs to be done about this.

As for Belarus, we should have a very different relationship with them, as this is the Union State. Today, our journalists believe their work to be the most difficult in Belarus and not in Georgia or America, or Israel, and so on. We are constantly talking about the Union State, saying that we need to synchronise our legislation. What is in store for us, with regard to what I just said? Do we stand any chance of becoming a true Union State?

Sergey Lavrov: As for the Union State, you know, there are 28 union programmes that were approved last autumn…

Question: They have not been published, which is an interesting fact.

Sergey Lavrov: These are framework documents. They contain no secrets. They provide for work that has already started to flesh out each of the 28 programmes with specific and direct legal decisions in the economy, financial activities, transport, communications and so on. It is an important step towards consolidating economic assets. According to the two presidents, this work has to be completed in the next two to three years. This means embarking on the path to the Union State with much broader powers.

Yesterday, we saw off the newly-appointed Ambassador, Boris Gryzlov who was leaving for Belarus. I handed him letters of credence signed by the Russian President. This ceremony was attended by Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Vladimir Semashko. I recalled that our joint work also includes efforts to align the rights of the people of the two countries. Much has already been done. I believe 95 percent of rights have been aligned; however, the remaining outstanding issues in some areas need to be addressed as soon as possible. In particular, this includes the terms on which healthcare services or hotel accommodation are to be provided to people travelling privately. This is all very important for the daily life of people.

But the question you asked is not about what the Union State will look like in the end. Even if the criminal legislation of the two countries has been unified in full, there will still be Russians detained in Belarus and Belarusians detained in Russia. Our embassy keeps a close eye on the course of legal proceedings involving detained Russian nationals. The law enforcement agencies and prosecutor general’s offices of the two countries stay in contact. I haven’t heard anything about Vera Tsvikevich. Is this today’s newspaper?

Remark: No. It was issued in 2020.

Sergey Lavrov: Why then did you say that she was added to this list yesterday?

Remark: She was detained yesterday. The newspaper is old but she was detained yesterday.

Sergey Lavrov: Is she on the staff of Komsomolskaya Pravda?

Remark: No, she is just a Russian national. I said that about 500 Russian nationals were serving sentence in Belarus.

Sergey Lavrov: Four hundred fifty-seven. So, she will be the 458th . We will be watching what happens to her, the way we do it in any other country. There are questions that require close cooperation between the law enforcement agencies. I would rather not talk about them now in public but such questions do exist. It is important that they are resolved in a manner characteristic of two allies or brotherly nations. We will invariably adhere to this line.

Question: Mine is not a question but an urgent request concerning the fate of the German RT channel. We have not faced such unprecedented and uncompromising pressure, actually not even pressure but a real ban on work, in any other country, not the US or the UK, as in the Federal Republic of Germany. It is all disguised with hypocritical statements by German leaders at different levels. Supposedly, they have nothing to do with the closure of the German YouTube channel. Even when we gained the largest audience in the history of the English-language YouTube among the world’s TV channels, we were not shut down. They didn’t dare. But the Germans did.  They pressured Luxembourg so as to have our licence denied even though practically everything had been agreed and done there. Ultimately, we were given the licence in Serbia. They pressured the European regulators – so we can’t broadcast with that licence either. Titanic efforts of hundreds of people who had been building the channel amid the pandemic, produced shows, won the audience – all that was in vain. The audience was sacrificed to interests. Nobody shows the German people what we show.

The only thing that can affect them (as was the case with the UK) is reciprocity, which you are more familiar with than we are. Deutsche Welle has not even been designated as a foreign agent, even though this status does not entail what it does in the US (criminal charges). In our country it is just a piece of paper and an occasion to shout about it. In fact, it does not entail anything. Foreign agents take interviews, they are invited to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press conferences. To say nothing about shutting down Deutsche Welle here the way they shut us down in Germany. This also concerns other German media outlets. Please, help us.

Sergey Lavrov: You don’t need to persuade me. Just yesterday the Russian Embassy in Berlin demanded an explanation. Procedures are underway. This is not within the competence of the federal agency but of the regulator of the German states Berlin and Brandenburg. The embassy’s lawyers looked into precedents. The Axel Springer concern had faced a similar situation but they quickly got a licence.

The key here is that the Germans are trying to place their internal regulations, which allegedly prohibit the registration of state-run channels, above their commitments under the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. According to our information, their regulators are using various pretexts to justify the primacy of their national law. This won’t do. The result will be the same as the NATO enlargement – this is what they want so they won’t do the things they had promised somewhere else. The Germans know that reciprocal measures will follow. I raised this issue when German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was here on a visit. I think she and her delegation heard it. I am going to have a telephone conversation with her today. I will definitely remind her.

Question: A scandal is unfolding in the United States. CNN published a report citing its own sources. In it, they alleged that the United States and Ukrainian presidents talked on the phone, with Joe Biden supposedly yelling at Vladimir Zelensky in an attempt to explain to him in a raised voice that unless he changes his position on Donbass, Kiev will fall and be pillaged, etc. CNN published this report on its website, but later removed it. Still, the scandal lives on. Both Joe Biden and Vladimir Zelensky are getting questions about this. In this telephone conversation, the President of the United States allegedly requested that the President of Ukraine urgently resolve the special status issue for Donbass.

If Kiev does decide to amend its constitution and grant Donbass a special status, will this affect Russia’s policy on Ukraine in any way? To be honest, you cannot trust these people. There are 720,000 Russian nationals there today, and in the future there could be even more of them. We do understand the threats they may face after obtaining a Russian passport. Are we ready for these eventualities? What will be Russia’s policy on the people’s republics?

Sergey Lavrov: We have always stressed the need to fully implement the Minsk agreements in good faith and following the sequence it sets forth. As my colleagues and I have been saying in our public statements, during the Geneva summit meeting in June 2021 between the Russian and United States presidents, Joe Biden said at his own initiative that he wanted to facilitate the implementation of the Minsk agreements, including in terms of granting an autonomous (this was the word he used) status to Donbass. He understands everything.

This is consistent with what the Minsk agreements say. The special status provisions they set forth cannot be subject to any equivocal interpretations. What needs to be done is clear. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reassured me that they want to help implement the Minsk agreements. His under-secretaries said that the US would not join the Normandy format but still wants to help. If they do force Kiev (nobody else can do it), this outcome would suit us. So far, I find this hard to believe. They are playing a game by continuing to supply weapons. Some tend to interpret these deliveries as a support for those ready to engage in a senseless armed conflict. This is something many have to factor into their projections. In fact, hardly anyone wants this, but there is still a small group of people who stand to benefit from it, in one way or another.

Why are the Americans the only ones that can force Kiev into compliance? The Normandy format met in Paris at the level of political advisors to the four leaders. Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Dmitry Kozak travelled there. They agreed to take two more weeks to understand how they can move forward in carrying out the Minsk agreements.

France, Germany and the European Union name Russia as a party to the conflict. What kind of agreement can we reach in these circumstances? They are saying we must comply with the Minsk agreements. President Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Kozak have repeatedly stated that no one has ever given us an answer to the question of which specific provision we must comply with. The implication is that everything depends on Russia. It’s like we snap our fingers and everything will come to pass.

Kiev realised that Berlin and Paris would not insist on it complying with the Minsk agreements. President Zelensky said he didn’t like the Package of Measures, but it was nonetheless important, because it keeps Western sanctions on Russia in place. That’s all there is to it: nothing but crude cynicism. Ukraine realises that it can do anything now. Vladimir Zelensky and his regime are being used (primarily by the Americans) to escalate tensions and to engage their underlings in Europe, who are playing along with the Americans as they pursue their Russophobic undertakings. The future of Ukraine is not Washington’s main goal in this particular case. It is important for the United States to escalate tensions around the Russian Federation in order to “close” this issue and then “deal with” China, as US political scientists are saying. How do they plan to “close” it? I have no idea. If there are any reasonable political strategists still out there, they must realise that this road leads nowhere.

The Americans are using Ukraine against Russia so openly and cynically that the Kiev regime itself is now scared. They are now saying there is no need to aggravate the discussion and are suggesting that the Americans keep down the rhetoric, and are also wondering why evacuate diplomats. Who is evacuating diplomats? The Americans and other Anglo-Saxons (Canada and the UK), meaning they know something others don’t. Perhaps, pending a provocation on their part, we should take precautionary measures with regard to our diplomats as well. We’ll see about that.

I have already answered the question about how we feel about the recently vocalised idea of recognising the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics. My answer is straightforward: we must push for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. There’s a host of people out there who are ready to grab any excuse to remove blame from Kiev for the sabotage which it has been involved in for eight years now with regard to the document approved by the UN Security Council.

Question: You said that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has lost touch with reality. Maybe you live in different realities? Today, he will give a live interview to Ekho Moskvy. Do you want to say hi to him or ask a question?

Sergey Lavrov: Serves him right.

Question: I looked through the list of the sanctions approved by the US Congress and Treasury last year. The absolute majority of them are associated with the name of Alexey Navalny, not Ukraine. The OPCW (independent German, French and Swedish labs) found traces of a poisonous substance in his blood, which clearly means that he was poisoned. The Foreign Ministry requested assistance. But Russia did not open a criminal investigation. Germany said in that case there would be no help. We are members of the OPCW. You have seen the report on Navalny. Do you continue to cooperate on this matter? We are in the minority in every single international European organisation. We are saying that the ECHR, PACE, the OSCE and the OPCW are Russophobes. Could it be that Russia is the one that is out of step?

Sergey Lavrov: I’ll start off by saying that I watched Euronews yesterday. There was a story about the village of Dvani in Georgia, near the South Ossetian border. It is located in an area that Georgia considers its territory. The reporter said he was in the village of Dvani at the separation line, with the administrative border that Russia keeps fortifying behind him. A house owned by a Georgian “was burned down during the war.” The new one “came into the Russian military’s surveillance zone.” A local resident said that we were “abducting people in unfathomable ways.” A Georgian journalist said that he has been “working in the villages near the conflict zone for several years now” and that “14 years have passed since the war that forced the people to live in difficult circumstances ended. They are losing their lands and forest allotments almost daily. People are being kidnapped. Russian troops are detaining them,” etc. Then the reporter continued to say that “after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia was the first among the former Soviet republics to experience an escalation of separatism and armed confrontation, and thousands of refugees are still unable to return home.”

He didn’t say, though, anything about what kind of separatism took root in Georgia even before the breakup of the Soviet Union. Zviad Gamsakhurdia was quite chauvinistic in his demands for Abkhazians to get out or to “georgify.” He believed South Ossetia residents did not deserve humane treatment. Nobody is saying anything about it. Then comes a brilliant phrase: “In 2008, when the conflict entered the hot phase, Russia took South Ossetia’s side.” This is Euronews, which touts itself as a channel of fair news and an epitome of diversity when it comes to presenting diverse viewpoints. They did not even mention how the fratricidal conflict began.

I’m saying this because you asked a question about the OPCW without mentioning the reference points that require clarification. If we state it the way you framed your question, then Michael McFaul and other unsophisticated listeners may get the impression that all of that is true. You are saying we asked the Germans to provide clarifications, and they wanted us to open a criminal investigation before they give us anything. What is that all about? Germany’s obligations under the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters are not dependent on whether a particular country opens a criminal investigation or not. Under our laws, a criminal case can be opened if there is corroborating evidence. This is in no way inconsistent with multiple instances of using this procedure in relations with many other countries. We have a lot of material which we circulate around the world. I’m sure reporters from Ekho Moskvy and other media outlets have access to it.

We are still waiting for an answer to our question about who flew in to pick up Alexey Navalny. Why the plane that flew to Omsk to pick him up was chartered the day before he fell ill. Why are there no answers to the purely specific and factual questions asked in the German Parliament: how come the pilot, who did not want Maria Pevchikh to take the bottle onboard, eventually let her do so? There was also a sixth passenger. These questions were asked at the Bundestag. Why is it impossible to question Ms Pevchikh? The Germans say she did not communicate with the blogger and did not visit him at the hospital. She wrote that she did. The bottle she brought along has not been shown to anyone. Our requests to run a joint examination of it are rejected. Allegations that illegal poisonous substances were found in Mr Navalny’s body began after no CWC-prohibited substances had been found by the Charité clinic, which is a civilian hospital. All of that was “discovered” at a clinic operated by the Bundeswehr in a matter of just three days. Before that, a similar scenario unfolded with the Skripal family. We insisted that the investigation must be grounded in hard facts, not “highly likely” assumptions. We cited facts that there are almost 150 patents for the infamous Novichok in the West, in particular, the United States. It was developed in Europe as well. Then Germany, France, Sweden and many other countries swore that they did not have this technology. Without the technology, it is impossible to detect this substance in the human body in three days. Any more or less experienced chemist is aware of that.

At first, the Germans told us that they would not give us the materials, because they constituted “classified military information.” How’s that? We are being accused of murder or attempted murder, and the information is classified. By definition, they should not have access to this technology if they are bona fide participants in the CWC. Then they began to say that they could give it to us, but Navalny says no. What’s next? At the same time, his lawyer criticised Dmitry Peskov for accusing the blogger of collaborating with the CIA and demanded proof. What kind of proof? US intelligence officers came to see him at the hospital, which Dmitry Peskov mentioned. We are demanding proof behind the accusation of attempted murder, but we are then told that he does not want to.

We asked the OPCW to provide the results but were told that they could do so only with the permission of the Germans. The circle closed. Read carefully the paper released by the OPCW. It says that some substances were discovered that are similar in composition to other substances that are on the OPCW’s banned chemicals list. Not a word about Novichok. Neither the Germans, nor the French, nor the Swedes gave us the formula. It’s classified. The formula is the proof of whether this is true or pure deception and lies.

I am inclined to believe that so far the West has no grounds to accuse us. This is done for the purpose of instigating a provocation. I mentioned the day when a special flight was chartered to fly to Omsk to pick up Mr Navalny. The day before the poisoning, the Germans (according to the OPCW report) asked The Hague for assistance in conducting the investigation of this case. Then they said it was a typo, and everything actually happened later. There are many interesting things there. In early September 2020, the Germans contacted the OPCW. The OPCW Secretariat concealed this from us for several days. In hindsight, they confessed that the Germans allegedly asked them not to tell anyone. Doesn’t it all look suspicious? It does to me, and suspicions run deep. I encourage Ekho Moskvy and other radio stations’ listeners to go the Foreign Ministry’s website and read the material containing a vast number of legitimate questions that remain unanswered by the West to this day.

Question: The most popular question: will there be a war with Ukraine?

Sergey Lavrov: This is what we started off with. If it’s up to the Russian Federation, there will be no war. I do not rule out the possibility that someone out there would like to provoke hostilities.

According to the West, there are about 100,000 troops on the line of contact. The Kiev regime does not control most of these armed men. A significant portion of the units that are stationed there include the former volunteer battalions, current territorial defence units, and militia. MANPADS are already being handed out to them. The media are reporting this information. They are encouraged to bring along hunting rifles with them, because there aren’t enough MANPADS for everyone. This is a militaristic frenzy. I cannot rule out the possibility of someone losing it, just like that soldier who shot and killed five of his fellow servicemen.

Question: Why aren’t we talking with Vladimir Zelensky? He is one of us, a former Komsomol member with a background in Channel One.

Sergey Lavrov: He is also a “piano player.” President Vladimir Putin answered this question. If President Zelensky wants to talk about normalising bilateral relations that were damaged by the unilateral actions of his regime, actions to which we responded, Russia stands ready to do so. Let him come to Moscow, Sochi, or St Petersburg, wherever they may agree. But if he wants to discuss Donbass – please go to the Contact Group, which, according to the Normandy format’s decision, is in charge of all settlement issues directly between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. When he says he won’t talk to us, this bodes ill for the domestic Ukrainian crisis. If he has something to offer in order to restore bilateral relations, the destruction of which Kiev, Vladimir Zelensky and his predecessor initiated, we are ready to consider his proposals. President Vladimir Putin has stated this in no uncertain terms.

Question: Another meme for a T-shirt from Minister Lavrov: “Please go to the Contact Group.”

Question: Are we going to evacuate our staff from Kiev as well?

Sergey Lavrov: We discussed this bout of insanity that is being fomented in Ukraine, primarily by the Anglo-Saxons and some Europeans. Dramatic claims that everyone must leave the place are part of this insanity. People who came there to tend to their business are urged to leave. Diplomats and their families are being taken home and non-core staff is being cut.

We cannot let it go unnoticed or turn a blind eye to it. If they are doing this (even though the Ukrainians haven’t asked them to), could it be that the Anglo-Saxons are up to something? The British particularly have a long track record in this area.

Question: This happened after you said something during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. What did you say or show to him? Immediately after the Geneva meeting, he started saying that diplomats should be evacuated. You must have done something.

Sergey Lavrov: You are mistaken if you think that I have lost the ability to understand what is happening around me. I didn’t say anything to him. In a one-on-one conversation (I hope this will not offend him) he told me that if something happens, their people would be there… It sounded rather strange to me. That’s what I told him.

Take my word for it, we discussed nothing but security guarantees. Then I raised the issue of the unacceptable state of affairs with our diplomatic missions. I made a proposal which we eventually agreed upon. In a couple of weeks, another meeting between experts will take place. I can assure you that no threats were uttered. However, we cannot leave things without analysis. We are analysing them to see what stands behind the Anglo-Saxons’ actions.

Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation… Russia is the Common Enemy! المصالحة التركية – الأرمينية.. روسيا العدو المشترك!

ARABI SOURI 

Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan

Pashinyan may not hesitate to engage in positive dialogue with Ankara, to open up through it to Europe, and to help him support his position to take revenge on Moscow.

The following is the English translation from Arabic of the latest article by Turkish career journalist Husni Mahali he published in the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen news site Al-Mayadeen Net:

Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu surprised everyone when he talked about appointing a special representative for dialogue with Armenia after Yerevan took a similar step by appointing its representative for direct dialogue with Ankara “without the need for Russian mediation,” this is what Minister Cavusoglu said. This clearly reflects the intention of the Turkish and Armenian parties to normalize relations between them, away from the interference and influence of other parties, primarily Russia and then Iran.

After the defeat of Yerevan in the Karabakh region thanks to Turkish and Israeli support for Azerbaijan, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did not hesitate to accuse Moscow of not helping Armenia in this war, which led to a chill and serious tension between the latter and Russia, Pashinyan took advantage of this tension in his election campaign, from which he emerged victorious, despite Moscow’s support for his opponents, both political and military.

Pashinyan’s victory in the June 20 elections prompted US President Joe Biden to exploit this in his psychological and political war against Russia. During his meeting with him in Rome on October 31 last, he recommended Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to talk With Pashinyan and to address all differences between the two countries, through direct dialogue between the two parties.

Biden’s recommendation undoubtedly met with President Erdogan’s calculations in the Caucasus, after he made Azerbaijan a strategic foothold in the region, with more comprehensive cooperation relations in all fields with Georgia, the other country in the Caucasus, whose relations with Moscow have also been tense, after the Russian army intervened in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, during the August 2008 war, they declared their independence from Georgia with Russian support, as is the case in Lugansk and Donetsk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

President Erdogan knows the many weaknesses of Pashinyan, whose country suffers from very difficult economic and financial problems, and wants to help him to overcome these problems, in return for direct and indirect support from him for his projects and strategic plans in the Caucasus. Everyone knows that these plans and projects target Russia in the first place, as is the case in Central Asia, where the Islamic republics are of Turkish origin.

Erdogan plans to help Yerevan open land and air borders with it, allow trade across the common border, and thus ease work and residency conditions for the roughly 50,000 Armenians, most of whom are women, now working in Turkey. Everyone knows that this simple aid, in addition to encouraging Turkish businessmen to work in Armenia, which lacks the most basic necessities of economic life (there is no industry, agriculture, or trade) will encourage the Armenians, in general, to forget their bad historical memories with the Turks regarding their accusation of the Ottoman Empire of exterminating one and a half million Armenians during the First World War. The Armenians, whose number does not exceed three million, and a large part of them work abroad, are living in very difficult economic and financial conditions, especially after the defeat of Karabakh and the placing of Azerbaijani obstacles in the way of Iranian trade with Armenia. Moreover, Armenia’s economic and military capabilities do not and will not allow it to confront Azerbaijan, after Turkey’s military support for it, through air and land bases there.

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المصالحة التركية – الأرمينية.. روسيا العدو المشترك!

2021 الاربعاء 15 كانون الأول

المصدر: الميادين نت

حسني محلي

قد لا يتردّد باشينيان في الحوار الإيجابي مع أنقرة، للانفتاح عبرها على أوروبا، ولتساعده على دعم موقفه للانتقام من موسكو.

تركيا وأرمينيا تعتزمان تطبيع العلاقات بينهما

فاجأ وزير الخارجية التركي مولود جاويش أوغلو الجميع عندما تحدث عن تعيين ممثل خاص للحوار مع أرمينيا، بعد أن أقدمت يريفان على خطوة مماثلة بتعيين ممثلها للحوار المباشر مع أنقرة “من دون الحاجة إلى وساطة روسية”، والقول للوزير جاويش أوغلو. ويعكس ذلك بكل وضوح نيّة الطرفين التركي والأرميني تطبيع العلاقات بينهما، بعيداً عن تدخلات الأطراف الآخرين وتأثيراتهم، وفي الدرجة الأولى روسيا ثم إيران. 

فبعد الهزيمة التي مُنيت بها يريفان في إقليم كاراباخ بفضل الدعم التركي والإسرائيلي لأذربيجان، لم يتردّد رئيس الوزراء الأرميني نيكول باشينيان في اتهام موسكو بعدم مساعدتها لأرمينيا في هذه الحرب، وهو ما أدّى إلى فتور وتوتر جديّ بين الأخيرة وروسيا، واستغل باشينيان هذا التوتر في حملته الانتخابية التي خرج منها منتصراً، على الرغم من دعم موسكو لمعارضيه، السياسيين منهم والعسكر. 

وجاء انتصار باشينيان في الانتخابات التي نُظمت في الـ20 من حزيران/يونيو الماضي ليدفع الرئيس الأميركي جو بايدن إلى استغلال ذلك في حربه النفسية والسياسية ضد روسيا، فأوصى الرئيس التركي رجب طيب إردوغان، خلال لقائه به في روما في الـ31 من تشرين الأول/أكتوبر الماضي، بالحديث مع باشينيان، ومعالجة كل الخلافات بين البلدين، عبر الحوار المباشر بين الطرفين. 

توصية بايدن التقت من دون شك مع حسابات الرئيس إردوغان في القوقاز، بعد أن جعل من أذربيجان موطئ قدم استراتيجي له في المنطقة، مع المزيد من علاقات التعاون الشامل في جميع المجالات مع جورجيا، الدولة الأخرى في القوقاز، والتي شهدت علاقاتها هي أيضاً مع موسكو توتراً خطراً، بعد أن تدخل الجيش الروسي في أوسيتيا الجنوبية وأبخازيا، خلال حرب آب/أغسطس 2008، فأعلنتا استقلالهما عن جورجيا بدعم روسي، كما هي الحال في مقاطعتي لوغانسك ودونيتسك شرق أوكرانيا.

الرئيس إردوغان يعرف نقاط الضعف الكثيرة لدى باشينيان الذي تعاني بلاده من مشاكل اقتصادية ومالية صعبة جداً، ويريد أن يساعده لتجاوز هذه المشاكل، مقابل دعم مباشر وغير مباشر منه لمشاريعه ومخططاته الاستراتيجية في القوقاز. ويعرف الجميع أن هذه المخططات والمشاريع تستهدف روسيا في الدرجة الأولى، كما هي الحال في آسيا الوسطى، حيث الجمهوريات الإسلامية ذات الأصل التركي.

ويخطط إردوغان لمساعدة يريفان في فتح الحدود البرية والجوية معها، والسماح بالتجارة عبر الحدود المشتركة، وبالتالي تخفيف شروط العمل والإقامة بالنسبة إلى نحو خمسين ألف أرميني، ومعظمهم من النساء، يعملون الآن في تركيا. ويعرف الجميع أن هذه المساعدات البسيطة، إضافة الى تشجيع رجال الأعمال الأتراك على العمل في أرمينيا التي تفتقر إلى أبسط مقوّمات الحياة الاقتصادية (ليس هناك صناعة وزراعة وتجارة) ستشجّع الأرمن عموماً على نسيان ذكرياتهم التاريخية السيّئة مع الأتراك في ما يتعلق باتهامهم الدولة العثمانية بإبادة مليون ونصف مليون أرمني إبّان الحرب العالمية الأولى. فالأرمن، وعددهم لا يتجاوز ثلاثة ملايين، وقسم كبير منهم يعمل في الخارج، يعيشون ظروفاً اقتصادية ومالية صعبة جداً، خاصة بعد هزيمة كاراباخ، ووضع العراقيل الأذربيجانية أمام التجارة الإيرانية مع أرمينيا. كما أن قدرات أرمينيا الاقتصادية والعسكرية لا ولن تسمح لها بمواجهة أذربيجان، بعد الدعم العسكري التركيّ لها، عبر القواعد الجوية والبرية هناك. 

تصريحات الوزير جاويش أوغلو من المتوقع لها أن تحمّل في طيّاتها العديد من المفاجآت بعد فتح الحدود بين البلدين، وقد تلحق بها زيارة باشينيان لتركيا، كما زار الرئيس السابق عبد الله غول يريفان في أيلول/سبتمبر 2008 لحضور مباراة كرة القدم بين المنتخبين التركي والأرميني، وسط هتافات البعض من الجمهور ضده وضد تركيا، مع التذكير بالإبادة الأرمنية، ومن دون أن تمنع هذه الهتافات الطرفين التركي والأرميني من التوقيع في الـ 10 من تشرين الأول/أكتوبر 2009 في زيوريخ على بروتوكول للتعاون المشترك وبوساطة سويسرية، لكنه لم يحقّق أهدافه، وكان أهمها تبادل السفراء وفتح الحدود المشتركة وإطلاق الرحلات الجوية. وكان السبب الرئيسي في فشل هذا البروتوكول هو عدم تراجع الجانب الأرميني عن موقفه في ما يتعلق بالإبادة الأرمنية، واقترح الجانب التركي آنذاك تشكيل لجنة أكاديمية مشتركة تُعدّ دراسة شاملة حول هذا الموضوع، بعد الاطلاع على كل الوثائق الرسمية في أرشيف الدولتين وأرشيف الدول المعنية، وأهمها فرنسا وبريطانيا وروسيا وألمانيا وأميركا. 

باشينيان بدوره قد لا يتردّد في الحوار الإيجابي مع أنقرة، أولاً للانفتاح عبرها على أوروبا، وبالتالي لتساعده على دعم موقفه للانتقام من موسكو التي يحمّلها مسؤولية هزيمته في حرب كاراباخ. كما أن الانفتاح على أنقرة سيساعده في تحقيق مكاسب اقتصادية كبيرة، وخاصة إذا نجح إردوغان في مخططاته لإقامة تكتلات اقتصادية في القوقاز تضمّ تركيا وأذربيجان وأرمينيا بل وحتى روسيا وإيران، على أن تكون تركيا هي المحرك الرئيسي لمثل هذا التكتل، ما دام غاز أذربيجان وبترولها يصلان تركيا عبر أراضي جورجيا، كما يصل الغاز الروسي تركيا ومنها الى أوروبا، على أن يبقى الغاز الإيراني للاستهلاك التركي الداخلي. 

ويريد الرئيس إردوغان لمثل هذا التكتل الاقتصادي أن يساعده في جعل تركيا ممراً رئيسياً للعديد من مشاريع الخطوط الحديدية بتسمياتها المختلفة، التي تهدف إلى ربط أوروبا بآسيا وحتى بالصين، وهو ما لن يتحقق إلا بالمرور عبر أراضي أرمينيا وجورجيا معاً. كما يتمنى إردوغان لهذه المشاريع أن تدعم استراتيجيته القومية في آسيا الوسطى، ولا يمكن لها أن تتحقق إلا عبر التفوّق في القوقاز، وهو ما يتطلب كسب أرمينيا وجورجيا المجاورة له حتى يتسنّى له الامتداد شرقاً صوب أذربيجان بعمقها الجغرافي والقومي والتاريخي في إيران. ويفسّر ذلك الفتور والتوتر في العلاقة بين أذربيجان وإيران خلال أزمة كاراباخ، بعد أن شنّ الإعلام الموالي لإردوغان والأوساط القومية حملة عنيفة ضدّ طهران بحجّة أنها تدعم الأرمن. 

ويبقى الرهان على موقف موسكو التي لم تعد تخفي انزعاجها من سياسات أنقرة، ولكن من دون أن يتسنى لها أن تفعل أي شيء بعد أن فقدت الكثير من مقوّمات المساومة مع الرئيس إردوغان في سوريا وأذربيجان وأوكرانيا، والآن أرمينيا، ولاحقاً في مواقع وساحات أخرى، ويُعدّ إردوغان من أجلها ما استطاع من قوة!

ولكن ما عليه في هذه الحالة إلا أن يُقنع باشينيان والرأي العام الأرميني بضرورة التخلي عن مقولاتهما في ما يتعلق بالإبادة الأرمنية، وهو ما لن يكون صعباً في ظل الواقع الأرميني الداخلي والمعطيات الحالية (التذكير بصفقة القرن بين “إسرائيل” والأنظمة العربية) التي تجمع حسابات أنقرة ويريفان في خندق واحد، ما دام العدو مشتركاً بالنسبة إلى إردوغان وباشينيان، وإلا فلِمَ استعجل لمثل هذه المصالحة بعد هزيمة كاراباخ واعتراف الرئيس بايدن في نيسان/أبريل الماضي بالإبادة الأرمنية؟! 

The Iran-Azerbaijan gas swap deal: Has Tehran’s tough posturing paid off?

December 14 2021

The Turkish-supported gas swap deal is not so much a capitulation as a calculated concession from Azerbaijan, which now acknowledges its relationship with Israel as an Iranian red line.

By Agha Hussain

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi signed a gas swap deal with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of the 28 November Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The timing of the deal and its geostrategic significance outweighs its economic impact for both sides. For Iran, in particular, it represents the first concrete result of the rapid overhaul of its regional posture in recent months.

The standoff and Iran’s hardline approach

The deal ended the October-November escalation between Iran and Azerbaijan, which has featured unprecedented Iranian war games on their shared borders and symbolic steps in challenging several of Baku’s regional interests unless it accounted for Tehran’s concerns.

In a 3 November analysis for The Cradle, this author described Iran’s conduct as the initiation of a new, more assertive posture in Eurasia. The aims of this new posture are to exert damage control over regional trends favorable to Iran’s adversaries and to establish the potency and credibility of Iran’s regional red lines.

In the South Caucasus, this means reversing Azerbaijan’s confidence in Israel as a positive contributor to its regional standing, and pressuring Baku to place its relationship with Tel Aviv on the bilateral negotiating table between itself and Iran.

From this point onward, Tehran can effectively wield the threat of challenging Azerbaijani regional interests as a bargaining chip to scale back Baku’s ties with Tel Aviv. Such challenges include taking steps to reroute the North South Transport Corridor (NSTC) from Azerbaijan to Armenia or stationing troops in Armenia’s south to deter the implementation of Azerbaijan’s prized Zangezur Corridor across that area.

The gas swap deal is Iran’s first inroad in this stratagem.

The gas swap deal de-escalation

According to the deal, Iran will receive Turkmen gas and then send an equivalent amount of Iranian gas to Azerbaijan.

By involving Iran in its regional trade as a means of defusing tensions, Azerbaijan validates Iran’s new hardline posture toward it through this key concession. Specifically, Azerbaijan acknowledges and assuages Iran’s heightened perception of threat in any moves toward crafting a regional economic and security order that does not include a tangible role for the Iranians.

Notably, since this perception of threat is derived almost entirely from Iran’s oft-enunciated view of any such moves as an extension of Israel’s global campaign to isolate it, the deal qualifies as a concession from Azerbaijan, even if indirect, on the issue of its ties with Israel.

From Iran’s perspective, this is a milestone of sorts for its new hard power approach to the region.

The gas deal represented Azerbaijan’s shift from its previously dismissive stance toward Iran’s Israel-centric criticisms of its policies in exchange for Iran winding down its aggressive military posturing on the border.

This serves to activate the bilateral bargaining arrangement Iran seeks.

Under the principle of reciprocity enshrined by such arrangements, any attempts by Baku to revert to its old practice of safeguarding its relations with Tel Aviv from Iranian scrutiny may be met by Tehran’s return to an aggressive posture.

As a result, Azerbaijan would find a mounting set of new challenges at its doorstep, a year after its historic victory over Armenia in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. The risk factor of its relationship with Israel could therefore skyrocket quicker than President Aliyev would be willing to roll it back, given Azerbaijan’s longstanding reliance on the US-based Israel lobby as a shield against unfavorable US policies promoted by the Armenian-US diaspora.

Tehran, however, would have options aplenty in the potential military and geo-economic alliances with Yerevan to continue mounting pressure on Baku.

The Turkey factor

To Azerbaijan, Turkey has been its single most constant and reliable guarantor of security and economics throughout its tussles with Armenia. However, Azerbaijan’s ties with Turkey factor in very differently when it comes to tensions and potential conflict with Iran.

Eldar Mamedov, an Azerbaijani analyst at Eurasianet and the Quincy Institute, states that “… military confrontation with Iran – a country with eight times the population – clearly is not in Baku’s interests. All the more so because even Baku’s main ally, Turkey, is unlikely to fight a war with Iran on Azerbaijan’s behalf.”

Citing Turkey’s self-interest in keeping its own differences with Iran to manageable levels, Mamedov adds that “policymakers in Baku would be wise to realize the limits of the Turkish support in any potential future conflagration with Tehran.”

Turkey’s influence, in fact, looms large in the details of the gas swap deal. Giving Iran transit state status in the Turkmenistan gas trade is a decision set in the context of geo-economics – where Baku has traditionally taken its cue from Ankara, whose territory is the terminus for Azerbaijan’s most vital trade and transport links, such as the BTC oil pipeline, the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) pipelines, and the BTK railway.

Of great interest to Iran is that Turkish interests seem to propel the planned Azerbaijan–Turkmenistan gas trade more than Azerbaijani ones.

Azerbaijan’s interest in Turkmen gas does not extend beyond buying it to fill the unutilized capacity of SGC, which it will be able to do itself once it boosts its own gas production.

Turkey, however, has long sought the revival of the dormant Trans Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCP) connecting Turkmenistan via the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan with the objective of further linkage to the SGC, through which Turkmen gas then flows to Europe via Turkey.

The TCP is core to Turkey’s drive to render itself Turkic Central Asia’s ultimate gateway to the west. This would entail Turkmen gas exports to and transit across Azerbaijan at a much larger, longer-term scale.

Since the discovery in the 1990s of huge gas fields in its own Caspian waters, Azerbaijan has, in fact, treated Turkmenistan as a potential competitor for the European market.

Baku therefore walked away from the TCP project, declining to settle its maritime dispute with Ashgabat over the Dostluk gas field, which itself was enough to inhibit work on the TCP. So when Azerbaijan resolved the Dostluk dispute in January this year and agreed to jointly develop it with Turkmenistan, Ankara’s influence once again stood out.

The fact that Azerbaijan’s top ally sees fit to deploy Turkish-Azerbaijani regional interests as collateral for de-escalation with Iran will therefore encourage Iranian strategists by adding pressure on Baku to accept Iran’s assertive behavior as a ‘new normal.’

Iran-Azerbaijan tensions are far from over

Despite Iran’s gains from it, the gas swap deal is still a calculated concession from Azerbaijan and far from a capitulation.

Once the TCP is built, the swap arrangement with Turkmenistan via Iran will become redundant, as Turkmen gas will be piped directly to Azerbaijan. This is not an unlikely scenario given that the wealthy European Union (EU) designated the TCP a ‘project of common interest,’ thus qualifying it for EU financing and diplomatic support.

This factor raises the stakes – and the risks – in the Iran-Azerbaijan bilateral relationship. More hawkish minds in Baku may, after all, be inclined to interpret the completion of Iran bypassing TCP and the disposal of the gas swap arrangement as a sign that isolating Iran in the South Caucasus has become a viable strategy.

Such a notion would almost certainly receive enthusiastic backing from Israel, who lacks Turkey’s economic incentive in averting an Iran-Azerbaijan conflict and may even see Baku’s reliance on its US lobby deepen if it heads into a fight without Turkey’s blessing.

Ultimately, for Baku, these are fairly risky variables on which to base its present and future roadmap for dealing with Iran. In contrast, Tehran benefits from a more reliable set of options to sustain and escalate its posture when required, with the decisive advantages of geography and size playing to its favor.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Lavrov gives press conference after OSCE Ministerial Council in Stockholm

December 02, 2021

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov holds a press conference after the 28th OSCE Ministerial Council in Stockholm on Thursday, December 2. The annual OSCE Ministerial Council, chaired by Sweden, takes place on December 2-3. The ministers are expected to discuss security issues in the OSCE area and review the organisation’s activities.

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Guns and Butter: The Caucasus Conflict and Global Trends – Guest Andrei Martyanov

OCTOBER 26, 2021

Guns and Butter:   The Caucasus Conflict and Global Trends – Guest Andrei Martyanov

From Bonnie Faulkner at Guns and Butter with Guest Andrei Martyanov

The Transcaucasia region, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea is discussed; Baku, capitol of Azerbaijan, oil region and birthplace of Andrei Martyanov; Nagorno-Karabakh, semi-autonomous region within Azerbaijan; political and ethnic dynamics of the Azeri/Armenian conflict; two wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan; Armenia’s Velvet Revolution; Soros sponsored NGOs in Armenia; Turkey’s involvement; Dashnaks; Armenian diaspora; second largest US embassy in Yerevan; Caucasus strategic geopolitical location spanning Europe and Asia; US recognition of WWI Armenian genocide; Russian Federation involvement; largest US export is dollar inflation; Russophobia; MAKS 2021 Russian Air Show, international exhibition of new civilian and military aircraft. Visit Martyanov’s website at: smoothiex12.blogspot.com/.

Guns and Butter · The Caucasus Conflict and Global Trends – Andrei Martyanov, #435

The Iran-Azerbaijan standoff is a contest for the region’s transportation corridors

October 05, 2021

Sides are forming around the Iran vs Azerbaijan squabble. But this fight is not about ethnicity, religion or tribe – it is mainly about who gets to forge the region’s new transportation routes.

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and cross-posted with The Cradle

The Iran-Azerbaijan standoff is a contest for the region’s transportation corridors

The last thing the complex, work-in-progress drive towards Eurasian integration needs at this stage is this messy affair between Iran and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus.

Let’s start with the Conquerors of Khaybar – the largest Iranian military exercise in two decades held on its northwestern border with Azerbaijan.

Among the deployed Iranian military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) units there are some serious players, such as the 21st Tabriz Infantry Division, the IRGC Ashura 31 battalion, the 65th Airborne Special Forces Brigade and an array of missile systems, including the Fateh-313 and Zulfiqar ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 700 kilometers.

The official explanation is that the drills are a warning to enemies plotting anything against the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei pointedly tweeted that “those who are under the illusion of relying on others, think that they can provide their own security, should know that they will soon take a slap, they will regret this.”

The message was unmistakable: this was about Azerbaijan relying on Turkey and especially Israel for its security, and about Tel Aviv instrumentalizing Baku for an intel drive leading to interference in northern Iran.

Further elaboration by Iranian experts went as far as Israel eventually using military bases in Azerbaijan to strike at Iranian nuclear installations.

The reaction to the Iranian military exercise so far is a predictable Turkey–Azerbaijani response: they are conducting a joint drill in Nakhchivan throughout this week.

But were Iran’s concerns off the mark? A close security collaboration between Baku and Tel Aviv has been developing for years now. Azerbaijan today possesses Israeli drones and is cozy with both the CIA and the Turkish military. Throw in the recent trilateral military drills involving Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan – these are developments bound to raise alarm bells in Tehran.

Baku, of course, spins it in a different manner: Our partnerships are not aimed at third countries.

So, essentially, while Tehran accuses Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev of making life easy for Takfiri terrorists and Zionists, Baku accuses Tehran of blindly supporting Armenia. Yes, the ghosts of the recent Karabakh war are all over the place.

As a matter of national security, Tehran simply cannot tolerate Israeli companies involved in the reconstruction of regions won in the war near the Iranian border: Fuzuli, Jabrayil, and Zangilan.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdullahian has tried to play it diplomatically: “Geopolitical issues around our borders are important for us. Azerbaijan is a dear neighbor to Iran and that’s why we don’t want it to be trapped between foreign terrorists who are turning their soil into a hotbed.”

As if this was not complicated enough, the heart of the matter – as with all things in Eurasia – actually revolves around economic connectivity.

An interconnected mess

Baku’s geoeconomic dreams are hefty: the capital city aims to position itself at the key crossroads of two of the most important Eurasian corridors: North-South and East-West.

And that’s where the Zangezur Corridor comes in – arguably essential for Baku to predominate over Iran’s East-West connectivity routes.

The corridor is intended to connect western Azerbaijan to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic via Armenia, with roads and railways passing through the Zangezur region.

Zangezur is also essential for Iran to connect itself with Armenia, Russia, and further on down the road, to Europe.

China and India will also rely on Zangezur for trade, as the corridor provides a significant shortcut in distance. Considering large Asian cargo ships cannot sail the Caspian Sea, they usually waste precious weeks just to reach Russia.

An extra problem is that Baku has recently started harassing Iranian truckers in transit through these new annexed regions on their way to Armenia.

It didn’t have to be this way. This detailed essay shows how Azerbaijan and Iran are linked by “deep historical, cultural, religious, and ethno-linguistic ties,” and how the four northwestern Iranian provinces – Gilan, Ardabil, East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan – have “common geographical borders with both the main part of Azerbaijan and its exclave, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic; they also have deep and close commonalities based on Islam and Shiism, as well as sharing the Azerbaijani culture and language. All this has provided the ground for closeness between the citizens of the regions on both sides of the border.”

During the Rouhani years, relations with Aliyev were actually quite good, including the Iran‑Azerbaijan‑Russia and Iran‑Azerbaijan‑Turkey trilateral cooperation.

A key connectivity at play ahead is the project of linking the Qazvin‑Rasht‑Astara railway in Iran to Azerbaijan: that’s part of the all-important International North‑South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

Geoeconomically, Azerbaijan is essential for the main railway that will eventually run from India to Russia. No only that; the Iran‑Azerbaijan‑Russia trilateral cooperation opens a direct road for Iran to fully connect with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

In an optimal scenario, Baku can even help Iranian ports in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman to connect to Georgian ports in the Black Sea.

The West is oblivious to the fact that virtually all sections of the INSTC are already working. Take, for instance, the exquisitely named Astara‑Astara railway connecting Iranian and Azerbaijani cities that share the same name. Or the Rasht‑Qazvin railway.

But then one important 130km stretch from Astara to Rasht, which is on the southern shore of the Caspian and is close to the Iranian–Azeri border, has not been built. The reason? Trump-era sanctions. That’s a graphic example of how much, in real-life practical terms, rides on a successful conclusion of the JCPOA talks in Vienna.

Who owns Zangezur?

Iran is positioned in a somewhat tricky patch along the southern periphery of the South Caucasus. The three major players in that hood are of course Iran, Russia, and Turkey. Iran borders the former Armenian – now Azeri – regions adjacent to Karabakh, including Zangilan, Jabrayil and Fuzuli.

It was clear that Iran’s flexibility on its northern border would be tied to the outcome of the Second Karabakh War. The northwestern border was a source of major concern, affecting the provinces of Ardabil and eastern Azerbaijan – which makes Tehran’s official position of supporting Azerbaijani over Armenian claims all the more confusing.

It is essential to remember that even in the Karabakh crisis in the early 1990s, Tehran recognized Nagorno‑Karabakh and the regions surrounding it as integral parts of Azerbaijan.

While both the CIA and Mossad appear oblivious to this recent regional history, it will never deter them from jumping into the fray to play Baku and Tehran against each other.

An extra complicating factor is that Zangezur is also mouth-watering from Ankara’s vantage point.

Arguably, Turkey’s neo-Ottoman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who never shies away from an opportunity to expands his Turkic-Muslim strategic depth, is looking to use the Azeri connection in Zangezur to reach the Caspian, then Turkmenistan, all the way to Xinjiang, the Uyghur Muslim populated western territory of China. This, in theory, could become a sort of Turkish Silk Road bypassing Iran – with the ominous possibility of also being used as a rat line to export Takfiris from Idlib all the way to Afghanistan.

Tehran, meanwhile, is totally INSTC-driven, focusing on two railway lines to be rehabilitated and upgraded from the Soviet era. One is South-North, from Jolfa connecting to Nakhchivan and then onwards to Yerevan and Tblisi. The other is West-East, again from Jolfa to Nakhchivan, crossing southern Armenia, mainland Azerbaijan, all the way to Baku and then onward to Russia.

And there’s the rub. The Azeris interpret the tripartite document resolving the Karabakh war as giving them the right to establish the Zangezur corridor. The Armenians for their part dispute exactly which ‘corridor’ applies to each particular region. Before they clear up these ambiguities, all those elaborate Iranian and Tukish connectivity plans are effectively suspended.

The fact, though, remains that Azerbaijan is geoeconomically bound to become a key crossroads of trans-regional connectivity as soon as Armenia unblocks the construction of these transport corridors.

So which ‘win-win’ is it?

Will diplomacy win in the South Caucasus? It must. The problem is both Baku and Tehran frame it in terms of exercising their sovereignty – and don’t seem particularly predisposed to offer concessions.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects are having a ball exploiting those differences. War, though, is out of the question, either between Azerbaijan and Armenia or between Azerbaijan and Iran. Tehran is more than aware that in this case both Ankara and Tel Aviv would support Baku. It is easy to see who would profit from it.

As recently as April, in a conference in Baku, Aliyev stressed that “Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia and Iran share the same approach to regional cooperation. The main area of concentration now is transportation, because it’s a situation which is called ‘win‑win.’ Everybody wins from that.”

And that brings us to the fact that if the current stalemate persists, the top victim will be the INSTC. In fact, everyone loses in terms of Eurasian integration, including India and Russia.

The Pakistan angle, floated by a few in hush-hush mode, is completely far-fetched. There’s no evidence Tehran would be supporting an anti-Taliban drive in Afghanistan just to undermine Pakistan’s ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

The Russia–China strategic partnership looks at the current South Caucasus juncture as unnecessary trouble, especially after the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit. This badly hurts their complementary Eurasian integration strategies – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Greater Eurasian Partnership.

INSTC could, of course, go the trans-Caspian way and cut off Azerbaijan altogether. This is not likely though. China’s reaction, once again, will be the deciding factor. There could be more emphasis on the Persian corridor – from Xinjiang, via Pakistan and Afghanistan, to Iran. Or Beijing could equally bet on both East-West corridors, that is, bet on both Azerbaijan and Iran.

The bottom line is that neither Moscow nor Beijing wants this to fester. There will be serious diplomatic moves ahead, as they both know the only ones to profit will be the usual NATO-centric suspects, and the losers will be all the players who are seriously invested in Eurasian integration.

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Arbaeen Walk: A Life-changing Journey of Love

September 27, 2021

Arbaeen Walk: A Life-changing Journey of Love

By Syed Zafar Mehdi – Press TV

Millions of ardent lovers, in a demonstration of unfathomable love and devotion for their beloved, walk seamlessly and untiringly from one sacred city to another, day and night, braving inclement weather and ominous security threats.

Men and women, young and old, they come from different corners of the world and converge at one place. They call it heaven.

It is not an excerpt from a gripping page-turner, laced with figments of imagination. It is a beautiful miracle I saw unfold before my eyes two years ago. A miracle that repeats every year.

If you haven’t guessed already, I am talking about the largest and the greatest rally against terrorism and extremism that takes place in the second lunar month, forty days from Ashura, which marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS] and his followers in the desert plains of Karbala 14 centuries ago.

It’s not merely a walk. It is a mark of protest against all forms and manifestations of terrorism, fascism, imperialism, despotism, and oppression perpetuated by state and non-state actors.

It is a rallying cry in support of the oppressed, weak and powerless. It is a reaffirmation of pledge to uphold the principles exemplified by the ‘master of challengers’ in Karbala.

The journey of a lifetime

Arbaeen walk takes place from Najaf to Karbala – from the final resting place of the ‘commander of the faithful’ to that of the ‘master of the martyrs’. It is a journey of love.

Two years ago, I was blessed with an opportunity to embark on this life-changing journey. It was the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream.

For years, I had heard fascinating stories from those who traveled there before me. I also watched video documentaries and read articles and travelogues about it. Now it was time to live the dream. The feeling was surreal.

As a journalist, my work requires me to travel extensively. It has taken me to many amazing places past several years. But this time it was not work, but love that was taking me to Iraq.

Exactly a week before Arbaeen, I grabbed my backpack and boarded a bus at south Tehran’s bus terminal for Shalamcheh, a border town in western Khuzestan province. The bus reached the border in the wee hours of morning. As we de-boarded the bus, the scenes were spectacular.

Tens of thousands of people were jostling for space to enter Iraq by foot. I had never seen such scenes in my life. Everyone was visibly excited for the journey ahead. The chants of ‘Ya Hussain’ filled the air, as the sun peeked slowly over the misty desert horizon.

It was a long wait at the border terminal, but nobody seemed to grumble. I stood in a serpentine queue for about three hours before I could cross over. The moment I stepped on the soil of Iraq, I was reminded of Neil Armstrong’s words when he touched down on the lunar surface. It was a small step but a giant leap. The feeling was overwhelming. I had made it.

After a walk of few kilometers in ‘no-man’s land’ that divides the two countries, I boarded another bus on the Iraqi side of border to Najaf. It was a long and arduous journey in a bus teeming with pilgrims but the excitement and eagerness to reach the destination overshadowed everything. All minds and eyes were glued to the golden dome of Imam Ali’s [AS] mausoleum in Najaf. Despite weariness, no one slept on the way. When the bus finally halted at the terminal in Najaf, it was unreal. We were in the city of the ‘commander of the faithful.’

Prelude to the walk

In Najaf, streets were teeming with pilgrims who had flocked from different parts of the world. Local people had set up stalls, serving visitors sweetened drinks, fruits and snacks. I had heard about the hospitality of Iraqis and here I was experiencing it. As I made my way through the crowd, two young boys who sensed that I was a foreigner offered to host me in Najaf.

It was a beautiful and kind gesture from complete strangers with whom the only relation I had was love for Ahlulbayt. We happened to be the devotees of the man who was known in the city of Kufa as the ‘father of orphans’ for his nobility and large-heartedness.

I politely turned down their offer as one of my school-time friends in India, now a student at the Najaf seminary, was waiting for me. The food stalls were all around me, and food was being served with love and warmth, but somehow my hunger had fizzled out. I just wanted to reach the shrine of Imam Ali [AS].

It was walking distance from the terminal and I took steps as briskly as I possibly could. The crowd kept swelling around me and my marathonesque speed diminished. It seemed the whole world had converged there.

There are many small, winding lanes around the shrine and all of them were crammed with people. After much labor, I reached a point from where I could see the beautiful golden dome of the shrine giving out its radiance. I momentarily stood still and had a long, sharp look at it. This was a moment I had waited for so long.

The walk continued uninterrupted until I reached close to the shrine. The next challenge was to go inside the shrine. I stood at the imposing gates, with barely any space to put my foot down. A few moments later, a tsunami of people pushed me toward the main hall of the magnificent shrine. Tears yelled from my eyes irrepressibly.

Here I was, in the city of my Imam, inside his shrine, beneath his dome, right in front of his grave. I wanted to believe what I was seeing, feeling and experiencing. I wanted to believe that it was real, not a dream.

Inside the shrine, I saw people of different nationalities, different languages, different skin colors, different age groups crying, screaming, smiling, beaming – a whole range of pure human emotions. ‘Ya Ali’ was reverberating from all corners, a chant that has a universal appeal, a slogan you associate with the campaigners of truth and justice everywhere.

My two days in Najaf gave me a lifetime of memories to cherish. I stayed at my friend’s house, close to the shrine, but my host was Amiral Momineen [AS] himself. I felt at home. I never felt that way anywhere else, until I reached Karbala.

The walk to heaven

It was finally time to head toward the land that I had heard about, read about, and thought about. The land soaked in the blood of 72 martyrs, including the grandson of the apostle of God. Whenever the talk veers to Karbala, our eyes turn moist. With these tears, as Imam Khomeini once said, we have razed to ground powerful empires.

Karbala is an idea, a concept and a movement that will always have significance and relevance. Imam’s uprising in those desert plains should strengthen our resolve to speak truth to power, to be the voice of voiceless, to campaign for truth and justice.

As Dr. Ali Shariati says, martyrs gave their blood, now survivors have to carry the message of that blood to future generations. Imam Hussain [AS] gave blood and Hazrat Zainab [SA] became an eloquent tongue of that blood.

Arbaeen walk is an endeavor that seeks to keep alive the movement of Karbala, to convey the message of blood to future generations. It is a movement against terrorism, fascism and despotism. It is a movement that seeks to safeguard and promote human values of love and compassion and condemn bigotry, tyranny and exploitation of powerful elites. It is a movement for humanity and its appeal cuts across the barriers of religion, caste, color and creed, which is precisely why non-Shias or for that matter even non-Muslims join this greatest march on earth.

For one week prior to Arbaeen, every day tens of thousands start the walk towards Karbala from Najaf. We began our walk three days before Arbaeen from the compound of Imam Ali [AS]’s shrine. The streets were swarming with people wearing black dresses, holding flags, banners and placards, and chanting ‘Labbaik Ya Hussain’. It was not a dream anymore. I believed what I was seeing.

The whole journey of around 80 km [50 miles] from Najaf to Karbala is marked with 1400 poles, corresponding with the number of years that have passed since the tragic event of Karbala. It takes about two days and two nights to cover this stretch depending on the pace of walk and stoppages in between. When we started the walk, it was drizzling with a gentle breeze. There were men, women, children and elderly all around me, walking towards the same destination.

For the love of Hussain [AS]

Along the way from Najaf to Karbala, stalls were set up by local residents, charities, mosques and foreign aid groups to ensure no pilgrim goes hungry or thirsty. Cooks prepared massive quantities of stewed lamb, grilled fish, beans, fresh bread and rice. There were small makeshift tents lined with foam mattresses and woolen blankets for people to rest or sleep. For those tired, there were masseurs to give them quick and revitalizing massage. For shoes covered with dust, there were volunteers to polish them. There were also mobile bathrooms to have a quick shower and mobile ambulances in case of a medical emergency.

And they charged absolutely nothing. Just for the love of Ahlulbayt.

In recent years, before the pandemic struck, the rush of pilgrims on Arbaeen went up tremendously. The year I went, the figure touched the staggering 15 million, even though the official figure was different. The year before that was the first Arbaeen pilgrimage since the Iraqi government declared thumping victory over Daesh.

All these years, people have been going on this pilgrimage despite the Daesh presence in the country, which is quite remarkable. Only those with unflinching faith and unshakable conviction are capable of taking such huge risks. It is safe to suggest that this greatest protest against terrorism was a key factor in the elimination of the dreaded terrorist group from Iraq.

Security concerns, however, did not play on my mind. Before Iran, I spent a few years in Afghanistan, reporting on the daily incidents of violence. And I grew up in Kashmir, the world’s largest militarized zone. It was normal for me.

On the way I grabbed a flag with ‘Ya Abal Fazl’ in one hand and a placard related to my own bruised and bleeding homeland – Kashmir – in the other hand. I felt like a soldier dressed up for the war. It was overwhelming with a sea of people walking, running, scampering, crawling towards the abode of Aba Abdillah [AS].

On the way, I witnessed many incredible scenes. I saw a young man carrying his elderly mother on his shoulders. I saw a father pushing a wheelchair with his physically impaired son perched on it. I saw a 3-year old girl standing on a bench in the middle of night offering sweets to the travelers. I saw families walking together, a grandfather holding the hand of his granddaughter, singing soul-stirring elegies in the memory of the martyrs of Karbala.

Millions of people walking towards Karbala had different nationalities, came from different cultures, spoke different languages, but what united them was their love for Ahlulbayt and commitment to honor their memory. It was like small tributaries merging into a gigantic sea. They proudly held aloft flags of their respective countries and marched in unison. Majority of them were Iranians, but many of them also came from Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, India, Kashmir, Turkey, Syria, Indonesia, and some European countries.

I met two university students from Australia who had come all the way from Sydney to witness the spectacle. They had heard about it from friends which prompted them to embark on the awe-inspiring journey.

“This is spectacular. I have never seen anything like this, such massive crowd and yet so well-organized,” one of them told me in our ‘walk the talk’. “Saudi authorities should learn from Iraqis how to manage such a big religious gathering.”

I bumped across people from different nationalities and we instantly hit it off. The conversations ranged from Iraq’s successful fight against Daesh, America’s war crimes in the region, the secret dalliance of Arab states with the Zionist regime, situation of religious minorities in South Asia, and the relevance of Karbala in our times. We walked and talked and discovered that we agreed on many things. We became friends and companions in the walk.

This is how Arbaeen can be a stimulating intellectual exercise and a cultural exchange between people of various nationalities and cultures that come together for a common cause.

Hospitality and kindness redefined

On day one of the walk, I met some friends along the way. Days were relatively hot and nights were extremely cold. At every step along the way, there were friendly hosts urging walkers to sit for a sweetened black Iraqi tea and snacks.

We stopped at one small stall where a 30-something husband and wife were serving tea and fresh dates to travelers. They belonged to a local village and worked in farms to earn money for livelihood. Serving the guests of Imam Hussain [AS], the man told me, was a privilege for him.

“I save money every month from my meager earnings and accumulate all the savings to spend them on Aba Abdillah’s [AS] guests on Arbaeen. I can starve myself to make sure pilgrims have no reason to complain.” His words touched me deeply.

We continued on the journey until the night fell and then halted to sleep for a few hours before resuming the walk. All tents were packed and there was hardly any space to lie down. The night was dark and cold as we looked for shelter. Some young boys came from nowhere and offered us some woolen blankets, which saved us from the potential cold stroke.

A few meters away, an elderly man said something to us in Arabic that we didn’t understand. Then he gestured towards a small roadside tent and led us inside. Luckily there was still some space left. It’s amazing the way complete strangers show such kindness and compassion there.

At the break of dawn, we woke up for prayers and then resumed the walk until afternoon prayers, with few hurried tea breaks in between. On the way, the buzz was electrifying as we inched closer to our destination. Iranian pilgrims recited Farsi elegies, Indians and Pakistanis recited Urdu dirges, pilgrims from Lebanon and Syria joined the chorus with Arabic latmiyas. All melodies combined to create a heartwarming ambience.

Following the afternoon prayers, we walked briskly, perhaps out of excitement. We started counting the number of poles we left behind until a big billboard appeared on the way: ‘Welcome to Karbala’ written in Arabic. My heart skipped a beat. The moment had arrived.

I was in Karbala but the shrines were still a few miles away. It was an unbelievable crowd, barely a space to breathe. But who wants to breathe in Karbala, I told myself. I would proudly breathe my last in Bainul Haramian, in between the shrines of two brothers. Slowly, very slowly, the crowd moved forward until the shrine of Aba Abdillah [AS] appeared before my eyes.

Welcome to Karbala

I was officially in heaven. Every thought disappeared from my mind. All I could think of was that fateful day 14 centuries ago when a small group of holy warriors confronted the army of a mighty empire. The scenes started appearing before my eyes. An infant child being taken to the battlefield, a young man fighting like a seasoned warrior, a standard bearer going to fetch water from a nearby stream and never coming back, little children crying of thirst and the beloved grandson of the apostle of God crying out loud: ‘Is there anyone to help me.’

The question was not directed at the soldiers of Yazid ibn Muawiya. Imam Hussain [AS] expected no mercy from them. It was directed at his followers. It was directed at us. This march of the millions from Najaf to Karbala every year is in response to that call, which still echoes in the hearts and minds of believers.

As I stood in front of the shrine of the master of martyrs [AS], time came to a grinding halt. There were people from all sides trying to get closer to the shrine. In the crowd I lost my fellow companions. But it hardly mattered now. I was standing next to Hussain ibn Ali [AS]. Everything else lost the meaning. I felt like a mighty warrior who had conquered the world.

With much difficulty, I made my way through the crowd into Bainul Haramian, a small stretch between the shrines of brothers – Imam Hussain [AS] and Abol Fazl Abbas [AS]. This is an epicenter of universe for the lovers of Ahlulbayt [AS]. I looked at Hussain [AS] and then I looked at Abol Fazl [AS], I felt as if they were sitting together and watching us. I had never felt so emotional in my life.

It was my first visit to Karbala and here I was standing between the two brothers who changed the course of history with their unflinching faith and indomitable valor.

I walked inside the shrine of Imam Hussain [AS], with a tornado of people, and saw it jam-packed. In one corner of the hall, I found a little space to stand and recite Ziyarat e Arbaeen. I didn’t want to leave that hall. I wanted to make it my home.

Then I went to the shrine of Abol Fazl Abbas [AS], the standard bearer of Karbala, whose name was enough to leave enemies in disarray. As I slowly walked inside his shrine, I could see he still had the same aura. People screamed and cried ‘Ya Abol Fazl’. There was hardly any eye that was not moist.

One Iranian group recited the beautiful elegy inside the hall – Alamdar nayamad [The flagbearer did not return]. As children, we are often told to chant ‘Ya Abol Fazl’ if we are afraid of anything or if we sense any danger. Here I was, inside the shrine of Abol Fazl, calling him, sharing my secrets, telling him about my ordeals. I know he listened.

The two days in Karbala were life-changing for me. I did not sleep at night. I sat in Bainul Haramain and gazed at the two shrines all night.

After two unforgettable days in Karbala, I left for Baghdad to see visit Imam Moosa Kazim [AS], my great-grandfather. The crowd was comparatively less here. The next day I left for Samarra to visit Imam Askari [AS], which brought back memories of the 2006 terrorist attack. Those terrorists, like Yazid, have no trace anymore. From Samarra I took a bus to Mehran border, and returned to Iran.

The pilgrimage came to an end. The most beautiful 10 days of my life. I made a solemn pledge to return every year. That, however, didn’t happen as Covid-19 pandemic disrupted everything. But the pledge remains in place, the pledge of allegiance to the beloved, the meaning of which can be understood only by true lovers.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions from MGIMO students and faculty

September 02, 2021

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions from MGIMO students and faculty

Ed: This is a wide ranging discussion of international affairs

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions from MGIMO students and faculty on the occasion of the beginning of a new academic year, Moscow, September 1, 2021

Friends,

As always, I am delighted to be here on September 1, and not only on this day, of course, since we hold events here at other times of the year as well. But September 1 has special importance, since this is Knowledge Day. First-year students get to feel the university spirit, and meetings like this help us streamline this experience and are sure to benefit students in their studies.

I am certain that you will not regret choosing this university. MGIMO graduates find work in a wide variety of spheres, from public service and research to business and journalism. We are proud that our alma mater has such a great reputation. MGIMO Rector, Anatoly Torkunov, has just shared some enrolment statistics. They are impressive. He said that the minister keeps a close eye on everything going on in this school. But you cannot keep track of everything, and I mean this in a good way. MGIMO University constantly improves its programmes and activity and expands its partnership networks. Today, MGIMO University will sign yet another cooperation agreement, this time with Ivannikov Institute for System Programming. This shows that we always need to be in step with the times. This is the right way to go. The quality of the education that graduates receive at this university is recognised both in Russia and around the world.

I am glad MGIMO University continues to attract international students. This is an important channel for maintaining humanitarian, educational and people-to-people ties. In today’s world these ties have special importance, since at the intergovernmental level our Western colleagues have little appetite for talking to us on equal terms. As you probably know, and I am certain that you have a keen interest in foreign policy, they persist with their demands that we change the way we behave and act the way they view as being correct. This is a dead end. We are open to a frank, constructive, mutually beneficial dialogue, taking into account each other’s interests. It is along these lines that we maintain dialogue and promote cooperation and partnerships with the overwhelming majority of countries around the world. This includes our closest allies and strategic partners – members of the CSTO, CIS, EAEU, SCO and BRICS. We have many reliable friends, almost in all continents interested in promoting mutually beneficial projects that benefit all the participants.

To counter this trend toward a multipolar world, which reflects the cultural and civilisational diversity on this planet, our Western partners seek to maintain their dominant standing in international affairs. They are acting in quite a brash manner making no secret out of the fact that their main objective is to contain their competitors, primarily Russia and China. The documents adopted at the NATO, EU, and US-EU summits over the past months are designed to consolidate the “collective West” in their efforts to counter the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.

The Indo-Pacific strategies that are openly pursuing the goal (as it has been proclaimed) of containing China have gained currency in the Asia-Pacific region. They are trying to implicate another of our strategic partners, India, in these games. Everyone can see it and everyone understands what it is all about. But those who gave up their sovereignty and joined the ranks of the countries led by the United States and other Western countries are not in a position to utter a word of disagreement.

Truth be told, following the tragic events in Afghanistan and after the United States and its NATO allies had hurriedly left that country, a chorus of voices began to be heard in Europe advocating self-reliance in foreign affairs, especially in matters involving the deployment of armed forces, rather than reliance on directives issued by Washington that it can change in an instant. These are glimpses of something new in the position of the West, in this case, the Europeans.

The second notable aspect highlighted by US President Joe Biden and President of France Emmanuel Macron is as follows: both announced within one or two days of one another that it was time to give up on interfering in other countries’ internal affairs in order to impose Western-style democracy on them.

We welcome such statements. We have long been urging our Western colleagues to learn from the reckless ventures that they have got themselves into in recent decades in Iraq and Libya, and they tried to do the same in Syria. I hope (if the above statements are a true reflection of their hard-won understanding of the matter) that our planet will be a safer place in the future. But all the same, we have to “clear out the rubble” of the past policies. Hundreds of thousands of people, civilians, were impacted or killed during the invasion of Iraq and the attack on Libya. There are lots of problems stemming from the revived international terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa and huge numbers of illegal migrants. The illegal arms trade, drug smuggling and much more are on the rise. All this needs to be “cleared up” by the international community, because it affects almost everyone.

Now that the NATO troops have pulled out from Afghanistan, the most important thing for us is to ensure the security of our allies in Central Asia. First, they are our comrades, including comrades-in-arms, and second, the security of Russia’s southern borders directly depends on this.

I hope that if we act together, we will be able to agree on these external steps that will help create an environment within Afghanistan for forming a truly national leadership. We are working energetically to this end.

We are witnessing two trends in the international arena. On the one hand, it is about the formation of a multipolar and polycentric world. This trend reflects the position of most states around the world. On the other hand, efforts are being made to hold back this objective historical process and to artificially preserve control over everything that is happening in the international arena, including with the use of unscrupulous methods such as unilateral illegal sanctions, competition that is occasionally reminiscent of ultimatums, or changing the rules in the midst of an ongoing project.

The West tends to mention less often (if at all) the term “international law” and calls on everyone to maintain a “rules-based world order.” We have nothing against the rules. After all, the UN Charter is also a set of rules, but they were agreed with all states without exception. They are supported by every country that is a member of this one-of-a-kind organisation with incredible and unmatched legitimacy. The West has different rules in mind. They are creating formats of their own. For example, the US has announced that it will convene a Democracy Summit to create an Alliance of Democracies. Clearly, Washington will be the one to determine who will be invited and who is considered a democracy. By the same token, France and Germany announced an initiative to create an Alliance for Multilateralism, i.e. “multilateralists.” When asked why these issues cannot be discussed at the UN, where multilateralism is at its finest in the modern world, the answer is that the UN is home to “retrogrades” and they want to create an Alliance for Multilateralism based on “advanced” ideas. And the “leaders,” above all the EU, will set the rules for multilateralism, and the rest will have to look up to them. This is a crude description, but it conveys the essence of what they are trying to tell us in so many words.

There are initiatives to create partnerships, including in the areas that were supposed to be discussed at universal platforms long ago. Numerous initiatives appearing in the developing world are also being used for the same purpose. There are attempts to channel them to meet Western interests.

The policy of undermining international law and universal principles sealed in the UN Charter is reflected, to a certain extent, in the efforts to call into doubt the results of World War II. They are aimed at trying to equate the winners in this bloodiest war in human history with those who unleashed it and proclaimed the destruction of whole nations as their goal. These attempts are aimed at undermining our positions in the world. Similar attacks are being made on China’s positions. We cannot give up and remain indifferent on this issue.

Every year, we put forward major initiatives at the UN on the inadmissibility of glorifying Nazism, waging a war against monuments and fuelling any forms of racial discrimination and xenophobia.

The overwhelming majority of states not only support these initiatives but also become their co-authors. In most cases, our Western colleagues bashfully abstain from this. They explain that the appeal to prevent certain trends runs counter to democracy and freedom of speech. In other words, for them the neo-Nazi trends that are obvious in Europe, in part, in the Baltic states and Ukraine, do not amount to a gross violation of the Nuremberg trials verdict but merely reflect a commitment to tolerance and freedom of speech.

I do not think it is necessary to explain in detail the harmful and pernicious nature of such attempts to rewrite history and give the green light to those who want to reproduce misanthropic attitudes in the world arena. I do not believe it is necessary to speak in detail about the need to counter these attitudes with resolve and consistency.

We have a foreign policy course endorsed by President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Its main goal is to ensure the most favourable conditions for national development, security, economic growth and the improvement of the living standards of our citizens. We will consistently translate this course into reality.

We have never striven for confrontation, not to mention isolation. We are open to cooperation with the Western countries if they change their approach and stop acting like teachers who “know everything” and are “above reproach,” treating Russia like a pupil that must do its homework.  It is inappropriate to talk to anyone in this manner, let alone Russia.

Our plans enjoy firm support of our people for the course towards strengthening the sovereignty of the Russian Federation and promoting good, friendly relations with our neighbours and all those who are willing to do this honestly, on an equitable basis.

Question: The question has to do with the changes in modern diplomacy under the influence of new technology. Digital diplomacy is a widespread term today. Technological development adds a fundamentally new dimension to a diplomats’ work, and also leads to a qualitative transformation of the system of international relations. How do you think new technologies will affect energy policy in particular and diplomacy in general?

Sergey Lavrov: I am asked this question every time I speak at Knowledge Day here. Apparently, this reflects the thinking of each new generation of students, about how technology will generally affect the processes concerning state-level problem solving and international relations.

Indeed, digital technologies are rapidly penetrating our lives, even faster in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Many events, including international events, have transitioned to the online format. There is an upside to this. To a certain extent, it helps to save time, which is becoming a more sparse resource every day, given the aggravating international challenges and problems that our foreign policy tries to resolve.

When it comes to holding official meetings such as the UN Security Council or the UN General Assembly with a pre-agreed agenda where each country wants to express its point of view, such statements are prepared in advance through the efforts of a large number of specialists. The result is a policy document on a specific matter on the international agenda, which then goes through debates in one format or another. I see no problem with participating in this kind of discussion online using digital technology.

There are other international meetings, when something needs to be agreed upon as soon as possible; these meetings can also be held remotely. At least this way is better than a phone call because you can see the other person’s face, and this is very important.

But the most serious issues cannot be resolved online. All my colleagues agree with this. Maybe in the future, humanity will invent a way to convey the feeling of personal contact. But I doubt this will be possible. No machine is capable of replacing a person.

I am confident that conventional diplomacy will retain its importance as the main tool in international affairs. As soon as a serious problem arises, it is imperative to meet and try to negotiate.

Question: Will the autumn 2021 elections to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation impact Russia’s foreign policy in the international arena?

Sergey Lavrov: A good question. Elections in our country actually begin in a little more than a fortnight. Even now Western colleagues make it clear that they are set to cast discredit on them. Various political scientists are publishing articles and making speeches aimed at preparing public opinion in the direction of the narrative that the elections results will be rigged.

We regularly invite international observers to our national elections. This year, around 200 observers will come to us as well, including those from international organisations. The only one of them who arrogantly declined the invitation was the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). We told them they could send a group of 60 observers. This is the largest group we invite from abroad. They said they wanted 500. When you are being invited to visit someone, you do not demand gifts for yourself instead of showing respect towards the hosts. OSCE does not have a rule under which ODIHR must dictate election monitoring provisions. All the countries have only one obligation there – to invite international observers to elections. It is not even written down that they should be from OSCE. They may be from anywhere you like. We do it regularly and meet our obligations in full. This is an example of how international law (and this principle is prescribed at OSCE, I mean that all issues must be solved by consensus) is being replaced by “rules.” This Office itself made up a rule, along the same lines the West operates, by demanding that its own “rules” must be obeyed.

However important international observers might be, we will also have our own observers. Their number is immense. The voting will be streamed live in full. Our Central Electoral Board provides detailed coverage of this and other innovations being introduced. We are taking steps to ensure maximum transparency of voting at our embassies and general consulates. As always, we are making arrangements so that it is possible for our citizens abroad to cast their vote and fulfil their election right.

With all the importance of international observers, it is ultimately our citizens who will take a decision on how we will live on and with which members our parliament will draft new laws. Those who are going to objectively figure out developments in the Russia Federation are always welcome. As to those who have already passed a judgement, let them bear the shame.

Question: I know that poetry and art are among your hobbies. How can we make Russian literature and cinema more effective as a soft power tool abroad?

Sergey Lavrov: There is only one way, and that is to promote these works in other countries’ markets. This policy was vigorously pursued in the Soviet Union. That was a useful experience for the international film and literary community as well. I believe we are renewing these traditions now. I do not know about literary exhibitions, I just do not think I have seen a lot of information on this, but many film festivals recognise the work of our directors, actors and producers. A number of Russian films are highly valued in Cannes and in Karlovy Vary. We must continue to do this.

Question: Does Russia have effective and proportionate methods of fighting manifestations of Russophobia, oppression of Russians, persecution against the Russian language and the Russian world in certain countries?

Sergey Lavrov: This is a difficult question, given the recent manifestations of inappropriate attitudes towards ethnic Russians in a number of countries, including some of our neighbours. This topic has several dimensions to it. The most important point is that the government of a country where our citizens are subjected to some kind of discriminatory influence must firmly oppose such manifestations and take steps to prevent them. This is important, not only because they attack Russians or our other compatriots, but also because it’s required by international conventions, the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many other documents that are universal and approved by everyone.

In Russia, too, we have seen situations recently where some migrant labourers were at odds with other labour migrants. This is also a problem because Russia needs migrant labourers. We are trying to make immigration as clear, transparent and legitimate as possible. We negotiate with the countries they come from for long-term employment (mostly the Central Asian countries) and agree on special courses for potential migrants that make sure they speak minimal Russian and are familiar with Russian customs, our laws, and that they are planning to behave in a way that is appropriate for being hired in the Russian Federation. This is important for our economy. Without migrant labourers, many Russian industries are now experiencing a significant shortage of personnel.

It is also important to keep in mind that these countries are our allies. We, as allies, must support each other; one way to do so is to ensure an appropriate environment for citizens who represent a different ethnic group.

We have a huge number of ethnic groups living in Russia. Russia is a record holder in multi-ethnicity. All this cultural and religious diversity has always made our country strong, providing the solid foundation on which we stand. We have never tried to destroy the traditions, cultures or languages ​​of any peoples that have lived here since the Russian Empire, then the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation. We have always supported their languages, cultures, and customs.

Another factor that must be taken into account is the basic quality of life for each and every citizen. We pursue a most open policy. We will make every effort to ensure that our neighbours or other countries where our compatriots live or work fully comply with their international obligations. The fight against discrimination must use political methods based on respect for international commitments.

Question: Do conditions exist for economic and investment cooperation with Japan on the Kuril Islands?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, they do, of course. It is even more than that. We made a relevant proposal to our Japanese colleagues a long time ago. When, several years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the Japanese Prime Minister at the time, Shinzo Abe, we came up with an initiative to engage in joint economic activity on these islands. Our Japanese neighbours agreed to this proposal after a while, but decided to confine our cooperation to relatively unsophisticated areas, like aquaculture and waste treatment. These things are important but they are of no strategic significance. We offered them cooperation in any industry of their choice on the southern Kuril Islands and this has been stated repeatedly in the correspondence with our Japanese colleagues. However, the Japanese are seeking to secure a deal with us that would allow them to engage in economic activity and invest money [in the area], not in compliance with Russian law, but rather on the basis of an agreement that provides for another jurisdiction – not that of the Russian Federation. Under this jurisdiction, Russian and Japanese representatives in a certain administrative body would enjoy equal rights, meaning that some hybrid laws would be introduced. This cannot be done under our Constitution.

Regretfully, our Japanese friends are missing out on the opportunity to invest money with us for our mutual benefit. Nonetheless, we have good plans. Soon, new privileges will be announced for our foreign partners who agree to work with us in this part of the Russian Federation. I believe there will be practical interest in this.

Question: In one of your interviews you said (and I fully agree) that modern Western-style liberal democracies have run their course. How will nation states evolve going forward? What forms of state organisation hold the most promise? What should we be striving for?

The UN is plagued by many problems, ranging from Greta Thunberg to agreements that are not being acted upon, such as, for instance, the Paris Agreement. What can be done to turn this deplorable trend around? What laws need to be adopted? What kind of organisations must be created? What does Russia think about this?

Sergey Lavrov: I briefly touched on this matter in my opening remarks. I believe each state should be structured around its customs and traditions and be comfortable for its residents who will have children, grandchildren, etc. It appears that they have promised to stop trying to impose democracy on other countries. At least, President Biden and President Macron said this almost simultaneously. We’ll see how they deliver on their promises.

Each country should take care of its own affairs independently. Everyone now agrees that imposing a Western system on Afghanistan was a grave mistake. Afghanistan has always been a fairly decentralised country where clan-based and other bonds, as well as relations between different ethnic groups, have always played a major role. And Kabul usually balanced out these relations. Saying that tomorrow you will have elections and everyone should go and cast their vote to elect a president who will have certain powers – it was not the Afghans who came up with this idea. It was imposed on them and the ones who did it hurt themselves badly. I hope the promises not to impose democracy on anyone else will be kept.

With regard to environmental protection, the Paris Agreement can hardly be described as a treaty that is not being acted upon. It was based on the fundamental principle that included the need to reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, but each country was supposed to assume commitments of its own. Preparations for another conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will take place in Glasgow this autumn, are underway.

As part of this process, the most important thing is to agree on variables that will meet the interests of each participant. The proposal of several Western countries to stop using coal-fired power generation starting literally today cannot be complied with by many countries, including several Western countries, simply because this would undermine their energy security. The same applies to large developing countries, including China and India. They are reluctant to stop their growth. They are making it clear to the West that the Western countries have attained their current level of development due to intensive use of natural resources, which gave rise to the greenhouse effect, and now the West wants large developing countries to skip their current phase of development and go straight to a post-carbon economy. It doesn’t work that way, they say. First, they need to complete the economic development of their respective states, which is a complex process that involves the interests of each state. An attempt to balance these interests is being undertaken in the course of preparations for the next conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

We made a commitment that by 2030 we would have 70 percent of the 1990 level when the countdown began under the UN Climate Convention. It is unlikely that anyone would have complaints with regard to us. President Vladimir Putin has made clear more than once that we must be extremely careful with regard to everything that is happening. The fact that Russia’s Arctic zone, which is mainly permafrost, is warming up much faster than the rest of the planet is worrisome. This matter is being carefully addressed by several of our ministries, and it is a concern for all of our Government.

Question: Can environmental issues motivate the world powers tо unite against a background of general discord? What is the potential for green diplomacy?

Sergey Lavrov: Environmental protection and concern for the planet’s climate must become a motive for pooling our efforts. It is hard to say now to what extent the world powers will manage to achieve this.

Let me repeat that the developing nations are strongly inclined to use their opportunities for the current stage of their development before assuming the commitments promoted by their Western colleagues. Many interests come together here. Our global interest lies in the health of the planet and the survival of humanity. However, every country has its own national assessment of the current situation and the commitments to their people. It is a complicated matter, but there is no doubt that this is a challenge that must prompt all of us to come together. We stand for pooling our efforts.

Question: Can the Russian Federation “enforce Ukraine to peace” under the Minsk Agreements?

Sergey Lavrov: The Minsk Agreements do not envisage any enforcement. They have been voluntarily approved, signed and unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council, thereby becoming international law. When Ukraine as a state, both under Petr Poroshenko and Vladimir Zelensky, is doing all it can to avoid fulfilling these agreements, we must point this out to those who compiled them with us. I am primarily referring to Germany, France and other Western countries that are going all-out to justify the Kiev regime. When I say that it is trying to avoid fulfilling these agreements, I am referring to many laws that actually prohibit the Russian language, the transfer of special authority to the territories that have proclaimed themselves the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and the efforts to harmonise the parameters of local elections in them. These are the basics of the Minsk Agreements.

Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Moscow. This issue was raised at her talks with President of Russia Vladimir Putin. We showed our German colleagues the legal bans that Mr Zelensky adopted himself to justify his complete inability to fulfil what is required by all states in the world. All countries without exception believe that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements for settling the crisis in Donbass. Our Ukrainian colleagues are true prestidigitators. At one time, they believed that Rus was the true name of Ukraine (our ministry has already replied to this, so I will not repeat it). Later they said that the conversion of Rus was a Ukrainian holiday. This is sad. Mr Zelensky claims that Russian gas is the dirtiest in the world. He is doing this not because he is particularly bright but because he wants to maintain and fuel his Russophobic rhetoric and actions to prompt the West to continue supporting Kiev.

Ukraine continues to exploit the obvious efforts of the West to unbalance and destabilise Russia, sidetrack it from resolving its vital problems and make our foreign policy less effective. The Ukrainian regime is exploiting all this. This is clear to everyone. Having placed its bets on Kiev, the West feels uncomfortable about giving up on them. But this approach has obviously failed. The realisation of this fact is coming up but has not yet been embodied in practical steps aimed at convincing or, to use your expression, “enforcing” anything. It is the West that must enforce compliance from its client.

Question: How do you see yourself as a State Duma deputy, something you may soon be? Do you have proposals or ideas to offer? Perhaps, you have specific initiatives to promote our relations with Armenia or Georgia?

Sergey Lavrov: I will not speculate on the outcome of the elections to the State Duma.

We deal with our relations with Armenia and Georgia as Foreign Ministry officials. Armenia is our ally. New Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan was just in Moscow, on August 31. We had a good discussion. Our bilateral agenda is quite fulfilling and includes mutual visits, major projects and expanded economic cooperation. All of that is unfolding in a very intensive and confident manner.

There is the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, and Russia has played a decisive role in bringing a solution to it. The President of Russia, the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia signed agreements on November 9, 2020 (on ceasing hostilities and developing cooperation in this region) and on January 11. These agreements include specific actions that follow up on our leaders’ proposals to unblock all transport lines and economic ties. This is not a one-day project. It is underway, and the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are closely following it. Our military personnel in the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh work daily on the ground to reduce tensions and build trust. The border guards are helping their Armenian allies sort out issues with their Azerbaijani neighbours.

Relations with Georgia are almost non-existent. There is a Section of Russia’s Interests in Georgia and a Section of Georgia’s Interests in Russia. There is trade, which is quite significant. Russia is one of Georgia’s leading trade partners. Our people love to go to Georgia (I myself love the country). There are no official interstate or diplomatic relations; they were severed at Tbilisi’s initiative. We have offered to resume them more than once. We planned to reciprocate to our Georgian neighbour when they introduced visa-free travel for our citizens. At first, we followed closely the developments as they were unfolding. We are not banning anyone from going to Georgia. In 2019, we were also willing to announce visa-free travel for Georgian citizens, but an unpleasant incident occurred with gross provocations against the Russian parliamentary delegation, which arrived in Tbilisi for a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy. Our deputy was the assembly chairman. In a conference room in Georgia, the Georgian hosts offered him the chair of the chairman of the parliament themselves. Then, immediately, a group of thugs came in the room demanding that Russia stop interfering in Georgia’s internal affairs and stop “occupying” their parliament. It even came to fisticuffs. With no apologies coming our way, we held back introducing visa-free travel for Georgian citizens and put our decision to resume regular flights on hold. We were ready to go ahead with it. If Georgia really doesn’t want to “play the Russian card” in an effort to retain Western protection, but instead prefers to have good relations with us as a neighbour, we will respond at any time.

Question: What qualities do you think a diplomat’s wife might need? What rules of etiquette she should observe?

Sergey Lavrov: There are no special rules here. A wife and a husband should both understand each other. Rather than obstructing the other, they should help each other carry out the ideas they have decided to devote their lives to and also achieve self-fulfillment in their professions. There is no universal advice.

When I was a rank-and-file diplomat, I worked with some top officials, whose wives had different “styles” – this occurs sometimes. In both cases, this proved to be effective and useful in our work. If a wife has a profession, her husband should also have respect for it. When a woman, regardless of whether she is the wife of an ambassador or a diplomat in a lower position, goes to a country which her husband has been posted to but where she cannot realise her professional potential, this can be a serious problem, which has to be addressed. In this situation, each family decides on its own whether the spouses go together or each of them keeps his or her job and tries to travel as often as possible to see the other. This is life; it doesn’t necessarily fit into a particular pattern.

Question: I believe the man himself comes first – Sergey Lavrov – and only then there is the Russian Foreign Minister. I like to look at politics through the prism of humaneness. What is your favourite song, the one you listen to and feel happy?

Sergey Lavrov: There are many. I will not give examples. The list is long. I do not want to leave anyone out. These are mostly songs by singer-poets. I enjoy listening to them whenever I have the chance, say, in my car or when I meet with my friends.

Question: I have a question about Russia’s relations with the Eastern European countries, given the complexity of regulating relations in this region since World War II, not to mention after the USSR’s collapse. How will they develop in the near future?

Sergey Lavrov: If a particular country has a government concerned about national interests, projects that meet the needs of its population, economic growth, and a search for partners that will help it resolve these problems in the best way, Russia has no problems in relations with any Central or East European country or any other country in the world.

We have close ties with Hungary and it is being criticised for this. In the European Union, Hungary and Poland are reprimanded for not obeying the EU’s general standards and principles. Thus, they hold referendums calling into doubt LGBT rights. Recently, Hungary held a referendum on the same law as Russia did. This law does not prohibit anything but imposes administrative liability for promoting LGBT ideology among minors. Nothing else. I think this is the right thing to do. In addition to major economic projects (nuclear power plants, and railway carriage production for Egypt), we have many other undertakings and good humanitarian cooperation.

Together with Armenia and the Vatican in the OSCE and the UN Human Rights Council, Russia and Hungary are acting as the driver in protecting the rights of Christians, including in the Middle East where Christians are seriously harassed. Hungary is not embarrassed about its Christian roots (incidentally, nor is Poland ashamed of its past and present). When they start talking about the need to raise their voice in defence of Christians, other European countries say that this is not quite politically correct.

In the OSCE, we suggested adopting a declaration against Christianophobia and Islamophobia, because it has already passed a declaration on anti-Semitism. However, these proposals are getting nowhere. Seven years ago, the West promised to adopt them but so far the OSCE countries have failed to adopt a common position on banning both Christianophobia and Islamophobia.

Regarding other East European countries, we have good relations with Slovenia. In particular, we are both working to preserve our common memory, including the bloody events of WWI and WWII. People in Slovenia care a lot about war memorials. Recently, they established a new monument devoted to all Russian soldiers who perished in both world wars. Our economic cooperation is in good shape.

We are implementing economic projects with other Eastern European countries, for instance, with Slovakia. We have considered many ideas about projects with the Czech Republic, but in the past few months it has decided to take a more Russophobic attitude and adopt overtly discriminatory decisions, like banning Rosatom from a tender on building a new nuclear power plant unit. It justified its policy with allegations that have never been proved by anyone. It blamed us for detonating some arms depots in 2014. Even many people in the Czech Republic consider this far-fetched.

However, the allegations remain. We are used to being accused of all kinds of “sins” without any evidence. This happened during the so-called poisoning of the Skripals and Alexey Navalny, and the investigation of the Malaysia Airlines crash in Donbass in July 2014. As in many other cases, these accusations are not buttressed by anything. Our requests to present facts are ignored or qualified as “classified.” Or we are told someone has “prohibited” to transmit information or some other excuse. This position is not serious. It reflects the Western approach to fueling Russophobic tensions without grounds.

Question: Do you think that we can describe the meeting between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden in Switzerland as the beginning of a relative normalisation of relations between the two countries?

Sergey Lavrov: Holding a meeting is better than having no contact at all. No breakthroughs occurred, but there was a mutually respectful conversation, on an equal footing, without any grievances expressed to either side.  The dialogue was permeated with the awareness of responsibility that the two biggest nuclear powers had for the state of affairs in the world. The presidents paid attention to the need to intensify bilateral contacts, particularly in the interests of stakeholders in the business community. But the main focus was on the international agenda.

The United States withdrew from the Treaty on Open Skies (TOS) just a few months before the meeting and from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 2019.   This has created a background for the fading of the international arms reduction and control agenda. When Joe Biden took office, he promptly responded to the proposal (which was made way back to the Trump administration but remained unanswered for a couple of years) on the need to extend the New START Treaty without any preconditions. We have managed to preserve at least this element of the arms control architecture for the next five years.

This was the context for the presidents’ meeting in Geneva. The main positive result of the meeting is that the two leaders reaffirmed the position that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and therefore it must never be unleashed. A statement to this effect was made a long time ago by the USSR and the USA. We suggested that the United States confirm this axiom. The previous administration evaded this, but Joe Biden accepted the proposal.

Within the same statement that spoke about the inadmissibility of unleashing a nuclear war, the two presidents outlined an instruction to start a dialogue on matters of strategic stability.  The first tentative meeting took place in July of this year. The second one is scheduled for September. At this stage, the parties’ positions are far apart, but the fact that the dialogue is under way gives hope for the coordination of a basis for further specific talks on arms limitation.   These are our short-term objectives.

They also talked in general terms about the need to establish a dialogue on cyber security. This is yet another topic on which we were unable to reach out to Washington for several years. Vladimir Putin’s official statement was dedicated to the initiatives on ensuring a transparent dialogue based on trust and facts on cyber security in Russian-American relations. Contacts of this kind are being prepared as well. There are reasons to believe that we will reduce international tension just a little in some areas. But this does not abolish the fact that the United States continues to see the containment of Russia and China as one of its main tasks, as well as the encouragement of measures that may be instrumental in having an irritating effect on us.

Russia’s position at the seventy-sixth session of the UN General Assembly

August 05, 2021

Russia’s position at the seventy-sixth session of the UN General Assembly

https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4834791

1.      The goal of the 76-th session of the UN General Assembly (GA) is to reaffirm the central and coordinating role of the Organization in international affairs. Owing to its representativeness and universality, the UN is rightfully viewed as a unique platform for an equitable dialogue aimed at reaching compromise solutions with due regard to different opinions. Attempts to undermine the authority and legitimacy of the UN are, in our view, extremely dangerous, as they can lead to the dismantlement of the multipolar system of international relations.

2.      We have consistently advocated the strengthening of the genuine multilateral framework of international relations and world economy based on the norms of international law, including the UN Charter, with an emphasis on the unconditional respect for the sovereignty of States and non-interference in their internal affairs. We deem unacceptable the attempts of Western States to replace the universally recognized international legal principles with the so-called “rules-based world order” elaborated behind the scenes.

3.      We support the coordinated efforts of the international community to curb the spread of the new coronavirus infection as well as to mitigate its consequences in the political, health care, social and economic sectors. In this regard, we consider it unacceptable to politicize the issue of COVID-19 dissemination. We also stress the importance of showing unity and solidarity among all Member States and organizations of the United Nations system in the face of a common challenge. Russia stands for a gradual return to the face-to-face format of events at the UN as the epidemiological situation in the world improves.

4.      Preventing conflicts and addressing their consequences is our first priority. However, effective international assistance in this sphere, including from the UN, is only possible with the consent of the States concerned and in line with the UN Charter. This applies equally to good offices, preventive diplomacy and mediation, which should be conducted impartially and with respect for the sovereignty of States. It is crucial that there should be no universal “conflict indicators”: each situation calls for a delicate and unbiased approach as well as a thorough search for a tailored solution that would take into account the roots and history of the conflict.

5.        We believe that the goal of the UN Security Council reform is to increase the representation of developing States from Africa, Asia and Latin America in the Council without prejudice to its effectiveness and operational efficiency. Efforts to identify the best reform model, which would enjoy consensus or at least the support of the overwhelming majority of Member States, should continue in the current format of Intergovernmental Negotiations. The prerogatives of the UNSC permanent members shall not be subject to revision. The veto power is a unique tool that encourages the necessary compromises and allows the Council to reach well-considered and balanced decisions.

6.        We support realistic initiatives to revitalize the work of the UN General Assembly within the relevant Ad Hoc Working Group. We attach particular importance to fine-tuning the UNGA working methods, streamlining its overloaded agenda and strengthening multilingualism. Any innovation should be reasonable and correspond to the current needs. Any redistribution of the powers of other statutory bodies, especially the Security Council, in favour of the General Assembly is unacceptable.

7.      We support increased cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations in line with the UN Charter, first and foremost, its Chapter VIII. The activities of regional associations, according to the UN Charter, should be in conformity with their objectives and principles. It is essential to further enhance partnership between the UN and such organizations as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the BRICS and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The biennial resolutions on cooperation between the UN and the CIS, the CSTO and the SCO, uunanimously adopted at the previous 75th UNGA Session, prove the relevance of this task.

8.      The distortion of history and revision of the outcomes of World War II are unacceptable. We attach particular importance to the annual UNGA draft resolution on Combating Glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and Other Practices that Contribute to Fuelling Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. This document has traditionally enjoyed the support of the majority of UN Member States. We call on the delegations that abstained or voted against this initiative last year to reconsider their position.

9.      The destructive policies of certain extra-regional players in the Middle East and North Africa are clearly part of a global strategy to destroy the UN‑centric architecture established after World War II and replace it with a completely illegitimate “rules-based world order”.

We support the international legal parameters for resolving conflicts in this region agreed upon at the UN and implemented solely through political and diplomatic means. Our proposal to create a regional security architecture in the Persian Gulf and, in the longer term, throughout the whole Middle East remains on the table.

10.      One of the top priorities in the Middle East is the Syrian settlement. Achieving lasting and long-term stabilisation and security in the country is only possible through the full restoration of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over its national territory. The continuation of the fight against international terrorist groups recognized as such by the UN Security Council remains critical.

On the political track, we support the promotion of a Syrian-led settlement process implemented by the Syrian people themselves with the UN assistance, as provided for in UNSC resolution 2254. We have consistently supported the relevant work of the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria, Geir Pedersen, but also stressed that his efforts should not go beyond the mandate defined by the Security Council.

There is growing concern about the significant deterioration of the humanitarian and socio-economic situation in the Syrian Arab Republic against the backdrop of tougher unilateral sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic. We call on responsible members of the international community to refrain from politicising purely humanitarian issues and render assistance to all Syrians in coordination with Damascus, provide for sanctions exemptions for reconstruction projects and facilitate the return of refugees and IDPs.

11.       We are convinced that one of the foundations for establishing peace and security in the Middle East is the revival of the Middle East settlement process with the resolution of the Palestinian problem at its core.

We attach key importance to preventing an escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israelis and to providing extensive humanitarian assistance to those affected and in need in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At the same time, we advocate for the restart of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on all issues concerning the final status on the universally recognized international legal basis, including a two-State solution. We call on the parties to show restraint, to refrain from unilateral steps and provocative actions (forced evictions, expropriation of houses and land, settlement construction, arbitrary arrests and any forms of violence) as well as to respect the special status and integrity of the Holy Sites of Jerusalem.

We consider it imperative to step up efforts within the framework of the Middle East Quartet, including its interaction with regional actors. We support the arrangement of a Quartet meeting at the ministerial level.

12.    We believe that there is no alternative to a political settlement in Libya. We highlight the need to take into account the views of all Libyan sides, including while planning for international assistance aimed at putting an end to the conflict. We engage with all parties and call for an early cessation of hostilities and the restoration of sustainable and integrated state institutions, including security agencies.

We support the observance of the ceasefire and a political and diplomatic settlement in Libya. All influential political forces should be heard and involved in the political life of the country. We welcome the formation of the Government of National Unity aimed at making arrangements for the national elections scheduled for December 2021. We encourage Libyan actors to seek compromise and to establish strong and effective unified authorities. We support the activities of Special Envoy Ján Kubiš.

13.    We advocate for the cessation of hostilities in Yemen, which exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation in the country. We urge the States involved to engage in the dialogue with a view to reaching a comprehensive settlement which would be accepted by all stakeholders in Yemen.

14.    We support the Iraqi leadership’s efforts to stabilize security situation and implement long-term social and economic reforms. We emphasize the significance of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. It is important that they contribute to bridging the divide between various ethnic and religious groups and political forces. We welcome the dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil. We believe that Iraq should not be subject to external interference and become an arena for regional rivalries.

15.    We consistently pursue the policy aimed at facilitating the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan. We provide assistance in building a country free from terrorism and drug-related crime. We are seriously concerned about the continuing influence of ISIS in the north and north east of the country as well as the threat of the spillover of terrorist activities into Central Asia and the use of a deteriorating domestic political environment to undermine the peace process. Together with our partners within the “Troika Plus” and with the participation of both Afghan negotiating teams we are working to advance national reconciliation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We attach particular importance to regional co-operation, primarily through the SCO and the CSTO. We note the continuing relevance of the Moscow format of consultations on Afghanistan. We support the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

16.    There is no alternative to the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, enshrined in UNSC resolution 2202, as a framework for the internal settlement in Ukraine. Effective international assistance, including through the UN, should be aimed at implementing this decision and supporting the current settlement format, which includes the Contact Group in Minsk and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.

Sustainable political and diplomatic settlement of the internal crisis in Ukraine can only be achieved through a direct dialogue between Kiev and Donbass, while taking into account the legitimate demands of all the regions of Ukraine and its linguistic, ethnic and sectarian groups at the constitutional level. We will continue to actively assist in addressing the acute humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, which has persisted for many years and was brought about by the actions of the authorities in Kiev.

We insist on a full, thorough and independent international investigation of the MH17 plane crash over the Ukrainian territory based on irrefutable facts and in line with UNSC resolution 2166. Neither the technical investigation into the causes of the Malaysian Boeing crash conducted by the Dutch Safety Board nor the criminal investigation by the Joint Investigation Team meet these criteria.

We expect that all cases of violence against civilians and journalists that have occurred since the beginning of the internal crisis in Ukraine will be investigated fairly and impartially, and that all those responsible will be brought to justice.

17.       The territorial status of Crimea was definitively determined by the Crimean population itself during a referendum in March 2014. Any discussions on the situation in this Russian region that do not involve its residents bear no relation to reality. This issue as well as the situation around the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, which lies within the scope of the Russian-Ukrainian bilateral relations, cannot be part of the UN-led discussion on the developments in Ukraine.

We condemn the efforts of the Ukrainian delegation to introduce the Crimean issue in the UNGA through a politicized resolution on the “militarization” of the peninsula as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.           The resolution is built on groundless, unacceptable accusations against Russia and is intended to put the blame for all of Ukraine’s internal problems on the mythical “Russian aggression”. The document contains Kiev’s twisted interpretation of the provocation it carried out on 25 November 2018, when three Ukrainian vessels attempted to enter the Kerch Strait without first notifying the Russian side. The allegations on the alleged militarization of Crimea and parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov contained in the aforementioned resolution also contradict the truth.

In case this odious draft resolution is again introduced in the UNGA, we call on all States to vote firmly against its adoption.

18.    The implementation of the trilateral statements of 9 November 2020 and 11 January 2021 is a priority for normalizing the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict area. We consider it useful to involve UN agencies and in particular the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in humanitarian activities in the Russian peacekeeping operation area. The parameters for their possible work should be agreed upon in direct coordination with Baku and Yerevan.

19.    The problem of the Korean Peninsula should be resolved by political and diplomatic means. Building up sanctions pressure is counterproductive. The creation of a new security architecture in North-East Asia that would take into account the legitimate interests of all States in the region, including the DPRK itself, is key to achieving the settlement of this issue. Various Russian-Chinese initiatives, including the relevant “Roadmap’, the “Action Plan” and a UNSC political resolution are all important tools in this regard.

20.    The early restoration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) aimed at settling the situation with the Iranian nuclear program is a priority task. We call on the US to return as soon as possible to full compliance with UNSC resolution 2231 and to implement the JCPOA, including through lifting the unilateral anti-Iranian sanctions imposed after the withdrawal of Washington from the “nuclear deal”.

21.    The solution to the Cyprus issue should be elaborated by the Cypriot communities themselves without any external pressure. Russia is guided by relevant UNSC resolutions which call for the formation of a bicommunal, bizonal federation with a single international legal personality, sovereignty and citizenship. The existing security guarantee system has become obsolete, is no longer able to alleviate the concerns of the parties involved and should be replaced with the guarantees from the UN Security Council.

22.    Russia fully supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the principle of equality of the three state-constituting peoples and the two entities with broad constitutional powers in full compliance with the 1995 Dayton Accords. In this context, we strongly disagree with the so-called appointment of a new High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council. Without the UNSC approval this decision has no executive force. Moreover, the abolition of the Office of the High Representative is long overdue.

23.    The settlement of the Kosovo issue should be based on international law, first and foremost on UNSC resolution 1244. Belgrade and Pristina should come to an agreement themselves, while the task of the international community is to help the parties find mutually acceptable solutions without external pressure. The EU, as a mediator in the dialogue in accordance with UNGA resolution 64/298 of 9 September 2010, should seek to ensure that the parties implement the agreed decisions, primarily, the establishment of the Community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo (the CSMK; the agreement reached in 2013 has still not been implemented). We support the work of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

24.    Internal disputes in Venezuela can only be resolved by the Venezuelans themselves, through a broad and direct dialogue and with full respect for the country’s Constitution. Effective international cooperation is possible only if it is aimed at supporting such a dialogue.

The illegal unilateral coercive measures imposed against Venezuela undermine the efforts of the Venezuelan authorities to effectively combat the pandemic, as well as impede the normalization of the humanitarian situation in the country and the improvement of the migration situation in the region. Humanitarian assistance should be provided without politicisation and in accordance with the UN guiding principles enshrined in UNGA resolution 46/182.

We will continue to oppose any attempts to question the mandates of Venezuela’s official delegations at various international organizations.

25.    We learned with deep sorrow the news of the assassination of the President of Haiti Jovenel Moïse. We have been closely following the investigation into this crime. We are seriously concerned about information regarding the involvement of foreign nationals, including from the US and Colombia, in this brutal murder. This indicates that once again external forces are trying to exploit the purely internal conflict to promote their destructive interests.

We are convinced that the only way to normalize the situation in the country is to reach broad internal political consensus in strict conformity with the universally recognized norms and principles of international law. It is important that all decisions should be taken through peaceful political means by the Haitians themselves, with international support but without destructive external interference in order to elaborate solutions acceptable to the opposing parties.

26.    The Final Peace Agreement is the international legal basis for the settlement in Colombia. This document made it possible for the UNSC and the UN Secretary-General to support the peace process. Unilateral attempts to alter the substance of its provisions are unacceptable. Comprehensive sustainable settlement in Colombia is impossible without involving the National Liberation Army (ELN) in the peace process.

27.    We call on all parties to the conflict in Myanmar to put an end to violence and launch a constructive dialogue in order to move towards national reconciliation. International community should avoid politicising the issue, refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign State and abandon sanctions threats. We emphasize the ASEAN special role in the peace process. The current situation in Myanmar does not pose any threat to international peace and security, thus the only issue on the UNSC agenda in this context should be the situation in the Rakhine State.

28.    We support the aspiration of India and Pakistan to normalize relations in the context of the situation in the Kashmir region. We hope that a new escalation along the line of control will be prevented. Only direct negotiations between New Delhi and Islamabad can form the basis for a long-term settlement of this sensitive issue.

29.    We believe that conflict settlement in Africa should be based on a leading role of the countries of the African continent and supported by the international community. We call for the strengthening of cooperation between the UN and the African Union as well as the continent’s sub-regional organizations. As a permanent member of the UNSC, we will continue to facilitate a political resolution of the crises in the CAR, the DRC, South Sudan, Somalia, Mali and the Sahara-Sahel region as a whole.

We are firmly committed to actively supporting the efforts of the CAR authorities to improve governance and provide security on the basis of the 2019 peace agreement. At the same time, we will keep engaging constructively with all responsible stakeholders that support stabilisation in the country.

In cooperation with like-minded partners, it is important to assist Sudan in implementing the tasks of the transition period. We insist that the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) should always take into account the views of the authorities in Khartoum.

We stand for in an early normalization of the situation in the Ethiopian region of Tigray. Restoring stability in Ethiopia is certain to have a positive effect on the entire Horn of Africa. We consider the decision of the Federal Government of Ethiopia to establish a ceasefire in the region a step in the right direction. We call on all those involved to support this initiative of the authorities in order to stop the bloodshed and improve the humanitarian and social and economic situation.

30.    The UNGA Special Committee on Decolonization (C-24) will remain relevant until a definitive solution to the issue of all 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories is reached. We will continue to actively participate in the work of this body.

31.    UN peacekeeping should fully comply with the basic principles of the UN work in this area (consent of the parties, impartiality and non-use of force, except for self-defence and defence of the mandate) as well as with the UN Charter. The primary task is to promote political settlement of conflicts and national reconciliation. The adaptation of UN peacekeeping operations to contemporary realities should be implemented in strict accordance with the decisions agreed upon in the intergovernmental format. This includes, inter alia, the issues of “peacekeeping intelligence” and the use of new technologies, which should serve the sole purpose of ensuring peacekeepers’ safety and protection of civilians. Vesting peacekeeping operations with additional powers, including with respect to the use of force, is only possible upon a UNSC decision that takes into account the specific situation in each country.

The UNGA Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) should be responsible for defining the further development of UN peacekeeping activities.         Peacebuilding and peacekeeping are inextricably linked and based on the principle of national ownership in prioritising post-conflict reconstruction and development. International support should only be provided upon request of the host government and be aimed at enhancing the States’ own capacity.

32.    The UNSC sanctions, as one of the strongest instruments of ‘targeted action’ to tackle threats to international peace and security, should not be abused. As a measure of last resort in the area of conflict resolution, they cannot be applied without first taking into account the full range of their possible humanitarian, social and economic and human rights consequences. It is unacceptable to use them as a means of unfair competition and pressure on “undesirable regimes”. The functions of the existing institution of the Ombudsperson should be expanded to protect the interests of all the entities on the Security Council sanctions list. It is unacceptable to supplement Security Council sanctions with unilateral restrictions, especially those of an extraterritorial nature.

33.    We believe that all Member States should join efforts in the fight against terrorism, with the UN playing a central coordinating role. We firmly reject any double standards or hidden agendas in this area. We are convinced that the issue of terrorism should be addressed through the implementation of the relevant universal conventions and protocols, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and relevant UNSC and UNGA resolutions.

Support for the counter-terrorism bodies of the United Nations system, first and foremost the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), remains a priority. We advocate for the expansion of the UNOCT financing from the UN regular budget. We also intend to increase our voluntary contributions to the Office and call on other Member States to do the same. We believe that law enforcement and prevention-oriented initiatives should remain at the core of the UNOCT programme and project activities.

We consider it critical to make greater use of the tools of the specialized subsidiary UNSC bodies, primarily its Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), the sanctions committees on ISIL, Al-Qaida and the Taliban Movement. We are committed to a constructive dialogue with regard to the review of the mandate of the CTC Executive Directorate.

We call for ensuring full compliance with UNSC resolutions against the financing of terrorism, as well as with the standards of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

We intend to step up efforts to cut off weapons, financial and material support for terrorists, to stop the spread of terrorist propaganda, including through the use of modern information and communication technologies, and to eliminate links between terrorist groups and drug trafficking and other organized crime groups. It is necessary to strengthen cooperation between countries in countering foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and bringing them to justice more quickly.

We oppose the dilution of the international legal framework by non-consensual concepts, such as “countering violent extremism“, which allow for the interference in the internal affairs of States and the reorientation of international cooperation on counter-terrorism towards secondary gender and human rights issues. We believe it necessary to enhance efforts to combat various manifestations of extremism, including right-wing radicalism, while countering attempts to use this issue for political purposes and as an excuse to increase anti-Russian sanctions pressure.

34.    We strongly oppose the revision and weakening of the current international drug control system, including by legalising all recreational (non-medical) drug use, as well as imposing questionable drug treatment practices as a “universal standard” and promoting drug use as a socially acceptable norm.

We advocate the strengthening of the policy-making role of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in the area of drug control. We intend to further continue to actively oppose efforts aimed at creating and institutionalising mechanisms that duplicate the CND work, and at imposing an alternative strategy for addressing the world drug problem bypassing the CND. We emphasize the need for States to strictly comply with the international anti-drug conventions. In view of the re-election to the CND for the period of 2022-2025, the Russian Federation will continue to promote a consistent line on the Commission’s platform as well as in negotiating the resolutions and decisions of the 76th UNGA Session.

We are concerned about the drastic deterioration of the drug situation in Afghanistan and its possible projection into increased smuggling of opiates into Russia and Central Asian countries. In the context of the withdrawal of NATO troops from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, international and regional anti-drug efforts, such as the Paris Pact, the SCO, the CIS, and the CARICC, are of particular importance. We believe that consistent, effective anti-drug efforts by the Afghan leadership based on the principle of common and shared responsibility of States, are essential for achieving security in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

35.    We support the key role of the United Nations in consolidating international efforts to combat transnational organised crime. We note the importance of an impartial Mechanism for the Review of the Implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. We advocate strengthening the legal framework of international cooperation, including the development of new international legal instruments in a number of areas, including cybercrime, asset recovery, extradition and mutual legal assistance.

36.    We facilitate the development of the international anti-corruption cooperation, with the UN playing the central and coordinating role, based on the unique universal agreement, the UN Convention against Corruption (CAC). We support the effective functioning of the Mechanism for the Review of the Convention Implementation. We welcome the results of the first UNGA Special Session against Corruption which took place in June 2021. We consider it important that the political declaration of the UNGA Special Session confirmed the existence of gaps in international law governing the return from abroad of assets obtained as a result of corruption offences. We emphasise the need to develop an international legal instrument on asset recovery under the auspices of the UN to complement the UN Convention against Corruption.

37.    We support the key role of the UN in consolidating joint efforts to ensure international information security (IIS). They should result in the elaboration and adoption under the UN auspices of universal and comprehensive rules of responsible behaviour of States in information space aimed at preventing conflicts therein and promoting the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) for peaceful purposes.

We welcome the adoption of the consensus reports of the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) and the UN Group of Governmental Experts on IIS. We note the unique spirit of the constructive dialogue at these platforms.

During the 76th UNGA Session, we intend to introduce in its First Committee an updated draft resolution on “Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security” welcoming the successful conclusion of the work of both groups as well as the launch of a new Russia-initiated OEWG on Security in the Use of ICTs and ICTs themselves 2021-2025 (in accordance with UNGA resolution 75/240).

We assume that the new Group will ensure the continuity and consistency of an inclusive and truly democratic negotiation process on IIS under the UN auspices within a single mechanism. We call on all States to take an active part in the work of the OEWG 2021-2025 and contribute to building a fair and equitable IIS system.

In line with the relevant UNGA resolutions adopted at the initiative of the Russian Federation, we advocate for an early drafting, under the auspices of the UN, of an international convention countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes. The consensus modalities set out while preparing for the negotiation process in the relevant UNGA Ad Hoc Committee enable us to count on constructive and comprehensive participation of the entire international community in developing a universal and effective instrument to counter digital crime.

We call on our partners to support our First Committee draft resolution as well as to unequivocally endorse full implementation of the mandates of the new OEWG and the Ad Hoc Committee.

38. We have consistently advocated strengthening the existing treaty regimes and developing, through consensus, new arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation (ACDNP) regimes. The UN and its multilateral disarmament mechanism should play a central role in this process. We are committed to ensuring the coherence and improving the performance of its three key elements – the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, the Conference on Disarmament and the UN Disarmament Commission – while unconditionally respecting the mandates of these forums.

We deem it necessary to counter any attempts to revise the existing disarmament architecture by means of unilateral coercive measures that bypass the UN Security Council.

The main focus of multilateral efforts and fundamentally new approaches to address the whole range of problems in the field of the ACDNP may be considered at a summit of the permanent members of the UN Security Council which Russia has proposed to hold.

39. We strictly comply with our obligations under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and advocate for its early entry into force. We call on the eight states on which the launch of the Treaty depends to sign and/or ratify it without delay. We believe that the key destructive factor here is the position of the United States which is the only state to have officially refused to ratify the Treaty. We expect Washington to reconsider its approach to the CTBT.

40. We support the noble cause of shaping a world free of nuclear weapons. We make a substantial practical contribution to achieving this goal. However, we are convinced there is a need for a balanced approach that takes into account all factors affecting strategic stability, including disruptive US steps aimed at undermining the existing ACDNP architecture. We do not support radical initiatives on introducing an early nuclear weapons ban (namely, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, TPNW).

41. We consider the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to be the most important international legal instrument for ensuring international security and one of the pillars of the modern world order. Our common task is to prevent the final collapse of the system of international disarmament and arms control agreements that has been developed over decades and the regimes based upon them.

In this regard, we attach primary importance to the viability of the NPT. We call on all States Parties to make every effort at the 10th Review Conference postponed until 2022 because of the new coronavirus pandemic to strengthen the Treaty and to help achieve its goals rather than cause more controversy around it. The ultimate goal is to draft a document that would reaffirm the viability of the Treaty and the willingness of the States Parties to strictly abide by their commitments.

We fully support the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as an international organisation that possesses the necessary authority and competence to monitor the observance of the non-proliferation obligations under the NPT through the application of Agency safeguards, which, in its turn, is an important condition for the States to exercise their right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

We believe that further development of the IAEA safeguards system serves to strengthen the non-proliferation regime, provided that it keeps intact the basic principles of verification – impartiality, technical feasibility, and transparency.

We are concerned about the recent tendency to politicise the IAEA safeguards system. As a result, claims are being made against States based on the ‘very likely/highly likely’ approach while deployment of nuclear weapons belonging to some countries in the territory of other formally non-nuclear States is being ignored.

The IAEA should not be turned into a nuclear disarmament verification tool, as this is neither a statutory purpose nor a function of the Agency. We believe that the participation of the IAEA Secretariat staff in the January 2022 Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in Vienna is inappropriate.

42. We regard the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction held in New York on 18-22 November 2019 as a landmark event both in terms of ensuring stability and sustainability in the region and in the context of global efforts towards WMD non-proliferation. We intend to further support the idea of such conferences. We believe that efforts to elaborate a legally binding agreement on creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East serve the interests of all states in the region.

We hope that the second Conference on the establishment of a WMD-free zone due to be held in New York in November 2020 but postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic will take place this year, which would allow to kick start a somewhat stagnant process.

43. We are confident that there is still potential for political and diplomatic settlement of the situation arising from the termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) based on Russia’s initiative to ensure predictability and restraint in the missile sphere.

We intend to maintain a unilateral moratorium on the deployment of land-based intermediate-range or shorter-range missiles in regions where no similar US-made weapons would appear. Despite the absence of a constructive response to this initiative on the part of NATO, we still consider a moratorium to be a promising idea that would make it possible to avoid new ‘missile crises’. We propose that the US and their NATO allies take on a similar commitment.

We reaffirm our commitment to the strict compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (the New START) and welcome its extension for five years without any preconditions – something that the Russian Federation has long and consistently called for. The extension of this Treaty set the stage for resuming a comprehensive dialogue with the United States on future arms control and the maintenance of strategic stability. At the Russian-US summit in Geneva on June 16, 2021 it was agreed to launch such a dialogue in the near future, as reflected in the Joint Statement by the Presidents at the meeting.

We believe that the goal of this engagement is to develop a new ‘security formula’ that takes into account all major factors of strategic stability, covers offensive and defensive nuclear and non-nuclear weapons capable of meeting strategic challenges, as well as the emergence of new technologies and new weapons.

44. We highly commend efforts of the UN Security Council and its ad-hoc 1540 Committee on the WMD non-proliferation. We are determined to engage in a substantive and constructive dialogue in the framework of the comprehensive review of the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1540. We expect that the procedure will result in the confirmation of the 1540 Committee’s current mandate.

45. Russia has initiated the development of important multilateral agreements in the ACDNP area, such as the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space Treaty (PAROS) and the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Chemical and Biological Terrorism. We believe that a constructive dialogue on these issues will provide an opportunity to engage in substantive work (including negotiations) at the UN platform.

The imperative of preserving space for peaceful purposes and taking cooperative practical measures to this end is shared by the vast majority of States. We consider the globalisation of the no-first placement of weapons in outer space initiative to be an important but only interim step on the way towards the conclusion of an international treaty on the prevention of placement of weapons in outer space on the basis of a relevant Chinese-Russian draft treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space and the threat or use of force against outer space objects.

At the 76th session of the General Assembly, we will traditionally submit to the First Committee draft resolutions on no first placement of weapons in outer space, transparency and confidence-building measures in space activities and further practical measures to prevent an arms race in outer space.

46. We consider it necessary to continue strengthening the central and coordinating role of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). We are against the practice of addressing issues that fall within the competence of the Committee at other non-specialised international fora. We are concerned about the trend towards the consolidation of unilateral approaches in the policies of certain States aimed at establishing of a regime for the research, development and use of space resources, which carries serious risks for international cooperation, including with respect to outer space.

We continue to actively engage in the work of COPUOS to improve the security regime for space operations. We have succeeded in establishing the Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities. The Group’s mandate is to implement the existing and develop new guidelines on long-term sustainability of outer space activities, which is of particular importance against the background of the rapidly changing environment in which space activities take place.

We are against moving the issues traditionally on the COPUOS agenda to parallel platforms, including the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, as part of the concept of the so-called ‘responsible behaviours in outer space’. Neglecting the Committee’s key role with regard to space debris and space traffic management may negatively affect the adoption of balanced consensus decisions in these areas.

We are in favour of the successful completion of efforts to develop the Space-2030 agenda and its implementation plan, with a view to presenting this document at the current session of the General Assembly.

47. We are in favour of strengthening the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention, the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare, as well as the Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons.

In order to ensure the effective operation of this UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism, at the 76th session of the General Assembly we will submit a relevant draft resolution to the First Committee.

We come out against attempts by Western states to politicise the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in violation of the norms set in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). We regard as illegitimate their actions aimed at vesting the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW with the function of ‘identifying those responsible’ for the use of chemical weapons (attribution), including the creation of an illegitimate Investigation and Identification Team (IIT). We strongly disagree with its biased conclusions. We also have a whole range of complaints about the work of other OPCW inspection missions in the Syrian Arab Republic which violate the methods of investigation set out in the CWC. We urge the OPCW leadership to take action as soon as possible to rectify this deplorable situation.

We support impartial and highly professional investigations into chemical provocations by anti-government forces in Syria and all manifestations of ‘chemical terrorism’ in the Middle East in strict accordance with the high standards of the CWC.

48. We note the negative impact on international security of yet another destructive step by the United States – the decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies (OST) under the pretext of alleged violations of the Treaty by Russia. Alongside the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, as a consequence of which the Treaty ceased to have effect, this step is fully in line with Washington’s policy of destroying the whole range of arms control agreements and causes real damage to the European security system. The United States have upset the balance of rights and obligations of the States Parties to the OST, that is why Russia was forced to take measures to protect its national security interests and begin the procedure of withdrawal from the Treaty (to be completed by 18 December this year).

49. We continue to underline the unique role of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as a universal instrument creating a comprehensive legal regime for international cooperation of States in the World Ocean. We highly appreciate the work of such conventional mechanisms as the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Seabed Authority. We believe it is vital that they work strictly within their mandates under the Convention avoiding any broad interpretation of the competence granted to them or politicising their decisions.

50. The Russian Federation supports the work of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the main judicial body of the United Nations and is ready to assist the creation of conditions enabling its effective and unbiased functioning.

We closely follow the situation around the implementation of the provisions of the UNGA resolution of May 22, 2019 concerning the Chagos Archipelago, adopted in accordance with the relevant advisory opinion of the ICJ. We view the above-mentioned General Assembly decision in the context of the completion of the decolonisation processes.

Elections to the ICJ are planned for the autumn of 2023 at the Security Council and the 78th session of the UNGA. The Russian group in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) decided to nominate sitting judge K.Gevorgyan for re-election to the ICJ for the period 2024-2033. We are counting on the support of our candidate by the Member States of the Organisation in the forthcoming elections.

51. The Russian Federation facilitates the work of the International Law Commission (ILC) which contributes significantly to the codification and progressive development of international law. We believe that the UN should further build on its most valuable outputs.

In the autumn of 2021, during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, elections to the ILC are scheduled to take place. The Russian Federation nominated the current member of the Commission, Director of the Legal Department of the MFA of Russia E.Zagaynov, for re-election to the Commission for the period 2023–2027. We hope that the UN Member States will support our candidate in the upcoming elections.

52. The credibility of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is steadily declining. It is becoming more politically biased and one-sided. We note the low quality of its work and the lack of any tangible contribution to conflict settlement.

53. We underline that the mandate of the Residual Mechanism is strictly limited, and it is necessary to complete its activity as soon as possible. We have to acknowledge yet again that the Mechanism inherited the worst practices from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which is demonstrated by its consistent anti-Serbian attitudes. We monitor respect for the rights of persons accused and convicted by the Residual Mechanism. We do not consider it expedient at this point to establish new judicial bodies of this kind.

54. We continue to assume the legal nullity of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 established by the UN General Assembly acting beyond its authority. We object to the funding of the Mechanism from the UN regular budget and to the Mechanism gaining access to the archives of the OPCW-UN Joint Mechanism.

55. We continue to regard the issue of “the rule of law” with an emphasis on its international dimension, i.e. the primacy of international law, particularly the UN Charter. We continue to oppose attempts to use it to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign States under the pretext of strengthening the “rule of law” at the national level.

Given the confrontational incorporation of the permanent item “responsibility to protect” (R2P) in the UNGA agenda, we underline the loss of the consensual nature of this concept. We will continue to block attempts to legitimise it.

56. It is States that bear the primary responsibility for promoting and protecting human rights, while the UN executive structures are to play a supporting role. We believe that equal cooperation between States based on the rule of international law, respect for sovereignty and equality of States should be the main principle in the work of the United Nations to promote and protect human rights. It is inadmissible to duplicate the work of the main bodies of the United Nations through unjustified integration of the human rights agenda into all areas of the UN activities. We are against strengthening the link between the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and the UN Security Council. We oppose attempts to reform the HRC in order to turn it into a quasi-judicial monitoring mechanism.

We consider it unacceptable to include politicised country-specific resolutions and topics outside the scope of their mandate in the agenda of United Nations human rights mechanisms. We condemn the use of human rights issues as a pretext for interfering in the internal affairs of States and undermining the principles of international law. It is in this light that we regard the resolution on the situation of human rights in Crimea, which, since 2016, has been regularly submitted to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly by the Ukrainian delegation. This document has nothing to do with the actual situation in this region of the Russian Federation. We will vote against this resolution during the 76th session of the UNGA, and we call on our partners to do the same.

The work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should become more transparent and accountable to the UN Member States in order to avoid politically motivated approaches to assessing human rights situations in different countries.

We will continue to promote intercivilisational, intercultural and interreligious dialogue and due respect for the diversity of cultures, civilisations, traditions and historical developments in the promotion and protection of human rights.

57. We strongly condemn all forms and manifestations of discrimination. The ban on discrimination enshrined in international human rights instruments is universal and applies to all persons without exception. We see no value added in defining new vulnerable groups (such as members of the LGBT community, human rights activists, bloggers) that allegedly require a special legal protection regime or new categories of rights. Such steps by a number of countries only lead to de-universalization of legal protection regimes and increased politicisation and confrontation within the UN human rights mechanisms.

58. Active practical work in the area of social development aimed at eradicating poverty, promoting social integration, ensuring full employment and decent work for all will facilitate effective implementation of the decisions adopted at the World Summit for Social Development and the 24th special session of the UN General Assembly.

We consider the UN Commission for Social Development to be the main UN coordinating body that develops framework for harmonised actions on general issues of social protection, ensuring equal opportunities for persons with disabilities, problems of ageing population, improving the situation of young people and strengthening the role of the traditional family. We resolutely oppose any initiatives that undermine its role, as well as the calls for its dissolution.

59. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) remains the main intergovernmental platform for discussion of a broad range of issues relating to improvement of the status of women and achieving gender equality in particular. We believe it is important to avoid politicization of these issues or their automatic inclusion into the UN documents focusing on other topics. Special attention in documents on improving the status of women should be devoted to social and economic rights, as well as social protection and support for women and their families.

We believe that gender equality issues should be taken into account in the work of the UN system in a balanced manner, without absolute prioritisation or selective use.

We commend the work of UN Women which should render assistance only within the framework of its mandate, upon request and with the consent of the States concerned. We will continue to interact actively with it within the framework of the Executive Board.

60. We reaffirm the need for strengthening international cooperation in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child on the basis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the outcome document of the 27th special session of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “A World Fit for Children”. We consider unacceptable attempts by a number of countries to deprive parents and legal guardians of their role in the upbringing of children and the development of their potential, including by granting young children autonomy in their decision-making. Programmes to support the family in its traditional sense, to ensure access to education and healthcare are important for the successful upbringing of children.

We devote close attention to the problem of children in armed conflict. We support the mandate of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict and develop cooperation with her, including as part of the programme for repatriation of Russian children from Syria and Iraq.

61. We support discussion at the United Nations General Assembly of the problems of interreligious and intercultural interaction and the development of intercivilisational dialogue, especially within the framework of the Alliance of Civilisations (AoC). We regard the establishment of a culture of peace as an essential prerequisite for peaceful co-existence and global cooperation for the sake of peace and development.

We are actively preparing for holding the World Conference on Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue (St Petersburg, May 2022).

62. We are ready for the cooperation on the UN agenda issues with all interested relevant non-governmental organizations. Their involvement in the work of the United Nations should take place within the framework of the established practice, which requires the obligatory consent of Member States. We encourage the adequate representation of the Russian non-governmental corps in the activities of the relevant segments, bodies and structures of the United Nations.

63. To overcome the consequences of migration crises affecting individual countries and regions of the world, global efforts are required under the central coordinating role of the United Nations.

We commend the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on ensuring more effective international protection for refugees and other categories of persons under its responsibility. We consider the work of the UNHCR particularly important in situations of major humanitarian crises.

Russia makes a significant contribution to international efforts to improve the situation of refugees, including by accepting forcibly displaced persons from Ukraine and also through programmes for the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. Each year our country voluntarily contributes some $2 million to the UNHCR budget.

We reaffirm our commitment to the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which should form the basis of comprehensive long-term cooperation aimed at creating legal channels for migration and countering irregular flows.

Russia took an active part in the first meeting of the Global Refugee Forum. We expect that this platform will help to attract the attention of the international community to the problems of refugees and to consolidate efforts to implement the GCR.

We welcome the strengthening of the UN migration pillar under the coordinating role of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). We support a comprehensive approach of the UNHCR and IOM to the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 among persons of concern. We are convinced that one of the effective measures to combat the pandemic should be large-scale vaccination of the population, including forcibly displaced persons.

We note the effectiveness of the UNHCR’s work with Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). We look forward to the world community pursuing a non-politicized approach in dealing with this issue and providing greater assistance in rebuilding infrastructure and ensuring conditions for their early return.

We appreciate and contribute, including financially, to the UNHCR’s efforts to address the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the internal Ukrainian crisis. We support the UNHCR programmes aimed at eliminating statelessness, in particular in European countries.

We are interested in the UNHCR facilitating the return of IDPs and refugees to Nagorny Karabakh and the surrounding areas.

64. We consider the Georgian UNGA resolution on the status of internally displaced persons and refugees from Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be counter-productive and to entail the risk of aggravating the situation “on the ground” and further stalling the Geneva discussions, which remain the only negotiation platform enabling direct dialogue between the representatives of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Georgia. We also note that at a time when the Abkhaz and South Ossetian representatives are deprived of the opportunity to convey their position to the General Assembly because of the systematic refusal of the United States authorities to grant them entry visas, discussions in New York on the topic of “refugees from Abkhazia and South Ossetia” without their direct participation are meaningless.

65. We consistently advocate for the strengthening of UNESCO‘s international standing. We believe that the adaptation of UNESCO’s working methods to the emerging challenges, including in the context of the new coronavirus pandemic, should be in line with the intergovernmental nature of the Organisation and be based on unconditional compliance with the provisions of the UNESCO Constitution, rules of procedure and directives of the decision-making bodies.

We oppose to the artificial integration of human rights issues in UNESCO’s activities in order to avoid duplication of functions of other UN specialised agencies. We aim to increase the effectiveness of the Organisation by depoliticising it and removing from its agenda issues of territorial integrity and sovereignty that do not belong to it.

Russia contributes significantly to UNESCO activities. In 2022, Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, will host one of the largest and most significant UNESCO events – the 45th Anniversary Session of the World Heritage Committee, which will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

66. We view cooperation in sports and the promotion of sport ideals worldwide as effective ways to foster respect and mutual understanding among nations.

We believe that politicisation of sports and discrimination of athletes, including Paralympians, in the form of collective punishment are unacceptable. We advocate the development of a universal system of international sports cooperation based on the principles of independence and autonomy of sports.

67.    In the context of international cooperation to address social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, we support intensified efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the 2030 Agenda) as a holistic and balanced strategy to guide the work of the UN in the social, economic, environmental and related fields. We underline the integrated, non-politicised and indivisible nature of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with poverty eradication being the key objective.

We support stronger coordination between the UNGA and ECOSOC, including through the dialogue platform of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The HLPF is designed to serve as a forum that brings together all stakeholders, including members of the business community (not only NGOs), to review the progress made in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the global level. Russia’s first Voluntary National Review on the implementation of the SDGs presented in 2020 has been a significant contribution to these efforts.

We promote a balanced approach in the energy sector with a focus on ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy sources in line with SDG 7. We recognise the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while believing that it should be fulfilled not only through the transition to renewable energy sources but also through the introduction of advanced low-carbon technologies in the use of all types of energy sources, including fossil fuels. In this context, we advocate increased use of natural gas as the most environmentally acceptable fossil fuel, as well as the recognition of nuclear power and hydropower as clean energy sources due to the absence of a carbon footprint. In this spirit, we intend to ensure Russia’s participation in the High-Level Dialogue on Energy in September 2021.

68.    We will continue to uphold the basic parameters for international humanitarian assistance outlined in UNGA resolution 46/182 and other decisions of the General Assembly and ECOSOC. We will oppose revision of fundamental principles, in particular the respect for the sovereignty of an affected state and the need to obtain its consent for assistance. We will continue to urge UN humanitarian agencies to act as “honest brokers” and base their work on carefully verified data about the humanitarian situation “on the ground”.

We are concerned about the worsening of humanitarian crises triggered by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As humanitarian needs grow considerably, we believe it crucial to avoid politicising humanitarian assistance.

69.    We condemn individual countries’ practice of imposing unilateral coercive measures contrary to the United Nations Charter and international law. We therefore support the idea of joining efforts of sanctioned countries in line with the Russian President’s initiative to create sanctions-free “green corridors” to provide countries with access to medicines and essential goods.

70.    We call for accelerated implementation of the Addis-Ababa Action Agenda decisions on financing for development in order to mobilise and make effective use of resources to achieve the SDGs.

We support the principle of prioritising the interests of international development assistance recipients. We offer assistance to interested countries based on a de-politicised approach, promoting domestic innovation and expertise.

We recognise the importance of reaching international consensus on global taxation, in particular in the fight against tax evasion. We support the increased intergovernmental cooperation in curbing illicit financial flows and repatriation of income generated from illegal activities.

71.    We oppose attempts by individual countries to reduce socio-economic development solely to the achievement of environmental protection goals, namely climate change. We see such a one-sided position as an indication of unfair competition and trade protectionism, which are inconsistent with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) principles of a universal, open, non-discriminatory multilateral trading system.

72.    We welcome the further strengthening of the work of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) to achieve sustainable development of the United Nations.

We support the consolidation of UNEP’s role as the key universal intergovernmental platform establishing the integrated global environmental agenda.

We advocate greater efficiency and stronger financial discipline within UN-Habitat as part of the Programme’s structural reform implemented in accordance with resolution 73/239 of the General Assembly.

We stress the need for strict adherence to the principle of equitable geographical representation in the staffing of UNEP and UN-Habitat and the inadmissibility of politicisation of these programmes’ mandates.

73.    We stand for the continued leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in coordinating international efforts to eliminate hunger, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. We will encourage these Rome-based organisations to engage in a closer inter-agency cooperation within the UN system in addressing these issues.

In practical terms, we are actively involved in preparations for the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit. We expect it to deliver a comprehensive analysis of optimal agri-food chain models to help eradicate hunger and improve food security, including the provision of healthy food for the population. We believe that commonly agreed and universally supported sectoral approaches and proposals should be reflected in the Summit outcome documents in a balanced way. We hope that the upcoming event will set the course for the transformation of global food systems, particularly in the context of overcoming the consequences of the new coronavirus pandemic, and give further impetus to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

We pay careful attention to preventing the risk of a food crisis, namely in view of the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to provide humanitarian food aid to countries most in need, first of all to those of the former Soviet Union, as well as in Africa and Latin America.

74.    We attach great importance to the work carried out by the UNGA to support the multilateral efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic and overcoming its impact. We advocate a universal, equitable, fair and unhindered access to medical technologies as well as safe, high-quality, effective and affordable vaccines and medicines for the new coronavirus infection.

We consider increasing global preparedness and response capacity for health emergencies to be a priority task. We are ready for a constructive dialogue with all partners in the framework of the relevant formats. Yet we believe that the World Health Organisation (WHO) should continue to be the main forum for discussing global health issues.

We consistently support WHO as the focal point for the international human health cooperation. We call for enhancing the efficiency of its work through increased transparency and accountability to Member States.

75.    We will further strengthen the multi-stakeholder partnership for disaster risk reduction under the Sendai Framework 2015–2030. Amid the ongoing pandemic, we believe that special attention should be paid to building States’ capacity to respond to emergencies, including in health care.

76.    We seek to keep down the growth of the UN regular programme budget for 2022, as well as estimates for peacekeeping operations and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. We propose targeted and justified reductions in requested resources. Any requests for additional funding should first undergo careful internal scrutiny. At the same time, the Secretariat should step up its efforts to improve the efficiency of its working methods in order to minimise the associated costs of achieving UN’s objectives. We insist on stronger accountability, strict budgetary discipline and improved transparency in the Secretariat’s work.

77.    Ensuring parity among the six official UN languages in conference services and information and communication activities remains one of the priorities in our interaction with the Organisation’s Secretariat. The principle of multilingualism should be given primary consideration when implementing all media projects and information campaigns as well as allocating financial and human resources to the language services of the UN Secretariat.

Putin holds annual ‘Direct Line’ Q&A in Moscow

June 30, 2021

Putin holds annual ‘Direct Line’ Q&A in Moscow
The transcript will be posted here when it is complete.  http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/65973

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Good afternoon.

We are broadcasting Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.

The moderators in this studio are Nailya Asker-zade

Nailya Asker-zade: …and Yekaterina Berezovskaya.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Our colleagues, Tatyana Remezova and Natalya Yuryeva, are working with volunteers in the Message Processing Centre.

Last year we combined two projects, the annual news conference and Direct Line. The format of today’s event is different. The focus is on direct communication, only the President and the people, without unnecessary intermediaries.

Nailya Asker-zade: During today’s live broadcast, you will often hear about a special platform, the Moskva – Putinu mobile app. It is a kind of a guide or entry pass to this programme, which is available to everyone.

So, President of Russia Vladimir Putin is on the air.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Natalya Yuryeva: We are in the Message Processing Centre, the heart of Direct Line. As you can see, right behind me an editor is processing a call. You can see the numbers for your calls and text messages on the screen.

The only way to personally address the President is via videoconference with the help of the Moskva – Putinu special mobile application, and the President will possibly answer your call.

Tatyana Remezova: Hard and meticulous work is underway in the Message Processing Centre. As of now, we have received nearly 2 million questions. Whatever many people say, telephone calls and text messages remain the most popular means of communication; together, they account for over a million questions. But many people are also making use of the Moskva – Putinu application, which has been downloaded over 650,000 times.

Just like last year, we are being assisted by volunteers. They have been working with the questions for a second week now, and many of the people’s problems have been settled even before this programme began.

Mr President, considering my experience at other Direct Lines, I can assume that you will be able to answer no more than 70 or 80 questions. What happens to other questions, as there are already nearly two million of them?

Vladimir Putin: I would also like to begin our current meeting with this, and here is what I would like to say.

In 2019, over one million questions were received when the Direct Line took place in this full format. And many hundreds of thousands of questions were asked last year when the Direct Line was combined with the Big News Conference. I would like to assure you – to make what would seem to be a self-assured statement, but, nevertheless, I would just like to say that we try to make sure that not a single question goes unnoticed.

As I have already mentioned, over one million questions were received in 2019. Over 500,000 questions have already been processed today, moreover, specific answers have been provided. Work continues on some of them because, to respond properly and positively, it is necessary to amend the regulatory framework and to include the resolution of these questions in regional budgets or even the federal budget.

It would be impossible to conduct this large-scale job without the assistance of the Russian Popular Front and other public organisations that have joined this work and cooperate very actively with administrations at various levels, including local, regional and federal, in order to help people.

This, of course, helps me because I receive all the questions. But I would now like to address the volunteers and people who are processing these questions, and I would like to thank them on behalf of the citizens because, of course, I receive the questions, but you help ordinary Russian citizens, and I would like to thank you very much for this.

I hope that we will organise the same productive work following today’s event, although I hope that we will be able to address the problems that interest people the most during our direct conversations, and we will try and resolve some of them during our current conversation.

Thank you very much.

Nailya Asker-zade: People with hearing impairments can watch a special sign-language version of our programme on the Public Television of Russia (OTR).

I suggest moving on to specific questions.

Of course, people are mostly concerned about the new COVID-19 wave. New virus mutations appear, and people want to know whether there are any clear rules. Why is it that the authorities stipulate an allegedly voluntary vaccination, while two-thirds of people working in certain sectors have to get vaccinated in Moscow and some other regions? Why are mass events allegedly banned but it is possible to hold the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship? What should be done so that governors, officials and ordinary citizens get to know what the exact rules are?

Vladimir Putin: This is very simple. As for the UEFA Euro 2021, of course, first of all, we had to fulfil the obligations that the state had assumed regarding hosting these major sporting events.

But, in general, it is very simple to understand what is happening in this sphere. All you need to do is have a look at the law. As you may recall, I once said that I do not support mandatory vaccination, and I continue to adhere to this point of view. We need to look at the law of, I believe, 1998, about the immune protection of the population which comprises two main parts – a national immunisation schedule, which is mandatory, this vaccination is mandatory. Some of our colleagues suggested transferring vaccination against the coronavirus infection to this nationwide immunisation schedule, the nationwide programme. But the State Duma deputies did not support this motion, so, COVID vaccination did not make it to this section of the nationwide vaccination programme and is not mandatory nationwide.

However, the second part of this law says that in the event of an increase in the number of cases and in the event of an epidemic in separate regions of the Russian Federation and upon the recommendation of chief sanitary doctors, regional heads can introduce mandatory vaccination for certain groups of people, especially risk groups. The heads of 10 constituent entities of the Russian Federation used this regulation to introduce mandatory vaccination for certain risk groups. This was carried out under the 1998 law.

Therefore, there is no confusion in Russia, and everyone is acting in accordance with the law that I just mentioned.

Nailya Asker-zade: So, there will be no nationwide lockdown, right?

Vladimir Putin: This is a different question. Our colleagues’ efforts in 10 regions aim to prevent the need for a lockdown, when entire enterprises are shut down and people find themselves out of work or without income; small and medium-sized businesses go bankrupt and individual incomes decline. Certain regions introduced these mandatory vaccination-related rules for certain groups of the population to prevent this from happening.

As you are aware, experts have already mentioned this many times on television, online and in many media outlets, on all television channels, that vaccination is the only way to put an end to further spread of the pandemic. We can do this since we have four high-tech, safe and very effective vaccines. So, I hope some of our citizens who are still biased about the vaccines will change their minds as the vaccination continues. Over 20 million – I believe, 23 million people – have been vaccinated. As you can see, everything is okay and, thankfully, we do not have any tragic vaccination side effects as is the case with AstraZeneca or Pfizer.

Nailya Asker-zade: You have reassured me regarding the lockdown.

Vladimir Putin: I hope so.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we know that you know about the vaccine from your personal experience, and you have become an example for the whole country. However, we have a question. If I may, I will read a text message we have received.

Vladimir Putin: Please do.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Tell us the truth: Did the President get vaccinated or not? Why is there no video?”

Other people are asking which vaccine you received; there are many similar questions. Everyone wants to know.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

I was indeed asked not to reveal which vaccine I received so as not to give it a competitive advantage. But I can see that there are very many questions regarding this.

As for the video, I do not believe that showing it is so important. What if you receive the jab not in the arm but in some other part of the body? Would I be obliged to show the video nevertheless?

Look, there are many crooks around who pretend to be getting vaccinated. Regrettably, the medics often play along, making the shot with some unknown substance, maybe not even a medication.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Just saline?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, just saline or nothing at all.

I hope that the majority of our people understand that when I say that I have taken the jab this is indeed so. I believe that cheating is unacceptable at this level.

As for me, when I got the shot back in February, there were only two vaccines available commercially: EpiVacCorona from the Vektor Centre in Novosibirsk and Sputnik V, as you know. Both vaccines are good. The third one was barely created then and was not available commercially at the time.

Of course, I could have taken any of them. But, strange as it may seem to some people, I did not even consult the doctors. I just looked at what shots my acquaintances had received. As I said, both vaccines are good and modern. The one from the Vektor Centre is wholly synthetic and, as they say, more advanced. But as I could see from the example of my acquaintances – maybe I should not say this, but I nevertheless want to explain my reasoning – the duration of effect of the Vektor vaccine is a bit shorter, although it has other advantages, such as the absence of any side effects at all, specifically fever or any other side effects. But I believed that I needed to be protected for as long as possible, and so I chose to be vaccinated with Sputnik V, especially considering that the military are getting vaccinated with Sputnik V, and I am their Supreme Commander, after all.

I have already talked about this, but I can repeat. I did not feel anything after the first jab, only slightly sore in the shoulder after about four hours. I had my second jab at noon and took my temperature at midnight, it was 37.2. I went to bed and when I woke up it was 36.6. That was it. In about 20 days, I think, I had a blood test that showed that I had a high level of protection. I recommend you do the same.

Did you get vaccinated?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: No, actually. I had COVID-19 not so long ago; it is too early to do it. The Healthcare Ministry recently issued recommendations on vaccination for those who have had COVID-19. If I am not mistaken, they should wait six to 12 months for their natural antibodies to wane.

Nailya Asker-zade: There is time to think.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Now things are clear.

Vladimir Putin: You know, the Healthcare Ministry issued its recommendations, and the World Health Organisation also released its guidelines, only a few days ago.

Normally, when there is no pandemic, it is recommended to get revaccinated in 12 months but when there is a peak or rising morbidity, it is recommended to get inoculated again in six months. These are WHO recommendations.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: My time will be in the autumn, then.

Vladimir Putin: Was it mild?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, I would say so. But what we see on the news and online, so many stories are just terrifying.

Vladimir Putin: People get infected even after they have had the vaccine, in about 10 percent of cases. However, they recover fast and with no serious consequences, which is important. This is what matters, I think. Without a vaccine, this illness may result in quite severe long-term consequences. That is why you, too, should watch your health and go through rehabilitation, if necessary.

Nailya Asker-zade: After hearing your account, many will probably decide they just want Sputnik V – but not everybody. Vaccine hesitancy is explainable: people have doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccines. Do they protect against new strains? You probably know that some people have still fallen ill after getting vaccinated and the incidence rate among such people is high.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I have just mentioned that, about 10 percent, on average. Again, in their case, the illness is mild. Some very famous people have become ill even after getting the vaccine. I do not want to disclose names. After all, it is their private matter. But they are quite famous in Russia. Last week, one of my colleagues got ill. Yesterday I was told he was already back at work. Some people close to me were vaccinated too but still got the coronavirus, unfortunately. But they recovered fairly quickly and did not need any strong medication. I am talking about people in my immediate circle. What I am saying is vaccination makes sense.

I had meetings recently, as you may know, in the Kremlin, we were awarding the Hero of Labour stars and State Prizes to our scientists, including those who had invented the vaccine. Let me reiterate what I heard from them, they speak in public continually: the disease may take a severe turn, but what is worse, it might have remote consequences. This should certainly be considered.

You know there are, there have always been people who believe that no inoculations at all are needed. There are many people in this category.

Nailya Asker-zade: The anti-vaxers.

Vladimir Putin: And not only anti-vax dissidents, there are enough of them both in this country and elsewhere.

What is happening in the world? What are specialists saying? When a sweeping vaccination campaign against the main infections is afoot, it seems that everything is fine and there is no need, as some people believe, to get vaccinated. “Why get a jab? Almost no one is sick.” But as soon as the vaccination level drops to a certain threshold – bang, all of a sudden there is an outbreak and everyone is scrambling to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

We should take our cue from the specialists, not people who do not know much about this matter and listen to rumours. After all, this is happening all around the world. You know, the things I heard: that there is nothing at all, that in reality there is no epidemic. Sometimes I listen to what some people are saying – they seem to be grown-up, educated people. I do not know where they are taking this from. When you tell them that this is happening all over the world, they reply: “Right, country leaders have come into collusion.” Do they have any idea of what is happening in the world, of the contradictions that are plaguing today’s world, where all leaders allegedly upped and conspired with each other? It is all absolute rubbish.

Nailya Asker-zade: But some people believe that the virus has been artificially created.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: This is a point for discussion to this day, a very active discussion, by the way.

Vladimir Putin: This is a different matter: artificial or non-artificial. The question is, how to get protection from it? Wait, like you, until taken ill and then feel cheerful and merry? You are a very young person and in good form, but there are people with a different constitution, with chronic ailments and advanced in age. These are the so-called risk groups, let me repeat it once again. This is dangerous, a danger to life, while being vaccinated is not dangerous. We have not had a single serious complication, nothing: I had a fever of 37.2 [Celsius]. So what? True, my daughter (she was also vaccinated with Sputnik V) had a temperature of 37.5.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: This is also normal.

Vladimir Putin: Also, for just one day, and that was all, nothing more.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let me go over how our work today will be organised.

We have received 2 million appeals, and people continue to write, call and send messages. We collect them and group them by topic. Please note that these are the main topics of people’s appeals. We can choose any, for example, Communications and Internet, and find out what our viewers are interested in.

Vladimir Putin: Ok.

Nailya Asker-zade: Or, for example, healthcare. Of course, everyone is interested in how the fight against COVID is being organised, how the vaccination is going, primary care and availability of medications.

Vladimir Putin: Please pick the one you like best.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, let us focus on the sub-topic “Vaccination and fighting COVID.” Please note that the federal districts are shown at the bottom of the screen. We can choose any and see the cities from which people are sending their questions.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Please also note that we have different types of appeals: some are in video format, others are written text, and there will also be telephone calls and live broadcasts. I propose launching a video call from Moscow. Shall we?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please, any one of them.

Yevgeny Tsvetkov: Yevgeny Tsvetkov, Moscow.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Yevgeny.

Yevgeny Tsvetkov: My wife is a teacher at a Moscow school and has a medical exemption due to a long-standing chronic illness. However, the head of the school does not accept this exemption and wants her to bring a vaccination certificate by July 15. My wife cannot comply, but if she does not, they say they will fire her. Is that legal at all?

Vladimir Putin: I can tell you right away that this is illegal. If there is a medical exemption, no one can ask a person to take the vaccine. I think that the head of the school where your wife works is unaware of this. I hope that he or she hears this and lifts these illegal demands.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let’s continue to take questions on this topic.

I see we have a message from Omsk. A person, who had recovered from the coronavirus, was discharged from the hospital and was told that free rehab was available at one of three institutions. One of them had run out of places, and the other one asked for a payment of 50,000 rubles for the service. What do you have to say to this person who recovered from the coronavirus? I was ill as well, and I know that patients need some rehab time.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is true, and we are now busy trying to organise this. Actually, there has never been any rehabilitation system as a factor of improving health after illnesses in Russia.

Nailya Asker-zade: But we had health resorts back during the Soviet era, did we not?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we had health resorts, and we still have them. Incidentally, they usually worked as holiday hotels or ordinary hotels. But this was back in the Soviet times, when we had many things and did not have many others.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We did not have COVID.

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, there was no COVID, thankfully.

Vladimir Putin: But there were other diseases. Incidentally, the vaccination system was quite strict in the Soviet Union, nearly all vaccinations were mandatory. Did anyone ask the parents’ permission when their children were vaccinated at schools? Nobody did, everyone was vaccinated.

Nailya Asker-zade: Were you vaccinated like that too?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course, why not? I was from a simple workers’ family. My parents were workers. Who asked them? Nobody did. And nobody asked me either. We were simply lined up in the school’s medical room, were given our jabs just like that and off we went. But we had stability when it came to combating infections. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the social system almost disintegrated as well, including in the areas we are discussing now.

We will now invest some serious money; funds have been earmarked in this rehabilitation system, and we will shortly sign contracts for the delivery of the necessary equipment. The trouble is that special equipment is necessary for post-coronavirus rehabilitation, because COVID hits the vascular and respiratory systems, as well as other organs. We are allocating these funds; they are being transferred right now, and we will start working on this project.

As for any paid services, I do not know the reasons for this, but, as I have already mentioned, this case must be looked into. We will do so, if the required information is available.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: If you wish, we can contact the person who asked this question. He is from Omsk.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, let us do it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We will do this later during the programme. We can do this.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us move on now to the Message Processing Centre.

Vladimir Putin: Anyway, the funds for the creation of a post-coronavirus rehabilitation system have been allocated, and the system is being established.

Nailya Asker-zade: We are moving to the Message Processing Centre. Natalya Yuryeva, go ahead please.

Natalya Yuryeva: Our Message Processing Centre is being literally bombarded with questions. There are almost two million questions. Let us find out where people are calling from. For example, I see a message from Moscow. The person who wrote it has not yet introduced himself. Naturally, there are plenty of questions about vaccination. I know that there is one video question. Where from?

Remark: From Moscow.

Natalya Yuryeva: It is also from Moscow. From Yekaterina Kachailova. Let us see a video she sent us.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead please.

Yekaterina Kachailova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

I planned to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but unfortunately, doctors at vaccination centres could not tell me if my illnesses were contraindications for getting a jab. I can check my temperature and blood pressure at home as well, and, of course, I would not go for a jab if I feel sick.

Could you please tell me where I can get qualified aid and an answer to my question: What are the risks and consequences of this jab? Thank you for your help and answer.

Vladimir Putin: Katya, the answer is very simple. It is out in the open. If you have some illnesses, chronic or recent, you do know about them. You are bound to visit your doctor, a specialist who monitors you as a patient. This is the doctor you should address. He must tell you whether you should get a jab or not. Nothing is easier.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: As far as I understand it, she did not get an answer to this question.

Vladimir Putin: No. However, she said she asked about it at vaccination centres where they may not necessarily know the answer. Who works there? Medical nurses and the like. But probably this is a question for narrow specialists who monitor their patients. It is necessary to ask them whether a jab is all right or not. They must know the answer.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest returning to the call centre. Do you have more calls or messages?

Alexander Maksimov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Alexander Maksimov: My name is Sasha Maksimov. I study in the third form of school No. 2070 in Moscow. We will start a new academic year in two months. Please tell us how it will be: at a school desk or at home? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Sasha, I cannot give a definitive answer to your question because we do not know how the coronavirus situation will develop in the country and in the place where you live.

That said, the question is clear, but most likely, children in junior forms will go to school. After all, we hardly ever shut them down during the worst times of the past year, spring and summer. So, most probably, for elementary school, the academic process will be organised in the usual format.

As for the senior school, as I have already said, this will depend on specific circumstances. But I hope that we will eventually reach the level of herd immunity we are talking about, in part, owing to active vaccination, which will allow schools and universities as well as small, medium-sized and large businesses to operate as usual.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we understand that you are now immune to the coronavirus and, probably, to some unfriendly countries.

We have received the following question as an SMS message via the number 04040 from Igor Oboimov in Moscow: Why is Ukraine not listed among these unfriendly countries? Here is another message on the same subject: Will you meet with President Zelensky?

Vladimir Putin: Why is Ukraine not listed among unfriendly countries? This is because I do not regard Ukraine as a country unfriendly towards Russia. I have noted many times, and I can repeat once again that, in my opinion, Ukrainians and Russians are a single people.

See for yourself: The Jews come to Israel from Africa, Europe, and other countries. Black people arrive from Africa, right? Those arriving from Europe speak Yiddish, rather than Hebrew. Although they are diverse, the Jewish people, nevertheless, cherishes its unity.

Well, Israel is far away. We have the Mordvins, one of Russia’s indigenous ethnic groups. This people is subdivided into the Erzya, Moksha and Shoksha ethnic groups, and there are three other ethnic groups. However, all of them consider themselves part of the Mordvin people. Although they speak the language of one ethnic group, the Erzya and the Moksha do not understand each other. Their respective languages are more different than the Russian and Ukrainian languages, but they cherish their unity. There are several reasons why. First, they are smart, and they realise that a breakup yields no positive results and simply weakens an ethnic group. There are also external factors to consider. What do I mean? Since the Middle Ages, efforts have always been made to divide and break up the Russian people. Rzeczpospolita launched this policy because Poland itself wanted to become a great power. Consequently, it tried to split up all nearby ethnic groups around itself. Austro-Hungary continued this policy in the run-up to World War I. But we have to understand this.

How did this country interpret ethnic aspects in the past? There were the Great Russians, the White Russians and the Little Russians. Sometime later, they started dividing the single Russian people under the influence of external factors, and the Bolsheviks also contributed to this process. Unfortunately, we cannot discuss this matter in great detail. By the way, I have thought it over, I will write a separate analytical article, and I will set forth my view of this subject. And I hope that people in Russia and Ukraine will read it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Because people just do not know many things, do not know the history.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, people have no interest in that; they are living in a world of their own. But this is important for all of us.

So, I do not regard the Ukraine people unfriendly. Nothing of the kind. Russians and Ukrainians are a single people. But the Ukrainian leadership, the current authorities of modern Ukraine are clearly unfriendly to us. This is perfectly obvious. Otherwise there is no explanation for the draft law submitted by the Ukrainian President to the Verkhovna Rada, the law on indigenous peoples under which Russians are not an indigenous people in that territory. It defies comprehension. Russians have lived there for centuries, and now they have been declared as non-indigenous people. What can this lead to? As a result, part of these people could emigrate. But where would they go? They have flats, jobs and so on in Ukraine. And so they will have to reregister [as Ukrainians], because they would be second-class citizens otherwise. This would reduce the overall number of Russians. This effect will be comparable to the negative impact of weapons of mass destruction. This is serious. This is pushing the Russian language out of everyday life.

You see, there are narrow-minded people and far-right nationalists everywhere; they exist in Russia and also in Ukraine. They are acting in all sincerity, but not wisely. The results of their activities will be destructive. This also concerns the suppression of the opposition in Ukraine.

Viktor Medvedchuk, whom I regard as a Ukrainian nationalist, was seized and confined to his apartment ahead of the election campaign, and they also ordered him to wear an electronic bracelet. Absolutely illegal and unconstitutional decisions have been taken. But nobody is paying any attention to this. This shows people in the country that there are no legal opportunities for the forces which want to develop and strengthen their country, including by developing normal relations with Russia, that they have no chance. They are nipped in the bud: some are jailed, others are placed under house arrest, and still others are simply killed in the street.

Why meet with Zelensky if he has accepted the full external management of his country? The main issues concerning Ukraine’s functioning are not decided in Kiev but in Washington and, partly, in Berlin and Paris. What is there to talk about then?

Nevertheless, I do not refuse to hold such meetings, but I first want to understand what issues we can discuss.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, our editors tell me that we have Yevgeny Tsvetkov on the phone. He is the one who told us about his wife, who is facing dismissal for refusing to get vaccinated because of a medical exemption.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Ecxuse me, but let us first take another call on a related subject, post-COVID rehabilitation.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Nailya Asker-zade: Vladimir Vasilkov from Omsk. The caller is unavailable.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We did not get through the first time, but I think we will reach him during the programme.

Vladimir Putin: Maybe we will get back to this subject later.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, certainly.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us get back to the Message Processing Centre. Tatyana, do you hear us?

Tatyana Remezova: Yes, colleagues, I do, thanks a lot.

We have already processed tens of thousands of questions, analysing them and calling people back to ask for details. The top five most popular subjects include the economy and price hikes. If you enter the word “price” or “prices” into the question database, you get tens of thousands of questions.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Tatyana Remezova: I can see that one of the video addresses was recorded in a grocery store. Let us see it.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Question: Mr President, tell us, please, why bananas from Ecuador – here is the price – are cheaper that carrots grown in neighbouring regions – this is the price tag. Another question is about potatoes: why are they so expensive? How can people, for example, my mother, who lives on a subsistence wage, survive with such food prices? Does anyone control prices in Russia, or do they just appear out of the blue? That is, do people simply think up a figure and then write it on the price tag?

Nailya Asker-zade: If I got it right, carrots cost 110 rubles per kilo and bananas, 70 rubles.

Yekaterina Berezovskya: And butter costs 500–600 rubles.

Vladimir Putin: Look, the global food price indices are the highest in 10 years. Regrettably, this is a global trend; food prices are increasing everywhere.

Of course, this affects us as well, considering that Russia is part of the global economy. There are many reasons for these increases; I will not list all of them, but they include the printing of currency by the main currency issuing countries, the consequences of the coronavirus, the decline in production and jobs, and so on and so forth.

We had the biggest price increases on food last year and early this year. Sugar increased the most, up 41 percent. Sunflower oil followed in its wake.

You probably know what the Government and we said about this. The Government made a number of decisions to control food prices.

Regarding these measures, the first was an agreement between producers and retail networks. The second was subsidies for producers of the final product for the purchase of raw materials at high prices. Later, export duty increases were introduced on foreign trade. Other regulation measures are being discussed, so in general the state is tracking this problem, though maybe sometimes the response is delayed. I spoke about this problem at one of the meetings with the Government. Let me repeat that the above measures are being taken.

Now regarding butter: you said 500–600. Prices on milk are generally stable and, as you know, butter is made from milk. This is why prices on that have increased between 3.5 to 5 percent recently. I would like to emphasise that this is below the inflation rate because the inflation has almost reached 6 percent, 5.9 percent, to be exact. So, this is less than the inflation rate.

That said, there are problems in this respect. This is what I think Valentina was talking about – the so-called borsch basket: carrots, potatoes, etc.

Nailya Asker-zade: She asked why bananas cost less than carrots.

Vladimir Putin: Just a moment. Not only carrots but also potatoes. This is because we ran out of some domestic products. Last year, we produced over 19 million tonnes of potatoes. This year we will have about 22 million – I hope this is more than enough. That is a million tonnes we missed. They bring vegetables not from a next-door region but usually from abroad, from Belarus, or Turkey where it is warmer. Naturally, in this context it is important to look at logistics. How much will it cost with this kind of shipping, and so on.

Naturally, we must keep an eye on this as well, but let me say again that we will soon take in the vegetable harvest, and I hope it will affect prices. That said, the development of agriculture also includes vegetables and fruit, but now we are not fully meeting domestic demand for them.

For instance, we have practically resolved the problem of chicken meat and pork. We produce enough to meet domestic demand and even export them. In fact, we export a lot. By the way, last year agriculture made a record $30 billion on exports, over $30 billion. This has never happened before.

Incidentally, a decision was also made on grain with a view to curbing prices on bread and bakery products inside the country by introducing export quotas and export customs duties.

Recent price hikes on bakery products and sunflower oil have been a mere 0.1 percent. Prices on sugar have also increased by about 0.1 percent. In other words, regulating measures are being taken and are resulting in the desired effect but, unfortunately, not on all food items. We will press on.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest we get back to the topic of agriculture a bit later because we have finally gotten through to Omsk.

Vladimir Vasilkov. Let us have this call on air.

Vladimir Putin: Of course.

Vladimir Vasilkov: Hello.

I worked for more than 40 years and was awarded the title of Omsk Region Labour Veteran. I recently received a small increase in my pension but the Labour Veteran title was withdrawn along with my benefits. They used to pay me 550 rubles, which was at least something, and now I am nobody. It was a slap in the face. And I know more people like me.

Nailya Asker-zade: Excuse me, but your question was about your COVID-19 recovery and the rehabilitation you need.

Vladimir Vasilkov: Yes, that is another question that I have.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please, Mr Vasilkov.

As concerns the Labour Veteran title, I know that, unfortunately, it has been an issue in the regions. It is up to regional authorities to award the Labour Veteran title and to withdraw it. I think it absolutely unjustified. They should not take away what has already been given.

Vladimir Vasilkov: I am not the only one.

Vladimir Putin: I know and I believe that this decision was wrong. That is my opinion and I hope Omsk will hear me. There is a general rule, which is stipulated by the Constitution, no less: you cannot deprive people of the benefits they already have. This aspect of the matter must be reviewed carefully by officials at all levels.

Nailya Asker-zade: As I promised, shall we get back to the topic of agriculture?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us see what questions arecoming in from those who till the land, as they say. What shall we choose? Let us go to Ufa. Here is a message: “All the crops are dying due to drought in Bashkiria. Cattle are dying. Irrigation services used to be available. This is a global problem. Please look into this. When will irrigation services be available again?”

Vladimir Putin: First of all, I want to say that we are proud of our agricultural workers and their results. I have already said that even their export results are outstanding, no less. Productivity and production are growing fast. Vegetable and fruit cultivation could be better, but additional support is necessary.

Overall, support for the agricultural sector is quite substantial, around 350 billion rubles. We support other areas as well. For example, we will allocate 35 billion for the social development of rural areas. We also allocate 70 billion every year for farmland reclamation. That is 70 billion every year for this purpose.

Irrigation services are part of these efforts. We allocate more than 7 billion a year for this purpose and will continue to do so. Irrigation is very important, considering climate change. We will be ramping up these efforts across all the areas I have just mentioned.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, to follow up on agriculture, I would like to quote a few text messages. “Mr President, they say there will be a tax on livestock. Is it true?” someone from the Rostov Region is asking. In fact, not everyone is aware that there may be such a thing as a tax on livestock.

Nailya Asker-zade: Horned livestock.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, horned livestock. As far as I understand, agricultural producers have been exempted.

And one more follow-up question from Izrail Murzabekov in Ingushetia, who engages in selective sheep breeding. He is asking for help with the lease of land and writes the following: “Any kind of land, even wasteland, at least something.”

Vladimir Putin: Where does he live?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Nazran, Ingushetia.

Vladimir Putin: Ok. With regard to help, I will definitely have a word with the head of the republic. Land in the North Caucasus is worth a lot; it really is a valuable asset. But since this person engages in real business, an important business – selective breeding, right? Sheep breeding?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, selective sheep breeding.

Vladimir Putin: This is very important. This is something that we have been increasingly focused on lately. It is true of seeds and livestock. This is critically important. We are only taking the first steps in this direction.

We have resolved the chicken meat problem, but not everyone is aware – no, this is a serious matter – that we mainly import eggs in order to raise chickens. We need to have our own eggs to begin with. The same applies to cattle and sheep breeding.

To reiterate, we are moving forward towards this goal. Of course, people who engage in this business deserve special support. I will definitely have a word with the head of the republic.

The first part of your question was…

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: The first part of the question was about the tax on livestock. Is it true that…

Vladimir Putin: We should impose a tax on those who spread such rumours. No, no one is going to impose any tax on livestock.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: People are worried. This question comes from the village of Chaltyr, Rostov Region, apparently, a small place.

Vladimir Putin: I hope that I will be heard not only in the Rostov Region, but other regions of the Russian Federation as well.

Nailya Asker-zade: Most importantly, the Finance Ministry should hear you.

Vladimir Putin: No, no, no. Take my word for it, no one is planning anything like that. These are just rumours.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, I suggest we move on. The Economy section has a sub-section called Industry and Production. Let us see if we have received any messages or calls on this topic.

Troitsk is on the line, we have a video call, that is, people can go on the air. And Nizhny Novgorod is also calling.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Which one will we choose?

Vladimir Putin: It does not matter.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us listen to Troitsk.

Vladimir Putin: Troitsk – where is it?

Nailya Asker-zade: It is in Moscow’s immediate suburbs.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Hello, you are on the air.

Vladimir Putin: Good day, Svetlana.

Svetlana Mironova: Mr President, good day.

Here is my question. My name is Svetlana Mironova. I want to ask about the surging prices of building materials. I will give you an example: my family lives in a small flat of 33 square metres. The children are growing and now there is not enough room for everyone, so this year we planned to improve our living conditions. We bought a plot of land and started to think about building a house. I will use the fence as an example: three or four months ago it cost about 150,000 [rubles]. Today we will have to fork out 260,000 for a fence made of ordinary corrugated iron. It is quite a sum for our family. We want to understand – my family and those families who have found themselves in the same situation – if prices will remain the same or if they will increase or, maybe, with your assistance, they will be more affordable to us. Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Hopefully, I can also help to make them affordable. I will explain what I mean.

First, of course, this was caused by inflation and the price increases in the consumer market across the board. The inflation rate in our country has gone up to 5.9 percent, or almost 6 percent, from about 4 percent. Of course, our objective is to push it down. That is why the Central Bank has increased slightly its key interest rate to avoid an excessive money supply in the economy.

I believe the current inflation rate will get back to its target indicator – 4 percent. This year, we will hardly achieve this, but I believe we will be able to bring it [the inflation rate] down to 5 percent and, generally, make sure that inflation holds steady at this level, yet, thinking of making it lower. This is my first point.

Secondly, regarding the reasons behind it, in my view, there will be more questions like this during our meeting today. This was caused by the changes in the situation in many world markets for commodities, in particular, metals.

Prices on metals have increased sharply on world markets. Incidentally, this includes foodstuffs. Prices on sugar went up on world markets and so our producers began selling it abroad. As a result, we had a shortage of sugar, and prices jumped. The same happened with metals. Metal prices increased on world markets. Here, they are trying to raise them to global levels, and so everything linked with this instantly gets more expensive.

Action is being taken now to curb prices on these basic goods, which includes construction goods. I hope this will affect you as well. We know all this and are taking the necessary steps to keep the situation stable.

By the way, maybe this is worth considering: are you selling your flat or are you keeping it?

Svetlana Mironova: We would like to keep it, of course.

Vladimir Putin: For those who are selling their flats, people have probably noticed this, but I would still like to repeat once again. I recently talked about this at the United Russia congress: if a person sells a flat within five years and buys a new one, he has to pay personal income tax. Considering growing housing prices, people were losing a fair amount of money. They could have at least made a down payment.

I suggested then that if a person buys a new flat within a year, he should not pay this tax when selling his flat. This may concern you less, but it has a direct bearing on all those who want to improve their housing conditions by selling their old flat and buying a new one. I believe this is how it will be. We will work to stabilise the situation in the construction market as well.

There are a number of other measures, but we will discuss them later. They are related to infrastructure loans, utilities loans and the like, but I believe that together these measures should promote stabilisation in the construction market.

In the meantime, I would like to wish you success. I hope you will manage to carry out your plans. I would like to wish your family and you personally all the best.

Svetlana Mironova: I was happy to see you.

Vladimir Putin: The pleasure is mine.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Thank you, Svetlana.

Mr President, besides our TV viewers, your colleagues in the Government are obviously listening to us.

Vladimir Putin: I am 100 percent sure.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We just received a message. Tatyana Golikova said that not even 10 percent (you noted that 10 percent of vaccinated people could fall sick after a jab) but more like 2.5 percent could get it again. Whom should we believe?

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Ms Golikova, of course, because she is dealing with this professionally every day. She was the Healthcare Minister and knows what she is talking about.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us read a question that was texted to us: “Why not have the governors hold direct lines like you do, annually or quarterly? That would reduce the number of questions for the President.”

By the way, heads of some regions, such as Moscow, Tatarstan and St Petersburg, to name a few, are already doing so, mainly through social media.

Vladimir Putin: I think this would do no harm to anyone, because direct communication is important not only because people have the opportunity to ask the head of state or region questions. What is more important – and I have said this many times – is that the most pressing issues that concern our citizens are selected in the process. This is critically important in order to fine tune our practical moves in the most important areas such as social policy, healthcare, housing construction, etc. That is why I would encourage regional leaders, my colleagues, to listen to what our citizens have to say.

Nailya Asker-zade: Occasionally, even simple issues cannot be resolved without the President or the Governor. It happens.

Vladimir Putin: It does. Perhaps, we should strive to make sure that things get addressed automatically, but we still have a long way to go. In any case, this feedback is always very helpful.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, speaking of feedback, if your colleagues could spend more time talking to the people, they would hear questions, including those coming from small and medium-sized businesses. Clearly, this year is difficult for everyone, and this segment was hit hard, but at the same time it received support. Just several days ago, you instructed the Government to exempt small businesses in the catering sector from VAT.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, but under certain conditions: there must be receipts for everything, so that everything is transparent, not just their services, but there should also be receipts for the goods that they purchase and use in their work and this should be transparent.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us hear what the businesspeople have to say about this. Let us hear from Surgut, which has also joined us on this direct line.

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Please, you are on the air. Mr Kharlov, can you hear us?

Vladimir Putin: We are listening to you.

Maxim Kharlov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Maxim.

Maxim Kharlov: Here is my question. As a representative of the business community, I have repeatedly applied for financial support – loans for expanding my business – but the terms offered by the lending institution preclude effective development. The interest rates are high, 18 percent and up, and loan terms are under three years, that is, very short, and they also want collateral. These terms preclude obtaining any effective financial support and prevent the channeling of funds into business expansion and, as a result, the development of entrepreneurs who can become the driving force of our economy.

Hence, the question: is the Government considering effective support for entrepreneurs in the following matters – extending lending terms, lowering interest rates and decreasing collateral requirements? I am talking about loans to finance working capital. The amounts are small, anywhere from 5 to 10 million, which a micro business may need. This is my question.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Kharlov, this is not an idle question, I understand you perfectly well. Small and medium-sized businesses, small enterprises, micro businesses, and providing them with funding are critically important matters. Of course, the pandemic hit small and medium-sized businesses hardest. We are aware of this as well. But please note that we, the Government, have taken a package of measures to support small and medium-sized businesses, including loans at zero percent or 2 percent with subsequent repayment of these loans, if the number of employees remained unchanged, loan term extension, cutting tax rates, including social contributions, in half. This is a major package of measures.

The things you are talking about are also important, I understand you perfectly. But organising this kind of work, say, collateral-free loans, is a delicate matter. After all, it is not difficult to apply for a loan. But how do you pay it back? This could undermine our financial and banking system. Although, of course, the banks enjoy big revenues. Thankfully, our financial system is stable, which is very good. But making decisions that could, in fact, rock this financial platform is also, clearly, a dangerous approach.

You said they are asking for 18 percent now, correct? That is too much, I agree, because the average rate is currently 12 percent for small businesses and microlending. There are preferential terms as well. I am not sure if anyone has ever offered them to you. Look, we have easy-term lending. What is that about? The Central Bank key rate is 5.5 percent currently, I believe, plus 2.75 percent on top of this key rate; 5.5 and 2.75 add up to 8.25, if I have it right. That is much better than 18 or even 12 percent.

Last year, in order to ensure this kind of work, we made available – and people received – a trillion rubles from budget sources. That sounds like a lot of money, but it is absolutely not enough if you think about the needs in this sector of the economy.

Mr Kharlov, we will, of course, continue to expand this system. It is a matter of budgetary capacity or budgetary constraints, on the other hand. But 18 is a bit too much. If you leave your details, your contact information…

Nailya Asker-zade: We have that.

Vladimir Putin: Our colleagues have your contact information. We will take a look at the banks you have contacted and the tools that you, in my opinion, could use, and the bank should have helped you do that.

Good luck.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us move on to another topic – defence and security.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Nailya Asker-zade: This must be a very important question because there could not be unimportant questions in the section.

Let us see. Here is, for example, a video from Krasnoyarsk. Shall we watch it?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Lyubov Shendeleva: Hello, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Lyubov Shendeleva: My name is Lyubov Shendeleva, I live in Krasnoyarsk and I am a pensioner.

My question, I believe, is important to many people. For how long will telephone scammers, taking advantage of their impunity, as well as people’s gullibility, be stripping them of the little money they have?

Posing as bank clerks or employees at any other organisation, they take money from the most vulnerable section of the population, that is pensioners and senior citizens.

When exposed, they even start sending messages with threats. How long is this going to last? I believe there are some technical means that can help track them down and punish them. We are asking you for protection. Thank you for your attention.

Nailya Asker-zade: A problem like this does exist in many regions. Here is another example. Sitting next to you at the Victory Day parade was Vasily Pronin. You exchanged a few words with him and straightened his jacket. A few days later, scammers stole 400,000 rubles from him. So, this problem is common in many regions. Vasily Pronin is 96 years old.

Vladimir Putin: I do not even want to comment on this. They are just rogues. People committing such crimes, targeting elderly people, war veterans, are simply rogues. Of course, we need to fight this. Unfortunately, crimes of this sort are on the rise and the growth is significant. Whereas the overall situation with fighting socially harmful, grave crimes in our country is satisfactory, and we have even seen some decline, there has been an increase – a significant increase of 25 percent – in crimes like those mentioned.

What are the reasons for them? In my opinion, the first thing that creates an unfavourable background and is contributing to the increase in crimes like these are illegal sales of personal data. Of course, the government and law-enforcement agencies must address this issue very seriously. Criminals use illegally obtained personal data, big data, to act.

Several questions here require special attention.

First, this is largely the competence of the Central Bank. They should be more active in countering phishing sites. As I see it, these phishing websites probably stem from the word “fish.”

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: A phishing site imitates the real one.

Vladimir Putin: They are looking for their victims in the net. Previously, it took the Central Bank several weeks and even months to locate such sites and shut them down. Now it does so in three days. But even this is not enough. It must be more active. This is the first point.

The second point. Commercial banks, the accounts in which money comes in or goes out, must meticulously monitor these processes to reduce to zero the opportunities for scammers.

That said, we must take into account the fact mentioned by Ms Shendeleva, that scammers are also involved in social engineering, where social services operate and often act on their behalf. People must simply bear this in mind and be very attentive in this respect.

There are also issues that are at the junction of competence of law enforcement bodies and the Central Bank. What are these issues? What is at odds?

On the one hand, the Central Bank and other financial institutions must keep bank deposits secret, but on the other, law enforcement bodies must have an opportunity to intervene in criminal activities at an early stage and prevent them.

However, under the law that ensures the secrecy of bank deposits, that is, banking financial secrecy, law enforcement bodies have the right to receive the required information from banks only if a criminal case is opened or by decision of a court. Yet, there is a solution. What is it? The Central Bank can contact law enforcement bodies at its own initiative if it detects some dubious transactions. But if the Central Bank has this right, operations units of the Interior Ministry, other law enforcement bodies or special services can contact the Central Bank. The Central Bank can check dubious transactions and provide information. It is relatively easy to develop this process with modern communications, and it is possible to do this quickly. I believe we should go down this road to start with. Naturally, it is essential to upgrade this practice and improve the regulatory framework.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, a question about a different drama, actually, a big one.

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: It is related to the British warship near Crimea. Do you think the world was on the brink of a Third World War, of all things?

Vladimir Putin: No, I do not think so. Is this a question or did you…?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We have received questions on this matter.

Vladimir Putin: No, I do not think so. I will explain what I think and what I do not.

First, this was apparently a provocation; it was obvious that it was a provocation. What did they mean to show and what goals did they want to achieve?

To begin with, this was a comprehensive provocation, and it was conducted not only by the British but also by the Americans. The British entered our territorial waters in the afternoon, whereas earlier, at 7:30 am, a US strategic reconnaissance plane took off from a NATO military airfield in Greece, I think from Crete. I was briefed on this, of course, I know all about it. If I remember correctly, tail number 63/9792. We saw it very clearly and monitored it. It was clear that the destroyer entered [our territorial waters] in pursuit of military objectives, trying to uncover the actions of our Armed Forces to stop a provocation, with the help of the reconnaissance aircraft they were trying to identify how we operated, and where things were was located and how they operated. We saw this and sent them the information which we deemed necessary. I may have let this slip; I hope the military will forgive me. This is the first thing.

The second thing is the political component. Recently, a few days ago, a meeting was held in Geneva. The question was: why was there such a provocation? What was all of that for? For the sake of emphasising that these people do not respect the Crimeans’ choice to join the Russian Federation? Is there something they do not understand there? Fine, keep not accepting it. But why a provocation of this kind?

Nailya Asker-zade: Maybe NATO is teasing us? The Sea Breeze exercise is underway now, and yesterday there was a Dutch frigate.

Vladimir Putin: Here is what I would like to say. You said that this put the world on the brink of a global war. No, of course, not. Even if we had sunk that ship, it is nevertheless difficult to imagine that this would have put the world on the brink of a third world war because those who did this know they could not win a war like that. This is very important.

I do not think that we would have been happy at the turn of events you mentioned, but we at least know what we are fighting for: we are fighting for ourselves and our future on our own territory. It was not us who covered thousands of kilometres by air and sea towards them; it was them who approached our borders and entered our territorial sea, which is a crucial component in the overall situation.

I am not concerned about this or that somebody does not respect the choice of the people in Crimea to join Russia. I have a different concern. Look now, they raised a clamour over the fact that we were conducting exercises on our own territory near the Ukrainian border. I instructed the Defence Ministry to quietly end the drills and withdraw the troops, if this is such a great concern for them. We did so. But instead of responding positively and saying “Ok, we understand your reaction to our indignation,” what did they do? They approached our borders.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, you said during your annual Address to the Federal Assembly that picking on Russia for any reason has become some kind of new sport. Does this mean they tried to pick on us again this time?

Vladimir Putin: No, this is not picking on us. As I said, this is not what is worrying me. I am worried about another, more fundamental thing, namely, the beginning of military development in Ukrainian territory. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, no foreign bases can be established in the country. Training centres and other facilities and formats are possible. But the military development of a territory that directly borders on our country creates a considerable security problem for us. This has to do with the vital interests of the Russian Federation and the Russian people. Of course, this is alarming, and we must think about it.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest that we move on to the next group of questions about social policy, which is largely tied to the economy, but is somewhat separate, and see what kind of questions we received from families with children. I see we have a video message from Astrakhan, and we also have a text message. Shall we watch the video?

Vladimir Putin: I am fine with that, please.

Nailya Asker-zade: Good afternoon, Ms Pluzhnikova. You are on live, please go ahead.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: Good afternoon, Mr President. I am speaking on behalf of all mothers in Astrakhan Region. We want to ask you about the new rules concerning payments for children aged 3 to 7.

Under the new rules, the calculations are based on income earned over the 12 months of 2020, but everyone knows that it was a difficult year for all of us: many have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Our region is no exception, and to this day, employment has remained a problem in our region, but I think, this is the case all over the country.

Here is my question: the authorities in our region require income information for 12 out of 12 months in 2020, although the Government resolution does not talk about providing information on each of the 12 months in 2020. In other regions, showing one month of official income is enough to receive a child allowance. Why is it that only our region interprets this resolution in its own way and denies payments to single mothers, large families, considers a flat and a house one single piece of property, and does not deduct alimony from the income that is paid to another family? The Astrakhan Region’s ministry cites specifically the Government resolution, not the regional one when these questions are asked.

We asked some ministers from other regions for help, and wrote to Olga Batalina herself [Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection]. The answer was that the minimum requirement is a pay stub for one month. Ms Batalina told us this, as did other ministers, including Natalya Oskina [Minister of Social Protection of Altai Territory]. But our ministry holds its ground and wants us to show proof of income for 12 months.

Please help get things in order in our ministry. Why are they disregarding this resolution?

Nailya Asker-zade: We are talking about the zero income rule, which says that if people are not officially employed, they are not eligible for child allowances.

Vladimir Putin: Correct.

Ms Pluzhnikova, can you rephrase that? Why exactly are you being denied these allowances?

Oksana Pluzhnikova: Because we are unable to show proof of income for 12 months. One month or five months are not good enough for them, they want 12 months.

Vladimir Putin: Under the resolution, it is based on yearly income. Your annual income…

Olga Pluzhnikova: Correct, annual income. But in other regions, one month is enough.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Pluzhnikova, look, if you have exceeded this amount of income in any given month, it does not mean that you should be denied payment. It would be illegal then.

We will need to take a closer look. Do our colleagues have your details?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes, of course.

Vladimir Putin: I will issue appropriate instructions.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: Mr President, may I take one more second of your time?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, go ahead please.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: This concerns the same issue, because those whose child benefits were approved last year and then expired have lost them due to lack of income. Even if they spend one month without an income, they lose these benefits.

Vladimir Putin: What do you mean “lack of income”? I do not understand.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: They have simply lost it.

Nailya Asker-zade: This is zero income. If a person does not receive an official income, he is not entitled to get any payments because some people might rely only on these payments and are not motivated to get a job.

Vladimir Putin: You are saying that if a person does not work, he is denied the payments. Is that right? Do I understand you correctly?

Oksana Pluzhnikova: No. If a person works for 11 months but misses one month, these are grounds to deny him the payments.

Vladimir Putin: That is clear. So, he works for 11 months and does not work for just one month, and he is denied the payment benefit, right?

Well, let us figure it out. I will certainly instruct the Government to analyse this situation and provide a response. That said, if a person lost his job, the simplest thing for him is to be registered at an employment service. This is the easiest thing to do. Once he does this, nobody has the right to deny him the payment of relevant benefits. He should do that immediately…

Oksana Pluzhnikova: But they are not taking into account registering at the labour exchange. So, we do not know what to do about this. We are in complete chaos.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Pluzhnikova, I am telling you that if a person has registered at the labour exchange, nobody has the right to deny him payments. This is illegal. However, we will try to analyse your case separately. I will certainly instruct the Government to do this.

But let me repeat for the third time, that if a person loses his job but registers at an employment office, he cannot be denied relevant payments. I hope my colleagues in your region, Astrakhan, will hear this and respond. But even if they do, I will still instruct the Government to deal with this specific case. Is that all right?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us hope that justice will prevail.

Oksana Pluzhnikova: Ok, thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you for bringing this issue up because, as you said, it concerns many people. I hope we will make corresponding adjustments here to ensure people’s rights.

Nailya Asker-zade: We have had similar inquiries from the Astrakhan Region.

Vladimir Putin: Wonderful. All right. We will figure this out.

Thank you, Ms Pluzhnikova.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, as a follow-up on social support: families with children are indeed getting extensive support during the complicated year of the pandemic. Applications for some payments can be submitted as early as tomorrow. For example, pregnant women in difficult circumstances and single parents. And a great help for parents whose children will go to school – 10,000 rubles. These payments will also begin in August.

Clearly, the plans are ambitious. Will the system withstand this extra load?

Vladimir Putin: It will.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Will it be possible to pay everything out on schedule?

Vladimir Putin: It will. In the first year, 46 billion rubles are earmarked for the first two categories – pregnant women who applied early on in their pregnancy, and the second category. These funds have been reserved, slightly over 46 billion. There will be a little more next year. We do not see any problems here. I had another talk with the Finance Minister yesterday – all the money has been set aside. The issue with children starting school had not been resolved because according to the law, children can go to school at the age of six, not seven. However, in some families, children will start school at the age of six, whereas in others they will not. Naturally, the Government raised the issue: what if people get the money but their child will not start school at six?

However, I believe, and I am sure that the Government will hear me, that everyone should be paid including those families with six-year-olds, even if they do not start school this year. But I am just reminding parents that it is a lump-sum payment, therefore the money they get this year should be spent on preparing the child for school and buying some things in advance even if the child does not start school this year.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I suggest continuing our live marathon and going to the Message Processing Centre.

Natalya Yuryeva has the floor.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you.

We have a message that we just cannot ignore. It is rather a cry from the heart. Our hearts really sank as we read it. I ask the editors to display the message from Svetlana Chemezova of Yaroslavl.

She writes as follows: “Hello, Mr President,

I live with my 9-year-old son, work as a cleaner and my wage is low – 12,700 rubles. Payments are deducted from my wage at work to repay the loan, after which I am left with 1,500 rubles. I have no money to pay my utility bills and rent or buy schoolbooks for my son – I have no money to spend. My strong wish is that you help poor people and resolve the issue of loans, which a hopeless situation can force them to take.”

Vladimir Putin: I understand that the situation is not easy. I have a concrete answer and I will get straight to it.

Generally, as you see, we are carrying out a whole package of measures to support people who have found themselves in an uneasy situation, to say nothing of those with children, and to support families with children. I will not list them all now but this package includes a broad range of measures.

But this is not about this set of measures only; what matters is that we want the government to always lend a shoulder in any form to [families with] children from their birth almost all the way until they graduate from school, should they end up stranded. We have just talked about one measure from this package. There are also measures to support women visiting a clinic in their early pregnancy, who happen to be in a difficult situation, and other measures – all until her child starts going to school, and also to single-parent families. Hopefully, you will also be able to take advantage of some of these tools.

As for the loans, there is a specific decision that was finalised yesterday: on the initiative of the United Russia party, some deputies, a law was passed, and I signed it yesterday, under which no payments, including those to repay loans, can be deducted from a person’s income if that leaves him with an amount below the minimum subsistence level. I believe this measure will protect people in your situation, which they can take advantage of. I strongly believe this is not all that can work to support you. I repeat again that we have a diversified package of measures to support families with children.

It is a very important thing I have just said. That is, from this moment, the banks have no right to withdraw money from a person’s account to repay loans they have issued to this person, if he or she is left with an amount below the minimum subsistence level.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Incidentally, we have also received messages like this regarding microloans.

Vladimir Putin: Right.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I suggest that we pick the Miscellaneous and Personal section, which is, perhaps, the most unpredictable and, potentially, the most exciting section.

We have an audio call.

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us pick. Here it is, Starodub, Bryansk Region.

Alexander Ismailov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Alexander Ismailov: I am Alexander Ismailov from the town of Starodub, Bryansk Region. Here is my question: what dreams of yours will no longer come true?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Ismailov, I think every person, everyone literally – you and I, and these lovely young ladies sitting next to me, and everyone who is listening to us now – we all should think about the best to come, hope for the best, and this cannot but be part of a dream. I hope you have one too, and I have one as well. There must not be a place in life where a person has nothing to dream about or hope for. I think we need to think positively.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: That is, we can dream no matter what the dream is?

Vladimir Putin: Correct.

Nailya Asker-zade: Most importantly, one should not forget how to dream.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Right.

Vladimir Putin: You know, there is a popular belief that if…

Nailya Asker-zade: …if you really want something, it will come true.

Vladimir Putin: It will definitely come true; this is one thing. And you need to think positively, then good things will happen.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us hope that everything will be fine and COVID will eventually go away, because we are very tired of it.

Vladimir Putin: No, it will not go away by itself. We need to get vaccinated.

Nailya Asker-zade: We will definitely heed your advice.

Vladimir Putin: And you need to get revaccinated.

Nailya Asker-zade: Definitely. As we have already understood, it must be Sputnik and nothing else.

Vladimir Putin: Not necessarily.

Nailya Asker-zade: Well, if the President chose Sputnik, how can we choose anything different?

Vladimir Putin: No, no, this is not at all necessary.

Nailya Asker-zade: You are in good health.

Vladimir Putin: So what? You know, there is also, I repeat, EpiVacCorona that was developed by Vektor, which does not even cause a spike in temperature.

Nailya Asker-zade: Absolutely safe.

Vladimir Putin: All we do is absolutely safe.

Nailya Asker-zade: No reaction, correct.

Vladimir Putin: No reaction whatsoever. A person does not even feel they were vaccinated. This is important for some people, you know.

Nailya Asker-zade: We still have a section “Infrastructure and Housing and Utilities.”

There are many problematic inquiries, especially on gas infrastructure development. This has always been an urgent issue for the regions. Even after you announced the initiative on reducing the cost of utility connections, the number of questions has not decreased. Maybe, it has even increased.

Vladimir Putin: Sorry, not about reducing costs.

Nailya Asker-zade: Free pipeline miles.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, free miles.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us see what inquiries we have on this issue.

For example, we have Crimea, Karachayevo-Circassia and other regions. My computer is not obeying me. Who will win – technology or me. I do not know. We can choose.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We have many messages in different formats. Gas connection is here…

Vladimir Putin: Just press the “gas connection” button and that is it.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let us see this one.

Svetlana Kultygina: Mr President,

Last year we asked you about gas connections, but we have not received a written answer. The regional Energy Ministry promised to reply but never did. Wood is very expensive and gas cylinders were banned. Can you tell us how to live, what to do? I am 70 and my husband is 74. Meanwhile, there are mayors’ summer houses near us and they have all the gas they need. What can we do?

Vladimir Putin: I understand this is the Sverdlovsk Region. If the mayor has gas at his summer house, the pipe main must be somewhere near, right? So, under the adopted decision, a gas pipe must be laid to your plot of land. This service must be free.

As for what to do next, this is a separate issue, how to arrange gas supply inside your land plot. Let us look closer at this later. You have their information, right?

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, of course, we have all the information.

I suggest moving to Karachayevo-Circassia.

Vladimir Putin: Just a second. Please, leave this information for me so I have it.

Nailya Asker-zade: Of course, we have all the information. This was the Sverdlovsk Region.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we will do this in a way that ensures that these promises are honoured. Notably, the pipeline must be connected to their land plot free of charge. As for the facilities inside the land plot, we will deal with that separately.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: So, Karachayevo-Circassia?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: You are welcome, you are online, please, go ahead.

Roza Kappusheva: Hello!

Vladimir Putin: Hello, Roza.

Roza Kappusheva: I am addressing you with a request on behalf of the residents of the northern part of Ust-Jeguty town in the Karachayevo-Circassian Republic. I am asking for help with gas supply. The pipeline here is mere 200 metres away from us, but according to our estimates, each family has to pay about 200,000 rubles to get gas. Most families living here are young families with many children, and this is a lot of money for an ordinary family. I ask you to help us, to assist. Unfortunately, the local authorities respond to our requests by saying there is no money. We do not live in a mountainous village. The pipeline is very close. Can you please check on this?

Vladimir Putin: Is this a direct link?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Kappusheva, please, tell me. Do they want you to pay 200,000 for laying the gas pipe to your land lot?

Roza Kappusheva: No, this is the total of our expenses.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: It is probably the outstanding amount.

Vladimir Putin: We still need to figure out what sort of expenses they are. To lay the pipe or proceed with the work on your property, or what?

Nailya Asker-zade: It is probably a project and a tie-in.

Vladimir Putin: Wait, wait, we will get to the point.

Roza Kappusheva: The first thing is the permit, they demand money for that, too. Second – laying the pipe proper at the required distance.

Vladimir Putin: To lay the pipe to your property, right?

Roza Kappusheva: Right. And not just to my property; other people live further on. This district has gas distribution connections at some properties; however, many people do not have a gas line.

Vladimir Putin: Got it.

Ms Kappusheva, we will be figuring this out. I will talk to the head of the republic about this, but I want you and others to know that the pipe must be laid free of charge from the main pipeline to your property and that of the others.

Roza Kappusheva: But not everywhere.

Vladimir Putin: It must be done either at the expense of Gazprom or the companies in charge of gas distribution in your republic. It means it is free up to the property line, to the fence, as they say, whereas the owner pays for the line inside the property.

However, there are some ideas in this respect, too. I recently talked to some Government members about this. They should draft a single contract for all the work on the properties to be done according to a single plan with centralised purchasing which means lower prices. It means that everything concerning laying the pipe up to the fence, to your property, must be done for free, not for 200, 300 or even 100,000 rubles. In some places it might even cost a million. But this should never be your concern.

I assure you that I will definitely speak with the head of the republic about this.

Nailya Asker-zade: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: Wait a second. Are you satisfied with the answer, Ms Kappusheva?

Roza Kappusheva: Yes. But we have a completely new district.

Vladimir Putin: So what?

Roza Kappusheva: And so there is a lot to do.

Vladimir Putin: This is clear. But that is another question.

Roza Kappusheva: As for gas, yes, of course. If it turns out this way, we will be grateful to you.

Vladimir Putin: Alright. Done.

Roza Kappusheva: It will be a miracle.

Vladimir Putin: I will make sure. Agreed then. Thank you.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: These are everyday issues.

Vladimir Putin: It is ok. Why not? These are people’s concerns.

Nailya Asker-zade: I would like to explain the situation, if I may.

After the law on the ”free mile“ came into force, the cost of the tie-in and the project increased two to three-fold in some regions. We have received similar messages, for example, from Crimea.

Vladimir Putin: This is not just a question of whether the law on this free mile is enforced, although it may not be a mile, it could be five metres or a kilometre or more. The question is that due to the rise in prices for some types of products, including those for metals, prices are simply rising – first. Second, people have to go to different companies, which really start to drive up the cost of these works. That is why I said that now the Government is considering the possibility of doing this under one contract, one agreement, and minimising costs.

Nailya Asker-zade: Why should the project cost increase – due to rising paper prices?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is an issue that should be given special attention. I completely agree with those who are talking about this. And I repeat, this is why the Government is now working on a standard-form contract so that there is no unjustified overpricing.

Nailya Asker-zade: The law on a free mile for gas pipelines did not apply to gardeners’ non-commercial partnerships, and there are a lot of those in the Moscow Region, we have received many requests. Here are some examples. Reutov: ”The last mile pipe, about 150 metres, costs 90,000 rubles.“ Next, Volgograd: “There is a private gas pipeline 15 metres away from my house, but the owner is demanding 300,000 rubles for gas connection. Help me deal with this.”

Vladimir Putin: As for gardeners’ non-commercial partnerships (SNT), indeed, what we have been talking about so far are only localities where people live permanently, and there are thousands of them in the Russian Federation. So, a decision was taken to make the last mile free for localities where people live permanently, at least at the first stage.

Nailya Asker-zade: In the Moscow Region, many people live [permanently] in such SNTs.

Vladimir Putin: Right, many people live like this, but today, at this stage, we are talking about people who officially live permanently, for a long time, in towns.

There are different gardeners’ partnerships, there are those that stand apart, and the problem is that their land is, let’s say, collective property. This gives rise to legal issues.

There are partnerships that are located within the boundaries of a town, which means that, roughly, a pipeline to the fence of this gardeners’ partnership inside a town should be laid free of charge, and everything behind the fence is seen as a single household because the land is collective property.

The many thousands of towns are included in the first stage of the joint project to make the last mile free. Gas must also be supplied to SNTs by 2024–2025. This is part of the national gas infrastructure development programme, which covers 77 constituent entities of the Russian Federation. Why not all constituent entities? Because some of them do not have centralised gas supply. The Gas Supply Programme of the Russian Federation will be carried out in the 77 regions that have centralised gas supply.

Let us wait and see how we follow through on this stage. You see, even here there are many questions regarding the last mile to individual households. Things need to be put straight. At least, we should implement it as a pilot project. Again, there are tens of thousands of households like the above. We will see what comes of it: if it works, and works as it should, we will, probably, take additional steps to address other issues as well.

Nailya Asker-zade: We are looking forward to it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, people of all ages from all over the country are writing to us. Understandably, young people have many internet-related questions. We have such subtopics as Communications and the Internet and Internet Regulation. Let’s give our next question to Moscow. This is a direct video call. Let’s take it.

Vladimir Putin: Please go ahead.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: You are on the air.

Nikita Levinsky: Hello, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello, Nikita.

Nikita Levinsky: I am a blogger. My name is Nikita Levinsky. I have over 1 million followers on Instagram. My colleagues asked you this question in 2018 and later checked up on it, but the issue is so pressing for my colleagues and me that I would be remiss not to ask the question again. If there is an opportunity, I will take advantage of it. Should we expect foreign social media, websites or media hosting websites such as TikTok, Telegram, Twitter, YouTube and others to be blocked?

Vladimir Putin: No. We do not have any such plans. We are not going to block anyone. We are going to work with them. But the problem is that they tell us where to go and how to get there each time they fail to comply with our rules and laws. Nikita, you are a Russian citizen, are you not? You and I should have a sense of dignity, your colleagues, too.

Nikita Levinsky: I know what you are talking about.

Vladimir Putin: When they tell us, “You know, we will be working in your country, and if you do not like something, we will give you beads and you should be happy with those shiny objects.” This humiliates our dignity. If they work in our country and earn good money, they must abide by our laws. We are not asking them to do anything special.

So, as step one, and I hope step one will be enough, we insist and we want these international platforms to open their full-fledged representative offices in our country – legal entities with which we can at least maintain a dialogue.

We also tell them: “You are distributing child pornography or suicide instructions, or how to make Molotov cocktails, and so on – you must remove that content.” And they simply do not listen to us, they do not even want to hear what we are saying. This is wrong.

No self-respecting country around the world behaves this way. Everyone in Europe and even more so in Asia insists on a civilised approach to this kind of work, especially so since sometimes they are not behaving in a civilised manner in their own countries, either.

So, we understand that we are being heard and some of our colleagues are going to comply and open offices in Russia. If they do not comply, or if their offices do not abide by our rules and Russian law, then there are various technical methods, including slowing the speed and so forth. To reiterate, we have no plans to shut down anything.

What I would like is to see our respective companies also develop in this direction and provide creative and talented people like you and your fellow bloggers with an opportunity to express themselves on Russian social media and on similar platforms, to provide services to our citizens in a variety of areas and make our lives better.

Nikita Levinsky: Thank you.

Nailya Asker-zade: Many social media users have breathed a sigh of relief, probably including Nikita. Of course, it is better to look for mutually acceptable solutions and talk, rather than ban, as was the case with Telegram.

Let’s go to the Message Processing Centre.

Vladimir Putin: I think we reached an agreement with Telegram. It is operational, and everything is fine.

Nailya Asker-zade: Ok then.

Message Processing Centre. Tatyana Remezova, go ahead.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you very much, Nailya. I suggest moving from TikTok and Instagram to a more pressing issue – housing and utilities.

Mr President, we would like to show you billing statements we received from residents of Demyanka village in the Tyumen Region. Demyanka or the village of Demyanskoye. So a flat with an area of 70 square metres received a bill for 74,780 rubles. The flat next door – 60 square metres received a bill for 50,661 rubles for April. We have these payment demand orders. We are not inventing anything; these are the facts. We will try to connect with Demyanka residents, which sent us these documents. They should respond to our direct video call. Let us see: Housing and Utilities, Demyanka.

Good afternoon, you are on the air, the President hears you. Please go ahead.

Tarlan Tagirov: Hello, Mr President,

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon!

Tarlan Tagirov: I am Tarlan Tagirov and standing behind me are residents of Demyanka village, in particular, those who live in the building on 4 Pionerskaya Street and 15 Zheleznodorozhnaya Street. We were all moved to a new building under the programme to relocate people from dilapidated housing. We were beyond ourselves with joy, but our joy was spoiled by the following facts.

The first fact – we were relocated from dilapidated housing to new buildings for an additional payment of up to 330,000 rubles. This was contrary to the law and the Housing Code. However, we bought our flats. We were relocated last February and received our utility bills. They varied from 40,000 to 70,000 rubles. We approached many authorities and they gave us the same response: the rates are economically justified. We cannot get anywhere. We went to the prosecutor’s office, the governor’s executive office, district administration and the housing inspection on pricing policy, but we are not getting anywhere.

Meanwhile, 70 percent of residents in our building are pensioners. They receive pensions from 10,000 to 20,000 rubles. The utility bills run from 20,000 rubles and up. This is simply unrealistic. People have been put on the brink of survival. Such fees do not exist anywhere. We have to pay 333 rubles for a cubic metre of cold water. This fee is multiplied by 1.5 times, so there is a surcharge on this payment. When we lived in our old building, we paid 1,482 per gigacalorie for heating, whereas now the rate is 5,331 rubles, plus there is a surcharge of 50 percent.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Tagirov, I understand. There is one thing that I probably did not hear well enough. In the beginning, you said that you had to pay a fair amount of money during relocation. What for? I did not understand.

Tarlan Tagirov: I will be more precise, if I may.

Last September we were invited to the administration to submit applications for consent to be relocated from dilapidated housing. The application is written in no particular format expressing a residents’ consent to relocation. However, we were surprised to see that applications had already been written on our behalf with the following wording: “I ask you to withdraw my old apartment and provide a new one in return, taking into account the buy-out price,” which in itself implies an additional payment for relocation. Naturally, the residents refused to sign this application. Then, a week later we were summoned again by the head of the village administration. She persuaded the residents that there would be no cheating since there was heavy criminal prosecution and the administration would not dare it. The people believed her words and signed the applications. And this year, right before the relocation, we were billed up to 330,000 rubles in extra charges. The apartments had been evaluated according to market value without a reduction ratio.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Tagirov, I see a powerful support team behind you, like the one Yasha the Artilleryman had in The Wedding in Malinovka film. So the victory will be ours, do not doubt it.

First of all, I do not understand what sort of extra charges those are. It is nonsense, I don’t understand this, but I promise that we will sort it out. That is first. Second, the numbers you gave … Are you with us?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I think, he hears us on TV now.

Vladimir Putin: I hope you hear me. First, it is unclear what sort of extra charges they are. Second, the figures you gave me are mind-boggling, to put it mildly, both for water supply and the common meter. Water, if memory serves, costs on average 37 rubles per cubic metre, and two rubles per gigacalorie, although it might be more expensive in the Tyumen Region. This is on average, but again, it can cost more in Tyumen. But it is totally incomprehensible where the numbers you mentioned come from and the final payment result. One can imagine that the residential building was not completely settled, and then those tenants who moved in were obliged to pay for maintenance of the entire building. But I understand that you have all the flats settled. I promise you that we will definitely deal with this, at any rate we will find out what is going on.

You know, I really do understand from visiting the dilapidated buildings people live in, and of course, it is a great happiness when people move from these slums to normal housing. But this should not be accompanied by levies, but rather by support for the further operation of this building, and I think that it will be so in this case. We have the information, right?

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, we do. This is the Tyumen Region, village of Demyanka, We can contact him, Mr Tarlan Tagirov.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Tagirov, we will certainly sort this out.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest looking at what other problems there are in our housing and utilities sector.

Vladimir Putin: Let’s do this.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let’s watch a video address from Pskov.

(Playing a video address.)

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: This is a case when a video speaks louder than words.

Vladimir Putin: Yes. Is the author of this address on the line?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: No.

Nailya Asker-zade: We can call him.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please do.

Nailya Asker-zade: We will do this later.

Colleagues, please try to get in touch with Pskov.

In the meantime, I will ask the next question.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Nailya Asker-zade: Why only the Far East has a curator among deputy prime ministers?

Vladimir Putin: Will we get back to the previous subject?

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, we certainly will. I promise.

Vladimir Putin: Ok.

As for the curators of some regions from among the Government leadership, we do indeed use this method for the Far East and the Arctic, and for the Sothern Federal District. We recently discussed this matter with the Government leadership. Overall, this practice is paying off.

We have agreed that the Prime Minister will submit proposals for the senior officials, deputy prime ministers, to oversee developments in some regions. I regard this as justified, especially because this method ensures closer contact with the regions concerned and a deeper and more sustainable insight into their problems. I hope that as a result of this practice the decisions made in the [federal] centre will be implemented more meaningfully and accurately and will have a greater effect for the territories.

Nailya Asker-zade: Does this mean that all current deputy prime ministers will also be made responsible for some other regions?

Vladimir Putin: Not “some other regions” but specially assigned regions.

Nailya Asker-zade: In addition to the Far East, will each region have a curator?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is what we have agreed to do. We will see how this system functions on a larger scale other than only in the Far East, the Arctic or the North Caucasus.

Nailya Asker-zade: We are still trying to get in touch with Pskov.

We are now moving on to the Message Processing Centre.

Vladimir Putin: Please, keep trying.

Nailya Asker-zade: I will keep my word.

Tatyana Remezova.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you.

I would like to say a few words about the good work our volunteers have already done during this Direct Line programme. For example, they have expedited the delivery of medications and food, helped a disabled person in the Saratov Region to get an electric wheelchair, cleared away landfills in the Rostov Region, and cut down a tree that was threatening people in a residential house in the Tver Region. But we have encountered a problem. When somebody calls Direct Line and local officials learn about this, that person starts getting calls with hints and even threats. One of such cases was reported by our volunteer, Regina Kireyeva.

Regina, tell us about it, please.

Regina Kireyeva: In her message, Yelena Kalinina, a resident of Novokuznetsk, requested assistance in repairing the roof of kindergarten-school No. 235 where her grandson Ratmir studied. The renovation was badly needed because children faced completely insanitary conditions.

Tatyana Remezova: By the way, we have a photo of this school and the roof, sent by Ms Kalinina. Will you please show the photos?

Regina Kireyeva: I then called the Department of Education and asked them to comment on the situation.However they could not believe that a Direct Line volunteer was calling them and declined to provide me with any information. Ms Kalinina called the Direct Line the next day and requested that her message be deleted because representatives of the Department of Education had phoned her and asked her to delete it. “Do you not feel sorry for the kindergarten director and your grandson?” they said, whatever that may mean.

Tatyana Remezova: This is very interesting wording:“Do you not feel sorry for your grandson?” What does her grandson have to do with all this? I believe that we should now try to contact Ms Kalinina and find out how she is now.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Tatyana Remezova: We will try and do it.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, let’s do it.

Tatyana Remezova: We go to the Regional Government section. Great, we have Ms Kalinina on the line.

Ms Kalinina, you are on air, and the President can hear you. Are you not afraid of speaking on Direct Line after all that has happened?

Yelena Kalinina: Good afternoon.

I am having trouble hearing you, I can hardly hear what you are saying.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let’s try to call her back later and go on to the next question now.

Vladimir Putin: Phone her right now.

Nailya Asker-zade: Let’s call Ms Kalinina back.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, she is standing there. Give her the phone.

Nailya Asker-zade: Ms Kalinina, we will try to call you back. It appears that there are some magnetic storms and communications problems.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, not.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We are focusing on the equipment but sometimes even the equipment fails.

Nailya Asker-zade: Right now, we suggest calling Pskov. Here is the call that we promised you. Yes, we are ready to air this call about water problems.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Kalinina, we will be right back.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Right now we have Pskov.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, give us Pskov.

Nailya Asker-zade: Good afternoon, Andrei. We saw your video. You have approached the matter creatively, indeed. Please tell us about your problems.

Andrei Tarasov: Hello, studio. Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Andrei Tarasov: Indeed, the problem is very unusual.

The fact is that under the Clean Water programme, which Pskov has been carrying out since 2003, and according to applicable regulations, our city, since it has over 200,000 people, is supposed to have additional water supply sources. Pskov has a second alternative for water from an underground water source with wells as deep as 70 metres or so. However, when the project was being implemented, no one thought about what would happen to this water when it is heated up.

This water from the underground source has good bacteriological indices, that is, there is no bacteria in it. It is fairly clean and meets sanitary standards, but it precipitates when heated. Heavy sediment has killed all new buildings in the area of ​​this water intake. We have a building that is three years old, and the hot water supply in it has stopped. The same has happened to other buildings. For example, there is a block of flats in Okolnaya Street with polypropylene pipes which preclude rust. However, there is rust-like sediment. We clean it…

Most importantly, we began to discuss this problem with the municipal authorities, and everyone is saying: everything is up to code, everything is fine. Pskov Region Governor Mikhail Vedernikov stepped up and promised to help …

They are unable to find the money to build a water treatment plant because the water meets sanitary standards. As far as I know, they have contacted various authorities, but no one has allocated the money for this. We are now trying to find the money to install this water treatment plant as part of upgrading the water supply system. We appreciate your help with this.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Nailya Asker-zade: The quality of the call leaves much to be desired, but you understood the main question.

Vladimir Putin: I did. The problem is clear, Mr Tarasov. I understand that this is not an old system, it is new and modern. But unfortunately, the water quality gives rise to the processes that you mentioned.

Of course, this certainly requires additional financial resources. Look, a fairly large amount of money has been set aside for similar projects. We have set aside about 500 billion rubles for infrastructure projects, with 150 billion coming directly from the National Welfare Fund for housing and utilities, and another 150 billion coming through infrastructure securities and DOM.RF. These sources can be used to address these problems.

I understand that the money has been spent and it is difficult to return to this, but what can we do, things happen. People cannot live in such conditions. Therefore, I will instruct the Government, the Ministry of Construction and Housing and Utilities, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin and, of course, we will get in touch with the Governor. They will sit down and find a source of funding to resolve your issue, no doubt about it.

Andrei Tarasov: Mr President, a quick follow-up question, if I may.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Unfortunately, the connection is very poor.

Yelena Kalinina is standing by for your call again.

Nailya Asker-zade: From Novokuznetsk.

Ms Kalinina, can you hear us?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: While they are re-establishing the connection, Mr President, I would like to continue with the muddy water theme. We went through the entire mass of information. In fact, there are very many messages. There was Pskov, for example. The Penza Region: “A filthy liquid is coming from the taps instead of water. You can’t wash your face with it, let alone drink it.” What is more, people sent not just messages but also photographs like these. (Shows a photograph.) The Leningrad Region: “The water is either muddy or there is no water at all. I receive a tiny pension, but we have to buy water at the shop,” says Galina Smirnova.

Vladimir Putin: Look, I have already spoken about this, but I would like to reiterate: It is with all the problems of this kind in mind that a decision has been taken to allocate additional funds.

Everyone is aware of what is really happening in this sphere, but I will repeat: the local, municipal and regional authorities are seeking to avoid making decisions related to tariff hikes, because purchasing power has declined, particularly during the pandemic period, when the real incomes of many people dropped. Raising the tariffs, increasing the payments is a very hard decision, of course, and clearly it is difficult for people to endure all this. This is all clear. That is why the local authorities are restraining the growth of tariffs. Hence the underfunding of the sector itself, the delays in maintenance, failure to replace water pipes… It is very difficult to organise the investment process because it becomes unattractive. It is as simple as that.

It is for this reason that the decisions I have mentioned were made. We have allocated 150 billion rubles from the National Welfare Fund directly for housing and public utilities and another 150 billion – via DOM.RF, in total 500 billion for infrastructure. These are the sources that can and will be used to address problems of this sort. The only thing that the regions need to do is to prepare relevant proposals in good time, address the Government and defend their proposals, the documents should be properly drawn up.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Colleagues, let us go back to the Message Processing Centre. Natalya Yuryeva, please. I know you have an interesting story.

Natalya Yuryeva: In fact, we have very many enquiries regarding the emergency state of school buildings, complaints are coming from practically all over the country. I suggest we travel to the Far East and receive a video call from Ussuriysk, the village of Vozdvizhenka.

Hello, you are on air. Please introduce yourself and put your question to the President.

Natalya Tolmacheva: Hello, Mr President. We are chilled here and very nervous. Forgive me, please, I will read what I have to say because I am nervous.

Vladimir Putin: Please, Ms Tolmacheva.

Natalya Tolmacheva: At the end of the last academic year… Do you hear me?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, we can hear you well.

Natalya Tolmacheva: A wall collapsed in the old building of our school. The building is about half a century old. Of course, we have another building, but it is too small. It is crowded there, and we will have to study in two shifts.

Please help us build a new modern school.

The army left our town in 2009, and everything has gone down the drain. We have raw water and dilapidated housing – it is impossible to live there. Roads are another story, just like all over the country. We have no water treatment facilities, and our sewers spill out right outside the town.

In general, we are bogged down with problems, and we would like to ask for your assistance in drawing serious attention to us.

Vladimir Putin: All right. Ms Tolmacheva, as I see it, you really have many problems. We will certainly talk to the regional leaders about what needs to be done after the withdrawal of Defence Ministry units and what can be done in the near future. I understand you are worried about the condition of the school, right?

Natalya Tolmacheva: Yes, that is the main problem.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I see. This is why you are standing together with the kids there. Is that the school behind you?

Natalya Tolmacheva: Yes, that is the old building of our school.

Vladimir Putin: If a wall fell down, the school is obviously dilapidated.

Look, we have about 40,000 schools in the Russian Federation, and some of them are in bad condition. It will not be enough to bring them up to standards. We must build new schools, about 1,300 schools in all. If your school is dilapidated, you should have a new one.

About 60 percent of schools – we have about 40,000 schools – need current repairs and 10 percent major repairs. Funds have been allocated for all these projects, including for the construction of new schools and major repairs. The programme is practically ready and will be carried out. All the leaders of your region have to do is submit the relevant applications, and we will certainly help you.

Natalya Tolmacheva: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: You are welcome. I wish you all the best and a nice day to your kids.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I am being told that Yelena Kalinina is with us.

Vladimir Putin: Is she? Please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Ms Kalinina, can you hear us?

Oh well, it looks like we will not be able to talk to Novokuznetsk.

Vladimir Putin: Perhaps your superiors do not want us to.

Nailya Asker-zade: The connection seems to get blocked.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: They are putting up all kinds of obstacles.

Yelena Kalinina: No, they do not want us to talk.

Vladimir Putin: Now I can hear you.

Go ahead.

Yelena Kalinina: Hello.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Yelena Kalinina: Here you go. Our kindergarten, our kindergarten-school No. 235 for children with special needs opened in 1982, or 40 years ago next year.

You see, we get absolutely no help. We recently opened an experimental class. My grandson was in it. He studied for two years with this class.

The kindergarten has a badly leaking roof. We have asked the authorities about it. We asked and begged. They promised, but nothing was done until I directly appealed to you.

Nailya Asker-zade: The connection is still very bad.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: But we got the gist of the problem.

Vladimir Putin: We got it.

Ms Kalinina, can you hear us?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I think Ms Kalinina will watch us on television when she gets a chance. I am sure all of Novokuznetsk is following this story.

Vladimir Putin: The problem with the school is clear.

Nailya Asker-zade: Would you like to clarify about the kindergarten?

Vladimir Putin: Apparently, the school and kindergarten are one facility. I got it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, what would your comment be?

Vladimir Putin: What is happening to Ms Kalinina herself?

Nailya Asker-zade: She has been receiving threats.

Vladimir Putin: From who?

Nailya Asker-zade: Apparently, from the administration of this kindergarten. They told her she should not have reported this issue to the President.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: The Department of Education called her.

Vladimir Putin: This is the Kemerovo Region, right?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Novokuznetsk. She was threatened. They told her she would lose custody of her granddaughter.

Vladimir Putin: Custody of her granddaughter? Because she reported this problem to us?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Correct.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Kalinina, if you can hear us, please do not worry about custody of your granddaughter. There is no such problem anymore. Anyone who threatened you needs to worry about their own problems.

As concerns the school, I just answered a similar question. We have a budget of tens of billions of rubles for the construction and renovation of schools, both major repairs and maintenance.

Do you have any information on this school?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Of course.

Vladimir Putin: I will talk to the Governor. It is the Kemerovo Region, I think.

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, the Kemerovo Region. Their Governor is Sergei Tsivilev.

Vladimir Putin: (Addressing Sergei Tsivilev.) Mr Tsivilev, I am also asking you to address this issue and apply to the school renovation programme in due time. Since this school and kindergarten are one facility, it is only one job instead of two. And please make sure to deal with the authorities who are threatening the same people they are supposed to be serving.

I hope you will take timely and adequate decisions. Please report to me on the outcome.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Colleagues, we are going back to the Message Processing Centre. Natalya Yuryeva, please go ahead.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you.

We also have examples of how the problem was resolved even before our programme started. Malika Aliyeva from Maikop has asked you for help, Mr President, and I know that the volunteers managed to help her. Sirin Hamida talked to the girl and her mother.

Sirin, please share with us what was done to help Malika.

Sirin Hamida: Mr President, unfortunately, 13-year-old Malika lost her eyesight when she was just six. We were touched by her story and asked the Russian Popular Front for help. The Front activists teamed up with the volunteers and found sponsors who bought a Braille display for Malika.

Natalya Yuryeva: Mr President, Malika wondered whether it was possible to include these modern Russian developments on the list of technical rehabilitation equipment that the state provides free of charge.

Vladimir Putin: We have a list of the rehabilitation equipment for people with disabilities approved by the Government and the Healthcare Ministry. Moreover, there are plans, which are being implemented, for contactless electronic appeals, so that people do not only choose a particular device or a piece of rehabilitation equipment on their own, but also receive payment via the Treasury. This can certainly be done, and we will do so. I am sure that the Government members can hear me, including Deputy Prime Minister [Tatyana] Golikova and Healthcare Minister [Mikhail] Murashko. Please include Braille display on the list of such rehabilitation equipment.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we will continue with our screen, we have not used it for a while. The big topic is Social Policy, and the sub-topic is the Labour Market. There are also many calls and messages here. Let’s give the floor to the village of Abatskoye. This is a video message.

Svetlana Shtrakhova: Good afternoon, Mr President,

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Svetlana Shtrakhova: I am a resident of Abatskoye, a village in the Tyumen Region. My name is Svetlana Shtrakhova, and I am 51 years old.

For four years now, I have been unable to find a job. I asked the governor and other authorities to help, but no one wants to resolve the issue. When will there finally be jobs in Russia for everyone, young people and people of my age alike? Everyone is tired of unemployment-related problems.

Thank you. Goodbye.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Shtrakhova, of course, the labour market and employment is an issue of fundamental importance. When employed, people are not just busy; they feel they are needed and independent, and this is one of the most important areas that the state as a whole and municipal and regional leaders should address.

The Tyumen Region is one of our leading regions in terms of income levels and development rates; therefore, the Tyumen Region leaders should, of course, focus more on the problems you just mentioned.

Unfortunately, unemployment has increased in our country during the pandemic. Before we started fighting COVID, the total unemployment rate was 4.6–4.7 percent. Alas, it increased to over 6 percent at some point and is now around 5.9 percent, going down already.

The Government has a goal to get back up to the pre-crisis level of 4.6–4.7 percent. This trend is, fortunately, emerging now and we must do what we can to maintain it because, in the long run, it contributes to economic development and ensures that people have a decent income.

If you have not been able to find a job for a long time, it is even sadder because it is not directly related to COVID-19. Of course, the Tyumen Region, which receives proper funding from the federal budget and has rather good economic indicators, should address this issue more thoroughly. But I am certain that your Governor can hear us, and I hope that he will pay more attention to the town from which you are calling.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I am being told that the bad connection with Yelena Kalinina was not a coincidence. Apparently, there have been major DDoS-attacks on our digital systems which are still happening as we speak.

Nailya Asker-zade: Hackers.

Vladimir Putin: Are you kidding? Seriously?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Yes. Even hackers are watching us. That is good to know.

Nailya Asker-zade: The whole world talks about supposed Russian hackers when there are…

Vladimir Putin: Hackers from Kuzbass.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We will try to fix our systems shortly.

Nailya Asker-zade: Now let’s move on to cultural affairs, a topic which does not get enough attention. Here is a message we received: “I am a teacher of literature and I work in a village. Our people are not rich. My students could go to the regional centre but they simply have no money to buy theatre or museum tickets. Is there any way to help our students?”

Vladimir Putin: Who sent this?

Nailya Asker-zade: The woman did not introduce herself. She just sent this message.

Vladimir Putin: And she is a teacher?

Nailya Asker-zade: She teaches Russian and literature.

Vladimir Putin: We have a proposal that has been discussed by the Government for a few months. We want to name it Pushkin Card. It would be a way to distribute small funds among people aged 14 to 22 specifically for this purpose.

Students will be able to use the funds between September and December of this year and next year. Each card holder would receive 3,000 rubles for four months. Why 3,000? Because even if they want to go to the Bolshoi Theatre, they would still be able to do it. As far as I know, Bolshoi tickets are fairly pricy so this allowance could be spent at once. But in other cases, this money can be spent on concert tickets, museums, exhibitions and other cultural events. I really hope that young people will take advantage of this new opportunity and visit not only regional but national cultural venues as well.

I think this is important for young people. Many want…

Nailya Asker-zade: Of course, they want to do something with their free time.

Vladimir Putin: Not only that. Many want to learn more about our cultural heritage but they have to save a lot first. I hope that when it comes to culture, they will not have to save too much. Their expenses will be covered by the state.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, let us open the section Domestic Policy, and the sub-section Federal Power.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I hope nothing will prevent us from airing a call from Krasnodar.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Nikolai Dolzhenko: Mr President,

You came to power after Boris Yeltsin passed it on to you of his own free will. Is such a transfer of power possible today? Do you have a member of your team that you could transfer power to without any doubts?

Vladimir Putin: Mr Dolzhenko, look. Boris Yeltsin did not hand over this power to me. The point is that according to our law, our Fundamental Law, if the President resigns, the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation becomes Acting President. I was the Prime Minister.

I will tell you straight, and there are no secrets here, this decision was preceded by other events. At one time, I was the Director of the Federal Security Service (FSS). When Boris Yeltsin offered me the position of Secretary of the Security Council, the organisation that coordinates the work of government agencies on behalf of the President at the political level, I had to choose a successor for the position of FSS Director, on the President’s instructions.

To my surprise, the people I offered this job to refused. Why? The situation in the country was very complicated and not everyone, in fact, very few, wanted to assume this responsibility. In addition, when Boris Yeltsin suggested I present myself in the polls in the future, I said: “Mr Yeltsin, I do not think I am ready for this.” He replied: “We will come back to that. Think it over.”

Eventually, Boris Yeltsin resigned and I became Acting President. However, in the final analysis, the decision of who is to head the Russian state rests with Russian citizens. They exercise this right of choice by direct secret ballot. This is the only way it can go.

As for who could lead the country, on the one hand, nature abhors a vacuum and nobody is irreplaceable. On the other hand, it is my responsibility to recommend people who might be qualified to run for the presidency. This is how it works in most countries in the world. I do not know of any exceptions. Naturally, the time will come when I hope I will be able to say that a certain person deserves to lead such a wonderful country as our Motherland – Russia.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Colleagues, we are handing it over to the Message Processing Centre again. We are aware that the pulse of the live broadcast and our Direct Line is beating literally at your centre. Please, the floor is yours.

Natalya Yuryeva: Thank you very much.

We have a rather interesting question about foreign, not domestic, policy. Mr President, let us watch a video addressed to you by Andrei Cheremisov from St Petersburg.

Andrei Cheremisov: Good afternoon, Mr President.

My name is Andrei. Not long ago, you met with US President Biden. The media told us that the meeting took place in a constructive manner, but almost immediately Russia was again threatened with all sorts of sanctions and restrictions brought about by either the “German patient” or God knows what else. By way of apology, they are saying that little depends on Biden, and supposedly he does not make all the decisions there. I have a question for you: why meet with President Biden if so little depends on him?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Cheremisov, much depends on the President of the United States, although that country has its own political system with checks and balances, but still a lot depends on him. You raised an important issue, but I believe it should be considered somewhat differently. It is not about whether things depend on the US President or not.

The matter is different. You know, there are children in a family that I am rather close with. There is a little child, who does not even talk yet, and he made a mess, so his mother told him firmly: “Never do that again. Switch on your head.” And at that very moment he did that motion with his finger, said “click” and switched on his head. Good job.

Conventional dads and moms in the United States, highly respected analysts, scientists and practical workers, even in the past, give advice to their political leaders and their political class that is in power in the broad sense of the word. What is this advice? They tell them the following: “Listen, the time when we were an absolute hegemon after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the period of the unipolar world is gone, and you must operate on the premise that the world is changing, and doing so rapidly.”

No matter what sanctions are being imposed on Russia, and no matter what they do to frighten us, Russia is nonetheless making progress. Its economic sovereignty is growing, its defence capability has reached a very high level, and, in many important parameters, it has surpassed many countries, in some respects, including the United States.

Asia is growing at a very fast pace. Look, in 1991 China’s GDP was 20 percent of the US GDP, but today, according to US sources –how much is it? – 120 percent. That is, China’s aggregate GDP has become higher in purchasing power parity than that of the United States. Trade between China and Europe exceeded trade between the United States and its main ally, united Europe.

You see, the world is radically changing. Our partners in the US realise that, on the one hand, and therefore there was this meeting in Geneva. On the other hand, they are trying as hard as they can to maintain their dominant position, and hence you get threats and further destructive behaviour with those military exercises, provocations and sanctions.

It does not depend on us; it depends on them. I really hope that an awareness that the world is changing and a rethinking of their own interests and priorities in this changing world will lead to a more attractive world order, and our relations with the United States will get back on track.

Nailya Asker-zade: Are we going to respond now? Will there be any response measures? We got a text message: “The US speaks about sanctions for crossing ‘red lines.’ Which sanction levers does Russia have to respond to US violations of our ‘red lines’?” asks Andrei Syutkin from Omsk Region.

Vladimir Putin: You know, first, we have not just adapted, our economy has adapted to this sanction pressure. It did us good in a way. These import substitution programmes, replacing imported equipment and technologies with domestically produced ones, gave a good boost to the development of high-tech production. It did us good, really. Not to mention agriculture, which saw a surge we could not even imagine before.

There are other positive things, too.

Nailya Asker-zade: The Mir payment system, for instance.

Vladimir Putin: The Mir payment system and the overall strengthening of the financial system. There are plusses in the fact that we are threatened, restrictions are imposed on our bonds and government loans. The overall debt decreased, the aggregate debt – and not just the sovereign debt, which was low anyway – but also the debt of the commercial sector went down. In general, it also has a certain plus, some positive sides.

But we are not going to take and will not take counter measures that would hurt us. For example, the Americans still fly into space using our engines. Our rocket engines are still being widely used to take US spaceships into orbit. We have been delivering them for a dozen years, why should we stop? To harm ourselves?

Or take another example: Boeing builds its planes from our titanium. I am not sure about the exact volumes but probably at least 50 percent of the planes. So what, should we close down titanium production in our country?

If they cross certain lines, we find asymmetrical responses which are pretty sensitive for our partners. Let me repeat: I hope the US will change this attitude not only towards us but also to many of their other partners.

By the way, do you think their traditional partners and even allies are happy that they are being spoken to arrogantly? Nobody likes that.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest moving forward. You mentioned the economy. Let us talk more about that.

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us take a look at where we stand regarding salary payments. We have a direct video call from the Trans-Baikal Territory. Shall we?

Vladimir Putin: With pleasure.

Nailya Asker-zade: Mr Perfilyev, you are on the air.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Good afternoon, Mr President.

This appeal comes to you from the employees of…

Nailya Asker-zade: I am sorry, Mr Perfilyev, could you please turn off the television so that we can hear you better? Sorry, there are problems with the signal.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: If it is on and is near you, it can interfere.

Dmitry Perfilyev: No, there is no television here, I am using the app.

Nailya Asker-zade: Please, go ahead.

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us call him back.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Perfilyev, we cannot hear you well.

Nailya Asker-zade: While we are restoring communication with Mr Perfilyev and the village of Mangut, let us see what is going on with our colleagues.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Perfilyev, wait, maybe you just need to speak a little slower and less loudly? Because I can hear you when you start talking, and then something happens and we lose the connection.

Nailya Asker-zade: Perhaps you can bring the telephone closer to your mouth?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, perhaps, not so loud, and slower.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Yes, Mr President, understood.

Nailya Asker-zade: Please go ahead; we can hear you well now.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Mr President, contrary to the list in Presidential Instructions No. 1180 dated July 2, 2019, at many regional agencies, including Zabaikalpozhspas, the salaries of firefighters have remained at minimum wage level, regardless of their position. Also, the regional firefighting team… (sound fails) <…> Mr. President, please [help resolve] these issues, low wages, and the lack of benefits. (sound fails) <…>

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, if I can clarify …

Nailya Asker-zade: I understand the problem is that the salaries remain at minimum wage level.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: The fact is these are municipal department firefighters; they are not Emergencies Ministry employees.

Vladimir Putin: Give us a moment, ladies. Mr Perfilyev and I will figure it out.

Mr Perfilyev, this is about increasing salaries, is it not?

Dmitry Perfilyev: It is.

Vladimir Putin: I have a question in this regard. Is your organisation part of the Emergencies Ministry, or is it a regional structure?

Dmitry Perfilyev: Zabaikalpozhspas is a regional structure.

Vladimir Putin: Is it regional? Not the Emergencies Ministry, right?

Dmitry Perfilyev: Not the Emergencies Ministry.

Vladimir Putin: Not the Emergencies Ministry, I see.

Can you hear me well?

Dmitry Perfilyev: Mr President, we hear you very well.

Vladimir Putin: Excellent.

Look, when we talked, and I spoke two years ago or last year about the need to raise salaries for the staff – not officers, but the staff of the Emergencies Ministry fire services, it was done.

They used to get 16, and now they get 32 and more, around 40,000 rubles, and a little more. They also have a problem because they began to fill the vacancies and the money allocated to them began to trickle away. In addition, they had to raise the salaries in the Arctic region. Nevertheless, we are keeping it under our control.

I take it and you have said that you are a regional structure.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Yes, exactly right.

Vladimir Putin: It means that at the regional level, in the majority of regions, when we raised the salaries for the Emergencies Ministry staff, salaries were also raised for their regional staff because otherwise the personnel migrate. I am sorry, what region are you from?

Dmitry Perfilyev: Trans-Baikal Territory.

Vladimir Putin: Clearly it depends on the fiscal capacity. Nevertheless, I will definitely speak to the governor, because, firstly, you have a hard and unsafe job, and it should be properly remunerated and marked. Secondly, there is another problem, which is personnel outflow. Ultimately the governor will not have the workers he needs, especially in the current situation when we, regretfully. are facing wildfire issues. I got it and I repeat: this lies within the governor’s authority, but we will certainly talk about that.

Dmitry Perfilyev: Thank you, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: It is too early to thank me. I hope there will be a response from the governor.

Nailya Asker-zade: Thank you very much, Mr Perfilyev.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Thank you and your colleagues, and as they say in such situations, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who is currently putting out wildfires under very complicated conditions. This work is very important, not only economically but also in terms of protecting people’s interests.

Thank you very much. I will be sure to speak to the governor.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I am being told that our colleagues in the call centre have many messages about the trash reform following the environmental topic. Let us give the floor to Natalia Yuryeva.

Natalya Yuryeva: That is correct, colleagues. But I must say that our editorial office has already received almost 2,200,000 messages, and they include plenty of questions about the trash reform. Irina Politova, a volunteer, has been processing all the messages on this topic for almost two weeks.

Irina, how many questions have you studied altogether?

Irina Politova: Probably several thousand.

Natalya Yuryeva: That is, all the messages without exaggeration?

Irina Politova: All of them, but they keep coming up to this day.

Natalya Yuryeva: What worries our people most of all?

Irina Politova: I think the most outrageous problem is unfair fees for trash pickup. The majority of the regions calculate them based on the area of a flat rather than the number of people who live there. As a result, a lonely pensioner from a three-room flat pays more than his neighbours, a family with many children from a small flat.

Natalya Yuryeva: And he has less trash.

Irina Politova: Of course.

Another big problem in the regions is the absence of recycling plants. Landfills are packed; rubbish is flying around, burning, and people are suffocating.

Mr President, there is a collective address to you about this problem from the residents of Selenginsk.

Natalya Yuryeva: And I know that we have photos. Editors, could you please show them on air? It is a pity TV does not transmit smells. Otherwise, it would have been possible to feel the pain of these people.

Irina Politova: Yes, this is a huge problem in the Republic of Buryatia. We received a complaint from 71 people, including veterans of the Great Patriotic War and home-front workers. They are begging you to save their village from an environmental disaster. In the village of Vasilyevskoye, Tver Region, people have to travel three km to get rid of their trash in a neighbouring village because there is simply no dumpster in their own village.

Natalya Yuryeva: Mr President, people are also concerned about why trash is collected separately and then thrown into the same rubbish truck? Also, what can be done to compel the managing companies to stop subverting the trash reform?

Vladimir Putin: The trash reform requires a lot of work throughout the country. It is not the first time that we are addressing this problem, but, as you know, nobody has dealt with it seriously since the Soviet times. True, probably we did not have as much waste in the past as we do now, owing to the transition to a consumer society, as they say.

Now we produce 60 million tonnes of waste every year, and we are only taking the first steps towards resolving this problem. We have received the first investment for the separate collection of 10 million tonnes of trash and for the processing of three million tonnes. As you see, the remainder is huge.

In the years to come, we must build waste incineration plants, although there are certainly problems here, as well. I am aware of the fact that many local residents in the places where these plants are supposed to be built are anxious and have many questions. I want you to be mindful of the fact that no country around the world can do without this kind of waste disposal, and there are types of waste that can be destroyed only by fire. For example, our doctors in the red zones and clinics wear something that is known as a “spacesuit.” It is impossible to dispose of these without incinerating them.

So, in addition to separating trash and the early phases of recycling, we are beginning the practical implementation of these tasks with plans to build five plants. The government is considering the option to expand this programme, it will involve a lot of work, and there are many aspects to it. For example, some packaging manufacturers – and experts are telling us that 50 percent of what we send to the trash can is packaging, for example, cardboard, all kinds of paper – they decided that they could create processing capacity. Glass manufacturers believe that it makes more economic sense to pay a disposal fee, and the Government is now working to build corresponding relations with them in order to collect these funds and use them for recycling this type of waste.

I repeat, this is a major challenge, but we are not going to interrupt these efforts for a second. Of course, the most extreme cases require a prompt response, including the landfills you mentioned. We will try to make note of this for ourselves and respond accordingly in conjunction with the authorities.

But there are things that are absolutely unacceptable. I am talking about what was just said. When – and people are rightfully outraged by this – they make an effort to follow the recommendations of the authorities, separate their trash, and then all of it is dumped and mixed up in a lorry. This is, without a doubt, a lack of proper organisation by the respective operators, who need to be held accountable for their actions. In this case, without doubt, the prompt reaction of residents, public organisations and the Russian Popular Front is of great help.

To put it in a broader perspective, we – I want to return to this subject – will move on to have packaging manufacturers bear expanded responsibility. That is, once you produce the packaging, you will be held responsible for it until it is disposed of properly, either by directly disposing of the packaging, or by paying a certain amount to the state so that it can take care of it itself.

We will try to respond to the most outrageous cases if we have addresses and feedback.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we will continue.

Tatyana Remezova has the floor.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Tatyana Remezova: Thank you, Yekaterina.

Ecology is not just trash processing, it also means clean water and clean air, of course. Omsk has become an anti-leader in this respect, an absolute anti-leader.

Here is just one of the messages: “We are forced to check the air outside the window before taking our child out for a walk,” writes Yevgenia Rogozina from Omsk. Nadeshda Kasatova urges the federal government to move to Omsk: “Let them breathe our odours.”

Let us try to connect Omsk to our live feed. We open Ecology, Environmental Pollution. I see we have a direct video call from Omsk.

Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.

Tatyana Remezova: Hello, you are on the air. The President can hear you.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Vladimir Lifantyev: Hello, Mr President. My name is Vladimir, I am calling from Omsk. Our question is indeed about ecology. In 2018, Omsk was included in the 12 cities – participants in the Ecology national project, the Clean Air federal project. But we have not seen any changes, and now it is June 30, 2021. Total emissions were to decrease by 20 percent as per your executive order, however, we were being poisoned with coal soot, formaldehyde or hydrogen chloride, and excess levels of these pollutants are still being recorded. We have very bad statistics regarding lung diseases, respiratory tract diseases and oncology. Mr President, we are calling on you for help today so that you can use your influence with the companies that are ignoring the May executive orders, and the overall system so that we can take a full breath and stop living in a gas chamber.

(Shouting together.) We are pleading!

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: It is a joint address.

Vladimir Putin: I hear you. Mr Lifantyev and all the others next to you – the adults and children – I have the following to say: I heard there was a suggestion to move the federal government to Omsk; you know, that would not resolve the issue. Moreover, I personally think that certain federal organisations should be moved to Siberia, at least our larger companies and their head offices, which operate in Siberia but pay most of their taxes, unfortunately, in Moscow. However, this is a separate issue.

Regarding the environment. Look, the situation became worse objectively over the decades, not as a result of actions by the Government of the Russian Federation or even new Russian authorities in the broad sense of the word. These enterprises, as you are aware yourselves, have been there for decades, and they are the polluters.

The biggest polluters are industrial companies. The second biggest polluter is the utility system, especially during the heating season if the primary fuel sources are coal or heating oil. And the third is transport.

Indeed, regarding Omsk, it was included in the 12 cities in a difficult situation. But a reduction [of emissions] up to 20 percent is to be in place by 2024, and I really hope that despite all the problems it will happen.

I am perfectly aware that living under such conditions is unfortunate; I understand this perfectly, however, this work is ongoing. Now I will tell you what the local and the central authorities have managed to do and in which areas.

There is more to it than just Omsk being included on the list of the 12 cities where this required reduction of 20 percent by 2024 has been scheduled. Specific actions are being taken. For example, as far as I know, there was a report out there recently – I am aware of the developments and I keep handy the information about what is going on in these 12 cities. Omsk, I believe, has four large landfills, correct?

Vladimir Lifantyev: Six large landfills, and five participants in the Clean Country programme. I could be off with my numbers.

Vladimir Putin: My documents show four large landfills.

The corresponding local and regional authorities can submit an application for action regarding these landfills. The Governor signed two applications. Unfortunately, there are still no applications for two landfills, and this is something that local and regional authorities should certainly focus on, and this work needs to be sped up.

The second thing is you have a large oil refinery operated by GazpromNeft, I believe, and there is a fairly large accumulation of sediment and slag. This matter is still being finalised with the company’s management. It is a powerful and good high-tech company, and they promise to recycle 50 percent of this landfill by 2023.

Why only 50? We need to proceed carefully so as not to stir up this landfill in such a way that it creates even more problems than we already have. But this work will be seen to the end.

Finally, public transport is one of the polluters, as I said earlier. There is some progress. It was decided to upgrade transport in the cities with an unfavourable environmental situation, and Omsk is one of those. We must give credit to the leadership of Omsk Region. The Omsk Region Government has prepared and defended this programme, and it was submitted to the Government, and we will start working on updating urban transport with an eye to reducing emissions.

Overall, the situation calls for taking more drastic action. For example, we are now moving to using the best available technology at our companies. But we can go beyond that. First, the number of Roshydromet stations needs to be increased, it is necessary to set up emissions measurement tools in spite of everything, even though industry officials, including regional officials, are telling us it will be expensive, and to respond accordingly to ongoing developments.

Rest assured that we will continue to work on this. I want to tell you, Mr Lifantyev, and everyone who is standing next to you, and all Omsk residents, that we will keep working on it.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Look, everyone is wearing masks.

Vladimir Putin: You are all wearing masks, which is great, yes.

Vladimir Lifantyev: May I have a quick word?

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Vladimir Lifantyev: It would be great if you could give the supervisory authorities a little more push, because there are enterprises in Omsk that have been ignoring Rosprirodnadzor requirements for nine years now. We have two chemical lakes in our municipality.

Vladimir Putin: I will definitely look at that. Let us agree that I have marked these issues. After all, it is not even about them having more authority. Most importantly, they should respond to these events in a timely manner. We will definitely take a look at what is going on there.

Vladimir Lifantyev: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: No, thank you for paying attention to this and keeping an eye on it, and I strongly hope that you will continue to do so, since public control in these matters is of critical importance.

Nailya Asker-zade: The next question. Mr President, we currently have flash flooding in Crimea, a heat wave in Moscow, and now wildfires in Siberia. “What is going on with the climate? Why has nature gone mad?” a TV viewer is asking you, for some reason.

Vladimir Putin: Where from?

Nailya Asker-zade: Unfortunately, it does not say here.

Vladimir Putin: There is much talk about this all over the world. This is one of the most urgent and most debated topics related to climate change and global warming. Many believe, with good reason, that it is connected primarily to human activity, to emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere, mostly CO2.

Why is the situation so bad? Not because the climate changes periodically in different parts of the Earth but because some people believe that as the climate is changing in different areas and all over the planet, it will approach a dangerous limit, and if people add more, it will contribute to global warming, then irreversible processes may start which could bring our planet to Venus’s condition, where the surface temperature is around 500 degrees Celsius. This is what environmentalists are concerned about, as well those who warn us about these possible developments that are unfavourable for the entire world.

It may be right or wrong, but we must certainly do our best to minimise our contribution to the developments in the global sphere, including in the Universe in general. Because we are part of the Universe, and although we cannot influence what happens there, if there is something we can influence, we must do it.

Let me repeat, global change, global warming is happening in our country even faster than in many other regions of the world. Actually, not just in our country but along that latitude, including the Scandinavian countries. What consequences does this imply for us? There are apparently some advantages, however, but there are significant disadvantages. First, a part of our territory, about 70 percent, is situated in northern latitudes, and there are large areas of permafrost.

As a reminder, permafrost is frozen ground dozens or even hundreds of metres deep, and maybe even up to 1,000 metres in some places. We have towns and villages there as well as infrastructure, and if the permafrost should start to thaw, this would lead to grave social and economic consequences. Of course, we must be prepared for this. This is the first thing I want to say.

The second. Some areas might be overtaken by deserts, including those which are traditionally seen in Russia as land suitable for farming. This also needs to be considered.

We are carrying out all our obligations under international resolutions, including those under the Paris Agreements. Prior to that there were the Kyoto Agreements, and we were also a party to them. We have assumed serious obligations that, in some respects, are not only not inferior to those of the European Union, but even tougher when it comes to the amount of [carbon] emissions to be reduced. I have no doubt we will be doing all this.

Incidentally, this has an effect on the environment and involves the use of the latest modern technology, as well as efforts to ensure environmental safety. We will be doing this in 12 cities, including Omsk, and in other major localities – we will not tell you now how many there will be, it will depend on what is happening there to the environment.

We also have specific plans. For example, the Government has recently developed a plan for a response to more climate change, should it occur, for the most sensitive activities and industries, including residential development and road construction. Clearly, it is one thing to build a road in Krasnodar Territory and quite another in Yakutia; these are different situations which need different approaches and technology. The Government has just developed a response system for the 10 most important critical industries. We will be responding appropriately and contributing to international efforts; we will be doing more to tap our potential for the absorption of CO2 in the atmosphere. Our potential is huge and we will be boosting it. Incidentally, referring to the firefighters who spoke earlier – their role is great because the absorbing capacity of our forests, seas and our part of the ocean is extremely important and we must preserve it. Of course, in this sense their role is also great and what they are doing is very important. But we will be preparing for what inevitably may happen.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, with regard to the climate in international relations, people are asking about relations with our close neighbours. Let us give the floor to Balashikha.

Yerem Harutyunyan: Mr President,

I am Yerem Harutyunyan, an 11th grade student from Balashikha, outside Moscow.

Before I ask my question, I would like to once again emphasise the crucial role of the Russian Federation and yours personally in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and to thank you for this.

Here is my question: can Russia guarantee Nagorno-Karabakh residents’ safety?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, Yerem, Russia has played a specfic role in resolving this very serious crisis.

No one is interested in seeing it continue: neither Azerbaijan, nor Armenia, let alone Nagorno-Karabakh residents, because the other side of the matter is that if we all live in peace and friendship, then we will create proper conditions for improving people’s lives, not only in terms of security, but also in the current circumstances. I mean normal lives for families, for economic and social development, which, of course, the Karabakh people need, because it is impossible to live thinking all the time that an armed conflict can reignite any time. We understand this very well. The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan understand this as well.

Yes, there is a backlog of issues. There are issues related to rebuilding the infrastructure. There are issues related to demarcation of the border in order to carry out appropriate work on the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, especially in places where a border has never existed as such and was only an administrative border between the union republics.

We are now in the process of doing this. We have created a special trilateral group with Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. We will do our best to restore normal relations in the region. The people of Nagorno-Karabakh should be the beneficiaries of this work. I would like to think that this will be the case despite the difficulties that have been piling up for decades.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Elections to the State Duma will be held in Russia in September. You addressed the congress of the United Russia party. Why are you supporting the party of power so consistently, and what is your opinion of the outgoing parliament’s performance?

Vladimir Putin: Let us begin with the outgoing parliament, and I will speak about the party of power later.

I believe that the parliament of the seventh convocation did not just work in a satisfactory manner but at the appropriate level. The results of this work were fully in keeping with the circumstances and the requirements set to Russia’s supreme representative and legislative body.

It is clear what I am referring to. I mean that for a long time, this past time, the deputies have been working in conditions of the pandemic. They had to continue working despite the threats and challenges, including to their lives and health. They had to gather in the voting hall and make decisions bearing on the most important spheres of the country’s development. They needed to provide assistance to people, to families, enterprises and entire economic sectors. If this had not been done, the situation in Russia would have been much more complicated. As you are aware, and nearly everyone supports this view, we covered the worst part of the road with losses, but not as dramatical as in many other countries, including thanks to the State Duma deputies from all factions, which I would like to emphasise. About 25 percent of the members of parliament caught the coronavirus, and four passed away. But the deputies continued working and doing their duty. I believe that they deserve respect and gratitude not only from me but also from the voters who will come to polling stations in September.

As for the party of power, everyone knows that life is not all about fun and giving away money. It is very easy and pleasant to throw money around, just like the sower on the famous painting. But the seeds will eventually run out, and it is not a fact that they will germinate. Therefore, decisions must be made with a clear vision, as people say, professionally and with a sense of responsibility for the decisions made.

I would like to say once again that a vast number of decisions were made in the 1990s just to please the public, and these decisions were made by those who knew that they could not be implemented. What is this? This is deceiving the voters, deceiving our citizens so as to present oneself as the defender of the people and later to shift the blame for failure to implement these decisions onto someone else. As I said, they usually knew in advance that their decisions could not be implemented.

This is not how United Russia is acting, even when we adopt unpopular decisions that are necessary for the people and the future of the country. United Russia deputies do so, even if it can damage them. Because it is sometimes impossible to explain some decisions in detail, even though they are necessary. As I said, we need to do this. But all of this, the work of United Russia is creating a solid foundation of the Russian statehood in terms of the guaranteed adoption of the decisions the country needs. This is why, and also because I was the founder, the creator of this party, it is logical that I support it. Ultimately, this conversation and my answer to your question show that I intend to support the party during its election campaign.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Thank you.

Let us go to the Message Processing Centre and ask our colleagues if they are getting bored. How is it going, girls, Tatyana?

Tatyana Remezova: No, Nailya, we are not bored at all. We receive very many questions when the President goes on air. You understand how rapidly the number of requests increases when people see that this is live streaming, real-time communication with the President.

Mr President, the European football championship is underway. You mentioned it at the beginning, but people continue asking questions. Here is one of them: “Mr President, the Russian national team has not gotten out of the group at EURO 2020. Some time ago, our hockey team tumbled out of the world championship in the quarter-finals. What is your personal view of this embarrassment? Russia, which has a population of 147 million, must show different results. Thank you.” This question came from Svetlana Tokareva in Lipetsk.

Vladimir Putin: This is what sport is like. There can be triumphs, and there can be losses and failures. But it is a fact that our hockey team, not to mention the football team, did badly, and this cannot go unnoticed.

I will not go into detail now; we have specialists for that. Although I am a master of two sports, sambo and judo, I do not consider myself a specialist in hockey or football, and so we must trust the specialists. But in such cases, as they say, “nothing personal,” this can happen to anyone.

But we simply need to think about what positive things have been done by those who are responsible for the performance of our national teams, we must put our heads together to think what must be changed when it comes to both hockey and football players, and move on, without crying over spilt milk but hoping for the best.

We certainly have a good potential.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, sport can be recreational for some people. But many others believe that recreation means traveling. Maybe many of those who are watching us now do not want to sit in front of their television sets but would rather go to the seaside or a health resort. Of course, COVID has closed the borders one way or another. On the other hand, many people have discovered their own country, and more than that.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Yes, they have also discovered problems, because prices in Crimea, Sochi and on Lake Baikal are sometimes higher than abroad, while the quality of services is below foreign standards.

I suggest taking up the issue of tourism, in particular, internal tourism. Shall we take a question from Kirov? What does this girl want to ask?

Good afternoon, Alyona. You are on air.

Alyona Maslennikova: Good afternoon, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.

Alyona Maslennikova: Mr President, please tell me why is it more expensive to spend a vacation at a Russian resort than abroad? For instance, for 35,000–40,000 rubles, we can fly to Turkey on an all-inclusive tour. It will include a four-star hotel, three meals a day, picturesque views, and the clearest sea. In Sochi, for the same amount of money, you will get a three-star hotel, with only breakfasts included, and the sea will be so unclean that it can give you various infections. Many holidaymakers complain about illnesses after visiting the Black Sea coast. I think this is why Russian tourists do not want to visit the Russian south, especially if they have been abroad and can see the difference for themselves. Even if they cannot visit Turkey, they will stay away from Russia’s overpriced southern resorts.

Vladimir Putin: What can I say, Alyona? The answer is out in the open. Unfortunately, very little money has been invested in the development of our tourist capacities and infrastructure for a very long time. People preferred to travel abroad as soon as this opportunity was available to them.

Tourism export is huge in Russia; in 2019 alone, our tourists spent $36 billion on travelling abroad. It is a huge sum. The state, unfortunately, did not invest.

We have a programme designed to develop domestic tourism, there is a cashback project for tourists, and there is the task of developing the tourist infrastructure. We have recently created a state corporation for domestic tourism. It will be responsible for tourist projects and provide cheap loans with the possibility of later transfering its share to private entrepreneurs at market prices. The first steps have already been taken and domestic tourism is growing.

As for overpriced services, yes, it seems to be relevant. But why is this happening today? Most foreign countries, despite the fact that some of them are opening, are still closed. People are cautious about travelling abroad. In fact, they are right because these countries keep changing their rules every day. Greece yesterday had certain rules and tomorrow they will change. First, they required vaccination certificates, now they want PCR tests, and tomorrow they will want something else because the European Commission also has its own requirements. It is impossible to get to a hospital there. What is this going to lead to? It will lead to an excessive load on our tourist infrastructure, above all, in the south, in Krasnodar Territory and Crimea. As soon as supply cannot keep up with demand, prices tend to rise. It is how market economy works.

I strongly hope that we will increase our capacities, including in the ways I have mentioned; 50 projects are already being considered and we are going to increase this number.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Let us proceed.

Mr President, a question from Miscellaneous and Personal, one of my favourites.

Vladimir Putin: Please.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: It is about recreation again.

“Mr President, do you sing when you are not working? If so, which songs do you sing?”

Vladimir Putin: (Laughs) Yes, it is about recreation again.

First of all, I have little time for recreation, and second, as we say, when people are winding down, they get together, and then they have a drink, and if they do they also sing. I am a Russian, after all, and so I am not much different from the majority of our people in this sense. What songs? I sing Russian, Soviet songs. They are melodic, beautiful and meaningful.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Let us go to the Message Processing Centre.

Natalya, can you hear me?

Natalya Yuryeva: Yes, thank you. I believe that those who have sent us the following questions would definitely sing The Roads. The majority of text messages include photographs of roads, or rather their absence.

For example, if we take a look at the image we received from the village of Alekseyevka in Smolensk Region, we will be unable to see either a bridge or a road. They are there, but they have been flooded.

And this is the road leading to School No. 39 in Taganrog.

The residents of Nizhnekamsk have measured the depth of the potholes in their roads: 25 centimetres.

Let us watch a video address not from Venice, but from Lesosibirsk. Its roads have become canals or even rivers.

Natalya Prokopyeva: Good afternoon.

Mr President,

I am addressing you on behalf of the residents of Borovoi district of Lesosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory. We are asking you to help us resolve this problem.

This is the road running through our area. When the road across the railway line was repaired last year, the water drain pipe was not laid correctly. Now water is not being drained, but is rising with every passing day. This is how vehicles drive on this road, at their own risk and peril.

We have appealed to the city administration several times, but we have not yet received a single reply regarding our problem. We are asking you to help us.

Vladimir Putin: Ms Prokopyeva, we know about the problem with roads; we are constantly hearing about it.

What can I tell you and the other people who come across similar problems, because many people in the country, in various regions are listening to us? Our roads are divided into several categories: federal roads, regional roads and local roads. We have about 60,000 kilometres of federal roads, if memory serves, and over 500,000 kilometres of regional roads. There are about a million kilometres of local roads.

With regard to federal motorways, during the first phase, the state engaged precisely with these, because these are the main motorways that are used for hauling goods and transporting people; they form the backbone of the entire network. About 85 percent of them have been brought up to code. By 2024, 50 percent of the regional motorways must be brought up to code as well, and then up to 80–85 percent of the regional motorways must be brought to code.

Different approaches are being used, including full cycle, where they build and then do the roadworks themselves. In your particular case, you should have done just that, so that, as part of the full cycle project, those who built this road also do the maintenance. Meaning that they built it, so let them get on and do the maintenance at their own expense. Clearly, this is an oversight on behalf of those who built this road.

I will definitely have a word with Governor Alexander Uss and we will see what can be done about it. The funds are available. I am confident the region has funds as well. If needed, we will, of course, tap into the federal funds, but we will resolve your issue.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, the question that came to our website from Natalia Skarynina from Chelyabinsk is also about infrastructure: “Use your influence to improve the mass transit situation in our city. The metro has remained an unfinished construction project since the Soviet times.”

Vladimir Putin: Well, yes.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “So many years have gone by without them doing anything about it, we hear nothing but promises. We are not just a village, but a city with a million-plus residents.”

Vladimir Putin: Well, yes. Is Ms Skarynina listening?

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: We received this message on the website.

Vladimir Putin: This is a well-known story. Indeed, this is unfinished construction, a legacy of Soviet times. It is not the only city of this size to face this kind of a problem. Krasnoyarsk, which I just mentioned, has the same problem.

Deputy Prime Minister Khusnullin traveled to Chelyabinsk on my instruction to get acquainted with the situation there. He reported to me that the issue had been worked through. It should be a hybrid transport service, a cross between the metro and the tram. The central parts, where it is more convenient, should be serviced by the underground lines. These should then come to the surface as the transit lines move away from the centre. It will cost over 40 billion rubles. We have the money to cover this construction not only in Chelyabinsk, but other cities facing the same problem as well.

To reiterate, these funds will be allocated for the infrastructure projects. The amount of funds is quite large at 500 billion rubles. Matters of this kind, including the one in Chelyabinsk, have not only been taken into consideration. The approximate scope of work is quite clear, we have the resources, and all we need to do is start this work just like we did in other cities facing the same issues.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest we move on to the Economy. You have announced the extension of the easy-term mortgage lending programme. It will continue in a slightly adjusted form. Do you think this programme has increased housing prices and, thus, the investment effort benefitted the construction rather than the buyers?

Let me give you an example. Last year, prices in new blocks of flats rose by 12 percent. In Krasnodar Territory, the price of 1 square metre has increased by 53 percent this year alone. We received a message from Belgorod: a flat cost 1.5 million, now it costs 3.5 million. Of course, there were other reasons that affected the housing prices, but do you not think that the mortgage lending terms also had a role to play in this?

Vladimir Putin: Then, I want to counter: would it be better not to have done this? By the way, I myself drew attention to this at a Government meeting, it can be easily verified. I just said that we must keep in mind that when we introduce these preferential mechanisms, we must ensure that the market, in this case the construction market, takes them in a proper way so that they do not lead to a price rise. Unfortunately, this is to a certain extent unavoidable since it is based on supply and demand.

Still, these are easy-term loans, despite an increase in prices, which is there, indeed, it is true (although the causes may differ and include the rise in metal prices, other things and inflation, in general). Nevertheless, this easy-term mortgage lending programme played its positive role: housing construction rates and the number of loans increased sharply. More than 500,000 people used this programme. Therefore, we decided to extend it. It will now be 7 percent, not 6.5 percent, for the next year until the summer of 2022, I believe.

Nailya Asker-zade: The amount has changed too.

Vladimir Putin: The amount has been changed. In any case, this programme has been preserved, that is what matters most. Again, they raised it a little, by half of a percentage point.

At the same time, we have retained the benefits associated with providing and helping families with children. The initial benefit was for families with two children, and more recently we decided to extend this benefit to families (at 6 percent) where a child was born in the period since January 2018, the first child. Therefore, I hope that expanded benefits will still be beneficial and the people will be able to take advantage of them.

In the Russian Far East, a certain group of our citizens have access to super-easy mortgage loans at 2 percent APR. Therefore, it is necessary, of course, to increase market supply and to monitor the prices of building materials and other products.

There are also problems associated with labour shortages. During the pandemic, we limited access for labour from the former republics of the Soviet Union, including Central Asia, which also affected the cost of housing, no matter how strange it may seem to someone. But we will continue this work.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, what do you think about this, as you put it, counter hit? A text message asks: Who is the President subordinate to?

Vladimir Putin: To the Russian people, to the voters.

When people come to vote, they make their choice at every level – local, regional or national. And in this case, of course, the President, the head of state obeys the people who have given him their special trust.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest we choose one question on the wall. For example, the Defence and Security category. Let us see, Fighting Crime.

I can see that we have a direct video call from Moscow. Shall we try it?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, please.

Nailya Asker-zade: Hello, please speak up, you are on live.

Rinat Bilyalov: Hello, Mr President.

Vladimir Putin: Hello.

Rinat Bilyalov: My question is rather short.

Today, swindlers are offering fake vaccination certificates or vaccination contraindication certificates. How are you planning to deal with these swindlers?

Vladimir Putin: They are swindlers, pure and simple.

There are Criminal Code articles punishing swindling.

It is just that the law enforcers need to work more efficiently.

They know about this, and so does the Interior Minister. I talked to him about this quite recently. They are working, of course, and they are looking for them. Hopefully they will bring them to justice. This is a very dangerous type of crime. In this case it is also linked to people’s health. It is absolutely unacceptable and the law enforcers should use the entire arsenal at their disposal in order to prevent these offences.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: People in Moscow have been using QR codes to visit cafes for several days now. And, of course, these swindlers are in ever growing demand.

Vladimir Putin: Right, right. The Interior Ministry is aware of this and intends to fight it.

Nailya Asker-zade: I suggest we go back to the vaccination theme, if in a different context: “Please supply an anti-COVID vaccine to the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic. Thank you very much in advance.” This is a message from Vasily Kuprinenko.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is a matter requiring careful consideration. I think several thousand – some 90 thousand – doses of vaccine have been supplied already. But I hear you. An additional shipment will be made.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, we have been working for over three hours now, or maybe even more. Let us move over to the blitz Q&A: short questions and short answers.

Vladimir Putin: Fine.

Nailya Asker-Zade: “Do you keep up your foreign language skills? If so, what mistakes do you make most often in German?”

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: No mistakes?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, I make mistakes; after all, it is not my native tongue. But the main problem is that I am gradually forgetting words. You see, language is like a musical instrument: you must practice every day to keep up a certain level. Regrettably, I do not have this opportunity now. And my vocabulary is gradually decreasing.

Nailya Asker-Zade: What about English?

Vladimir Putin: The same, only worse.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Mr President, which of your school teachers do you remember best?”

Vladimir Putin: Tamara Chizhova; I still remember her. She was my teacher from first to fourth grade. She was very kind. I remember her to this day. Vera Gurevich, my teacher from fifth to eighth grade. I still keep in touch with her.

Nailya Asker-Zade: “What was the best period in the history of our country?”

Vladimir Putin: There were many glorious periods in the history of Russia, even back before Peter the Great, who implemented major reforms, which changed the country. The reign of Catherine the Great was a period of our largest territorial acquisitions. And during the reign of Alexander I Russia became a superpower, as we say now. It is an obvious fact. Therefore, we can and must study all these eras and also many other periods. We must remember this, revere the memory of those who achieved these outstanding results, and try to measure up to their examples.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Mr President, who starches up your shirt collars and irons your shirts?” A question from Moscow.

Vladimir Putin: You see, there is a dry cleaners’ where I live, in Ogaryovo, and it really is…

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: …the best? By the way, this is paid promotion. (Laughter)

Vladimir Putin: I do not know how to describe it. But the people who work there, women… Thank you for this question. Why? Because you have given me an opportunity to thank them, express my gratitude to them. I see them very rarely, but I always admire the results of their work. I am not being ironic. When I put these shirts on, they look brand new to me, right off the shelf. Thank you very much. Of course, you must look your best, just like our moderators, at such events as we are having today, when millions of people are watching us.

Nailya Asker-zade: “Mr President, how do you cope with adversity?”

Vladimir Putin: Do you know what I am used to and how I feel about it? First, any adversity should be taken as something inevitable, because people in my position should operate on the premise that this is an absolutely natural part of what I do. Most importantly, one should believe in the correctness of the course that one is following. In that case, like an icebreaker, one can go through ice of any thickness, fully aware of what is going on around you, but not paying much attention to it and striving to achieve the goal that one has set for oneself.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Is your main achievement as President of Russia still ahead or already behind?”

Vladimir Putin: I hope it lies ahead.

Nailya Asker-zade: “You have quoted Mowgli and Twelve Chairs more than once. What are the three works of art that impressed you and influenced you the most?”

Vladimir Putin: Let us say it is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Tchaikovsky’s First Concerto for piano and orchestra, and Kolobok [Russian fairy tale].

Why? I want all my colleagues in high offices to pay attention to this story. Why? Because as soon as you, my dear colleagues, begin to take flattery for the truth and sink into this atmosphere under the influence of what they are telling you, you risk being eaten.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: “Mr. President, what does one need to be happy?”

Vladimir Putin: First … Right, I will try to be brief.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: No, this is a serious question, we still have time.

Nailya Asker-zade: This is a philosophical question.

Vladimir Putin: It is. I think that to be happy, you need to feel needed and to be able to fulfill your potential.

Nailya Asker-zade: “Where will you work after you retire?”

Vladimir Putin: Why work after retirement? I will sit near a woodstove and relax.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: ”How do you feel about diets?“

Vladimir Putin: Diets? You know, I have a rule of thumb – you can call it a diet, if you like: everything is good in moderation.

Nailya Asker-zade: Not only in eating.

“What games did you like to play when you were little?”

Vladimir Putin: I am tempted to say chess, but, unfortunately, it was not chess.

Nailya Asker-zade: The game, Cops and Robbers?

Vladimir Putin: Just like everyone else did, probably, in the then Leningrad backyards: hide-and-seek and tag.

Nailya Asker-zade: Here comes the last question: what kind of Russia do you dream about to pass on to the next generation?

Vladimir Putin: A question that I would like to answer with beautiful and colourful catchwords, and I do have them. But in this particular case I would like to give a more detailed answer, if I may. May I?

Nailya Asker-zade: Yes, of course, we still have time.

Vladimir Putin: You know, I will begin with something sad, namely, once upon a time our common homeland, the Soviet Union, disintegrated. The nucleus of that common state, of that historical Russia, namely the Russian Federation itself, is known to have lost almost half of its industrial potential, half of its economy – nearly 50 percent – approximately the same percentage of its population and a considerable part of its territory, a part that was important in the industrial and economic respects, a territory with a well-developed infrastructure, in which historical Russia had invested its resources not only for decades, but also for centuries.

And what has to be done about all this? I have already commented on that: it makes no sense to restore the Soviet Union. It is impossible and senseless for a number of reasons, and is also inexpedient, if we keep in mind, say, the demographic processes in certain republics of the former Soviet Union. Otherwise we may face insoluble social problems and even the erosion of the state-forming ethnic nucleus.

So, what should we do in Russia proper? How should we approach the geopolitical realities and domestic development? Look, despite the losses I have mentioned, Russia is still the biggest country in the world in terms of territory. And even though much of its territory lies in the northern latitudes, nevertheless, this is also important, keeping in mind the Northern Sea Route and much else. This is my first point.

Second, Russia is, without any doubt, a world treasure trove of various mineral resources, and this can and must be used cleverly. This too is a huge competitive advantage for us.

But our chief gold reserve is not even the $600-odd billion that has been accumulated by our Gobsecks at the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry. Russia’s chief gold reserve is its people. This is not mere rhetoric, nor a statement intended to ingratiate myself with others. I am sincerely convinced that this is really so.

After all, our people, the multiethnic population of Russia, are, firstly, highly spiritual and possess deep historical and cultural roots. This is always important, but in the modern world – I will explain why right away – this is important doubly and triply so. This is emerging as some almost tangible and even economic substance. And the following is the reason why. The world of today is based on high technologies that constitute the future of the entire world, including this country. If so, this deep-down principle, the innate spirituality of the Russians and other ethnic groups of the Russian Federation is highly important because at heart we nurture a considerable respectful attitude towards science and education. This has to do with our culture.

Today, 60 percent of parents in our country would like their children to take up science, even though you cannot earn as much in this sphere as in business, but they nevertheless want their children to become scientists. It is very telling.

The future of humankind is connected with this: with genetics, biology in the broad sense of the word, information technology, artificial intelligence and everything else at the junction of these disciplines. And we have huge competitive advantages there. If we ensure internal stability, which external forces have always been trying to disrupt, if we attain this internal stability our success will be inevitable. And we will be able to say proudly and with good reason that we live in a state that is domestically an attractive place to live in, and we will have reason to say that we live in a country which we consider great. In my opinion, this is very important. This inner feeling of our citizens and inner attitude to Russia is important and, in itself, is a vital guarantee that Russia will definitely attain all the goals it sets for itself.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Mr President, thank you very much for this long and substantive conversation.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Let us believe that this is how it will be in our country.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: I would like to thank our colleagues, Natalya Yuryeva and Tatyana Remezova, who worked with the volunteers. Our special thanks go to the volunteers, who received a huge number of questions. We would not have succeeded without you.

Vladimir Putin: For my part, I would like to thank our listeners and viewers, and the participants of our discussion and meeting today.

I would like to assure you once again and say what I said at the beginning: we will try to make sure that not a single question goes unnoticed, even if we could not discuss it during this conversation.

I would like once again to thank the moderators for their coordinated work today. Thank you.

Yekaterina Berezovskaya: Thank you.

Nailya Asker-Zade: Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at the Primakov Readings International Forum, via videoconference, Moscow, June 9, 2021

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at the Primakov Readings International Forum, via videoconference, Moscow, June 9, 2021

June 10, 2021

Mr Dynkin,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Friends,

I am grateful for the invitation to speak again at the Primakov Readings International Forum. It is one of the most highly respected international venues for a committed professional dialogue, although probably the youngest. I would like to thank the leadership of Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) for suggesting the idea of this forum and for the commendable organisation of this year’s event amid the COVID-19 restrictions.

I would like to welcome all the forum’s participants, who represent the Russian and international community of experts and political analysts. A dialogue on all aspects of the current international order is especially important at this stage.

These readings are integrally connected with the intellectual heritage of Yevgeny Primakov, an outstanding statesman. It was during his term as the Foreign Minister of Russia that the principles of Russia’s current foreign policy were formulated. These principles are independence, pragmatism, a multi-vector approach, respect for international law and openness to cooperation with anyone who is willing to interact on the basis of equality and mutual respect.These principles have been incorporated in the Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, which was approved in 2000 after Vladimir Putin’s election as President of Russia and subsequently modified. The current wording of the Concept was adopted in 2016. But the principles I have mentioned, which Academician Primakov formulated, remain effective to this day.

Russia’s major advantage is that these principles allow us to ensure the predictability and sustainability of our foreign policy. This is especially important now that the world order is at an extremely contradictory stage of its development marked by increased turbulence. But as a Chinese saying goes, such periods also offer enormous opportunities, which we must make use of to boost cooperation in the interests of all nations. We can see that positive trends are gaining momentum. I would like to mention in this context primarily the strengthening of the new centres of economic and political influence and the promotion of democracy in interstate relations in general. Incidentally, Yevgeny Primakov predicted this process back in the middle of the 1990s in his concept of a multipolar world.

Russia will energetically promote the continuation of the peaceful movement towards a polycentric world based on the leading states’ collective guidance of efforts to resolve global problems. But we are also realists and hence cannot disregard the stubborn, and I would even say aggressive unwillingness of our Western colleagues to accept this objective reality. We cannot disregard the striving of the collective West to ensure itself a privileged international position at all costs. The results of the upcoming G7, NATO and US-EU summits will be a gauge of the current mentality in the leading Western countries.

Not only Russia but also many others face the situation where the West’s representatives are unprepared for an honest, facts-based dialogue, preferring to act in the “highly likely” spirit. There are many instances of this approach. This is certain to undermine trust in the very idea of dialogue as a method of settling differences and to erode the capabilities of diplomacy as a crucial foreign policy tool.

The zeal, with which our Western colleagues started promoting the notorious “rules-based world order” concept, looks even more irrational and devoid of prospects.  Rules are always needed. Let me remind you that the UN Charter is also a body of rules, but these rules have been universally accepted and coordinated by all members of the international community, and they are not called into question by anyone. This is called international law. The UN Charter is the main part of international law and its foundation. While dodging the term “international law” and using instead the expression “rules-based world order,” our Western colleagues have in mind a totally different thing: they want to develop certain West-centric concepts and approaches to be later palmed off as an ideal of multilateralism and the ultimate truth. These actions are undertaken in areas such as chemical weapons, journalism, cyber security, and international humanitarian law.  There are universal organisations dealing with all these issues, but our colleagues, primarily in the EU as well as in the United States, are eager to promote their own concept in each of these areas.  If asked why this is not being done at the top organisation of multilateralism, the UN, they give no clear answer. We understand that it is, of course, more difficult to advance some initiatives of theirs and reach agreements in a universal format, where there are not only the “docile” members of the Western club but also Russia, China, India, Brazil and African countries. We will see how this “rules-based world order” concept will be reflected in the outcomes of the events that have already been announced, including the so-called Summit for Democracy announced by US President Joe Biden, or in the initiatives in the area of multilateralism announced by President of France Emmanuel Macron and a number of other leaders.

I am confident that we cannot ignore the incontrovertible fact that the present world order is a sum of agreements between the countries that won World War II. Russia will object to those wishing to cast doubt on the outcome of that war. We cannot and will not play up to those who would like to reverse the natural course of history. We, incidentally, have no superpower ambitions, no matter how hard some people try to convince themselves and everyone else of the opposite. Nor do we have the messianic zeal, with which our Western colleagues are attempting to spread their axiological “democratising” agenda to the rest of the world.It has long been clear to us that the outside imposition of development models will do no good. Look at the Middle East, Northern Africa, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan.

A specific feature of the current situation is that the coronavirus pandemic has greatly accelerated the events, helping to settle existing problems and at the same time creating new ones.  I am referring to the global economic decline, destroyed industrial and marketing chains, growing isolationism and geopolitical opportunism. This common trouble is also reminding us, through growing problems, about the unprecedented connection between all members of the international community. Nobody can weather it out in a safe haven. This is probably one of the main lessons we must draw from what is happening.

Russia calls for cooperation with everyone, as I have already mentioned, on the basis of mutual respect, equality and a balance of interests. We are aware of the value of each international partner, both in bilateral relations and in the multilateral format. We value our friendship with everyone who reciprocates this feeling and is willing to look for honest agreements, without ultimatums and unilateral demands.

The issues we are ready to discuss cover nearly all important spheres of life: security, trade, environmental protection, climate change, digital transformation, artificial intelligence and plenty more.

Russia is promoting its ideas in Eurasia. The principles I have mentioned underlie the operation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). These associations are based exclusively on the principle of voluntary participation, equality and the common good. There are no “bosses” and “subordinates” in them. These organisations have creative goals and are not spearheaded against anyone, and neither do they claim to spread their narrow values throughout the world, demanding that absolutely all states without exception comply with them, as some other integration structures are doing.

Our unconditional priorities include the strengthening of our comprehensive interaction with China. This year we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation between Russia and China. Another similar goal is to promote our privileged strategic partnership with India. This is how it is defined in the documents that were adopted at the top level. We are expanding our cooperation with ASEAN nations and other Asian-Pacific countries. We are doing this within the framework of the unification philosophy, which constitutes the basis of President Vladimir Putin’s initiative of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. It is open to absolutely all countries of our common Eurasian continent, and the membership of this association will dramatically increase the comparative advantages of all Eurasian countries in this highly competitive world upon the assumption that they will make good use of their natural, God-given advantages and will not try to create new or deepen the existing dividing lines on our continent.

Both China and India support, in principle, the concept of the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which I have already mentioned. Its merits have been highly assessed at the SCO. We are discussing it with ASEAN nations. We are also open for discussions with the EU as our natural neighbour on this huge continent.

I believe that forums such as the Primakov Readings provide ideal venues for discussing any related ideas. There can be alternative approaches by all means, but we would like our discussions to be focused on the future in the interests of all countries of this vast region.

Russia will actively continue to facilitate the settlement of international conflicts. We are working in Syria and helping the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to restore peaceful life after we stopped the bloodshed there. We are taking a vigorous part in international efforts to achieve a settlement in Afghanistan, Libya, around Iran, the Korean Peninsula and many other hot spots.

I am referring to this not to attract attention to our achievements. We do not have an inferiority complex (just as we do not have a superiority complex in global politics) but we are always ready to help those who need assistance. This is our historical mission that is rooted in the centuries of our ancient history. Therefore, we will continue working to this end even on those problems that seem insoluble at first sight like a settlement in the Middle East. We are actively trying to restore the work of the Quartet of International Mediators and promoting the concept of ensuring collective security in the area of the Persian Gulf. We are willing to host a meeting of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Moscow as soon as possible. Now it is necessary to wait for the results of the internal political processes in Israel. It is very unfortunate that no attention was paid to our repeated reminders over many years that the concept of normalising Israeli-Arab relations cannot be carried out at the expense of the Palestinian problem. I believe that this is a very serious problem that will only continue to get worse.

We are actively working to coordinate the rules of responsible conduct in the information space now in the UN’s multilateral format. We are promoting cooperation in countering the coronavirus. I would like to emphasise that contrary to the Western allegations, we are invariably interested in pragmatic, mutually beneficial relations with all parties, including the West, be it the United States, its NATO allies or the EU. We are promoting a package of initiatives to prevent the complete collapse of the agreements and understanding in disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation after the Americans destroyed many treaties, for instance, START-3. We suggested a voluntary moratorium on the deployment of the missiles covered by it at least in Europe. Despite our proposals on verifying the moratorium, the West continues avoiding any honest discussion. In much the same manner, NATO has been literally talking our ear off for over two years in response to our very specific proposals aimed at reducing tension and military threat along the entire Russia-NATO contact line.

We are willing to work with any partner but there will be no one-sided game. Neither sanctions nor ultimatums will help anyone talk with us and reach any agreements.

In conclusion, I will quote these words by Yevgeny Primakov: “A strong Russia should not be seen as a threat to world stability. Only the inertia of thinking may suggest the conclusion about a threat emanating from Russia…”

Russia will never give up its fundamental values and will be true to its spiritual sources and its stabilising role in world politics.Therefore, we will continue doing everything for the firm, non-confrontational promotion of our national interests and developing cooperation with as many countries as possible.

I would like to emphasise only one idea: do not interpret our willingness for dialogue with any partner as a weakness. President of Russia Vladimir Putin stressed recently in his response to Western ultimatums that we will determine ourselves the red lines in relations with our Western partners and will primarily uphold our views on the world arrangement, on how to develop international relations in full conformity with the principles fixed in the UN Charter rather than some agreements between a narrow circle of parties.

Question: A question from Wolfgang Schussel, head of the Dialog-Europe-Russia forum and Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria in 2000-2007. The leaders’ summit for Russia and the United States is invariably a major international event that introduces new vectors into the work of the diplomats, the military and business on specific issues. The meetings are not always successful like, for example, the most recent summit in Helsinki with the 45th US President Donald Trump. We hope this time everything will be different. President Biden is interested in arms control and resuming the Iranian nuclear deal.

What are your expectations for a possible new agenda after the meeting of the two leaders in any area, in particular, cyberspace, autonomous weapons, or the regional conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and North Korea?

Sergey Lavrov: I am happy to greet my good friend Wolfgang Schussel. I thank him for the question.

We have repeatedly made our position known in connection with the upcoming summit in Geneva on June 16. We do not set our expectations high, nor do we entertain any illusions about potential “breakthroughs.” But there is an objective need for an exchange of views at the highest level on what threats Russia and the United States, as the two largest nuclear powers, see in the international arena. The fact that a conversation is happening between the leaders of the two leading nuclear powers is, of course, important. We strongly support this approach by our US colleagues.

Clearly, normalisation of Russian-US relations, I’ll stress this again, can only be possible if the principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs are observed. This is a prerequisite not only for maintaining a normal, predictable and steady dialogue (which the Americans claim they want), but it is also important for removing the accumulated issues of confrontation between our countries. We are ready for a candid conversation like this.

I hope that in preparation for the summit, those who are now dealing with Russia in the Biden administration (they used to say “Sovietology,” which would now be called “Russology, I would guess,” though it would be nice if it was “Russophilia”), will finally appreciate the actions, interests and position of the Russian Federation, and our red lines, and will be willing to correct the mistakes in recent years and will not conduct a dialogue solely from a position that claims hegemony in global affairs.

Clearly, any dialogue is better than no dialogue.But if a hegemonic mindset continues to determine the US’s position, if our colleagues from the United States continue to follow in the footsteps of their own propaganda, which deafens the US elite as well, then there’s not much we can expect from this summit. In any case, I think it is important to have a candid exchange of views at the highest level, even if there are differences that many believe are insurmountable.

We share an interest in strategic stability. We have fairly strong contacts on how to approach this area of ​​international politics at this point. Frankly, we advocate a comprehensive approach and taking into account all, without exception, factors influencing strategic stability in our dialogue with the United States. I mean nuclear and non-nuclear, and offensive and defensive weapons. Anything that affects strategic stability must be discussed during a dialogue.

The Americans have a much narrower approach. They are only interested in certain aspects of our nuclear triad and are not inclined, at least at this point, to agree on a comprehensive concept that would include everything without exception.

I hope that, based on the preliminary work and consultations in preparation for this summit, President Vladimir Putin and President Joseph Biden will be able to determine a strategic policy for future work in these areas.

Mr Schussel mentioned cyber security as well. We have no shortage of goodwill here. Ever since 2016, when the Obama administration began accusing us of “meddling” in their elections, we have suggested dozens of times sitting down and laying out specific facts and concerns that both sides have in a professional and trust-based manner. What we received was a strong refusal to do so. Now, I hope, we will discuss this matter and see to what extent the Biden administration is ready to do sincere work in this area.

You mentioned Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and North Korea. We maintain communication on all these matters, especially Afghanistan, North Korea and certain aspects of the Syria crisis and the situation in Libya. Together with the Americans, we are participating in internationally recognised multilateral forums. I’m referring to the talks on the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and what we call the expanded Troika on Afghanistan (Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan).

There is a bilateral mechanism for Syria, primarily dealing with deconfliction. We always emphasise the US’s illegal presence on Syrian soil, especially since it includes plundering Syria’s natural resources and taking advantage of its oil fields and farm land. They use the proceeds to support (everyone is aware of this) separatism on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River thus flirting with a very dangerous problem – I mean the Kurdish problem. These games could come to a sticky end.

Since the US armed forces and combat aircraft are present in Syria, we have a deconflicting mechanism maintained by our respective defence ministries. In addition, sometimes we also have political consultations on how to move forward. We would welcome the United States resuming its participation as an observer in the Astana format and, in general, being more committed to the key principles of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on the Syrian settlement.

The summit has no agreed upon agenda on paper. Sometimes our colleagues from the European Union (at a time when we still had relations and interaction bodies) focused on the word-for-word, scrupulous coordination of each item, which should then become the agenda of the negotiations. We didn’t have this with the Americans. We just listed the topics that the parties intended to touch on. We are doing the same this time. The work continues. It won’t be a long wait. I think things will become clear soon.We are interested in positive results from the summit, but, as they say, it takes two to tango. And if one party is break dancing, tangoing becomes a more difficult proposition.

Question: The Trump administration threw out the mechanism of the INF Treaty. Russia responded with an unprecedented act of goodwill. The Russian leaders sent a proposal to the United States and NATO to introduce a moratorium on the deployment of medium and shorter-range missiles in Europe. The Trump administration did not respond. There was only a weak reaction from European capitals. Is it possible to continue the dialogue on this problem? Is the proposed moratorium possible at all?

Sergey Lavrov: The INF Treaty is history. It doesn’t exist anymore. We have expressed regret over this.

You mentioned a very important fact. Immediately after this happened, apart from expressing regret over the treaty’s demise, President of Russia Vladimir Putin announced a unilateral moratorium on the deployment of ground-based medium and short-range missiles in Russia. It banned the deployment of the missiles prohibited by the defunct treaty unless similar US systems appeared in a given area. This was a unilateral moratorium.

Later, a few years ago, when this moratorium failed to generate much interest, President Putin took one more step. He sent a detailed message to the US and the other NATO and EU members and our Eastern neighbours (about 50 states in all). In this message, the Russian leader described in detail our moratorium proposal and supplemented it with an invitation to cooperate. He suggested that the Western countries also announce a reciprocal moratorium on their own without signing any legally binding agreements, simply as a goodwill gesture. In this detailed message, we discussed the West’s skeptical statements about Russia’s unilateral moratorium on the deployment of ground-based systems that were banned by the former treaty. The West’s politicians reasoned: “Russia is as cunning as a fox. It has already deployed Iskanders in the Kaliningrad Region that violate the parameters of the former treaty” while the NATO countries have no counterpart, thus this would be an inequitable exchange. However, to begin with, nobody has proved that Iskanders violate INF-established criteria and bans on the range of missiles. The Americans refused to provide any rationale on this.

I would also like to note at this point that they are still stubbornly refusing to present satellite photos from July 2014 when the Malaysian airliner crashed. The court in the Netherlands openly announced recently that there is no hope that the Americans will provide them. So, this question is closed for the court. In other words, evidence of paramount importance is being concealed.

Likewise, nobody has ever shown us the satellite photos that were used by the Americans to prove that our Iskanders violate the INF Treaty.

Considering that the Western countries believe Russia has already done this ahead of them and as we suggested freezing this situation, Russia would benefit from this, President Vladimir Putin said it straight in his Address to the Federal Assembly: considering the mutual mistrust, we suggest measures to verify a reciprocal moratorium. We invite you to come to the Kaliningrad Region and see these Iskanders. In exchange, we want our experts to visit missile defence bases in Romania and Poland because Lockheed Martin, the producer of missile launchers openly promotes them on its website as dual purpose: for launching both counter-missiles and anti-strike cruise missiles. I think this is a very honest proposal. Let’s check: you are concerned about our Iskanders, and we are worried about the dual purpose of those missile defence launchers.

The only positive response came from President of France Emmanuel Macron. He said this was an interesting proposal and that he was ready to take part in implementing it via a multilateral dialogue. But this didn’t happen. The Americans ignored the proposal for obvious reasons since they do not want to let anyone visit their missile defence sites (this is a separate question), while all the others obediently kept silent.

Our proposal remains on the table. I think we will certainly bring this up at the Geneva summit on June 16. Let’s see the response.

Question: Often, especially recently, you have said that the European Union is an unreliable partner. Unfortunately, this is the case, especially against the backdrop of insane and unbecoming for the 21st century Russophobic propaganda and scandals that are made up without providing any evidence.

You have extensive political experience. Do you think the low level of leadership in the EU may be at least partially mitigated during this year’s elections in Germany and other countries? Will the overall crisis be able to give rise to modern European leaders who will “emancipate” themselves, at least a little, from the United States and fulfil their mission which is to serve their respective peoples? This calls for a radical change in the EU’s policy towards Russia. Unfair and ineffective sanctions must be forgotten and we must return to dialogue and mutual trust in order to overcome common problems which cannot be resolved without a full dialogue and cooperation, including with Russia.

We look forward to seeing you in Bulgaria for the unveiling of the bust of our teacher Yevgeny Primakov.

Sergey Lavrov: God willing, I will definitely be there. We maintain a dialogue with Bulgaria via our respective foreign ministries. However, recently, certain factors have appeared, not from our side, that are not conducive to an expansion of constructive interaction. I hope this is temporary.

As for your question about the European Union and our relations with the EU, I have covered this issue many times. We want relations with the European Union that are equal and mutually respectful. We cannot have relations with the EU based on demands for Russia to change its behaviour. The foreign ministers of Germany and other European countries have said many times that we need to be partners (they no longer say friends) with Russia, but it must change its behaviour first. This is a mindset that cannot be changed.

I was talking about the rules-based order which they came up with. In fact, it is the Western vision of how to maintain relations between countries in the 21st century and, moreover, how to organise life within a country. These “messianic” processes on the advancement of democracy are quite aggressive. But as soon as you start talking with the West about democracy in the international arena and ways to promote it not only within the borders of a country (this is each individual state’s concern), but in international affairs so everyone is treated equally and heeds the voice of the majority, but also respects the minority, they immediately back pedal. They do not want to discuss the democratisation of international relations. The very concept of a “rules-based international order” negates any hope that the West will get drawn into a discussion on democratising global processes in international relations.

Literally in May, promoting one of the main elements of the concept of a rules-based world order, namely effective multilateralism, French President Macron bluntly stated that multilateralism does not imply the need to achieve unanimity. “The position of conservatives should not be an obstacle for ambitious frontrunners,” he said. I think this is clear. “Conservatives” are revisionists (you can call them that, although these words are antonyms). We and China are called “conservatives who do not want change” and “revisionists who want to slow things down that move the Western world forward.” At the same time, President Macron did not mention either the UN or international law.

There are “ambitious front-runners” who promote this concept, and there are those who want to “conservatively” hold on to UN Charter principles. That’s the problem. This was expressed by the president of the country, which was among those who, at some point, called for the EU’s strategic autonomy. But these discussions have been muted even in Germany.

At one EU event, President of the European Council Charles Michel praised the return of the United States to Euro-Atlantic solidarity. EU leadership was clearly relieved to know that everything is “good” again, the United States is “at the helm” again and they can follow in its wake.

I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. I hope no one takes offense, but it’s a fact. These are publicly stated assessments that have been repeatedly uttered by EU leadership.

The Munich Security Conference was held in May where Charles Michel said that the alliance between the United States and Europe is the basis for a rules-based international order. International law was not mentioned. He stressed that it is necessary to aggressively promote democracy to protect this order from “attacks” by Russia, China, Iran and other “authoritarian regimes.” That is, it follows that democracy for these purposes needs to be promoted within these respective countries and not in the international arena. This is more than self-revelatory. Without reservation, a concept is being put forward that is openly seeking dominance, at least claiming it.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, for example, that with respect to digital transformation, it is necessary for the United States and Europe to develop a “rulebook” that the world can follow.

More recently, our US colleagues said that new trade rules must be determined by the West, not China. What does this mean? A reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is being discussed, because the Americans have understood one simple thing: that based on the currently approved rules of international trade and economy, which the United States initiated after WWII (the Bretton Woods system, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation), that determined the course of globalisation, China has achieved much greater success in playing the Americans on their field. So, WTO activities are now blocked. The United States does not allow the appointment of officers for vacancies in the Dispute Settlement Body. All claims brought to this body that the Americans would have surely lost, cannot be considered.

We are talking about creating a new system and reforming the WTO. It is being clearly said that “the new rules of international trade must be determined by the United States and Europe, not China.” That is what this is about. This underlies the concept of a rules-based order.

You asked about the potential outcome of the upcoming elections in European countries, in particular, Germany. This is a question that only the German people and the peoples of the other EU countries can answer.

I have already covered the prospects for the “emancipation” of the EU from the United States.

Question: The United States often introduces sanctions against foreign companies or countries by suspending them from SWIFT, a major financial tool, which they use by virtue of their position of hegemony in the world. As a matter of fact, many countries, including China and even some European countries are suffering from SWIFT, which is controlled by the United States. Recently, the Russian government said the dollar might be removed from the country’s currency reserve. The Chinese government has started issuing digital currency. In theory, digital currency could lead to the creation of a new international financial system, which would significantly alleviate the threat of being suspended from SWIFT. What do you propose that Russia and China do to create a new international financial transaction system and reduce their financial dependence on the US?

Sergey Lavrov: Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a detailed answer to this question when speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum last week. We are not looking to pull out of the existing system, which largely relies on the dollar. The problems stem from the United States being unaware of its responsibility as the country issuing the main reserve currency in the world, or else the US is aware but blatantly abuses its role. There are quite a few stories of how everyone argued that the dollar could be used for political purposes, which makes it unreliable. As we continue to make the point that everyone must honour the universal multilateral approach and not politicise the mechanisms that have been agreed on once and for all but rather use them to achieve objectives that underlie these mechanisms, we, of course, are considering how to respond if our colleagues show yet again their willingness to dictate and punish and use international trade and transaction leverage for this purpose

I want to note that not a single official in the West ever in my memory demanded that Russia, China or any other country be disconnected from SWIFT. That is what some politicians are calling for, but this has never been borne out either in statements by officials from leading Western countries or in SWIFT administration statements.

We really want, and this was officially announced, to remove the dollar from our economy and our financial system. The other day a decision was taken to cease holding the country’s gold and forex reserves in dollars. Appropriate measures have already been taken. But I want to emphasise again that this does not mean that we are discarding the dollar altogether, however, for the reasons mentioned earlier we are interested in relying more on other currencies, including national currencies, in bilateral trade with our partners, including our Chinese partners, other SCO members and many other countries. We are also ready to support transactions that are not denominated in dollars and but that are based on the use of other currencies.

In this context, crypto-currency is a very popular topic today. China is vigorously developing it and has achieved remarkable results. We are also working on this in a substantive manner. I believe there will be a time when crypto currencies will play a significant role and occupy a considerable niche in international settlements, but it might be better to discuss the details of this with economists. The Russian Foreign Ministry watches political developments. We are concerned about how to make sure our country’s economic ties do not pose threats to our security.

Question: Currently, a fairly intensive three-way process is underway to restore transport connections in the region. This process involves Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan, but not Turkey, which was a full participant in the last war in Karabakh and which is actually a party to the conflict. Meanwhile, you know that the Armenian-Turkish border has been blocked for 30 years after Armenia gained independence. This, by the way, is the only blockade on the territory of geographical Europe and transport lines are there, in particular, a railway which was built in Czarist Russia. It uses electricity from high-voltage power lines that have existed since Soviet times. Don’t you think that Turkey should be involved in this process of unblocking transport connections in the region and bear its share of the responsibility for this?

Sergey Lavrov: I would like to add that Iran does not take part in the work of this trilateral group either, and Iran is no less and, perhaps, more interested in having its interests taken into account. You asked whether we should involve Turkey in this work and make it bear responsibility. The work of the trilateral group on restoring economic ties and transport links is not about punishment; it is about resuming normal economic life, which existed until the late 1980s when the war broke out, which stopped only four years later.

Now the bloodshed is over. It ended a little later than we proposed to the parties. It is not our fault that the war lasted longer than it could have and the truce was reached later than it could have been reached. We were only intermediaries; we could not force either side to do this or that. We only convinced them that further bloodshed was pointless and extremely dangerous, first of all, for how people will continue to live on this land.

Currently, our peacekeepers are carrying out their mandate. There have been no major incidents. Both Baku and Yerevan recognise this. Any minor problems are quickly corrected. Yes, there are tensions at some sections of the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan but they have nothing to do with Nagorno-Karabakh. Simultaneously with the ceasefire, the leaders of our countries agreed on November 9, 2020 to unblock all communications. This was one of the main items that was agreed upon years ago by the OSCE Minsk Group chaired by Russia, France and the United States.

Following this agreement of principle, the leaders of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan met in January. They established a trilateral working group at the prime minister level to deal exclusively with unblocking of all economic, transport and other connections in the region. The examples you gave – railways, roads and electricity lines are all subject to negotiation where professionals will prioritise opening them.

Naturally, the parties are considering the interests of their other neighbours. It would probably be unrealistic to hope that having reached agreement the three sides could neglect the views of Turkey or Iran. This would be a mistake. Many strategic routes pass through this critical area: both north-south and east-west. The most important goal is to develop relations for the long-term perspective rather than think of involving or not involving someone else.

I understand that many people say that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh remains open. This will eventually be coordinated with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. At this point, they should not worry too much about its status. Instead, they need to promote confidence measures and the settling of humanitarian issues, and help both Armenians and Azerbaijanis live together in peace, security and economic wellbeing. I can assure you that if we help establish this lifestyle in two or three years, it will be much easier to resolve all the problems of the status of this area.

I would not focus on these or other statements from the capitals of the countries in the region or the immediate parties to the conflict. Emotions tend to prevail in these statements for the most part. We urge everyone involved in this to continue to help those on the ground to remain calm and return to normal life. We are actively involved in doing this via our peacekeeping contingent and the Emergencies Ministry. The results of the efforts by the trilateral group will depend on how much the unblocking efforts help improve everyday life.

Regarding Turkey and its role in this, as I said, the participants of these trilateral discussions do consider the interests of Turkey and Iran because otherwise the opening of links will not produce the best results.

The Russia-Turkey centre is monitoring compliance with the ceasefire from Azerbaijan. With technical equipment, it ensures joint observation of the developments on the ground. This is a very useful part of this general agreement. It ensures the involvement of our Turkish colleagues in this process and is a stabilising factor.

Question: The Russia-India partnership continues to flourish even though the world is going through hard times. Our cooperation on the Sputnik V vaccine confirms this. India and all Indians are grateful for the assistance offered by our Russian friends during the receding second wave of the pandemic.

What short- and long-term lessons can the international community learn about the origin and spread of COVID-19? Some people are worried that even 18 months later, we do not know about the origin of the virus that first appeared in Wuhan. This will not help us in preventing future pandemics.

How can we balance our national responsibility and international cooperation to follow the international health regulations and help the WHO to identify and prevent future outbreaks?

Sergey Lavrov: In general, the coronavirus pandemic has certainly created an unprecedented challenge. It has become a kind of test for “true friendship.” As we know, a friend in need is a friend indeed. However, several states decided not to share their vaccines. Probably, this approach is not justified by human morality or ethics, especially under conditions of interdependence and globalisation. We share these moral principles, as do our dear Indian friends.

Thank you for your kind words about the assistance we have been providing to Indians in these difficult times. During the past month, we managed to organise several large consignments of humanitarian medical aid, including the Sputnik V vaccine and other medications. We are currently developing the production of this vaccine in India. We hope that by taking these and other steps, by pooling our efforts, we will manage to deal with this grievous disease and protect the health of our people as soon as possible.

As for revealing the source of the virus, as you know, the WHO has made serious efforts in this respect. It sent experts to China. They came from 10 countries, including Russia. They also represented related international agencies. The results of their inquiry were published immediately after their visit. They were also presented at the 74th World Health Assembly that ended last week.

You are right. There are no decisive conclusions on the initial origins of COVID-19 so far, but this is not unique. Neither WHO specialists nor we know yet the origins of the Ebola virus that appeared in the 1970s. The specialists continue working on this. As you know, I am not well versed in this discipline, but I am convinced that the specialists must continue this work without politicising it. Any attempt to politicise the situation around COVID-19 is similar to efforts we are seeing in other areas. They reflect a striving of some countries to use methods of unfair competition. We need to develop comprehensive and transparent international cooperation on further studies of the origin of the virus, and, most importantly, on overcoming the pandemic. Talk about who is to blame and who is innocent must not obstruct any response effort.

When emergencies in health protection occur, the main goal is to have strong national healthcare and sanitary-epidemiological systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed this conclusion. I think the countries with well-organised healthcare systems and a high ability to mobilise medical and other resources have made a more effective response to the challenge of the coronavirus infection.

As for international cooperation, we have been developing this for some time, practically from the start of the pandemic through both bilateral channels and via international agencies. We promote the realisation of the International Health Regulations. They were drafted at our initiative and approved by the WHO but have not yet been incorporated into practical systems in many countries. These regulations are the main instrument of international law in developing national systems for preventing and dealing with epidemics like this. So, the way out of the current crisis probably lies in coordination, transparency, as well as an ability and willingness to share experience and pool efforts.

Question: Would it be possible and desirable for the United States and Russia to undertake, as part of studying cyberspace challenges, to work on countering cyber attacks by criminal groups that use ransomware against a particular country emanating from Russia or the United States? What could the parameters of such cooperation be? Or is the level of mistrust so great that this kind of cooperation is simply not possible now?

Sergey Lavrov: We have been hearing accusations against us of all kinds of transgressions for many years now. With regard to the cyber world, I mentioned the 2016 elections. In later occurrences, a number of incidents in the United States or other countries were immediately and publicly ascribed to the Russian Federation. Not a single fact has ever been presented to us. Now, the latest incident (President Vladimir Putin commented on this at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum) is the notorious attack against Colonial Pipeline and meat processor GBS. Even you in your question wonder whether it is possible to establish cooperation between Russia and the United States on investigating such incidents and on fighting criminal groups, in particular those that demand ransom. Even from this question, it becomes clear that you are motivated by a surge in public opinion about two specific incidents. Notably, I would like to stress, that the US administration does not promote the thesis that the Russian state is responsible for these incidents.

Antony Blinken recently said that these are probably private hackers, but Russia must stop them, because they originate from its territory. As a reminder in this regard (double standards), when the problems in the United States were at their height, American social media and internet platforms were blocking access to information on a particular issue. This topic was discussed, among other things, at the OSCE and the Council of Europe. We emphasised the responsibility of the United States, just like any other country, to ensure that its citizens have 100 percent access to any kind of information. Then the American side told us: “Right, but these are the obligations of the state, and we are talking about the actions of private corporations. We cannot be responsible for their actions.” In this case, the Americans are urging Russia to find these “private operators” and still fulfil the function of the state to suppress illegal actions. Let’s make sure we all follow the rules, and that the rules are universally applicable. Any state that has signed on to the obligation to ensure freedom of access to information is obliged to do so regardless of who is hiding the information – a state entity or a private corporation. Moreover, the bulk of all information is now in the hands of private corporations.

Now, I would like to say a few words about cybersecurity. We not only want, but we have repeatedly proposed to the United States, even, perhaps, somewhat obtrusively, to deal with this issue. When, as part of the above accusations we heard in 2016 (the Obama administration began alleging these things back in October, before the election day) we were presented with claims, we reminded our American colleagues that there’s a closed channel between Moscow and Washington in case of incidents, including in cyberspace. After accusations against the Russian Federation of interfering in the US elections were loudly read out, we suggested that the Americans provide us, through this closed channel, with the facts corroborating their concerns. We sent this proposal, I think, seven times from October 2016 to January 2017, right up to the Trump inauguration. None of these proposals were answered by the Obama administration’s relevant services. Instead, an annoyed Barack Obama, at the end of his tenure, raided and seized our diplomatic property in the US and drove the diplomats out. This impulsive step was a response to our professional offers to do honest and specific work.

This is not the only example. The cybersecurity dialogue with Washington was frozen through no fault of ours. Subsequently, we proposed returning to it. In July 2017, we handed over a draft memorandum on establishing a Russian-American ICT security group. The response appeared to be positive, and we agreed to hold the first meeting in Geneva in early 2018. The US delegation went there, and the Russian delegation was on its way there, too, but when our specialists landed at the Geneva airport, they were told that the Americans canceled the meeting without providing any meaningful reason.

In September 2020, President Vladimir Putin, at his level, issued a statement on how we would want to see cooperation between the United States and the Russian Federation in developing a comprehensive programme of measures to restore cooperation in this sphere. It included specific proposals. After President Biden’s inauguration, we reaffirmed this proposal. It is being reviewed by the US administration. I hope that we will find out in Geneva the reaction of President Biden and his team. The UN is working on international cybersecurity in the context of military-political problems, and at the same time a decision was made to start developing a convention on combating cybercrime. This is exactly what happened to Colonial Pipeline and the GBS meat processing company. In both cases, a consensus was reached, although before that our Western colleagues had objections. But consensus was reached on both issues. I have reason to hope that this will help advance the bilateral dialogue as well. But most importantly, the dialogue must be conducted professionally, rather than loudly and without facts.

Question: Angela Merkel has been Germany’s chancellor for 16 years. What is your opinion of Russian-German relations over this period? How will they change?

Sergey Lavrov: This is another issue President Vladimir Putin spoke about during the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). He expressed his opinion of the professionalism and experience of Chancellor Merkel and his satisfaction with their cooperation. Of course, we are monitoring the developments in Germany in the context of the upcoming elections. We hope that their outcome will ensure what I wanted to describe as continuity in our relations, but it would be better if it were not just continuity in the form of a regular dialogue, but continuity that would also take into account the lessons of the past 16 years.

When President Putin assumed his position in the Kremlin after the 2000 election, one of his first foreign visits was to Germany. He addressed the Bundestag in German. Many of us, including yours truly, perceived the emotional and positive energy of his address as the addition of a personal dimension to the previous historical reconciliation of the Russian and German nations. This was obvious.  He invested a huge part of his authority and his policy into Russian-German relations, into reconciliation that should take the form of practical deeds in great many spheres. We are not to blame that our relations have cooled. Incidentally, alarming signs appeared even before 2013 or 2014. For example, in 2010, then President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev had a summit meeting with Chancellor Merkel in Meseberg. One of the decisions reached concerned the establishment of a Russian-German crisis management committee. It was not designed as a simple discussion venue, but as a body that would coordinate joint crisis settlement mechanisms. On the practical level they mentioned Transnistria. The document was coordinated, but Germany later abandoned all efforts to implement it.

Of course, we are aware that the main reason for a far from sunny state of our bilateral relations is support provided by Berlin, the EU in general and the West as a whole to the armed, bloody and anti-constitutional coup that took place in Ukraine in February 2014, barely 12 hours after Germany, France and Poland, acting through their foreign ministers, said they would guarantee compliance with the agreement on a settlement between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition.  The agreement was buried by the opposition signatories the very next day. Germany, France, Poland and the EU, which these countries represented, did nothing to challenge the opposition in response to our calls; worse than that, they even encouraged the new turn of events. Those who came to power put forth their anti-Russia position in their very first statements; they called for throwing Russians out of Crimea and sent trains with armed thugs there.

Germany and other European countries closed their eyes to these developments (the United States did the same), saying that reality on the ground had changed. In addition to this extremely negative policy, they accused us of violating the rules they themselves invented, and denounced the free expression of the people’s will in Crimea as annexation. Sanctions were adopted against Russia for the failure of European diplomacy to force the opposition to honour the agreements reached with President Yanukovych through the mediation of Germany, France and Poland.

This is when it all began. But we did not get confrontational; we did not cancel the planned Russia-EU summit. Despite all of this, in 2014 President Putin attended the celebrations of the allied landing in Normandy and the opening of the Second Front. It was there that the sides coordinated the Normandy Format, which led to the signing of the Minsk Agreements in February 2015. We thought once again that the document would be honoured. But just as in the case of the February 2014 agreement, the Minsk Agreements are not being implemented, and it is deeply regrettable that Germany and France, as parties of the Normandy format, are trying to justify Kiev’s absolutely destructive position. Vladimir Zelensky said more than once that he doesn’t want to implement the Minsk Agreements, but that he wants to keep them because as long as they exist there will be sanctions against Russia. Our German, French and other colleagues have never tried to overturn this logic or as much as comment on such statements.   We do want to have normal relations with Germany and work together with it to settle the crises that exist in our common space, in our neighbourhood. But we would like to see that Germany is able to honour agreements.

We appreciate Berlin’s stand in the face of US attacks on Nord Stream 2, which began during Donald Trump’s presidency. President Putin mentioned this as well. But he also pointed out that Germany has done this for a reason, because this is in the fundamental interests of Germany. Incidentally, the story with Nord Stream 2 is not over yet. I have read comments by Antony Blinken to the effect that they are discussing ways for Ukraine to preserve fees for the transit of gas to the EU. We have a transit agreement with Ukraine until 2024. What will happen after that should be discussed, but the US administration is already discussing what should be done to protect Ukraine from harm. According to Blinken, one of the possible ways is to extend the transit agreement “for many years into the future,” so that Ukraine will continue to benefit from the transit fees. If this doesn’t work out, another option is to compensate for the transit fees that Kiev may lose, which is something the Europeans should do.

In other words, the Europeans’ attitude to the issues on which we are cooperating will be put to the test many times yet. I hope very much that the German people will be guided by their interests, just as they always have been throughout their history. We are interested in strengthening our partnership as much as possible. Many people say that the Russian-German partnership and rapprochement threaten the trans-Atlantic alliance. But this is an issue for the future periods of geopolitical research.

Armenian Patriots Attack NATO

20 APRIL 2021

By Grigory Trofimchuk

Expert on International Relations

Armenian Patriots Attack NATO

Recently, the growing civil hatred resulted in a street attack on the former director of the NATO Information Center in Armenia, Ara Tadevosyan.

Armenian public activists are increasingly convinced that the West and its institutions located on the territory of the country are to blame for all their recent troubles. According to independent researchers, there have been more than two hundred such pro-Western organizations in recent years. For a relatively small republic, this is a colossal figure, especially given that it is reinforced by one of the highest percentages of the US Embassy staff in Armenia in relation to the number of its citizens. This was repeatedly discussed at conferences in Moscow, with the participation of the Armenian Ambassador.

The cup of patience of these citizens is beginning to overflow, since the “army” of Western adherents has done nothing to improve real life in the host country, while engaging in activities of a closed nature, inaccessible to public control, with the standard reference to the need to “develop democracy”. At the same time, the accusations against Russia and the CSTO, apparently, come from the same nest, working to further weaken Armenia.

Recently, the growing civil hatred resulted in a street attack on the former director of the NATO Information Center in Armenia, Ara Tadevosyan. The activists were not even hindered by the coronavirus epidemic, and they were able to recognize Tadevosyan in a seemingly ordinary passer-by, walking in a medical mask in the center of Yerevan. Perhaps Tadevosyan will now always have to wear a mask, hiding from the public, even after the virus disappears.

This is a precedent. It is obvious that the patriotic citizens of Armenia no longer want to tolerate Armenia’s cooperation with the West in any form, including the new wars that Western structures are preparing for this state. Despite the recent closure of this Information Center and the disbanding of personnel, NATO continues to strengthen along the borders of Armenia, having significantly strengthened in this region since 1991, which causes emotional, spontaneous protests from the population.

Apparently, Ara Tadevosyan, who raised a poster at the request of the patriots, calling on NATO to stay away from Armenia – “NATO Keep Out from Armenia!”, “NATO Go Home!” – is only the beginning of mass anti-Western actions. The Armenians, who are patriots of their homeland, are not yet calling on Tadevosyan and his friends to leave Armenia forever and live in the West they love so much, but such a development is quite possible.

But now it is most important to understand to what extent the NATO Information Center, which was active until recently in Armenia, was involved in the development of the destabilization of the military-political situation in the region, which ultimately led to the so-called Second Karabakh War. Such questions should be asked to the same pro-Western activist Are Tadevosyan, perhaps in the framework of a special press conference, so that the growing political position of the real Armenian “street” does not look like a commonplace, banal settling of scores. And this is a completely different nascent Armenian “street”, significantly different from the one that brought Nikol Pashinyan to power in the spring of 2018.

The NATO Information Center was opened in Yerevan in 2007, on the eve of 2008, when the South Ossetian War broke out in the South Caucasus. This can be considered a simple coincidence, but the facts and dates are strictly in their places, in a strict sequence. The goals of the inaugurated institution were extremely noble: it was assumed that the “broad Armenian public “would be better informed about the tasks of the North Atlantic Alliance and its partners, one of the main ones, at that time, in the region was rapidly becoming Georgia. The real status of such centers was intended to include in the “cloud” around NATO on the basis of bilateral agreements those countries that did not have membership in this military-political bloc and could hardly ever get it.

Just a few years later, in 2011, with the active participation of the same Ara Tadevosyan, a training program on “NATO as an element of the Western security system” was launched within the framework of the “NATO Week in Armenia”. That is, even then, the processes that are destroying Armenia today were launched, with the transfer of the “arrows”, that is, the blame, to Russia. At the same time, Tadevoyasyan himself said that the project is “pilot in nature”.

And today, ten years later, the pilot ” Tadevosyan received an inevitable response from his grateful compatriots. And this is just the first swallow.

Maria Zakharova : weekly briefing with a US history

April 01, 2021

ISKANDER SPRING IN ARMENIA

South Front

Three months after losing the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan still continues his quest to find the perfect excuse.

The most recent one backfired, heavily.

On February 24th, in an interview, Pashinyan claimed that the reason Armenia lost the war against Azerbaijan was Russia’s Iskander missile.

According to his estimations the missile only exploded 10% of the time upon impact. As such, the “40-year-old weapon” was ineffective, and led to Yerevan’s defeat.

He has gone through almost every possible reason for losing the war, except admitting poor leadership and gross mismanagement of the forces.

Deputy Chief of the Armenian Armed Forces General Staff Tiran Khachatryan immediately rebuked Pashinyan, saying that his claim was “frivolous”.

In response, the Armenian Prime Minister released the official from his position.

Following that, the head of the Armenian Armed Forces General Staff, Onik Gasparyan released a statement, signed by all his deputies and other military officials demanding that Nikol Pashinyan immediately resign from the country’s leadership.

Pashinyan, in response, did what he does best – said that he had released the Chief of the General Staff, because he would not be questioned.

He called his supporters to take to the streets because this constituted a “military coup” and began “actively” leading the country through Facebook livestreams.

There are protests in Yerevan, both in support and against Nikol Pashinyan. His leadership has all but failed, and he alone undermines the vestiges of Armenia’s statehood.

Following his statements, he was mocked by the Russian Defense Ministry, which denied that the Iskander had been used in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

He was also mocked by Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev, who called his statements “anecdotal”. He also entirely denied that the Iskander had been used at all during the conflict.

Even Turkey released a statement playing along with the “military coup” narrative, saying that it was against it. Understandable, for Ankara, Armenia under inadequate leadership is a perfect neighbor.

After months of excuses, various accusations against past leadership, current military leadership, its own citizens and Russia, Pashinyan went too far. He still refuses to hang onto power, but he is becoming increasingly isolated in his attempt to “leave power in the people’s hands,” as he calls refusing to resign.

Related

Russian President Putin Delivers Speech at Virtual World Economic Forum

January 27, 2021

This is the live stream video.  The transcript is now being posted as it becomes available.

Update: Transcript complete.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Schwab, dear Klaus,

Colleagues,

I have been to Davos many times, attending the events organised by Mr Schwab, even back in the 1990s. Klaus [Schwab] just recalled that we met in 1992. Indeed, during my time in St Petersburg, I visited this important forum many times. I would like to thank you for this opportunity today to convey my point of view to the expert community that gathers at this world-renowned platform thanks to the efforts of Mr Schwab.

First of all, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to greet all the World Economic Forum participants.

It is gratifying that this year, despite the pandemic, despite all the restrictions, the forum is still continuing its work. Although it is limited to online participation, the forum is taking place anyway, providing an opportunity for participants to exchange their assessments and forecasts during an open and free discussion, partially compensating for the increasing lack of in-person meetings between leaders of states, representatives of international business and the public in recent months. All this is very important now, when we have so many difficult questions to answer.

The current forum is the first one in the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century and, naturally, the majority of its topics are devoted to the profound changes that are taking place in the world.

Indeed, it is difficult to overlook the fundamental changes in the global economy, politics, social life and technology. The coronavirus pandemic, which Klaus just mentioned, which became a serious challenge for humankind, only spurred and accelerated the structural changes, the conditions for which had been created long ago. The pandemic has exacerbated the problems and imbalances that built up in the world before. There is every reason to believe that differences are likely to grow stronger. These trends may appear practically in all areas.

Needless to say, there are no direct parallels in history. However, some experts – and I respect their opinion – compare the current situation to the 1930s. One can agree or disagree, but certain analogies are still suggested by many parameters, including the comprehensive, systemic nature of the challenges and potential threats.

We are seeing a crisis of the previous models and instruments of economic development. Social stratification is growing stronger both globally and in individual countries. We have spoken about this before as well. But this, in turn, is causing today a sharp polarisation of public views, provoking the growth of populism, right- and left-wing radicalism and other extremes, and the exacerbation of domestic political processes including in the leading countries.

All this is inevitably affecting the nature of international relations and is not making them more stable or predictable. International institutions are becoming weaker, regional conflicts are emerging one after another, and the system of global security is deteriorating.

Klaus has mentioned the conversation I had yesterday with the US President on extending the New START. This is, without a doubt, a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, the differences are leading to a downward spiral. As you are aware, the inability and unwillingness to find substantive solutions to problems like this in the 20th century led to the WWII catastrophe.

Of course, such a heated global conflict is impossible in principle, I hope. This is what I am pinning my hopes on, because this would be the end of humanity. However, as I have said, the situation could take an unexpected and uncontrollable turn – unless we do something to prevent this. There is a chance that we will face a formidable break-down in global development, which will be fraught with a war of all against all and attempts to deal with contradictions through the appointment of internal and external enemies and the destruction of not only traditional values such as the family, which we hold dear in Russia, but fundamental freedoms such as the right of choice and privacy.

I would like to point out the negative demographic consequences of the ongoing social crisis and the crisis of values, which could result in humanity losing entire civilisational and cultural continents.

We have a shared responsibility to prevent this scenario, which looks like a grim dystopia, and to ensure instead that our development takes a different trajectory – positive, harmonious and creative.

In this context, I would like to speak in more detail about the main challenges which, I believe, the international community is facing.

The first one is socioeconomic.

Indeed, judging by the statistics, even despite the deep crises in 2008 and 2020, the last 40 years can be referred to as successful or even super successful for the global economy. Starting from 1980, global per capita GDP has doubled in terms of real purchasing power parity. This is definitely a positive indicator.

Globalisation and domestic growth have led to strong growth in developing countries and lifted over a billion people out of poverty. So, if we take an income level of $5.50 per person per day (in terms of PPP) then, according to the World Bank, in China, for example, the number of people with lower incomes went from 1.1 billion in 1990 down to less than 300 million in recent years. This is definitely China’s success. In Russia, this number went from 64 million people in 1999 to about 5 million now. We believe this is also progress in our country, and in the most important area, by the way.

Still, the main question, the answer to which can, in many respects, provide a clue to today’s problems, is what was the nature of this global growth and who benefitted from it most.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, developing countries benefitted a lot from the growing demand for their traditional and even new products. However, this integration into the global economy has resulted in more than just new jobs or greater export earnings. It also had its social costs, including a significant gap in individual incomes.

What about the developed economies where average incomes are much higher? It may sound ironic, but stratification in the developed countries is even deeper. According to the World Bank, 3.6 million people subsisted on incomes of under $5.50 per day in the United States in 2000, but in 2016 this number grew to 5.6 million people.

Meanwhile, globalisation led to a significant increase in the revenue of large multinational, primarily US and European, companies.

By the way, in terms of individual income, the developed economies in Europe show the same trend as the United States.

But then again, in terms of corporate profits, who got hold of the revenue? The answer is clear: one percent of the population.

And what has happened in the lives of other people? In the past 30 years, in a number of developed countries, the real incomes of over half of the citizens have been stagnating, not growing. Meanwhile, the cost of education and healthcare services has gone up. Do you know by how much? Three times.

In other words, millions of people even in wealthy countries have stopped hoping for an increase of their incomes. In the meantime, they are faced with the problem of how to keep themselves and their parents healthy and how to provide their children with a decent education.

There is no call for a huge mass of people and their number keeps growing. Thus, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in 2019, 21 percent or 267 million young people in the world did not study or work anywhere. Even among those who had jobs (these are interesting figures) 30 percent had an income below $3.2 per day in terms of purchasing power parity.

These imbalances in global socioeconomic development are a direct result of the policy pursued in the 1980s, which was often vulgar or dogmatic. This policy rested on the so-called Washington Consensus with its unwritten rules, when the priority was given to the economic growth based on a private debt in conditions of deregulation and low taxes on the wealthy and the corporations.

As I have already mentioned, the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated these problems. In the last year, the global economy sustained its biggest decline since WWII. By July, the labour market had lost almost 500 million jobs. Yes, half of them were restored by the end of the year but still almost 250 million jobs were lost. This is a big and very alarming figure. In the first nine months of the past year alone, the losses of earnings amounted to $3.5 trillion. This figure is going up and, hence, social tension is on the rise.

At the same time, post-crisis recovery is not simple at all. If some 20 or 30 years ago, we would have solved the problem through stimulating macroeconomic policies (incidentally, this is still being done), today such mechanisms have reached their limits and are no longer effective. This resource has outlived its usefulness. This is not an unsubstantiated personal conclusion.

According to the IMF, the aggregate sovereign and private debt level has approached 200 percent of global GDP, and has even exceeded 300 percent of national GDP in some countries. At the same time, interest rates in developed market economies are kept at almost zero and are at a historic low in emerging market economies.

Taken together, this makes economic stimulation with traditional methods, through an increase in private loans virtually impossible. The so-called quantitative easing is only increasing the bubble of the value of financial assets and deepening the social divide. The widening gap between the real and virtual economies (incidentally, representatives of the real economy sector from many countries have told me about this on numerous occasions, and I believe that the business representatives attending this meeting will agree with me) presents a very real threat and is fraught with serious and unpredictable shocks.

Hopes that it will be possible to reboot the old growth model are connected with rapid technological development. Indeed, during the past 20 years we have created a foundation for the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution based on the wide use of AI and automation and robotics. The coronavirus pandemic has greatly accelerated such projects and their implementation.

However, this process is leading to new structural changes, I am thinking in particular of the labour market. This means that very many people could lose their jobs unless the state takes effective measures to prevent this. Most of these people are from the so-called middle class, which is the basis of any modern society.

In this context, I would like to mention the second fundamental challenge of the forthcoming decade – the socio-political one. The rise of economic problems and inequality is splitting society, triggering social, racial and ethnic intolerance. Indicatively, these tensions are bursting out even in the countries with seemingly civil and democratic institutions that are designed to alleviate and stop such phenomena and excesses.

The systemic socioeconomic problems are evoking such social discontent that they require special attention and real solutions. The dangerous illusion that they may be ignored or pushed into the corner is fraught with serious consequences.

In this case, society will still be divided politically and socially. This is bound to happen because people are dissatisfied not by some abstract issues but by real problems that concern everyone regardless of the political views that people have or think they have. Meanwhile, real problems evoke discontent.

I would like to emphasise one more important point. Modern technological giants, especially digital companies, have started playing an increasing role in the life of society. Much is being said about this now, especially regarding the events that took place during the election campaign in the US. They are not just some economic giants. In some areas, they are de facto competing with states. Their audiences consist of billions of users that pass a considerable part of their lives in these eco systems.

In the opinion of these companies, their monopoly is optimal for organising technological and business processes. Maybe so but society is wondering whether such monopolism meets public interests. Where is the border between successful global business, in-demand services and big data consolidation and the attempts to manage society at one’s own discretion and in a tough manner, replace legal democratic institutions and essentially usurp or restrict the natural right of people to decide for themselves how to live, what to choose and what position to express freely? We have just seen all of these phenomena in the US and everyone understands what I am talking about now. I am confident that the overwhelming majority of people share this position, including the participants in the current event.

And finally, the third challenge, or rather, a clear threat that we may well run into in the coming decade is the further exacerbation of many international problems. After all, unresolved and mounting internal socioeconomic problems may push people to look for someone to blame for all their troubles and to redirect their irritation and discontent. We can already see this. We feel that the degree of foreign policy propaganda rhetoric is growing.

We can expect the nature of practical actions to also become more aggressive, including pressure on the countries that do not agree with a role of obedient controlled satellites, use of trade barriers, illegitimate sanctions and restrictions in the financial, technological and cyber spheres.

Such a game with no rules critically increases the risk of unilateral use of military force. The use of force under a far-fetched pretext is what this danger is all about. This multiplies the likelihood of new hot spots flaring up on our planet. This concerns us.

Colleagues, despite this tangle of differences and challenges, we certainly should keep a positive outlook on the future and remain committed to a constructive agenda. It would be naive to come up with universal miraculous recipes for resolving the above problems. But we certainly need to try to work out common approaches, bring our positions as close as possible and identify sources that generate global tensions.

Once again, I want to emphasise my thesis that accumulated socioeconomic problems are the fundamental reason for unstable global growth.

So, the key question today is how to build a programme of actions in order to not only quickly restore the global and national economies affected by the pandemic, but to ensure that this recovery is sustainable in the long run, relies on a high-quality structure and helps overcome the burden of social imbalances. Clearly, with the above restrictions and macroeconomic policy in mind, economic growth will largely rely on fiscal incentives with state budgets and central banks playing the key role.

Actually, we can see these kinds of trends in the developed countries and also in some developing economies as well. An increasing role of the state in the socioeconomic sphere at the national level obviously implies greater responsibility and close interstate interaction when it comes to issues on the global agenda.

Calls for inclusive growth and for creating decent standards of living for everyone are regularly made at various international forums. This is how it should be, and this is an absolutely correct view of our joint efforts.

It is clear that the world cannot continue creating an economy that will only benefit a million people, or even the golden billion. This is a destructive precept. This model is unbalanced by default. The recent developments, including migration crises, have reaffirmed this once again.

We must now proceed from stating facts to action, investing our efforts and resources into reducing social inequality in individual countries and into gradually balancing the economic development standards of different countries and regions in the world. This would put an end to migration crises.

The essence and focus of this policy aimed at ensuring sustainable and harmonious development are clear. They imply the creation of new opportunities for everyone, conditions under which everyone will be able to develop and realise their potential regardless of where they were born and are living

I would like to point out four key priorities, as I see them. This might be old news, but since Klaus has allowed me to present Russia’s position, my position, I will certainly do so.

First, everyone must have comfortable living conditions, including housing and affordable transport, energy and public utility infrastructure. Plus environmental welfare, something that must not be overlooked.

Second, everyone must be sure that they will have a job that can ensure sustainable growth of income and, hence, decent standards of living. Everyone must have access to an effective system of lifelong education, which is absolutely indispensable now and which will allow people to develop, make a career and receive a decent pension and social benefits upon retirement.

Third, people must be confident that they will receive high-quality and effective medical care whenever necessary, and that the national healthcare system will guarantee access to modern medical services.

Fourth, regardless of the family income, children must be able to receive a decent education and realise their potential. Every child has potential.

This is the only way to guarantee the cost-effective development of the modern economy, in which people are perceived as the end, rather than the means. Only those countries capable of attaining progress in at least these four areas will facilitate their own sustainable and all-inclusive development. These areas are not exhaustive, and I have just mentioned the main aspects.

A strategy, also being implemented by my country, hinges on precisely these approaches. Our priorities revolve around people, their families, and they aim to ensure demographic development, to protect the people, to improve their well-being and to protect their health. We are now working to create favourable conditions for worthy and cost-effective work and successful entrepreneurship and to ensure digital transformation as the foundation of a high-tech future for the entire country, rather than that of a narrow group of companies.

We intend to focus the efforts of the state, the business community and civil society on these tasks and to implement a budgetary policy with the relevant incentives in the years ahead.

We are open to the broadest international cooperation, while achieving our national goals, and we are confident that cooperation on matters of the global socioeconomic agenda would have a positive influence on the overall atmosphere in global affairs, and that interdependence in addressing acute current problems would also increase mutual trust which is particularly important and particularly topical today.

Obviously, the era linked with attempts to build a centralised and unipolar world order has ended. To be honest, this era did not even begin. A mere attempt was made in this direction, but this, too, is now history. The essence of this monopoly ran counter to our civilisation’s cultural and historical diversity.

The reality is such that really different development centres with their distinctive models, political systems and public institutions have taken shape in the world. Today, it is very important to create mechanisms for harmonising their interests to prevent the diversity and natural competition of the development poles from triggering anarchy and a series of protracted conflicts.

To achieve this we must, in part, consolidate and develop universal institutions that bear special responsibility for ensuring stability and security in the world and for formulating and defining the rules of conduct both in the global economy and trade.

I have mentioned more than once that many of these institutions are not going through the best of times. We have been bringing this up at various summits. Of course, these institutions were established in a different era. This is clear. Probably, they even find it difficult to parry modern challenges for objective reasons. However, I would like to emphasise that this is not an excuse to give up on them without offering anything in exchange, all the more so since these structures have unique experience of work and a huge but largely untapped potential. And it certainly needs to be carefully adapted to modern realities. It is too early to dump it in the dustbin of history. It is essential to work with it and to use it.

Naturally, in addition to this, it is important to use new, additional formats of cooperation. I am referring to such phenomenon as multiversity. Of course, it is also possible to interpret it differently, in one’s own way. It may be viewed as an attempt to push one’s own interests or feign the legitimacy of one’s own actions when all others can merely nod in approval. Or it may be a concerted effort of sovereign states to resolve specific problems for common benefit. In this case, this may refer to the efforts to settle regional conflicts, establish technological alliances and resolve many other issues, including the formation of cross-border transport and energy corridors and so on and so forth.

Friends,

Ladies and gentlemen,

This opens wide possibilities for collaboration. Multi-faceted approaches do work. We know from practice that they work. As you may be aware, within the framework of, for example, the Astana format, Russia, Iran and Turkey are doing much to stabilise the situation in Syria and are now helping establish a political dialogue in that country, of course, alongside other countries. We are doing this together. And, importantly, not without success.

For example, Russia has undertaken energetic mediation efforts to stop the armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, in which peoples and states that are close to us – Azerbaijan and Armenia – are involved. We strived to follow the key agreements reached by the OSCE Minsk Group, in particular between its co-chairs – Russia, the United States and France. This is also a very good example of cooperation.

As you may be aware, a trilateral Statement by Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia was signed in November. Importantly, by and large, it is being steadily implemented. The bloodshed was stopped. This is the most important thing. We managed to stop the bloodshed, achieve a complete ceasefire and start the stabilisation process.

Now the international community and, undoubtedly, the countries involved in crisis resolution are faced with the task of helping the affected areas overcome humanitarian challenges related to returning refugees, rebuilding destroyed infrastructure, protecting and restoring historical, religious and cultural landmarks.

Or, another example. I will note the role of Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States and a number of other countries in stabilising the global energy market. This format has become a productive example of interaction between the states with different, sometimes even diametrically opposite assessments of global processes, and with their own outlooks on the world.

At the same time there are certainly problems that concern every state without exception. One example is cooperation in studying and countering the coronavirus infection. As you know, several strains of this dangerous virus have emerged. The international community must create conditions for cooperation between scientists and other specialists to understand how and why coronavirus mutations occur, as well as the difference between the various strains.

Of course, we need to coordinate the efforts of the entire world, as the UN Secretary-General suggests and as we urged recently at the G20 summit. It is essential to join and coordinate the efforts of the world in countering the spread of the virus and making the much needed vaccines more accessible. We need to help the countries that need support, including the African nations. I am referring to expanding the scale of testing and vaccinations.

We see that mass vaccination is accessible today, primarily to people in the developed countries. Meanwhile, millions of people in the world are deprived even of the hope for this protection. In practice, such inequality could create a common threat because this is well known and has been said many times that it will drag out the epidemic and uncontrolled hotbeds will continue. The epidemic has no borders.

There are no borders for infections or pandemics. Therefore, we must learn the lessons from the current situation and suggest measures aimed at improving the monitoring of the emergence of such diseases and the development of such cases in the world.

Another important area that requires coordination, in fact, the coordination of the efforts of the entire international community, is to preserve the climate and nature of our planet. I will not say anything new in this respect.

Only together can we achieve progress in resolving such critical problems as global warming, the reduction of forestlands, the loss of biodiversity, the increase in waste, the pollution of the ocean with plastic and so on, and find an optimal balance between economic development and the preservation of the environment for the current and future generations.

My friends,

We all know that competition and rivalry between countries in world history never stopped, do not stop and will never stop. Differences and a clash of interests are also natural for such a complicated body as human civilisation. However, in critical times this did not prevent it from pooling its efforts – on the contrary, it united in the most important destinies of humankind. I believe this is the period we are going through today.

It is very important to honestly assess the situation, to concentrate on real rather than artificial global problems, on removing the imbalances that are critical for the entire international community. I am sure that in this way we will be able to achieve success and befittingly parry the challenges of the third decade of the 21st century.

I would like to finish my speech at this point and thank all of you for your patience and attention.

Thank you very much.

Klaus Schwab: Thank you very much, Mr President.

Many of the issues raised, certainly, are part of our discussions here during the Davos Week. We complement the speeches also by task forces which address some of the issues you mentioned, like not leaving the developing world behind, taking care of, let’s say, creating the skills for tomorrow, and so on. Mr President, we prepare for the discussion afterwards, but I have one very short question. It is a question which we discussed when I visited you in St Petersburg 14 months ago. How do you see the future of European-Russian relations? Just a short answer.

Vladimir Putin: You know there are things of an absolutely fundamental nature such as our common culture. Major European political figures have talked in the recent past about the need to expand relations between Europe and Russia, saying that Russia is part of Europe. Geographically and, most importantly, culturally, we are one civilisation. French leaders have spoken of the need to create a single space from Lisbon to the Urals. I believe, and I mentioned this, why the Urals? To Vladivostok.

I personally heard the outstanding European politician, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, say that if we want European culture to survive and remain a centre of world civilisation in the future, keeping in mind the challenges and trends underlying the world civilisation, then of course, Western Europe and Russia must be together. It is hard to disagree with that. We hold exactly the same point of view.

Clearly, today’s situation is not normal. We need to return to a positive agenda. This is in the interests of Russia and, I am confident, the European countries. Clearly, the pandemic has also played a negative role. Our trade with the European Union is down, although the EU is one of our key trade and economic partners. Our agenda includes returning to positive trends and building up trade and economic cooperation.

Europe and Russia are absolutely natural partners from the point of view of the economy, research, technology and spatial development for European culture, since Russia, being a country of European culture, is a little larger than the entire EU in terms of territory. Russia’s resources and human potential are enormous. I will not go over everything that is positive in Europe, which can also benefit the Russian Federation.

Only one thing matters: we need to approach the dialogue with each other honestly. We need to discard the phobias of the past, stop using the problems that we inherited from past centuries in internal political processes and look to the future. If we can rise above these problems of the past and get rid of these phobias, then we will certainly enjoy a positive stage in our relations.

We are ready for this, we want this, and we will strive to make this happen. But love is impossible if it is declared only by one side. It must be mutual.

Klaus Schwab: Thank you very much, Mr President.

New U.S. Foreign Policy Problems (2) International files إشكاليات السياسة الخارجية الأميركية الجديدة (2) الملفات الدولية

**Part 2 English Machine translation**Please scroll down for the Arabic version **

Part 1 Here

Click here to see the Video (deleted by You Tube)

Ziad hafiz.

Part 2:  International Files

 What external files will there be a conflict between the  interests of the interventionists and the interests of the forces that want to focus on the internal files?  The contours of foreign policy began to be clarified  after the Senate hearings of Blinken (State Department)  and Heinz (Director of National Intelligence DNI). The  bottom line is that there is little change in substance  about  Obama and Trump’s policies  except  in style and approach. We’ll show here some files, not all of them,  because of the limited space available.

At the international  level, relations with Russia and China are number one. The first signs issued by a number of figures of the President-elect’s transition team do not suggest any future solution in relations with  Russia. Let’s no forget that most of the employees in the new administration were in the Obama  administration,  which  was  anti-Russian.  The Ukrainian crisis was triggered by the Obama administration and then the Vice President, the president-elect today, which had major interventions in Ukrainian affairs,  not to mention the suspicions of corruption that accompanied it. On the other hand, let’s not forget that the entire Democratic Party, the deep state and the dominant corporate media have spent the past four years  demonising President Trump and accusing him of working for Russia. The latter is also accused of  interfering  in the 2016 election in favour of Donald Trump. Taking into account some statements by intelligence leaders supporting Biden that the Russians are lying because lying is an essential part of Russian  DNA, we see that the climate within the new administration is a tough one for Russia. This pessimism is reinforced by the fact that prospective officials  in the new administration n the second  row of foreign affairs, defence and  national security are neoconservatives such as Victoria Newland and liberal  interventionists such as Kathleen Hicks, Wendy Sherman and John Weiner as deputy national security  adviser.  All of them have close ties with the military security complex, research centres and  major    universities, as we explained in an earlier article.  What has attracted the attention of observers  is that  to  date there has been no contact between the transitional administration and the Russian leadership, although  this  is  a tradition that has spanned over the  past decades.

Multifaceted U.S. Retreat

But the fact of the matter is that U.S. competitiveness has declined in politics and the economy, and perhaps most importantly in military matters, as we have also explained in previous articles. Confronting Russia is  by  raising the human rights issue in Russia, by deploying a missile belt in neighbouring countries and by  overthrowing neighbouring regimes that are in agreement with Russia. By the way,  despite the Democratic  Party accusing U.S. President Donald Trump of working for Russia it was the U.S. president who imposed the most sanctions on Russia that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had initiated. The main strategic point of contention is the Russian gas file and its role in supplying it to the European Union, while the dispute over  Ukraine comes in the context of attempts at Atlantic expansion in Eastern Europe.  The security issue    being  waved is to cover up the main target.  There is no evidence that Russia is seeking to destabilization’s  European  security and stability, on the contrary it is seeking the best relations  and cooperation  with the EUROPEAN Union.

That’s what  Germany  understood,  but it  bowed to U.S. pressure, as former German Foreign Minister  Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in justifying his government’s acquiescence to U.S.  dictates when he made  it clear  that Germany was economically affected  by those sanctions, but that the policy had a strong errand  on the  economy. But over the past months, Germany has been able to reduce the arrogance of the United  States with regard to its economic interests with Russia and China. Germany has agreed to extend the Russian Laurel  Pipeline (“Tor  Stream 2” in its Baltic Economic Zone (every  day a kilometre of the pipeline is extended).    This was also the case with the Czech Republic to extend the “Yugal” land line, which is an extension  of “North stream  2” on the  German-Czech Saxon border. This reflects the extent of the U.S. retreat at the  European  ally and cuts the road to the pressures that the new administration could  put on it.

On The Other  Hand, on December 30, 2020, China and the European Union signed an agreement that would open the door to mutual investment, despite opposition from the United States and despite traditional human rights pretexts that were being raised against China to prevent any rapprochement with it. This is another  sign  that Western Europe has felt American weakness and is starting to think about the priority of its interests. The EU would not have taken the move without the approval of Germany and France.

Among the outstanding files between the United States and Russia are  Ukraine, particularly eastern Ukraine (Dombesk), the annexation of Crimea, the file of the Caucasus states in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and the proliferation of Atlantic weapons in the Baltic states and Poland. Recently, the United States tried to  create unrest in Belarus but failed to do so. Russia’s rapprochement with Russia is intensifying and we do not rule out the accession of Belarus to the Russian Federation, which is a resounding blow to the American administration.  Today, Belarus is mandated to confront Poland and the Baltic states on Russia’s  behalf.  In addition  to the Syrian file and the nuclear file with Iran and of course the treaties in the matter of medium-range ballistic missiles. In the context of the treaty file that the United States has emerged on the subject of  ballistic missiles, Russia is no longer committed to it.

The state of denial is in the  mind of  the ruling elites. 

“We  don’t know what the United  States  can  offer  in  all  these  files other than to back down  from its escalatory positions, which will perpetuate the decline of its influence,”he said. But  in the  current  mood  in the transitional administration, it is not ready  for  any  concession.  Since the denial of that retreat is in control of the ruling elites in the  next administration on the basis of “American exceptionalism” and”its manifest value” and in the absence of any theoretical or concrete evidence to acknowledge that retreat, what we can expect is the continued high and hostile tone in addressing Russia without translating into  confrontation on the ground.   The sanctions regime on Russia continues and began under Obama,  and the next  administration cannot lift it for free to market it in the domestic scene.   There is no creativity in thinking about the American side and the Russian side does not consider itself obliged to make concessions,  especially since there is no confidence in the commitments of the  United States. That’s why  we’re seeing  growing  indifference on the Russian side to what could come from the Biden administration as long as  the  horizon of open armed confrontation is blocked. Russia has been able to adapt to sanctions  and even turned it into a self-sufficiency opportunity freeing it from American blackmail.  Sanctions have only succeeded in increasing the isolation of the United States in the world, especially with its European allies. The elites in  Russia see as we see that the new administration will be focused on the internal files because of their seriousness  and complexity and  therefore do not consider that  they can interact permanently in  external files.

But that doesn’t mean that communicating with Russia is out of the way. If it is necessity or inventions, it is  also the mother of understandings. In  this context, the Russian President announced in a letter to the   president-elect that he hopes for friendly relations on the basis of club and mutual respect, a sign that a return  to the method of transcendence is no longer acceptable. On the other hand, the response of the secretary of  state, Anthony Blinken, was that at the height of the nuclear rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and under the existential nuclear threat of thousands of nuclear ballistic missiles  directed against each of  the two countries, areas of cooperation in many hot files were possible. Therefore,  “opportunities for cooperation”  can be looked forward to controlling the rhythm of  tensions so as not to lead  to  confrontations  from which no one will emerge  unscathed.  Does this mean that the climate for settlements will exist?  Not necessarily, the most realistic case is that there are no major settlements, no major confrontations and everything is possible under that  roof. In  summary, it can be said that the ceiling of the  possible “understanding” with Russia does not go beyond the limits of  linking  the conflict until new balances of power are established and this will not happen in the foreseeable future, i.e. in the  mandate of the new administration.

One might ask why not settle? The simple answer is that Russia sees no justification for settling matters with a party that has always proved that it does not respect treaties. The Russian also believes that the American is in a state of structural weakness that may not survive it and therefore make concessions to a country whose fate is unknown may not be justified. On the other hand, the U.S. side believes that if the balance of power is not in its favour at the current stage, it should only adjust it to its advantage and therefore there is no need to give up anything substantial that might constitute the  board of settlement. The ruling elites of the United  States believe that it is destined to lead the world and that  its exceptionalism will enable it to do so. There is no willingness to acknowledge that the United States has entered the stage of strategic decline, even a likely internal collapse, and therefore the narrative prevailing among those elites will be  that the United States has valued the world regardless of the difficulties it is encountering at this stage.

Why not  face… I don’t think

The other question is why not face? The answer here is that both sides are well aware that confrontation  ultimately means the end of the globe in limited minutes!  The next war will not  be as long as it did in the two world  wars, not even in  regional wars.  It will be related to the duration of ballistic missiles reaching their targets and here we are talking about minutes, not hours! But what is the alternative to confrontation  and compromise?

The alternative is limited tensions in space and time determined by changing objective and regional  circumstances.  But this imposes careful cooperation to prevent slippage, which could lead to an all-out  confrontation that no one wants. On the other hand, multiplayer on the one hand and the absence of  any  force  capable of adjusting  the rhythm alone makes it very difficult. Hence we understand the role and value of the axis where each component has no ability to control whatever its own abilities. But the axis gives  added value to those capabilities and therefore the axis will be the rhythm officer and not the pole. Here the role of  regional gatherings or hubs is highlighted.  We are in a multi-axis world, not a multipolar world.

If we want to sum up the international landscape between the competing pivots, we see that the U.S. axis in    strategic decline may reach a collapse, but it does the work of its tactical  and show-off nature that does not  change anything in the  balance of power on the ground. On the other hand, the  other Axis of Russia and the Chinese with it the axis of resistance in the event of a strategic rise interspersed with acts of a tactical  and defensive character fortify the balances of power that created it. The anti-American axis does not believe  that a tactical confrontation is necessary at this stage because of the strategic decline of the U.S. axis.  The  time factor works in favour of the anti-dominance axis. Therefore, we do not rule out a very fragile stabilisation  phase of tensions between brief periods of calm. In our view, the balances of  power that change in favour of the anti-Western axis also include cultural and intellectual structures. It also includes political  systems where Western neoliberalism has reached an impasse and that all decisions taken by the ruling  elites in the United States and in the West in general  are an escape  from the structural internal  entitlements  facing all  states. Until a political and economic system takes into account the radical  transformations  that  have taken place in societies, especially economic and social gaps, the general  landscape will be the internal  tension in the western countries, which influence their foreign policies. These remarks apply to all  contentious files between the United  States and its competitors.

 On the Chinese issue, there appear to be two conflicting currents within the democratic party leadership.   On the  one hand, there is the  legacy of former President Barack Obama, who was the author of the theory of east-shifting to counter the rising threat posed by China. This trend to the East uses a political narrative  of  protecting human rights that are violated by the Chinese government. The U. S. needs a “moral” justification for interfering in China’s domestic affairs, whether in the Tibet, Hong Kong or Uighur Muslim stooum.   ut after the January 6 spectacle of the ruling elites dealing with angry crowds and the condemnation of these  demonstrations by elites, some leaders have come to demand that public freedoms be undermined, and it is difficult to put forward such rhetoric condemning freedoms in countries that want to submit to American  will.

The actual goal of U.S. policy is to undermine China’s competitiveness,  especially in the field of technology and artificial intelligence, by imposing sanctions on it (here new arguments will be sought for it!) And curbed  its military rise to prevent the expansion of its influence in East and South Asia. In the context of the conflict we mentioned between the group of interventionists and the “realists” the issue of dealing with  Chinese  t-communication companies, Huawei, which has been the target of sanctions in the Trump administration. If  the Biden administration wants to ease the conflict with China, it will settle the Huawei file at least  in its legal dimension. But is this in line with the interests of U.S. companies affected by Chinese competition that    have mostly supported Biden’s presidential bid? Here we see the extent of the contradiction within the  administration. This is where  Obama’s policy meets Trump’s policy f  confronting china’s rising  influence    and hitting the OneWay/One Belt project. But the capabilities of the United States, no matter how limited the governing  team may be, are too limited and cannot change the equations imposed by the transformations.

On the other hand, there is the BidenGroup, which has made confusing and suspicious deals with Chinese companies.  A large number of  Democratic party leaders are involved in suspicious deals with Chinese  government institutions such as former California State Attorney Barbara Boxer, who became the agent of a   Chinese state-owned eavesdropping  company, the current senator’s husband, Diane Feinstein, who has close ties to Chinese companies, or Representative Eric Swal of California, who is accused of having sexual  relations with a Chinese intelligence officer.  The president will be among the hammer of the Obama team,  which  wants to surround China, curb its rise, and the sanders of the special interests of the Biden family  and a number of senior Democratic officials in their dealings with China. The Republicans will undoubtedly raise the scandals championed by Hunter Biden, the president’s son, and James Biden, the president’s brother. They are the subject of investigations by the Federal Bureau of  Investigation (FBI), which refused to disclose  before the election, and William Barr, the outgoing Justice Secretary in the Trump administration, could have undermined Biden’s chances of winning the last election, reinforcing  the theory that the deep state of all its components wanted to get rid of Donald Trump and succeeded in disrupting  his mandate and success  in the  election.

One of Obama’s attempts to blockade China is the Trans Pacific Partnership/TPP,  which aimed to create a large  economic space similar to the European Common Market  before it became the European Union,    without China’s participation.  This project is similar to a European project that excludes Russia! Here is the grave  geopolitical error because it runs counter to the constant geography and changing history, how can an Asian  grouping be conceived without China and how can Russia be excluded from Europe? But Trump’s first  decision when he entered the White House was to destroy the Trans-Pacific Partnership project. In the fall  of 2020, China was able to conclude an economic agreement with Southeast Asian countries that effectively  eliminates  any  possibility of economic blockade of China.  The title of this new economic gathering is the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) signed on November 12,  2020 at a summit  of  regional  heads of  state such as China, Japan, South Korea, India and other ASEAN countries. 

China’s  most important economic influence…

The Rand Corporation, a Pentagon think  tank, considers  China’s economic influence more important than  U.S. influence in the Pacific and Asia. Asean countries also prioritise economic considerations and interests at the expense of security considerations. China’s economic influence weakens U.S. military influence, according to the RAND Corporation study, especially since countries in that region do not believe that U.S. military  influence is equivalent to China’s economic influence. There is also a conviction in those countries, according to the study, that the USA commitment to the region is questionable. Based on those considerations in the study, the Biden administration’s policy will be very complicated, especially since  the enthusiasm of the countries in the region to align  with them will be weak.

On the other hand, in recent days, the Trump administration has poisoned the atmosphere  between the United States and China by lifting all restrictions on Taiwan. It is clear that the move will anger China and strain relations with the new U.S. administration. The question is how the Biden administration can reinstate the restrictions lifted by the Trump administration, which means that there is no continuity in the outside  decision and weakens confidence in any U.S. pledge. The decisions of any administration become subject to veto by the administration that follows, and this is the result of  falling signs.  We therefore believe  that the Biden administration’s attempts will not go beyond the point of linking the conflict to conflicts of  interest  between the interveners and the realists, while  weighing  in favour of the interventionists  and the weakness of the realists because of the suspicions of corruption surrounding the president-elect and his family. 

 Some of the”positive” steps of the new administration will be to return  to the climate  agreement and the World  Health Organisation and to demand a return to the ballistic agreement. There is little cost here, but  a material for media propaganda to improve the image of the United States. Blinken’s remarks that he should”consult” with allies are a step toward restoring consideration to “diplomacy” that  his predecessor Mike Pompeo did not believe in. But what is the value of diplomacy if it is not  accompanied by  actions that take into account the interests of the various  parties?  The United States has not  yet acknowledged  this,  and it is continuing  its efforts to achieve its goals of domination and domination, but with far  fewer  possibilities. 

*Researcher  and political  economist And the former Secretary General of the  Arab  National Congress

Part 3 Here

إشكاليات السياسة الخارجية الأميركية الجديدة (2) الملفات الدولية

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زياد حافظ

الجزء الثاني: الملفّات الدولية

فما هي الملفات الخارجية التي ستشهد صراعاً بين مصالح المتدخلّين ومصالح القوى التي تريد التركيز على الملفّات الداخلية؟ ملامح السياسة الخارجية بدأت تتوضح بعد جلست الاستماع في مجلس الشيوخ لكلّ من بلينكن (وزارة الخارجية) وهاينز (مديرة الاستخبارات الوطنية DNI). الخلاصة الأساسية هي لا تغيير يُذكر في الجوهر عن سياسات أوباما وترامب الاّ في الأسلوب وطريقة التعاطي. سنعرض هنا بعض الملفّات وليست جميعها لضيق المساحة المتاحة.

فعلى الصعيد الدولي تأتي في المرتبة الأولى العلاقات مع كلّ من روسيا والصين. الإشارات الأولى التي صدرت عن عدد من رموز الفريق الانتقالي للرئيس المنتخب لا توحي بأيّ حلحلة مرتقبة في العلاقات مع روسيا. فلا ننسى أنّ معظم العاملين في الإدارة الجديدة كانوا في إدارة أوباما التي كانت معادية لروسيا. فالأزمة الأوكرانية فجّرتها إدارة أوباما ونائب الرئيس آنذاك، الرئيس المنتخب اليوم، والتي كانت له تدخّلات كبيرة في الشأن الأوكراني ناهيك عن شبهات الفساد التي رافقتها. من جهة أخرى لا ننسى أنّ مجمل الحزب الديمقراطي والدولة العميقة والإعلام الشركاتي المهيمن أمضى السنوات الأربع الماضية على شيطنة الرئيس ترامب واتهامه بالعمالة لروسيا. كما أنّ الأخيرة متهمة بالتدخل في انتخابات 2016 لصالح دونالد ترامب. وإذا أخذنا بعين الاعتبار بعض التصريحات لقيادات استخبارية داعمة لبايدن بأنّ الروس يكذبون لأنّ الكذب جزء أساسي من الحمض النووي الروسي نرى أنّ المناخ المرتقب داخل الإدارة الجديدة مناخ متشدّد تجاه روسيا. وما يعزّز ذلك التشاؤم هو أنّ المسؤولين المرتقبين في الإدارة الجديدة في الصف الثاني في الخارجية والدفاع والأمن القومي هم من المحافظين الجدد كفيكتوريا نيولند ومن المتدخّلين الليبراليين كـ كاثلين هيكس ووندي شرمان وجون فاينر كنائب مستشار الأمن القومي. وجميعهم لديهم ارتباطات وثيقة مع المجمع العسكري الأمني ومراكز الأبحاث ومن الجامعات الكبرى كما شرحناه في مقال سابق. وما لفت انتباه المراقبين أنه حتى الساعة لم يتمّ أيّ اتصال بين الإدارة الانتقالية والقيادة الروسية علماً أنّ هذا تقليد امتدّ طيلة العقود الماضية.

تراجع أميركي متعدّد الجوانب

لكن حقيقة الأمر هي أنّ القدرة التنافسية الأميركية تراجعت في السياسة والاقتصاد، وربما أهمّ من كلّ ذلك في الشأن العسكري كما شرحناه أيضاً في مقالات سابقة. فمواجهة روسيا تكون عبر إثارة ملف حقوق الانسان في روسيا وعبر نشر حزام صاروخي في الدول المجاورة وعبر إسقاط أنظمة مجاورة تتفاهم مع روسيا. بالمناسبة ورغم اتهام الحزب الديمقراطي الرئيس الأميركي دونالد ترامب بالعمالة لروسيا فإنّ الرئيس الأميركي هو الذي فرض أكثر العقوبات على روسيا والتي كان قد بدأها سلفه باراك أوباما. ونقطة الخلاف الرئيسية الاستراتيجية هي ملف الغاز الروسي ودوره في تزويده للاتحاد الأوروبي بينما الخلاف على أوكرانيا يأتي في سياق محاولات توسع الأطلسي في أوروبا الشرقية. قضية الأمن التي يتمّ التلويح بها هي للتغطية على الهدف الرئيسي. ليس هناك أيّ دليل بأنّ روسيا تسعى لزعزعة الأمن والاستقرار الأوروبي بل العكس تسعى إلى أفضل العلاقات والتعاون مع الاتحاد الأوروبي.

هذا ما فهمته ألمانيا لكنها رضخت للضغوط الأميركية كما صرّح وزير خارجية ألمانيا السابق فرانك والتر ستنماير في تبرير رضوخ حكومته للإملاءات الأميركية عندما قال بوضوح إنّ ألمانيا متضررة اقتصادياً من تلك العقوبات غير أنّ السياسة لها القوّامة على الاقتصاد. لكن خلال الأشهر الماضية استطاعت ألمانيا أن تحدّ من غطرسة الولايات المتحدة فيما يتعلّق بمصالحها الاقتصادية مع روسيا والصين. فقد وافقت ألمانيا على تمديد أنبوب الغار الروسي (“تور ستريم 2) في المنطقة الاقتصادية التابعة لها في بحر البلطيق (كلّ يوم يتمّ مدّ كيلومترا من الأنبوب). كذلك الأمر حصل مع الجمهورية التشيكية لتمديد الخط البرّي “يوغال” الذي هو امتداد لـ “نور ستريم 2) على الحدود السكسونية الألمانية التشيكية. هذا يعكس مدى التراجع الأميركي عند الحليف الأوروبي ويقطع الطريق على الضغوط التي يمكن أن تصدرها الإدارة الجديدة.

من جهة أخرى تمّ التوقيع في 30 كانون الأول 2020 بين الصين والاتحاد الأوروبي على اتفاق يفتح باب الاستثمارات المتبادلة وذلك رغم معارضة الولايات المتحدة ورغم الذرائع التقليدية حول حقوق الإنسان التي كانت تُرفع بوجه الصين لمنع أيّ تقارب معها. هذه إشارة أخرى أنّ أوروبا الغربية شعرت بالضعف الأميركي وبدأت تفكّر بأولوية مصالحها. ولم يكن الاتحاد الأوروبي ليقدم على تلك الخطوة لولا الموافقة لكلّ من ألمانيا وفرنسا.

من ضمن الملفّات العالقة بين الولايات المتحدة وروسيا ملف أوكرانيا وخاصة شرق أوكرانيا (الدومبسك) وضمّ شبه جزيرة القرم، وملف دول القوقاز في جورجيا وناغورنو كراباخ، وانتشار السلاح الأطلسي في دول البلطيق وبولندا. ومؤخراً حاولت الولايات المتحدة خلق القلاقل في بيلاروسيا إلاّ أنها فشلت في ذلك. فالتقارب الروسي البلاروسي يشتدّ ولا نستبعد انضمام بلاروسيا على الاتحاد الروسي ما يشكّل صفعة مدوية للإدارة الأميركية. وبلاروسيا اليوم موكّلة في مواجهة كلّ من بولندا ودول البلطيق نيابة عن روسيا. ويُضاف إليها ملف سورية والملفّ النووي مع إيران وطبعاً المعاهدات في الشأن الصواريخ الباليستية المتوسطة المدى. في سياق ملف المعاهدة التي خرجت عنها الولايات المتحدة في موضوع الصواريخ الباليستية لم تعد روسيا متمسّكة بها.

حالة الإنكار متحكّمة في عقل النخب الحاكمة

لا ندري ماذا يمكن أن تقدّم الولايات المتحدة في كلّ هذه الملفّات غير التراجع عن مواقفها التصعيدية الذي سيكرّس تراجع نفوذها. لكن ليس في المزاج الحالي في الإدارة الانتقالية جهوزية لأيّ بادرة لتقديم أيّ تنازل. وبما أنّ حالة الإنكار لذلك التراجع متحكّمة في عقل النخب الحاكمة في الإدارة المقبلة على قاعدة “الاستثنائية الأميركية” و”قدرها المتجلّي” وبغياب أيّ دليل نظري أو ملموس للإقرار بذلك التراجع، فما يمكن أن نتوقّعه هو استمرار النبرة العالية والمعادية في مخاطبة روسيا دون أن تترجم بمواجهة على الأرض. فنظام العقوبات على روسيا مستمرّ وهو بدأ في عهد أوباما ولا تستطيع الإدارة المقبلة رفعها دون مقابل ملموس لتسويقه في المشهد الداخلي. فليس هناك ابداع في التفكير في الجانب الأميركي والجانب الروسي لا يعتبر نفسه ملزما بتقديم تنازلات خاصة أن لا ثقة بتعهدّات الولايات المتحدة. لذلك نشهد تزايد عدم الاكتراث في الجانب الروسي لما يمكن أن يصدر عن إدارة بايدن طالما أنّ أفق المواجهة المفتوحة المسلّحة مسدود. فروسيا استطاعت التكيّف مع العقوبات بل حوّلتها إلى فرص اكتفاء ذاتي حرّرها من الابتزاز الأميركي. فالعقوبات نجحت فقط في زيادة عزلة الولايات المتحدة في العالم وخاصة عند حلفائها الأوروبيين. والنخب في روسيا ترى كما نرى نحن أنّ الإدارة الجديدة ستكون منصبّة على الملفّات الداخلية لخطورتها وتعقيداتها وبالتالي لا تعتبر أنّ باستطاعتها التفاعل الدائم في الملفّات الخارجية.

لكن هذا لا يعني أنّ التواصل مع روسيا خارج الاحتمالات. فإذا كانت الضرورة امّ الاختراعات فهي أيضاً أمّ التفاهمات. في هذا السياق أعلن الرئيس الروسي في رسالة للرئيس المنتخب أنه يأمل بعلاقات ودية على قاعدة الندّية والاحترام المتبادل، وهذه إشارة إلى أنّ العودة الى أسلوب التعالي لم يعد مقبولاً. من جهة أخرى كان ردّ وزير الخارجية المسمّى أنطوني بلينكن أنّ في ذروة التنافس النووي بين الولايات المتحدة والاتحاد السوفياتي وفي ظلّ الخطر النووي الوجودي المتمثّل بآلاف الصواريخ الباليستية النووية الموجهة ضدّ كلّ من البلدين كانت مجالات التعاون في العديد من الملفات الساخنة ممكنة. وبالتالي يمكن التطلّع إلى “فرص تعاون” لضبط إيقاع التوترات كي لا تؤدّي إلى مواجهات لن يخرج أحد سالماً منها. هل هذا يعني أنّ مناخ التسويات سيكون قائماً؟ ليس بالضرورة، فالحالة الأكثر واقعية هي أن لا تسويات كبرى ولا مواجهات كبرى وكلّ شيء ممكن تحت ذلك السقفين. في الخلاصة يمكن القول إنّ سقف “التفاهم” الممكن مع روسيا لا يتجاوز حدود ربط النزاع إلى ان تتبلور موازين قوّة جديدة وهذا لن يحصل في المدى المنظور أيّ في ولاية الإدارة الجديدة.

قد يسأل المرء لماذا لا تسوية؟ الإجابة البسيطة هي أنّ روسيا لا ترى أيّ مبرّر لتسوية الأمور مع طرف برهن دائماً أنه لا يحترم المعاهدات فما بال التسويات! كما يرى الروسي أنّ الأميركي في حالة ضعف بنيوي قد لا ينجو منها وبالتالي تقديم تنازلات لدولة مصيرها مجهول قد لا يكون مبرّرا. في المقابل، يرى الطرف الأميركي إذا كانت موازين القوّة ليست لصالحه في المرحلة الحالية فما عليه إلاّ أن يعدّلها لمصلحته وبالتالي لا داعي للتنازل عن أيّ شيء جوهري قد يشكّل متن التسوية. وتعتقد النخب الحاكمة في الولايات المتحدة أنّ قدرها هو أن تقود العالم وأن استثنائيتها ستمكّنها من ذلك. ليس هناك استعداد للإقرار بأنّ الولايات المتحدة دخلت مرحلة التراجع الاستراتيجي بل حتى الانهيار الداخلي المرجّح وبالتالي ستكون السردية السائدة عند تلك النخب بأنّ الولايات المتحدة قدر على العالم بغضّ النظر عن الصعوبات التي تلاقيها في المرحلة الحالية.

لماذا لا مواجهة…؟

والسؤال الآخر لماذا لا مواجهة؟ الإجابة هنا أنّ الطرفين يدركان جيّداً أنّ المواجهة تعني في آخر المطاف نهاية المعمورة في دقائق محدودة! لن تكون الحرب المقبلة ممتدّة على مدى سنوات كما حصل في الحربين العالميتين ولا حتى في الحروب الإقليمية. ستكون مرتبطة بمدة وصول الصواريخ الباليستية إلى أهدافها وهنا نتكلّم عن دقائق وليس ساعات! لكن ما هو البديل عن المواجهة وعن التسوية؟

البديل هو توتّرات محدودة في المكان والزمان تحدّده الظروف الموضوعية والإقليمية المتغيّرة. لكن هذا يفرض تعاوناً دقيقاً لمنع الانزلاق الذي قد يؤدّي إلى مواجهة شاملة لا يريدها أحد. في المقابل، تعدّد اللاعبين من جهة وعدم وجود أيّ قوّة قادرة بمفردها على ضبط الإيقاع تجعل ذلك الأمر في غاية الصعوبة. من هنا نفهم دور وقيمة المحور حيث كلّ مكوّن له لا قدرة على التحكّم مهما كانت قدراته الذاتية. لكن المحور يعطي قيمة مضافة لتلك القدرات وبالتالي المحور هو الذي سيكون ضابط الإيقاع وليس القطب. هنا يبرز دور التجمّعات أو المحاور الإقليمية. أصبحنا في عالم متعدّد المحاور وليس في عالم متعدد القطبية.

إذا أردنا تلخيص المشهد الدولي بين المحورية المتنافسين نرى أنّ المحور الأميركي في تراجع استراتيجي قد يصل إلى الأفول والانهيار ولكنه يقوم بأعمال طابعها هجومي تكتيكي واستعراضي لا يغيّر أيّ شيء في موازين القوّة على الأرض. في المقابل فإنّ المحور الآخر الروسي الصيني ومعه محور المقاومة في حال صعود استراتيجي تتخلله أعمال طابعها تكتيكي دفاعي تحصّن موازين القوّة التي أوجدتها. والمحور المقاوم للهيمنة الأميركية لا يعتقد أنّ مواجهة تكتيكية ضرورية في المرحلة الراهنة بسبب التراجع الاستراتيجي للمحور الأميركي. عامل الوقت يعمل لصالح المحور المقاوم للهيمنة. لذلك لا نستبعد مرحلة استقرار هشّ للغاية تسوده التوترات بين فترات وجيزة من الهدوء. في رأينا، موازين القوّة التي تتغيّر لصالح المحور المناهض للهيمنة الغربية تشمل أيضاً البنى الثقافية والفكرية. وتشمل أيضاً المنظومات السياسية حيث النيوليبرالية الغربية وصلت إلى طريق مسدود وأنّ كلّ القرارات التي تتخذها النخب الحاكمة في الولايات المتحدة وفي الغرب عموما هي هروب إلى الأمام من الاستحقاقات الداخلية البنيوية التي تواجه كلّ الدول. إلى أن يتبلور نظام سياسي اقتصادي يأخذ بعين الاعتبار التحوّلات الجذرية التي حصلت في المجتمعات وخاصة الفجوات الاقتصادية والاجتماعية فإنّ سمة المشهد العام سيكون التوتر الداخلي في دول الغرب العامل المؤثر على سياساتها الخارجية. هذه الملاحظات تنطبق على كافة الملفات الخلافية بين الولايات المتحدة ومنافسيها.

وفي ما يتعلّق بالملفّ الصيني فهناك تياران متصارعان على ما يبدو داخل قيادات الحزب الديمقراطي. فمن جهة، هناك إرث الرئيس السابق باراك أوباما الذي كان صاحب نظرية التحوّل إلى الشرق لمواجهة الخطر الصاعد الذي تمثّله الصين. وهذا التوجّه إلى الشرق يستعمل سردية سياسية هي حماية حقوق الانسان التي تنتهكها الحكومة الصينية. فالولايات المتحدة بحاجة إلى مبرّر “أخلاقي” للتدخل في الشأن الداخلي في الصين سواء في قضية التيبت أو هونغ كونغ أو المسلمين الأويغور! لكن بعد المشهد الذي قدّمته النخب الحاكمة في 6 كانون الثاني/ يناير في التعامل مع الجماهير الغاضبة وتنديد النخب بهذه المظاهرات وصلت عند بعض القيادات إلى المطالبة بتقويض الحرّيات العامة يصعب عندئذ طرح ذلك الخطاب المندّد للحرّيات في الدول التي تريد الخضوع للمشيئة الأميركية.

الهدف الفعلي لسياسة الولايات المتحدة هو تقويض القدرات التنافسية للصين خاصة في الميدان التكنولوجي والذكاء الاصطناعي وذلك عبر فرض العقوبات عليها (وهنا سيتمّ التفتيش عن حجج جديدة لذلك!) وكبح صعودها العسكري لمنع تمدّد نفوذها في شرق وجنوب آسيا. وفي سياق الصراع الذي ذكرناه بين جماعة المتدخلين وجماعة “الواقعيين” مسألة التعامل مع شركات التواصل الصينية كهواوي التي كانت هدفاً للعقوبات في إدارة ترامب. فإذا أرادت إدارة بايدن التخفيف من حدّة الصراع مع الصين فستقوم بتسوية لملف هواوي على الأقلّ في بعده القانوني. لكن هل هذا يستقيم مع مصالح الشركات الأميركية المتضرّرة من التنافس الصيني وهي التي دعمت إلى أقصى الحدود وصول بايدن إلى الرئاسة؟ هنا نرى مدى التناقض الموجود داخل الإدارة. هنا تلتقي سياسة أوباما مع سياسة ترامب في ضرورة مواجهة النفوذ الصيني الصاعد وضرب مشروع الطريق الواحد/ الحزام الواحد. لكن قدرات الولايات المتحدة مهما كان الفريق الحاكم محدودة للغاية ولا تستطيع تغيير المعادلات التي فرضتها التحوّلات.

ومن جهة أخرى هناك “جماعة بايدن” التي عقدت صفقات مثيرة للالتباس والشبهات مع شركات صينية. ويشاركه في ذلك عدد كبير من قيادات الحزب الديمقراطي في صفقات مشبوهة مع مؤسّسات صينية حكومية كالشيخة السابقة لولاية كاليفورنيا بربرا بوكسر التي أصبحت وكيلة شركة صينية حكومية مختصة بالتنصّت، أو زوج الشيخ الحالية دايان فاينشتين الذي له علاقات وثيقة مع الشركات الصينية، أو النائب أريك سوالوال من كاليفورنيا المتهم بعلاقات جنسية مع ضابطة من الاستخبارات الصينية! فالرئيس سيكون بين مطرقة فريق أوباما الذي يريد محاصرة الصين وكبح صعودها وسندان المصالح الخاصة العائدة لعائلة بايدن ولعدد من كبار المسؤولين في الحزب الديمقراطي في تعاملهم مع الصين. الحزب الجمهوري سيثير دون أيّ شكّ الفضائح التي بطلها هنتر بايدن نجل الرئيس وجيمس بايدن شقيق الرئيس. فهما موضوع تحقيقات يقوم بها المكتب الاتحادي للتحقيقات (أف بي أي) التي رفض الكشف عنها قبل الانتخابات وليم بار وزير العدل المستقيل في إدارة ترامب والتي كان بإمكانها تقويض فرص فوز بايدن في الانتخابات الأخيرة، ما يعزّز نظرية أنّ الدولة العميقة بكافة مكوّناتها أرادت التخلّص من دونالد ترامب وقد نجحت في تعطيل ولايته ونجاحه في الانتخابات.

من محاولات محاصرة الصين التي أطلقها أوباما مشروع الشراكة في المحيط الهادئ ((Trans Pacific Partnership/TPP التي كانت تهدف إلى إيجاد فضاء اقتصادي كبير شبيه بالسوق الأوروبية المشتركة قبل أن تصبح الاتحاد الأوروبي، وذلك دون مشاركة الصين. يتماثل هذا المشروع مع مشروع أوروبي يقصي روسيا! وهنا الخطأ الجيوسياسي الفادح لأنه يتنافى مع الجغرافيا الثابتة والتاريخ المتغيّر، فكيف يمكن تصوّر تجمع آسيوي دون الصين وكيف يمكن أقصاء روسيا من أوروبا؟ لكن أول قرارات ترامب عند دخوله البيت الأبيض كان وأد مشروع الشراكة في المحيط الهادئ. والصين استطاعت أن تعقد في خريف 2020 اتفاقاً اقتصادياً مع دول جنوب شرق آسيا يلغي فعلياً أيّ إمكانية محاصرة الصين اقتصادياً. عنوان هذا التجمّع الاقتصادي الجديد هو اتفاق الشراكة الاقتصادية الإقليمية الشاملة (RCEP) الذي وقّع في 12 تشرين الثاني/ نوفمبر 2020 في اجتماع قمة لرؤساء دول المنطقة كالصين واليابان وكوريا الجنوبية والهند وسائر دول جمعية دول الجنوب الشرقي الاسيوي (ASEAN).

نفوذ الصين الاقتصادي أهمّ…

وتعتبر مؤسسة راند كوربوريشن، وهي مؤسسة أبحاث تابعة للبنتاغون، أنّ نفوذ الصين الاقتصادي أهمّ من النفوذ الأميركي في منطقة المحيط الهادئ وآسيا. كما أنّ دول جمعية جنوب شرق آسيا تعطي الأولوية للاعتبارات والمصالح الاقتصادية على حساب الاعتبارات الأمنية. والنفوذ الاقتصادي الصيني يضعف النفوذ العسكري الأميركي وفقاً لدراسة مؤسسة راند خاصة أنّ دول تلك المنطقة لا تعتقد أنّ النفوذ العسكري الأميركي يوازي النفوذ الاقتصادي الصيني. وهناك أيضاً قناعة عند تلك الدول وفقاً للدراسة المذكورة أنّ التزام الولايات المتحدة تجاه المنطقة مشكوك بأمره. بناء على تلك الاعتبارات التي جاءت في الدراسة المذكورة ستكون سياسة إدارة بايدن معقّدة للغاية خاصة أنّ حماس دول المنطقة للاصطفاف معها سيكون ضعيفاً.

من جهة أخرى أقدمت إدارة ترامب في أيامها الأخيرة على تسميم الأجواء بين الولايات المتحدة والصين عبر رفع جميع القيود على تايوان. من الواضح أنّ ذلك الإجراء سيغضب الصين ويوتر العلاقات مع الإدارة الأميركية الجديدة. والسؤال كيف يمكن لإدارة بايدن إعادة القيود التي رفعتها إدارة ترامب ما يعني أنّ ليس هناك من استمرارية في القرار الخارجي فيضعف الثقة بأي تعهّد أميركي. فقرارات أيّ أدارة تصبح معرّضة للنقض من قبل إدارة تليها وهذا من إرهاصات السقوط. لذلك نعتقد أنّ محاولات إدارة بايدن لن تتجاوز مرحلة ربط النزاع لتضارب المصالح بين المتدخلّين والواقعيين مع ترجيح الكفّة لصالح المتدخلين وضعف الواقعيين بسبب شبهات الفساد التي تحيط بالرئيس المنتخب وعائلته.

بعض الخطوات “الإيجابية” للإدارة الجديدة ستكون في العودة إلى اتفاق المناخ ومنظمة الصحة العالمية والمطالبة بالعودة إلى الاتفاق الباليستي. لا كلفة هنا تذكر بل مادة للدعاية الإعلامية لتحسين صورة الولايات المتحدة. كما أنّ تصريحات بلينكن بضرورة “التشاور” مع الحلفاء خطوة نحو إعادة الاعتبار إلى “الدبلوماسية” التي لم يكن يؤمن بها سلفه مايك بومبيو. لكن ما قيمة الدبلوماسية إن لم ترفقها أفعال تأخذ بعين الاعتبار مصالح مختلف الفرقاء؟ لم تصل الولايات المتحدة حتى الساعة إلى الإقرار بذلك فهي مستمرّة في جهودها لتحقيق أهدافها في السيطرة والهيمنة لكن بإمكانيات أقلّ بكثير ما يؤهّلها بذلك.

*باحث وكاتب اقتصادي سياسي والأمين العام السابق للمؤتمر القومي العربي

فيديوات ذات صلة

Part 3 Here

مقالات ذات صلة

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